What do you wear under a wetsuit for scuba diving?
If you are new to scuba diving or snorkeling and you’re not too sure on what to wear under your wetsuit, this article will answer your questions.
To answer the question 'do you wear anything under a wetsuit' depends on your personal preference. You could choose to go commando and wear absolutely nothing under your wetsuit. Most people don't wear anything under their wetsuits, except if you're a male diver you can wear either board-shorts or speedos. Or if you're a female diver you can wear a bikini or a one-piece swimsuit. But if the water is cold either put on a thicker wetsuit or use a thermal lycra or neoprene shorts under your wetsuit. That way you'll get some extra insulation and will stay warmer.
But before I explain what to wear under your wetsuit, I want to explain how a wetsuit works. This will help you better understand why you don’t necessarily need to wear anything under your wetsuit.
How does a wetsuit keep the wearer warm and how does a wetsuit work?
Wetsuits are made from a synthetic type of rubber called neoprene (see below). As the name suggests, wetsuits don’t actually prevent you from getting wet.
But instead a wetsuit is designed to keep us warm using a thin layer of water. This thin layer of water enters the wetsuit and lies between the wetsuit and your skin.
Your wetsuit should be tight enough to fit snugly. But it shouldn't be too tight to cut off your circulation.
The snug fit should be so there's only a minimal layer of water that fills the 'space' between your wetsuit and your skin. This layer of water will be so thin that it is easily warmed up by your body heat.
Do you get wet under a wetsuit?
When you first enter the water, there will be an initial chill, which is because of the water entering the space between your skin and the wetsuit. Once you warm this water up, your wetsuit will keep you warm.
However, if the gap between your wetsuit and your skin is to big and if the seal around your neck, wrists and ankles isn't tight enough, you will experience 'flushing'.
What does 'flushing' mean in respect of wetsuits?
Flushing is where cold water enters a loose-fitting wetsuit.
What happens if a wetsuit flushes, is the thin layer of water, which is designed to keep you warm, is 'flushed' before it has a chance to warm up properly.
In this case what will happen is the 'flushing' water will take heat away from your body, instead of staying there to keep you warm.
Therefore instead of your wetsuit keeping you warm, you will feel cold.
What is neoprene and how does it work?
Wetsuits are made from a material called foamed neoprene.
Foamed neoprene is made from a synthesised rubber. The 'foaming' process is what helps to thicken the neoprene and is what gives it the thermal insulating properties for use in water.
This foaming process also gives neoprene its buoyant properties too. Scuba divers are required to add weight to compensate this added buoyancy in order to dive.
More Reading: How does a buoyancy control device work?
Neoprene itself has been around since the 1930's and is used in a number of other applications too.
Heat transfer or heat conduct is the transfer of energy between objects that are in physical contact with each other. If this heat transfer can be slowed down using certain materials, this is what creates thermal insulation.
Foamed neoprene offers good thermal insulation because it contains small bubbles of nitrogen gas. Nitrogen is a poor conductor of heat, making it the perfect thermal insulator.
With foamed neoprene, this heat transfer occurs mainly through diffusion. But it's the presence of nitrogen bubbles that slows this diffusion down. This in turn reduces heat loss from your body, and is what creates the thermal insulation needed in water.
Why scuba diver need to wear wetsuits in water
The thicker the foamed neoprene or the thicker your wetsuit, the better the thermal insulation in water.
One of the reasons why you feel hungry after scuba diving is because of the extra heat loss underwater.
You can burn up to 600 calories per hour scuba diving, and heat loss is a main contributor to this. In water we loose heat 25 times faster than on land, which is why you need to be thermally insulated.
More Reading: How does scuba diving burn calories?
A wetsuit is great in water temperatures down to around 14-15 °C (57-59 °F), maybe a bit lower if you're brave, or if you are more resistance to cold water. Anything much below these temperatures then you are better off using either a semi-dry suit or even better a drysuit.
However, in addition to water temperature and how cold the water is, you also need to consider the activity you are doing, i.e. how much vigor or what's the activity level.
Plus consider your own personal sensitivity to getting cold. Which of course is different for everyone and is different between men and women too.
With a better understanding of how a wetsuit works, lets now consider what to wear under a wetsuit.
More Reading: Why am I so hungry after scuba diving?
Do you wear anything under a wetsuit?
Turning to the original question of 'do you wear anything under a wetsuit?' Let's take a look at the options for this.
Going naked or commando - this option applies to male and female divers alike
The best option of 'what to wear under your wetsuit' is to go totally naked or commando under your wetsuit. Yes you heard me right, you can be completely naked underneath your wetsuit.
As already explained, it's the combination of the wetsuit material (i.e. the foamed neoprene) and the thin layer of water between your wetsuit and your skin that keeps you warm, and not what you wear underneath it.
