Archive for the ‘Exposure Suit’ Category

How Wetsuits Work 

Monday, December 14th, 2015

How do wetsuits work? Water can conduct heat away from the body 20 times faster than air. Without delving too deeply into the science, this is because water is much more molecularly dense than air, and all those molecules packed together in a small space make water far more efficient at conducting heat. So even when you’re diving in tropical water, you’ll notice that after some time, you’ll start to feel cold, which is why most of us require some degree of exposure suit.

Exposure suits run the gamut from rashies to drysuits, but the most common is the wetsuit, which itself can be anywhere from 1mm to 7mm thick. Hugh Bradner, a physicist at the University of California-Berkeley, invented the wetsuit in 1952, although the main element of a wetsuit is neoprene, which was first developed by DuPont in 1931. Today, 300,000 tons of neoprene are produced annually.

So what exactly is neoprene? It’s a synthetic rubber that contains nitrogen bubbles, which help reduce heat convection, much like feathers in down jackets or layers of clothing on a cold day. Today, most wetsuits are constructed of not just neoprene but also many other materials. The more expensive suits might contain a layer of thin metal to reflect your body heat back inside. The outer layer might be made of abrasion-proof material to help the suit survive the rigors of diving; and the inside might have a fleecy fabric to make the suit more comfortable.

Among divers, the most popular suits are 3, 5 and 7mm, depending on the water temperature. Along with the thickness, divers have a range of different styles to choose from. The most common are:

  1. Shorty: These suits are often only 3mm thick and while they cover your arms, do not cover your entire legs. They’re usually only used in tropical waters 81 F (27 C) and warmer.
  2. One-piece full-suit: This is the most common wetsuit, available in 3, 5 or 7mm.
  3. Two-piece: These often consist of a long-john or farmer-john bottom and have a full-length jacket over the the top, often with a hood.
  4. Semi-dry: These wetsuits are pretty much the same as the one-piece suits, but with much better seals and zips to prevent water from entering and leaving the suit.
How Wetsuits Work

Semi-dry zipper layers

And how does it work? A small amount of water enters the suit as you giant stride into the ocean. This water sits between the neoprene suit and your skin, warming via your body heat. There’s a long-held myth that this is actually what keeps you warm, and while it certainly plays a part, so do all the other layers of the suit. This is why there are so many different thicknesses of suits for different water temperatures. Having said that, if you have a loose-fitting suit and you continually flush it with cold water then you will certainly feel the cold much quicker, as you lose body heat with each successive flush. Keep that in mind the next time you pee in your wetsuit, friends.


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Top Five Tips to Wriggle Into That Wetsuit

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

As a sport, there are many words one could use to describe diving. Inspiring, adventurous, exciting, life-changing even — but probably not elegant. From spitting in our masks to lugging heavy cylinders around, diving can be a pretty comedic affair, especially when it comes to struggling in and out of wetsuits. In order to work, a wetsuit must be tight-fitting so, inevitably, we spend a good deal of our time red-faced and puffing, trying to force a second skin of sticky neoprene unwillingly into place.  Heed these tips so that you can focus on enjoying your dive rather than struggling to prepare for it.

Wear Wetsuit Liners

One of the easiest ways to minimize the friction between your suit and your skin is to create a layer between the two. Lycra scuba skins like these are your best bet, and have the added benefit of providing an extra layer of insulation in cold water. Scuba socks like these also help make life easier, although some argue that a plastic bag works just as well. Place the bag over your foot before sliding your legs into your wetsuit, then remove it and repeat the process with your arms.

Keep It Cool

For those diving in tropical climates, sweat is often a contributing factor to the great wetsuit struggle — if pulling dry neoprene over dry skin is hard, pulling it over sticky, perspiring skin is almost impossible. To remedy this, minimize sweating by getting dressed in the shade; or, if you’re already sweaty, cool off with a quick shower before trying to slide into your suit. Wetting your suit instead works just as well, making the neoprene more flexible and less prone to sticking where it shouldn’t. Use a hose or a shower on shore, or simply dunk your suit over the side if you’re attempting to get dressed at sea.

