Wetsuit vs Drysuit: What’s the Difference?

A common question we hear: What is the difference between a wet suit and a dry suit?

Wearing either one of these types of special suit is a major element to scuba diving safety, as they can prevent a swimmer or diver’s body temperature from dropping too low, also called hypothermia, which is an extremely dangerous condition that can result in death.

While the function of wetsuits and drysuits are the same — i.e. to keep a person comfortable and warm while submerged in water — the means through which they each achieve this are different.

To really highlight the similarities and differences between them, we will compare and contrast a wetsuit vs drysuit — delving into the design, material, and situations in which each is most often used.

Let’s dive right into it. (Get it?)

Difference Between a Wetsuit and a Drysuit

Wet suits and dry suits are similar in that they both are meant to help keep the body warm. They are worn by people who are scuba diving, surfing, spearfishing, jet-skiing, swimming, etc.

In order to understand the differences, let’s look closely at how both types work.

The Wetsuit

A wetsuit is a unique suit worn for water-based activities, usually when in cool or cold temperatures.

Wetsuit Construction

The best wet suits are tight around the body (for better effectiveness), made with neoprene — a type of rubber — and can cover the entire body or just the torso (called a “shorty”). They are often worn with fins and a mask (such as these great full-face dive masks). There are several thicknesses to choose from, with thicker suits providing more warmth than their thinner counterparts.

How Wetsuits Work

You may have already guessed that, with a wet suit, the wearer gets wet. A layer of water is trapped inside the suit, between the rubber and the diver’s body, and the person’s body temperature then heats the water. Essentially, this is how a wetsuit works (and how the suit got its name, obviously): the trapped, body temperature-warmed water keeps the diver warm.

The Drysuit

Just like its wet counterpart, a drysuit is a special suit worn in the water to keep the wearer warm.

Navy divers preferring to wear a drysuit vs wetsuit

Drysuit Construction

As you can see from the photo (U.S. Navy divers wearing drysuits, preparing to dive) drysuits are usually much more intricate and thick (and thus more restrictive), but they are very necessary when diving in frigid water.

They are composed of a waterproof “shell” that is usually made with either some sort of membrane, neoprene, or both. Other necessary pieces include an undersuit, gloves, boots, and hood, not to mention the scuba tank and other crucial equipment. These pieces are usually attached to the suit and sealed using special attachment rings.

How Drysuits Work

In contrast to wetsuits, a drysuit does not let any water inside it. Rather, it shields the wearer from water completely. While the suits do keep water out, layers often need to be worn beneath the shell for insulation purposes.

Wetsuit or Drysuit — Which Should You Use?

Now that you know the differences between a wetsuit and drysuit, which should you use?

Unfortunately, there’s no universal answer to this question. It depends entirely on what you’re going to do, how long you plan on being in the water, and your personal sensitivity to cold.

Generally, however, really cold water temperature requires the use of a drysuit. For example, somebody who is scuba diving in the Arctic would most definitely wear a drysuit.

A good guideline to follow — though again it will vary by individual — a person should wear a drysuit when the water temperature is colder than 50 degrees F.

Any warmer than this, and the diver may be fine wearing a wetsuit (though a very thick one may be preferred). However, the duration of the water immersion must be taken into account as well.

Either way, one of these suits is an important piece of equipment for anyone going in a body of water that’s cooler than tropical waters. After reading this wetsuit vs drysuit article, you should have a better idea of whether you should be using a drysuit or wetsuit.

Enjoy your dive! And as always, be safe.