I’ve never been a fan of ripping apart my fingers, doing squats and generally just feeling like a lump of sausage meat inside a restrictive casing, so here are my top tips on how to avoid the hell that can be fighting your way into a poorly designed neoprene wetsuit!
Obviously, this does depend on how cold you get, but it is easy to replace up to a 3 mm wetsuit with alternatives. If you are like me and have a bit of your own “bioprene” you can also replace up to a 5 mm wetsuit! It’s all about the layers!
Some people hate layers, personally, I love them. I spend all my time diving around Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia and anyone who has ever visited will know that temperature can vary wildly (!) depending on the season, which side of the island you are diving, thermoclines, from day to day, and sometimes even from dive to dive.
Layers allow you to adjust on a surface interval if you were too hot or cold on the previous dive, you can also jump in for a pee when you get to the second dive site and use your exposed skin to check what you might need for the upcoming dive ahead – even if you don’t need the bathroom you can always pretend and conduct your temperature check covertly (sneaky tip).
Also, layers dry quicker – a few layers of something thinner will dry so much faster than a wetsuit, which means if you are diving multiple days whilst others make that sad morning face squeezing into a damp wetsuit, you can smile away smugly as you slip into your dry layers.
Rash Guards / Skin Suits / Leggings
The minimal protection level that won’t provide much warmth but will keep your skin protected from those pesky UV rays.
My top tip for multiple dives is having two and changing into a dry one on your surface interval – not only will this provide sun protection, but it will also help you warm up, as there is nothing more annoying than having to sit in a wet wetsuit for an hour plus on the surface.
Also, if you do need to put a wetsuit on then it will make this process so much easier as the wetsuit is more likely to slide over the smooth layer rather than get stuck on your skin (no one likes it when you feel that pinch as a wetsuit gets jammed halfway up your leg).
For seriously warm waters (28 °C and above) you will often find that you can just dive in these – and there is nothing more freeing than diving in just rash guards and board shorts or leggings, as it makes having a sneaky pee all the easier (just don’t do it if you are in a swim-through or have people directly behind you).
Finding rash guards is also pretty easy as most surf brands make them too - there are loads of choices where you can be as plain or as colourful as you like, here are some of my favourites:
Disclaimer: This post contains an affiliate link. If you use the link below to buy something I may earn a small commission. Thanks, and happy bubbles!
You can choose from prints of your favourite creatures such as whale sharks, tiger sharks, corals, turtles, billfish, eagle rays, abalone and many more. As someone who dives a lot and owns a variety of these, I can tell you they hold up to diving wear and tear, are sustainably made, and also the leggings and shorts come with very useful pockets.
They’ve just launched skin suits (one-piece costumes with long sleeves) and boardies for men as well. Also, if you are short like me, the leggings are designed so that you can adjust the length so no more gathering around the ankles if you are vertically challenged. NOTE: If you are outside the US then be prepared for custom charges if you import them to where you are.
To order some epic stuff, click here!
Started by a wonderful lady called Michelle and promoting body positivity with larger ladies also catered for, the range of designs include manta silhouettes, mermaid and my personal favourite shark denticles! Created using ghost netting and plastic bottles, this sustainable range not only includes rash guards but also leggings, bikinis and one-pieces if you like that coordinated look. Also, if you buy certain prints then either a coral gets planted for you or a donation is made to help manta ray research.
Fourth Element (UK):
Designed specifically for divers, you can choose from their well-made OceanPositive range that is made from 30% recycled materials, from waste such as plastic bottles and ghost fishing nets. They also ship it plastic-free, which is a double win for the ocean! Keep an eye on their sales as well, as they introduce new products they often sell off old lines at a discounted price.
Lucy Locket Loves (UK):
An unimaginable amount of colourful prints to choose from (I have a variety of shark prints) and always new ones coming onto the website. The Activewear range is what I use for my leggings, and they come in lots of sizes. By choosing these you are also supporting a small business which is a massive tick for me.
Other places you can look:
All major surfing brands (Hurley, Volcom, Roxy, Quiksilver etc) & diving brands (Scubapro, Cressi etc).
In recent years you will start to see divers on boats that swear by their thermal layers. If you are a “cold bod” you can layer these underneath your wetsuit for extra warmth without needing extra weights as they are neutrally buoyant unlike wetsuits or neoprene hoods.