In fact by having nothing between your wetsuit and your skin lessens the amount of water that can get in. This in turn helps your body to warm this thinner layer of water up. Which means you should be warmer when you’re naked under your wetsuit.
However, the option of going naked under your wetsuit is made a bit more challenging if you are planning to change in a public place.
This is especially true if you don't have anywhere to cover up and be discreet. But even more challenging if you’re a female wetsuit user! Women have more bits to cover up that men and are more likely to get unwanted attention.
Wetsuits aren't the easiest of things to put on and take off. Let alone trying to do this at the same time as trying to cover your naked body. The last thing you need is to get yourself arrested for indecent exposure!
If going commando under your wetsuit either isn't an option or isn’t your thing, then please read on to discover the options for males and females and what to wear under your wetsuit.
What to wear under wetsuit male - Wearing board shorts or speedos under your wetsuit are options for male scuba divers
These days, board shorts are the most common form of beach attire for men.
It's perfectly okay to wear board shorts under your wetsuit. But for comfort purposes, you are better to wear a pair of board shorts that are not so bulky.
A good fitting wetsuit, which is snug to the body, is what works best to keep you warm. If your your board shorts are extremely baggy or have excess material, this could make it more uncomfortable to wear them underneath your wetsuit.
An alternative to wearing board shorts as a male diver, you could consider wearing speedos (racers, ball-huggers, dick-stickers or nut-huggers, depending on where you live in the world!).
The benefit of wearing speedos (or whatever you call skimpy swimming trunks for men where you live) is that they are minimalist and fit snugly. That means they won't affect how your wetsuit fits over them.
However, if you wouldn't be seen dead in these tight fitting style of swimming trunks, as I know a lot of men wouldn't (myself included), then the first option of going naked under your wetsuit is one choice, followed by board shorts.
What to wear under wetsuit male - other things to consider
Male wetsuit wearers other things to consider:
- Board shorts that are big and bulky will be more uncomfortable under a wetsuit.
- If you are diving on a boat you probably don't want to be going commando under your wetsuit. This is unless there’s a private place to change.
- Where you are renting or hiring your wetsuit, you may not wish to go commando.
- If you're not competent at getting in and out of your wetsuit with other people around, you're probably better to not go naked to avoid embarrassment.
- If you don't like speedos or equivalent, consider wearing spandex shorts or compression shorts for men.
- Where the water is colder than expected, either put on a thicker wetsuit or use a thermal lycra or neoprene shorts under your wetsuit. That way you'll get some extra insulation and will stay warmer.
What to wear under wetsuit female - Wearing bikinis or one-piece swimsuits are options for female scuba divers
For female divers, bikinis and one-piece swimsuits are ideal to wear underneath your wetsuit because they are minimalist.
Depending on your preference as a woman as to whether you prefer to wear a bikini or a one-piece swimsuit, will usually determine which option you choose. Both will work as well as the other, so go with your preference.
Both of these female swimsuits usually hug the body tightly and should not shift as you pull-on your wetsuit.
However, if you don't like the idea of 'lines' showing through your wetsuit where your bikini or swimsuit show, the first option will solve this. In other words consider going naked under your wetsuit.
But don't do as I nearly did when I was scuba diving in Bonaire and forget you're naked underneath your wetsuit. I did just this and started taking my wetsuit off in public. Fortunately, I realised before I'd taken if off all the way!
What to wear under wetsuit female - other things to consider
Female wetsuit wearers other things to consider:
- If you wear a bikini under your wetsuit, be careful when taking your wetsuit off that your bikini top doesn't come off with it. This is especially true with the flimsy type of bikinis.
- If you're worried about your bikini top coming off when you remove your wetsuit, consider wearing a swimsuit instead.
- If privacy is a problem, don't consider going naked under your wetsuit. Otherwise you'll attract unwanted attention.
- Another option is to wear a sports bra under your wetsuit. You could combine this with bikini bottoms or spandex shorts or compression shorts.
- Consider using a sports bikini which fit a little tighter than a normal bikini. They are a bit like a sports bra.
- Where you are renting or hiring your wetsuit, you may not wish to go commando.
- If your bikini top is the tie-type-bikini, be careful the tie-strings don't get caught in the zip if it's a back zip wetsuit.
- The other option is to wear a tankini along with bikini bottoms.
- If your swimsuit has knots or large buckles or embellishments, avoid wearing these as this will dig into your skin under your wetsuit. Always use flat clasps and streamlined swimsuits.
- If you are diving on a boat, you probably don't want to be going commando under your wetsuit.
- Where the water is colder than expected, either put on a thicker wetsuit or use thermal lycra or neoprene shorts under your wetsuit.
