What to look for to make sure you get the right drysuit when shopping for your first.
Most people who start diving start out in a wetsuit. There are a number of perfectly good reasons for this.
First off, most people learn how to dive in the warm seasons, or in areas that offer warm water year-round, making a wetsuit the most logical choice. They’re also cheaper than drysuits and as rental equipment sees a lot of wear and tear, this is an important factor for dive centers.
And because they’re more flexible they’re easier to get to fit clients of various sizes and builds.
But if you dive for long enough, and in particular if you start exploring colder water diving. A drysuit becomes a must.
Often, drysuits are quite difficult to rent, so most people purchase their own. Below are some of the things you need to consider when shopping for your first drysuit.
Drysuits are typically made to two types of material: compressed neoprene or a membrane, typically three-layered. The performance of the two materials are vastly different, both of them with their own advantages.
Compressed neoprene for drysuits
This is more or less the same material that wetsuits are made of, just much thicker and then compressed to make it thinner and waterproof.
Disadvantages include weight, as these are heavier than membrane suits. And the fact that as you descend, the neoprene will be further compressed, reducing the buoyancy in the suit.
Then, as you ascend again buoyancy will be restored. Meaning you have to compensate quite a lot both when going up and going down.
The main advantage is warmth a neoprene suit offers a lot of insulation compared to a membrane suit, meaning you need to wear fewer undergarments.
A membrane suit is essentially three thin layers of rubber glued together. These suits are thin, lightweight, and more flexible than the neoprene kind.
However, they also offer next to no insulation on their own, so any warmth needed has to come from what you wear underneath.
This also means that the suit can be used in much warmer water than a neoprene suit. Some divers are even wearing them in tropical waters, wearing nothing but shorts and a T-shirt underneath.
Front or back zipper in your drysuit
A drysuit is closed with a heavy-duty, waterproof zipper. This can be placed either running along the back of the shoulders, or diagonally across the front of the torso.
The main difference here is personal preference.
Some divers prefer that the front of their suits is kept as “clean” as possible, with little or no clutter. A back zipper aids in this. Others prefer the freedom of being able to zip up the zipper on your own, which is only really possible with a front zipper. If possible try both on dry land and see which you prefer.
Boots or socks
Drysuits come with two choices of footwear; integrated boots or neoprene socks.
The former is a heavy duty boot that is welded onto the legs of the suit. This makes for one less item you need to bring and put on before diving, as the boots come with your suit.
However, some divers prefer neoprene socks, which are also welded onto the suit, but are made of a thin layer of neoprene instead.
You can then wear either standard neoprene diving boots, similar to the ones you’d use with a wetsuit, or more sturdy, hiking-style boots, called rock boots.
Integrated boots offer more convenience, while socks offer more flexibility. If your main shore dive site is very rocky or requires lengthy walks, especially in terrain, then the sturdiness of the rock boots with the sock option is hard to beat.
And if you have particularly large or small feet, then the sock option also offers more flexibility with shoe size. For most average divers, though, the integrated boot makes it easy and quick to get in and out of your kit.
Neoprene or silicone cuffs
Around your neck and wrists, a drysuit will feature some kind of seal to prevent water from slipping in. These can either be made from neoprene or silicone.
The former is cheaper to replace and slightly more flexible. However, as neoprene is made of a natural rubber, they also disintegrate over time, faster than silicone.
Silicone, while lasting longer, is more pricey than neoprene. Most drysuits come standard with neoprene cuffs, so often, you only have to make the choice if you have your drysuit custom-made, or if you need to replace you cuffs.
In any circumstance, a silicone cuff is often well-worth the extra cost.
The valves will typically be placed in two location:
- One on the chest for inflation of the suit from the tank, using a low-pressure inflation hose like the one that feeds your BCD.
- One on the left arm for deflation.
You’ll use these to fill air into the suit as you descend, to compensate for buoyancy loss and to increase insulation and to release the air again as you ascend. The placement of these can vary a bit for advanced forms of technical diving and for diving with rebreathers.
So if you don’t do these forms of diving make sure the drysuit you’re considering has valve placements that are suitable for non-technical diving.
There are a number of producers out there and cost varies enormously. Even among the choices from a single producer. But as long as you buy your drysuit from a renowned dive shop, any make and model will do the job. Both from a safety and a comfort point of view.
The main difference between suits of various costs is typically the level of nice-to-haves, such as additional layers of material to increase insulation, better stretch and flex for comfort, etc.
The main thing that is sometimes skimped on cheaper drysuits can be the valves. Low-cost valves can cause quite a bit of fuss, so make sure your drysuit has the good ones. Good makers include SI Tech, DUI, and Apeks.
Valves are easily replaceable, though, so poor valves shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
Making an informed decision on the choices above can really go a long way in making sure you’ll get a dry suit you’ll be happy with. Of course, fit is the primary thing you should look for in a suit. There are all sorts of minor choices, such as pocket, type, and placement, and color, which need to be made as well.
But the choices above are the main ones to be considered.