In cold conditions, selecting the right gear is crucial for staying safe and comfortable. Whether you’re into kayaking, paddleboarding, or any other water sport, the choice between a wetsuit and a drysuit can make a significant difference. It’s important to understand the distinctions between the two and their suitability for specific activities.
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Wetsuit Vs Drysuit: What Are They?
What is a Wetsuit?
A wetsuit is a specially designed garment worn by water sports enthusiasts to provide insulation and protect against cold water. It is typically made of neoprene, a synthetic rubber that has excellent thermal properties.
The primary purpose of a wetsuit is to trap a thin layer of water between the suit and the body, which is then warmed by body heat, effectively insulating the wearer. This insulation keeps the body warm even in extremely cold water conditions.
You’re supposed to get thermal protection and mobility when you wear a wetsuit. The neoprene material is flexible and stretchy, allowing for a wide range of movements. This flexibility is crucial for activities like kayaking or paddleboarding, where freedom of movement is essential.
They are designed to fit snugly against the body, minimizing the amount of water that enters the suit.
What Is a Drysuit?
A drysuit is designed to keep you completely dry. Unlike wetsuits, which use a layer of water for insulation, drysuits rely on a waterproof barrier to prevent water from entering.
Drysuits are great for activities like kayaking, where prolonged exposure to cold water is expected. The ability to stay dry offers additional protection from the cold–there is no direct contact with the water.
Drysuits also feature watertight seals at the neck, wrists, and ankles, which prevent water from entering even in turbulent conditions.
Key Differences Between Wet Suits and Dry Suits
Construction and Materials
Wetsuits are constructed using neoprene, a synthetic rubber material that offers excellent thermal insulation properties. The neoprene is typically lined with nylon or other fabrics to enhance durability and comfort.
Drysuits are made from a combination of breathable fabrics and waterproof membranes. The outer layer of the drysuit is made of nylon or a similar material that provides water resistance, while the inner layer consists of a breathable fabric that allows moisture and perspiration to escape.
Insulation and Thermal Protection
Wetsuits rely on trapped water that warms up and acts as a barrier against the cold.
The neoprene material used in wetsuits helps retain body heat, providing thermal protection even in extremely cold conditions. The thickness of the neoprene varies in wetsuits, allowing users to choose the appropriate level of insulation based on water temperature.
Drysuits are designed to keep you warm and safe; they keep the wearer completely dry. Instead of relying on a layer of water for insulation, drysuits use a layer of air.
This trapped air acts as an excellent insulator and helps keep the body warm. Drysuits are often equipped with insulating undergarments to provide additional warmth in frigid conditions.
Water Entrapment and Mobility
Wetsuits work by trapping a layer of water. This design provides some level of mobility and flexibility for water sports activities.
Wetsuits are generally more form-fitting, providing a greater range of motion and allowing for easy paddling, swimming, or other movements required in kayaking or paddleboarding.
Drysuits are looser than wetsuits and are sealed to prevent water form entering. While this design provides complete dryness, it takes some getting used to and can restrict mobility in the water compared to wetsuits.
Waterproofing and Water Resistance
Wetsuits are not waterproof.
Drysuits are waterproof. The seams of drysuits are carefully sealed and often reinforced with tapes or liquid sealants to prevent any water entry.
They feature a waterproof zipper to keep water out. The goal of a drysuit is to keep the wearer completely dry, even in the most extreme water conditions.
Wetsuits require regular rinsing and proper storage. Rinse off any saltwater or chlorine after each use to prevent damage to the neoprene.
They need to be dried before storage, away from direct sunlight, as excessive heat can degrade the materials. It is also recommended to use wetsuit-specific cleaning products to remove any dirt or odors.
Drysuits also require proper maintenance to prolong their lifespan. Rinse off any contaminants and ensure the zippers are free of debris.
They should be stored stored in a cool, dry place to prevent mold or mildew growth.
Fit and Comfort
This is a main difference between a wetsuit and drysuit.
If you want something that fits snugly against your body, buy a wetsuit. But keep in mind: the snug fit can sometimes feel restrictive, especially around your chest and shoulders.
Drysuits are typically looser than a wetsuit to allow for layering underneath and to accommodate varying body shapes. The looser fit can provide more freedom of movement and a more comfortable experience, particularly for activities like kayaking that require a wide range of motion.
For more information on what to wear kayaking, check out our comprehensive guide.