Ask For Help

From equipment checks to dive planning, your buddy’s job starts long before you splash in. He or she is also there to help you get ready, which includes getting you into your wetsuit. Your buddy can pull the suit into place from the back while you work on the front, and he or she can zip it up when you’re ready. If you struggle with getting your arms into your suit, ask your buddy to lift the cuff and blow into the sleeve. This will create air pockets, which will reduce friction and make it easier to get your suit into place. When you’re ready, repay your buddy by doing the same for him.

Roll It Up

It’s said that there’s a technique for everything, and the same is true for wetsuit donning. If you find that simply pulling your suit on in the same way that you might pull on a pair of pants doesn’t work, try a different approach. Turn each arm and leg almost completely inside out, leaving between three to six inches of cuff the correct way around. One at a time, place the remaining cuff on your ankle or wrist, then roll the rest of the suit into place. This is a great way to minimize friction, and it also prevents areas of your wetsuit from pinching too tight or becoming bunched up.

Swap Suits

If all else fails, you may need to invest in a different suit. Sometimes, your difficulties may stem from the fact that your suit is simply the wrong size. Consider ordering a custom-made suit to ensure a perfect fit, or ask a professional outfitter to help you select the correct size off the shelf. If sizing isn’t the problem, consider buying a different style of suit. Hyperstretch suits like these give extra elasticity, making them easier to get on; while others include in-built wrist and ankle zippers that allow you to loosen and tighten those tricky areas accordingly.

Note: Many divers swear by various lubricants, including detergent, conditioner and talcum powder. However, many of these can cause skin irritation, and may be harmful to the marine environment. In particular, avoid oil-based lubricants, as these may corrode neoprene over time and shorten your suit’s lifespan considerably. If you do use a lubricant, opt for a water-based one, as these are the least damaging to your suit, and to the environment.

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To Rock Boot or Not To Rock Boot

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

You probably never imagined that you’d have to wonder what shoes to wear when you took up scuba diving. And yet, if you dive in a drysuit long enough, you’ll very likely find yourself contemplating the question: What shoes go with this suit?

Many standard drysuits are sold with built-in boots; the leg simply ends in a boot made from the same material as the drysuit itself. These boots will feature some sort of sole, the thickness of which will vary depending on the drysuit.

However, there’s an alternative to the standard drysuit boot: the rock boot. Drysuits that are made for rock boots do not end in a boot, but rather in a thin neoprene sock. This sock, while waterproof, isn’t thick enough to protect the diver’s feet from the cold, nor is it sturdy enough to provide protection against sharp rocks. Even walking around on tarmac or beach sand will wear it out quite quickly. Instead, the diver will wear some form of shoe over the sock, typically a rock boot. These are made in a variety of styles, some more sturdy and heavy than others, and may feature either a traditional bootlace closing or Velcro.

So which should you chose? Below are some of the pros and cons of both types of footwear.

Attached drysuit boots


  • Quicker to don and doff

With only one layer, you’re in and out of your drysuit faster than if you needed to first put on your drysuit, then a pair of boots.

  • More affordable

The price difference between a drysuit with drysuit boots and one with neoprene socks is usually negligible, but then you must factor in the cost of the rock boots.


  • Less protection

The soles of a drysuit boot are typically not that thick, so walking in rough terrain, near mountain lakes for instance, can be uncomfortable.


  • Difficult to replace

If you wear a hole in your drysuit boot sole, you’ll need to have it replaced at a qualified dive shop.

Rock boots


  • Sturdier

A typical rock boot is much closer to a hiking boot than a drysuit boot, giving you extra support and protection if you have long walks to the water’s edge.

If you dive in a variety of environments, you can switch between heavier and lighter versions of rock boots, depending on your needs.

  • Replaceable

The layer that takes the wear and tear isn’t integrated with the rest of the drysuit, so if you wear it out, you can easily replace it. This feature is particularly good for divers who frequent beaches with sharp stones.


