If you plan to spend a significant amount of time underwater, you’ll need to wear some sort of exposure suit.

An exposure suit provides a layer of insulation that prevents you from losing too much body heat to the surrounding water.

Without one, you’ll end up, at best, cold and miserable. And at worst, you’ll end up with hypothermia. Which is not something you want when scuba diving.

So you probably already know that there are 2 main types of exposure suits; a drysuit and a wetsuit. But what actually is the difference between them?

The obvious answer is in the name. A drysuit keeps you dry, whereas with a wetsuit you’ll get wet.

But if you’re reading this, you’re probably looking for a little more information than that, right?

Well, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’ll be diving deep into the differences between a wetsuit and a drysuit.

So let’s get started.

Wetsuit vs Drysuit

If we want to understand the differences between a wetsuit and a drysuit, we need to know exactly what they are and how they work.

What is a wetsuit and how does it work?

Henderson Scuba Diving WetsuitA wetsuit is a tight-fitting, flexible exposure suit, usually made from neoprene, that helps prevent heat loss and protects from cuts and abrasions when in the water.

It keeps you warm by trapping a layer of water (which is warmed by your body), whilst also preventing the cooler water from flowing over your skin and conducting heat away.

What is a drysuit and how does it work?

SEAC Warmdry Best Drysuit BudgetA drysuit is a looser fitting exposure suit with watertight seals that keep you completely dry underneath. They can be made from neoprene, rubber and/or nylon.

A drysuit works by preventing any water from entering the suit and conducting heat away from your body, whilst also providing space for you to wear undergarments for additional warmth.

Because drysuits trap a layer of air between your body and the suit, they also feature an inflator valve and dump valves (similar to the ones on your buoyancy control device). This allows you to equalize the suit and adjust your buoyancy as you descend and ascend.

the differences between a wetsuit and a drysuit

When choosing between a wetsuit and a drysuit for scuba diving, there are a few key differences to consider.

Warmth

The level of warmth is arguably the biggest difference between a wetsuit and a drysuit.

And you’ve probably guessed that a drysuit offers you more thermal protection than a wetsuit. But it’s not just because it keeps you dry.

Women in WetsuitYes, water conducts heat away from your body 20 times faster than air. However, it’s the additional layers that a drysuit enables you to wear underneath that actually keep you warmer.

This also makes a drysuit more versatile than a wetsuit, as you can add or remove undergarments to suit the surface and water conditions.

Plus a drysuit helps keeps you warm out of the water as they protect you from the cooling effect of the wind. Whereas a wetsuit, if wet, will end up having the opposite effect and make you even colder.

Mobility

Because of their snug fit and flexibility, wetsuits tend to be more comfortable and offer a wider range of movement than a drysuit, both in and out of the water.

Wetsuits are also significantly more streamlined than drysuits. This means that you can move quicker and easier underwater in a wetsuit versus a drysuit.

Although recent developments in materials and design have made drysuits more flexible and comfortable than they used to be.

Buoyancy and Weighting

A wetsuit will compress at depth, making the material thinner. This means that a wetsuit loses some of its inherent buoyancy and insulating capacity the deeper you dive. So you’ll need to take this change into consideration when choosing your wetsuit thickness and how much weight you need.

Whereas a drysuit does not compress at depth so its buoyancy and insulating capacity will not change as you dive deeper. Although the air trapped inside a drysuit will affect your buoyancy, this can be adjusted by adding or dumping air into/from the suit.

Find out how much weight you need to wear with your wetsuit or drysuit using our scuba diving weight calculator.

Training and Ease of use

Another key difference between a wetsuit and a drysuit is that a drysuit requires some additional training.

scuba diving wetsuitWetsuits are incredibly easy to use and you don’t need to take a course to learn how to use one. However, drysuits are a little trickier, especially in the beginning. And we’re not just talking about putting it on.

There are certain techniques you’ll need to practice when it comes to adjusting your trim and managing your buoyancy in order to be able to dive efficiently, and most importantly, safely in a drysuit.

So although it’s not always mandatory, it’s highly recommended that you complete a drysuit certification before you go diving in a drysuit.

Cost, maintenance & lifespan

Drysuits are more expensive to buy than wetsuits due to their complex construction. They also require more specific care.

With a wetsuit, there’s little maintenance other than properly rinsing it. Whereas with a drysuit you’ll need to repair leaks, replace seals, and maybe even a zipper.

However, if looked after properly a drysuit will last you longer (10 to 15 years) than a wetsuit (3 – 5 years). Drysuits also retain their value for resale, unlike wetsuits, which deteriorate with regular use.

What’s more, because a drysuit’s thermal capacity can be adjusted with undergarments, 1 drysuit can be used in numerous water temperatures. Whereas you would need to buy several different thicknesses of wetsuits.

When you take all of this into account, a drysuit is arguably more cost-effective than a wetsuit, especially if you plan to dive in a variety of environments.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better a wetsuit or a drysuit?

This really depends on the environment you’re diving in. If you’re diving in cold water (below 60° F or 16° C) then a drysuit is better. A drysuit also has the key advantage of helping to keep you warm out of the water as well. But if the water temperature is above 60° F or 16° C then a wetsuit is better. A wetsuit also gives you a better range of movement.

But, ultimately whether you choose to wear a wetsuit or a drysuit for scuba diving comes down to your personal tolerance to the cold. As well as how comfortable you feel in each type of exposure suit.

Which is warmer a wetsuit or a drysuit?

Difference between a wetsuit and a drysuitThe simple answer is that a drysuit is warmer than a wetsuit. By keeping you dry it slows down the loss of heat from your body into the water whilst also allowing you to wear thermal layers underneath.

However, the level of warmth of either exposure suit will vary significantly depending on the thickness of a wetsuit and the material of a drysuit. So it really depends on which wetsuit and drysuit you are comparing.

For example, a membrane drysuit, without any thermal undergarments, will keep you dry but won’t really provide any warmth. In this instance, a 7mm wetsuit, thanks to the insulating properties of the thick neoprene, would actually keep you warmer longer.

If you want to understand more about the different types of drysuits, take a look at our guide to the best drysuits for scuba diving.

Or if you want to know which thickness of wetsuit you need, check out our guide to the best scuba diving wetsuits.

Conclusion

So now you know the difference between a wetsuit and a drysuit, we hope you find it easier to decide which exposure suit is best for you.

Do you prefer scuba diving in a wetsuit or a drysuit?

Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear your experiences!

Don’t forget – if you’re looking to invest in your own exposure suit for scuba diving, check out our guides to choosing the best scuba diving wetsuit and the best drysuit for scuba diving.

Alexa Worswick Administrator

Alexa Worswick is a PADI and SSI scuba diving Instructor, recreational freediver and freelance copywriter. She first learnt to scuba dive in the UK aged 15 and has since travelled and dived in multiple locations across 3 different continents. After quitting her marketing job in London in 2016, Alexa is now based in Indonesia where she can pursue her passion for the ocean fulltime. 

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