When it comes to the wet suit vs dry suit debate on versatility, wetsuits have the advantage. They are suitable for a wide range of water sports, including surfing, swimming, snorkeling, and paddle boarding.
Wetsuits are designed to provide thermal protection while allowing for freedom of movement, making them ideal for activities that involve frequent submersion and high levels of physical exertion.
Dry suits tend to be used in extreme cold conditions (when the temperature of the water is very low) for activities like kayaking, canoeing, and scuba diving. They offer excellent insulation and complete waterproofing, making them well-suited for long durations in icy waters.
They may be less versatile for other water sports due to their bulkier design and limited range of motion.
Wetsuit or drysuit: which is more expensive?
Well, wetsuits are cheaper than drysuits. If you choose to buy a wetsuit, just know that entry-level wetsuits range from $50 to $200, while high-end models can go up to $500 or more.
Drysuits are more expensive due to their advanced construction and materials. The price of a drysuit can range from $500 to over $1,000, depending on the brand and features.
Wetsuit Vs Drysuit for Kayaking in Extreme Cold Conditions
When you’re planning on kayaking in extreme cold conditions (water temperature under 45 degrees), make sure you select the right gear. (And make sure you file a float plan to let others know where you’ll be paddling–see our article on float plans to find out more.) Let’s explore the factors to consider and the suitability of each option.
Wetsuit in Extreme Cold Conditions
It is crucial to select a wetsuit with a thickness appropriate for the water temperature. Thicker neoprene, such as 5mm or 6mm, provides enhanced insulation in frigid waters.
While wetsuits provide excellent thermal insulation, they are not completely waterproof, as we previously discussed. Water will enter the suit, but the thin layer between the wetsuit and your body will help retain heat and keep you comfortable.
In general, you want to use a drysuit in very cold conditions. They’re better for this.
Drysuit in Extreme Cold Conditions
For kayakers who prioritize a dry body and require maximum protection in extreme cold conditions, a drysuit is the best choice. Drysuits provide a watertight barrier, ensuring no water enters the suit and keeping you dry throughout your kayaking adventure.
While drysuits offer superior waterproofing and insulation, they may be bulkier and restrict mobility.
Selecting the right gear for cold-water kayaking is crucial for your safety and comfort. The key differences between wetsuits and dry suits should be carefully considered.
Investing in high-quality gear appropriate for the conditions will keep you safe and comfortable on the water. Both wetsuits and drysuits have their advantages, and the choice ultimately depends on your individual preferences.
What is the difference between a wetsuit and a drysuit?
A wetsuit is made of neoprene and allows a small amount of water to enter, which is heated by your body and helps to keep you warm. A drysuit is a waterproof suit that keeps you completely dry by preventing water from entering.
When should I wear a wetsuit?
When participating in water activities, especially surfing, diving, or paddleboarding. A wetsuit provides insulation and protection from cold water, which helps to regulate your body temperature and prevent hypothermia.
When should I wear a drysuit?
In colder water conditions or when immersion is expected. It is commonly used by scuba divers, kayakers, and sailors who need maximum protection from the cold water.
What are the benefits of wearing a drysuit?
Staying completely dry, providing excellent insulation in cold water, and offering better mobility compared to some wetsuits. It also allows you to layer clothing underneath for extra warmth.
Are there any disadvantages to wearing a drysuit?
They offer better protection in cold water but can be bulkier and less flexible than wetsuits. They also tend to be more expensive.
Which is better, a wetsuit or a drysuit?
This depends on your specific needs. A wetsuit is better for warmer water where you need flexibility and don’t mind getting wet. A drysuit is better for colder water where you need maximum insulation and want to stay completely dry.
How do a wetsuit and a drysuit keep you warm?
Wetsuits keep you warm by trapping a thin layer of water between your body and the suit. Your body heat then warms up this layer of water, which acts as insulation. Drysuits keeps you warm by preventing any water from entering the suit.
Can I wear a wetsuit in cold water, or do I need a dry suit?
A wetsuit can provide some insulation in cold water conditions, but it is not as effective as a drysuit. In extremely cold water, a wetsuit may not provide enough insulation to keep you warm and could be dangerous.
Can I wear a drysuit to keep me warm while swimming?
Drysuits are not designed for swimming. The added bulk and restricted movement may impede swimming abilities. For swimming, it is recommended to use a wetsuit or other appropriate swimwear.