I have been asked by divers of all levels of experience and training many times about what is the best choice for a wetsuit. This might seem like a straight forward, simple question that deserves a straight forward, simple answer but this is rarely the case. Ultimately, the best answer is “the one that meets your needs as a diver.” This is rarely the desired reply and rarely very helpful.
When choosing an exposure suit (maybe you’d be happier in a drysuit?) there are several import considerations. Personally, I feel that the most import question to ask yourself is whether or not you are only planning on adding a single piece to your collection or if you are willing to get several suits for different occasions. Directly related to this is what kind of diving do you do and more specifically where. If you are like one of my very good friends and you are bound and determined to keep your SCUBA to warm, blue water locations a single lightweight suit may be all you require. But, if you are like me and not only dive the warm, clear waters of the Caribbean but also locally in lakes and quarries and sometimes the cool waters of the kelp beds of the Catalina Islands you would probably want to consider 2 or more suits to meet your diving needs.
Let’s look at some of the different options in suits and narrow down our choices. The most common choice for most divers is a wetsuit. Wetsuits come in many varieties with the full length suit and a shorty, which covers the torso, upper arms, and upper legs. For a novice diver who either wants to stay in a warm location or who isn’t really sure yet this is an option I’d usually recommend. A thin, 2mm or 3mm, suit is a pretty handy all around suit that is appropriate for a variety of diving conditions ranging from pool training to summer time at the lake, to most Caribbean or warm Pacific diving and are relatively inexpensive running from $70 -$150. Thinner wetsuits have forgiving buoyancy characteristics and require no additional training to dive in; just a few more pounds on the weight belt. Thicker wetsuits are probably a better choice if you think your diving will keep you local in the lakes a bit and may be interested in some colder water dives, maybe a deep wreck dive off the coast of North Carolina. Keep in mind that thicker wetsuits will require you to wear more lead in your weight system and will take a little practice to get used to. If you plan on doing a lot of cold water diving I definitely recommend a drysuit. Most drysuits keep you dry by sealing around your wrists and neck with latex seals and enclosed boots and a waterproof zipper. While some drysuits are designed to keep you warm as well as dry many simple keep you dry and your wear different fleece undergarments to keep you warm. This is one of the biggest advantages of a drysuit-you can change the weight of your fleece to accommodate the water temperature to keep you comfortable. One drawback to a drysuit is that they require special training to use and a good deal of practice to master, another drawback is cost-usually $1500 or more.
Of course my personal favorite is all of the above. I love diving my drysuit in almost any circumstance, but I also have a full 3mm wetsuit and a 2mm shorty to cover me for any diving need that may arise!