One of the most important pieces of kit that any diver needs is exposure protection. There are many different types of exposure protection but primarily they can be divided into three groups: wet, dry and semi-dry.
Choosing the write exposure protection comes done to a few factors: location, price, type of diving.
Depending on where you are in the world or where you plan to dive the type of exposure protection that you should use changes.
If you are diving in the North of Scotland in the middle of December you will obviously choose something that is completely different from what you would dive in the height of summer in the Bahamas.
Price is also going to be a factor. When you start diving you are not going to rush out and buy a bespoke drysuit/wetsuit you’ll probably buy something off the rack. Knowing how much you want to spend is half the battle, decide what you are interested in buying and speak to other divers.
Type of Diving
Due to the increased bottom times that are normally associated with technical diving a drysuit is really the only option. Most recreational divers use wetsuits as they don’t require the protection that drysuits offer.
Once you have an idea of where you will be diving, how much you are looking to spend and the type of diving you are doing you probably have already decided what type of suit that you will buy.
In my mind a wetsuit encompasses several different options. There is the traditional wetsuit made of neoprene (these normally come in 3mm, 5mm and 7mm varieties), and then there are rash guards (popularised by surfers). Rash guards are normally made of 1mm neoprene though there are other options available such as Fourth Element’s Thermocline range. So depending on water temperature it will dictate what you wear. I have been using wetsuits for all my diving.
These wetsuits (because you don’t stay dry when you wear them) are warmer than normal wetsuits. They are made of neoprene but have addition seals around the wrists, ankles and neck. They are designed to be tight fitting and to stop the flushing of water through the suit once you are underwater. I have worn a semi-dry when I did the trail of the full face mask. I liked the fact that it kept me warm and that once under there was no flushing. However, I did not like the zip that went across the shoulders. I could not close it myself and once it was closed I felt like I had a rod across my back.
Diving in a drysuit requires specialist training, so make sure you have it before you decide to get one. There are two types of dry suits: neoprene or trilaminates. I haven’t dived with a drysuit, yet. I was planning on doing my PADI Drysuit speciality when I was in Malta but I swapped doing that for doing the side mount speciality. Neoprene drysuits are more buoyant than trilaminates due to the natural buoyancy tendencies of neoprene. However, they lose some of there buoyancy when you go deeper. DIR, GUE, and Swedtech diving ideals require you to have a trilaminate drysuit. Drysuits come off the rack and custom sized. The most important thing to remember when buying a drysuit is that it must fit well, so paying extra for custom sized models might be money well spent if you aren’t a “standard” size. Neoprene is usually cheaper than trilaminate. There is also the additional cost of an undersuit that you will need to wear under your drysuit.
What suit to buy?
I have been recommended several different wetsuit /semi-dry brands: BARE, Fourth Element, and Waterproof. When it comes to drysuits, I’ve been told that SANTI is the only brand that I should consider and that I should definitely get it made-to-measure.
Summer is coming, and I still don’t own any exposure protection. I am planning to do my Divemaster in Malta this summer and I will definitely need at least 5mm to keep me warm while I dive. I have been intrigued by the Fourth Element Proteus, but only time will tell what I purchase.