One of the most frequently asked questions any dive operator in the world will be asked by visiting divers 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 while diving, so it’s important you choose the right one. Unfortunately, with numerous oceans, dive conditions, seasons, and suits to choose from, the decision on which suit to pack, buy, or rent can be a little confusing, so we’re going to break it down and simplify this issue. If you’re wondering what makes me an expert on exposure suits, it’s not that I design them, work for a company that makes them, or have any type of science of neoprene, etc. I know exposure suits because I’ve used them in almost every aspect imaginable. I started my diving career in the Great Lakes of Michigan. I dove nothing but drysuits for years. I never knew what it was like to have dexterity in my fingers until I dove the Caribbean without extremely thick gloves. I taught ice diving to fire and police departments where vulcanized rubber suits with full face masks were required. When I was a golf ball diver in Florida, my entire body needed to stay completely dry--not because of the cold, but because of the fertilizer in the water. And, when my brain finally thawed and I moved to the Keys, wetsuits had a couple of different seasons--from no suit to pretty thick suits--so my experience comes for the hard knocks of a diver’s life. 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 even 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.
These types of diving, where you are diving, and when you are diving, will all play a role in what determines your choice of exposure suit. Here, we’ll focus on the more popular and accessible dive locations. California/Vancouver/British Columbia: Regardless of the time of year, these are cold water dive destinations. Most of the diving will be of the kelp, wreck, spearfishing, or technical sort. Therefore, a very thick wetsuit, 7 mm. or more, with a hood and 7 mm. gloves, is the minimum. For those who are drysuit certified, it’s a nobrainer…go dry. Hawaii: Water temperatures in a typical year here can run as low as 73/74 during the January through March time frame, then start 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 manta ray dives (super cool), so my recommendations are a 5 mm. wetsuit with no hood or gloves (unless spearing or lobstering) for January through March, a 3 mm. wetsuit for March through December, and possibly nada in the summer. Great Lakes Region: It 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! Here you’ll want to wear as thick of a wetsuit as you can-plus a hood and gloves (maybe even throwing in the wetsuit warmers for good measure). A 7 mm. might be okay, a 14 mm. will be better, and the best yet...the drysuit. North and South Carolina: Most of your diving here is going to be deep wrecks or spearfishing in heavy seas. From December through March, I recommend going with at least a 5 mm. with gloves. During the spring and summer months, you can drop down to a 3 mm. 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 3 mm. from December through March. If you’re wreck diving, maybe opt for a full 3 mm. with gloves. In the spring and summer months, leave the wetsuits at home; just don your bathing suit and a rash guard. Now, these recommendations are for the typical diver-everyone is different. So, if your susceptibility to the cold is high, maybe up the thickness I’ve suggested. And vice versa if you’re a polar bear. If the idea of renting a used (peed in) wetsuit doesn’t sound very appealing, then purchasing a suit is a great idea. I have two companies that I love—Waterproof (www.waterproof.eu) and Fourth Element (www.fourthelement.com). These suits perform (made from great quality neoprene that lasts) and, most importantly, they look really fricking cool. 90% of the wetsuits out there are some form of black--boring. These two companies put some style into their suits. If you’re going to go deep, you might as well look good doing it.
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