They are usually a little fluffy on the inside and this layer is designed to sit next to your skin for maximum effectiveness, also I often wear a rash guard underneath, and it still works. They are marketed as providing the thermal protection of 2-3 mm and boy do they work.
They aren’t cheap and often this puts people off, however, whenever any of my divemaster candidates borrow mine they always tell me it has “changed my life” and go and buy one immediately. You can get them in all sorts of variations, my personal favourite is the no sleeve hooded version, and if it’s super chilly I put that over the long sleeve version I also own. Some of them also do socks for added cosiness around your toes. But again, you can adjust as necessary on the boat if you remember to put them in your gear bag.
Personally, my favourite brand for this is Sharkskin (https://sharkskin.com) as it dries quickly and doesn’t end up smelling like a wet dog as some do (not naming and shaming here). However, other brands such as Lavacore (https://www.lavacoreinternational.com) and Frogskins (mainly in Australia) are also available.
Hoods & Hooded Vests
Did your mum always tell you to “put a hat on, or you’ll catch a cold”? Mine did, but never a truer word has been spoken.
We lose a crazy amount of heat through our heads, and the same happens when diving. You’ll be amazed at the difference a hood can make – I have friends who can withstand colder temperatures than me with the tactical use of a well-fitting hood.
For comfort, I suggest using one that’s attached to a vest, and you don’t have to go neoprene for this (although you can if you like), most of the thermal rash guard companies listed above do a hooded version.
My top tip to avoid “inflated head” (when all the bubbles get inside your hood and get trapped) is to wear it UNDER your mask or make a tiny hole in the top, so the air can escape. If you are comfortable taking your mask off underwater you can easily put it up or down even if your mask strap is on top, and it’s always great to practice the skill with a buddy close by to keep you safe.
Brands include Sharkskin, Lavacore, and then all the usual diving brands for neoprene versions – Scubapro, Mares, Aqualung etc.
Well Fitting Booties
Not only do you lose heat through your head, but an ill-fitting bootie can be just as bad. Choose ones that fit your feet well, are of adequate thickness, I don’t wear wetsuits, but I wear 5 mm booties.
Also, choose designs that go above the ankle if you are in cooler waters. I once forgot this on a dive in Sydney, I was in a 9 mm wetsuit (ugh) but used my regular 2 mm ankle booties. After 20 minutes, I couldn’t feel my feet, so I know what happens when you get this wrong!
A Good Boat Coat, “Robey”, or Windproof Jacket
A lot of the time people lose heat on surface intervals because they aren’t prepared, weather conditions change, surface wind chills them, or they sit there in a wet wetsuit (the worst idea in the world).
You can literally change your life by investing in something that stops you from starting the second dive cold. A variety of things will help if you don’t want to go full out Fourth Element Storm Poncho (the absolute best) or DryRobe (https://dryrobe.com), although these are excellent and provide a portable changing room if you are a bit body shy.
You can also take a lightweight windproof or waterproof jacket – although, make sure you thoroughly rinse with fresh water on your return to avoid sticking zips. Or you can find amazing hooded towels if you have a covered boat space for your interval, and it’s raining.
If you have a way to warm up on the surface properly, not only will you be the envy of others on the boat, but it also means you won’t start your second dive already chilled to the core.
And finally… Clever Wetsuits – the “if I absolutely must” list
If you absolutely feel you must have a wetsuit then there are now some stretchy, easy to put on varieties out there as technology improves and manufacturers have realized that comfort and ease of use are paramount in diving (finally the penny dropped).
I see the same wetsuits for this recommended time and time again and for the times when it’s just too cold to go without I don’t mind slipping on my Fourth Element 3 mm – although when it happens everyone at work comments how it must be REALLY cold as I’m in a wetsuit.
For me personally, when it drops below 22 degrees C, the wetsuit appears from the gear shed. I go thin and then layer my thermal hood and rash guard underneath, so I’m effectively in 5 mm but not nearly as restricted. For me, I find it’s my core that needs protecting, not my arms and legs. And as I mostly have my camera with me, I need the full range of arm movements and a 7 mm wetsuit will kill that in an instant.
Here are my personal favourites: Bare Nixie, Fourth Element, Henderson & Trulli.
Finally, there’s a new material hitting the market now called “Greenprene” which is not made from neoprene, but from soft, stretchy, sustainable bio-based insulating foam which is super durable. This is one of those expensive but worth it advances in tech.
Check out Henderson Greenprene for more details https://hendersonusa.com/greenpre