More Reading: Can you scuba dive if you are pregnant?
Wear a rash guard or rash vest under your wetsuit - an option for males and females
The other option for both male and female divers is to wear a rash guard or rash vest, instead of or in addition to board shorts for men and bikinis or one-piece swimsuits for girls.
The benefit of wearing a rash guard or vest is this will help to stop chafing, which is what can happen on certain parts of your skin. Especially in sensitive areas. This normally happens to me under my armpits. A rash vest helps prevent this problem from happening.
The alternative to using a rash, vest if you’re wearing it to prevent chaffing, is to use anti-chafing gel or cream instead combined with your choice of wetsuit-undergarment.
What do you wear under a wetsuit in cold water?
Some newbies to scuba diving or snorkeling ask 'do you put something under your wetsuit if you are cold?'
Depending on how cold the water is, will affect the thickness of the wetsuit you wear and not what you wear underneath it. The colder the water, the thicker the wetsuit you should wear.
However, for a bit of extra warmth in colder waters, you could wear some thermal lycra underneath your wetsuit.
This will add an extra layer to help prevent heat-loss. But as mentioned earlier, if you have additional material under your wetsuit, this will mean you have more water to warm up too.
If the water is very cold, that is below 14-15 °C (57-59 °F), then it's not what you wear underneath your wetsuit you need to consider, but whether you wear a wet suit at all.
In colder waters consider a semi-dry suit or a dry suit
Instead of a wetsuit, you may need to consider switching to a semi-dry suit or a drysuit, as these are more suited to colder water temperatures.
This is especially true if you are in the water for prolonged periods. But also if you intend to do a second dive.
If you are diving where the air temperature is on the cooler side, and you are diving more than once from a dive boat, you are better to use a dry suit.
Before I bought my dry suit I used to dive in a semi dry. I did loads of diving up in the North Sea around the Farne Islands. Not only is the water cold (8-9 °C or 46-48 °F), but we used to dive in late September/early October when it was cold weather too.
It wasn't until I started using a dry suit that I realised the benefit of how this keeps you warm out of the water between dives. Whereas a semi dry suit and especially a wetsuit wouldn't.
However, if you intend to use a wetsuit, think about how cold the water is. The thickness of your wetsuit you choose will depend on your own personal sensitivity to cold water.
Additionally, how cold you get will be affected by the activity you are doing.
Scuba diving is a very sedate sport, as you are encouraged to take things slowly to conserve air. But if instead you are using your wetsuit for surfing or swimming in the sea, then these activities will help raise your body temperature to keep you warm too.
Do wetsuits keep you warm out of the water?
Wetsuits are designed to keep you warm in the water using the combination of the foamed neoprene thermal properties and the thin layer of water. But out of water, and in particular if it's cold and windy, a wetsuit will have the opposite effect out of water.
Once you have finished your water activity in your wetsuit, you are far better to take your wetsuit off out of the water. Then dry-off and put your clothes back on to keep warm out of the water.
Do shorty wetsuits keep you warm?
Shorty wetsuits are usually cut-off on the arms and on the legs. Shorty wetsuits are better used in warmer waters, as your calves and your forearms will be open to the water.
The key area of the body to keep warm is your torso, which is the main area a shorty wetsuit covers. That means that a shorty wetsuit will keep you warm, but not as warm as a full-length wetsuit would.
If you are diving in colder water, where your legs and arms will be exposed wearing a shorty, you are better to switch to a full-length wetsuit instead.
Be aware of getting cramp in colder water when wearing a shorty wetsuit. As your calves are exposed in a shorty, and as these muscles are prone to cramping up in cold water, you may want to consider a full length wetsuit instead if the water is particularly cold.
What to wear under a wetsuit for snorkeling?
What you wear under your wetsuit for snorkeling is no different to what you wear when you're scuba diving or when you’re simply swimming in the sea.
So if you're a male snorkeler, you can wear board shorts or speedos. But if you're a female snorkeler then a bikini or a one-piece bathing suit will be ideal.
However, if you like the idea of going commando under your wetsuit, then there's nothing to prevent you from doing this when you snorkel too.
Can you swim in a wetsuit?
If you're asking whether you can swim in a wetsuit, the answer is yes. But depending on how thick the wetsuit is and what type of swim stroke you are using, will make a difference to how well you'll be able to swim.
If for example, you intend to swim using front-crawl, putting your arms over your head in a very thick wetsuit will be more difficult. The thicker the wetsuit, the more restrictive it will be and the more difficult it will become to swim normally.
More Reading: Essential scuba diving equipment
I hope you enjoyed this article about do you wear anything under a wetsuit
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Have fun and be safe!