  • Cost

Rock boots are an extra item you need to purchase

  • Can slip off

 If the rock boot doesn’t fit tightly, or isn’t tied tightly enough, it can slip off mid-dive. And it’s much harder to put back on than a fin.

  • Larger

 A larger boot requires a larger fin, so you may not be able to use the same fins with your wetsuit when you dive warmer waters.

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Keeping Your Fingers Dry And Warm

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015


Wearing a pair of dry gloves combined with a drysuit, like the ones I tested here, is a great way to make sure your hands and fingers stay dry. But doing so doesn’t necessarily keep them warm.

The majority of dry gloves are, similar to trilaminate drysuits, simply a shell made of a material that keeps out water. They produce little or no insulation in and of themselves. For that, you must wear an additional layer, and there is a range of options. But which ones work best?

Insulated dry gloves

This option is less a liner and more a pair of lined dry gloves, typically with a form of synthetic fur, which traps air and insulates from the water’s cold. The advantage here is that you don’t need an additional pair of liner gloves, which in turn means that the risk of forgetting your liners is non-existent. They are also quicker to put on, as there’s only one layer to don.

The disadvantage is that you cannot change the liner depending on the temperature of the water. Or, if you get a leak on a dive, you cannot swap the wet liner for a dry one on your next dive, provided you’re doing one. Also, in my experience, these types of gloves tend to be on the bulkier side, and performing fine motor skills can be difficult.

Cotton liners

Too often I’ve seen divers use simple cotton gloves, often cheap work gloves, as liners. While cotton has many attributes, it has a couple of serious drawbacks that make it largely useless in active pursuits, such as scuba diving.

Cotton is superb at absorbing moisture. Unfortunately, it’s terrible at releasing that moisture again, which means that any water introduced into your glove before closing the dry system, or that may seep in during the dive, is immediately absorbed by the cotton but not transported away from your skin. The same would happen to any sweat or condensation that may accumulate during the dive. And unfortunately, when this happens, cotton loses almost all of its insulating properties. As we used to say when I was a climbing expedition leader, “cotton kills.” Cotton also dries very slowly.

Fleece liners

Fleece is a plastic product (a lot of it is actually made from recycled plastic, bonus), which is turned into a soft, lightweight and very fluffy material that traps large amounts of air relative to its weight, and thereby has great insulating properties. It’s fast drying and will usually wick moisture away from your skin, meaning it retains most (but not all) of its insulating properties if damp or wet. If it gets soaked, it usually has no insulating properties to speak of. There are new fleece-like products made specifically for divers, though, that can tolerate lots of liquid and still act as insulators. Fleece is fairly inexpensive and is often a good choice. It’s a bit on the fluffy side, meaning it can be quite bulky.

Synthetic liners

Another option is thin, synthetic liners, made of a material similar to sports underwear. While these have very high moisture-wicking properties, they offer limited insulation, so they are only really useful for warmer water when you need only a little insulation.

Wool liners

Wool was the material of choice for outdoor sports for decades before synthetic materials came along, becoming the de facto standard for many years. Wool is lately making a comeback; modern products are often made of merino wool, which has longer fibers, and is less prone to itching and shrinkage — the two main complaints about wool in the old days.

Wool offers very high insulation properties for its weight and bulk, meaning even a thin glove can provide a lot of warmth. It is fast-drying, moisture wicking and retains almost all of its insulating properties, even when pretty much soaked. The downside is that wool is more expensive than the other materials mentioned here.

My solution

I typically dive with two pairs of gloves: a thin, synthetic liner, which wicks any moisture away from my skin and adds a little warmth, and on top of that, a thicker, woolen glove to provide the main insulation. The end result is surprisingly non-bulky, with both gloves sitting like a second — well, second and third — layer of skin. I can perform even quite detailed fine motor skills, such as tightening a wing nut on a tank holder. And my hands stay dry and warm, even in frigid water.

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