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Adventure, Fish / January 15, 2016

How to Choose the Best Wet Suit For Your Diving Trip

Written by: Eric Billips

One of the most frequently asked questions dive operators are asked is “what type of exposure suit do I need?” Whether you’re diving in a lake, ocean, river or cave, your exposure suit will be your best friend whilst diving, so it’s important you choose the right one – especially now as we enter the winter months.

Unfortunately, with numerous oceans, dive conditions, and seasons, choosing which suit to pack, buy or rent can be a little confusing. So, we’re going to break it down and simplify this issue.

Different locations will always demand different wetsuits. Certain locations like the UK and West Coast of the United States tend to be colder, meaning that a full wetsuit with hood is often advisable. Temperature is often the overriding factor when choosing a wetsuit; however, visibility, maneuverability, and wildlife will all play a part.

Here is a short list of some of the most common types of diving, and what to expect from them.

  • Reef Diving – The most common type of warm water diving; it is usually suitable for divers of all levels. Reefs have good visibility, high temperatures, light currents, and tend to be relatively shallow.
  • Kelp Diving – Swimming down amongst thick beds of kelp or seaweed; it is performed in cold water and can be quite tricky for inexperienced or claustrophobic divers. This is a dark dive, but not as dark as night diving.
  • Wall Diving – This is a challenging dive, and anyone attempting it should make sure that their buoyancy is under control. Strong currents are a risk factor.
  • Wreck Diving – A very popular type of diving, typically deep water with stronger currents and sharp protrusions hazards.
  • Technical Diving – this type of diving is certainly not for beginners. Specialist gear is required, as the dive is often very deep.
  • Spearfishing/Lobstering – Advanced divers take up underwater hunting, which provides the most sustainable form of fishing.


Now, let’s focus on the more popular and accessible dive locations:

California/Vancouver/British Columbia: Doesn’t really matter the time of year, these are cold water dive destinations. Most of the diving will be with kelp, wrecks, spearfishing, or technical. Therefore, a very thick wetsuit 7mm (or more) with a hood and 7mm gloves is the minimum. Those who are drysuit certified, its a no-brainer – go dry!

Hawaii: Water temperature on a typical year can run as low as 73/74 during the January through March timeframe, then it starts rising in March through the summer with a high of 81/83 coming in the early fall. Most of your diving will be reef diving or a manta ray dive. For January through March, I recommend a 5mm wetsuit, no hood, no gloves unless spearing or lobstering; and, March through December, I recommend a 3mm wetsuit.

Great Lakes Region: Doesn’t matter the time of year, what you’re diving, or where you are. If you’re in the Great Lakes, plan on going through numerous thermoclines, where the surface temp will be 80 and the bottom temp will be 40. Wear as thick of a wetsuit as you can, plus a hood, gloves, and wetsuit warmers for good measure.  A 7mm might be OK, 14mm will be better, and the drysuit will be best.

North and South Carolina: Most of your diving here is going to be deep wrecks or spearfishing in heavy seas. From December through March, go with at least a 5mm with gloves. In the spring and summer months, you can drop down to a 3mm full or even a shorty.

Mexico/Florida/Caribbean: Ahhh the warm, clear tropical stuff. These are the spoiled diving destinations. You can typically get away with a 3mm from December through March. If you’re wreck diving, you might want to opt for a full 3mm with gloves. In the spring and summer months, leave the wetsuits at home. Just don your bathing suit and a rash guard.

In short, everyone is different. If your susceptibility to the cold is high, always choose the thicker wet suit option; vice versa if you’re more warm-blooded. If the idea of renting a used wetsuit doesn’t sound very appealing, purchasing your own is a great idea. I have two companies that I love – Waterproof and Fourth Element – that work well functionally and stylistically. 90% of the wetsuits on the market are black – boring! These two companies add some flair with performance. If you’re going to go deep, might as well look good doing it.

about the author

Eric Billips

A hobby became a passion and then a dream became a reality for Captain Eric with the opening of Islamorada Dive Center. Eric traded his business suit for a wetsuit when he moved to the Florida Keys from Michigan.

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