Choosing the Right Dry Suit for Cold Water Dives

Knowing what kind of dry suit to wear can help you unlock the beauty of cold water dives without feeling frosty.

There’s a reason some of the world’s most well-traveled divers call the west coast home. Few subsurface sights can compete with the parting curtains of the Channel Islands’ kelp forest, or the sheer biodiversity of the Monterey Bay, where you stand more than a fair chance of spotting a pacific octopus. Just over the Canadian border, the gin-clear water of British Columbia harbor hydrocorals, wolf eels, and Irish lord sculpins.

The deep, cold Pacific harbors some of the world’s best cold-water dive sites; but if you’re accustomed to diving with a wetsuit, you’ll miss out on their secrets without gearing up with a proper dry suit. Likewise, if Maine or Scandinavia are on your bucket list, you’ll be feeling high and dry without the right dive suit.

Today, we’re here to break down a general guide to choosing the right dry suit for your next cold-water adventure.

Dry suits can be broadly broken down into two categories: neoprene suits and trilaminate suits. Both have benefits and shortcomings that you should be aware of before investing a serious chunk of change on your next piece of dive gear.

Trilaminate dry suits

Let’s start with trilaminate dry suits. They’re a decidedly less sexy option at first glance, but these semi bag-like suits are loaded with practical benefits that make them ideal for divers who need to take a flight to their chosen cold-water diving spot.

Trilaminate suits consist of three layers—get it?—of thin layers of material that are laminated together. They are not form fitting and are designed to be worn with thermal clothing underneath. Because trilaminate suits are thin, they’re much easier to pack than their neoprene brethren. And, because they’re designed to be worn with clothing underneath, you can adapt a trilaminate suit to match a wide range of temperatures. If you’re in a temperate climate like Baja California in July, you won’t need as many thermal layers as Scandinavia in November.

Look to spend anywhere from $750 to $2,000 on a trilaminate dry suit.

Neoprene dry suits

If you’re coming from a warm weather diving background, neoprene dry suits will likely look familiar. They are a beefed-up brother to the ubiquitous neoprene wetsuit, though the material is compressed so tightly that it becomes completely waterproof. These thick, heavy suits are form-fitting, and are notoriously difficult to wriggle in and out of. They are also considerably less portable than the more suitcase-friendly trilaminate dry suit. However…

If thermal protection is the most important factor for you, and you’re okay checking a dive bag or driving to the dock, then a neoprene dry suit is the way to go. Choosing a neoprene dry suit sacrifices portability for potent protection from the cold—without the need to wear layers of thermal clothing underneath your suit. Additionally, neoprene dry suits benefit from their streamlined form factor to make you sleeker underwater. This can make swimming much more efficient.

As with their trilaminate cousins, neoprene dry suits can run you anywhere from $800 to upwards of $2,000, and they come in a variety of styles.

Dry suit maintenance

Dropping a chunk of coin on a new dry suit is just the beginning of your process. Owning a dry suit comes with some caveats (and some maintenance): you’ll need to be sure to wash it inside and out after every dive and store your dry suit in a place away from ultraviolet light. Both maintenance steps will help extend the life of your suit. Don’t forget to leave the main zipper open for airflow and be sure to keep your zippers waxed.

Before purchasing, it’s a good idea to visit your local PADI dive center and try on a few styles to be sure you have room to move around, and to make sure your BCD is compatible with the suit. Take advantage of this hands-on time to decide if you’d like to use dry gloves or standard, neoprene wetsuit gloves with your suit.

You’ll also want to consider taking the PADI dry suit course to fully familiarize yourself with your new investment before you head off into the wild, cold depths. Doing so will not only help you make the most of your purchase but will also unlock the hidden secrets of some of the world’s top dive spots for you to explore.

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