If you’re reading this, you’re probably ready to ditch that old wetsuit and make the investment in a drysuit and extend your dive season in comfort. We understand that making the leap into a drysuit most likely will represent the most significant investment you will make in your personal diving equipment…well, unless you plan on going into rebreather diving! With that in mind, we want you to be well informed and stand firm with the choice you make in your personal drysuit. Given that, we have written this comprehensive buyer’s guide that will allow you to understand the considerations that go into purchasing your first drysuit and give you an idea of the questions to ask as you research the world of drysuit diving. So, let’s get started, shall we?
Should You Get Drysuit Certified?
When I became a diver I couldn’t justify the expense of a drysuit with the amount of diving I was planning on doing. So I ended up shivering through my first couple hundred dives in a thick wetsuit and heavy weight belt. By the time I actually got a drysuit I already a semi experienced diver. With that(and the empty bank account from buying the suit), I skipped taking the drysuit course and just headed to the local quarry for some bottom time.
All seemed to work out ok on a basic level, after a few dives and drills I was semi comfortable diving the suit. Fast forward a year later and the offer from an instructor and friend to tag along on a drysuit course he was teaching…for the bargain price of a steak dinner that night. Figuring it was a good opportunity to dive with a friend and eat steak, I took him up on the offer. While I didn’t learn much about actually diving a drysuit in the course, I did learn quite a bit about caring for my drysuit investment. That alone was worth the price of a New York Strip.
The answer to that will lie with your personal dive experience and whether or not you have experienced drysuit divers who would be willing to mentor you every step of the way. While the investment of a new drysuit isn’t a small one, neither are the cost of charters/quarry entry/trips, air fills, gas, and time it may take you to learn how to proficiently dive your suit. There’s also the enjoyment and safety factor….will you really enjoy the dives and portion of the dive season consumed with your self directed learning? Will you be safe diving a drysuit being self taught? Or you can spend a little bit of money, take a day or two with an attentive instructor who will show you all about diving dry! Then, with the course completed you can begin your dive season equipped for drysuit diving and enjoyment of the entire season.
While my personal experience is a little “backwards”, I ended up seeing the value in taking a drysuit course. At the very least I came away from it with some valuable tips and tricks on how to take care of my suit. With that in mind, do you want to spend time during the short dive season learning how to dive dry? Or do you want to make a small investment of time and money to ensure your enjoyment of the entire dive season? To me the answer is a clear YES! spend a few bucks and learn how to dive a drysuit properly and safely.
Should Your Drysuit Be Custom Fitted Or Off The Rack?
For many divers, ordering an off the rack “fits good enough” drysuit is a viable option. Perhaps they are one of the lucky who happen to fall in line with what the size chart states. Also, they might be honest with themselves and recognize the fact that they do happen to put on the “winter 15” around the midsection just after the holidays. The possibility also exists that they simply think that a custom fitted drysuit is simply out of reach financially. All are acceptable reasons for ordering a drysuit in a stock size. However, ordering a custom drysuit does remain a viable option and is easier and a great deal more inexpensive than you might want to believe.
So if you fall into the above categories and an off the rack drysuit is a decent option, great! But what if a custom fitted suit is simply better than a “decent” option? Well, I guess the diver who fits perfectly within the size chart can keep his stock suit. Of course I know that I’m not one of them…the weight room and my love of craft beer see to that! How about the diver who knows that they gain the extra few pounds from the cookies and ham at the holiday parties? Well, who said that a custom fitted suit has to be form fitting? Or perhaps that diver may be interested in a drysuit material that has a little stretch to it? Yes those do exist! Oh, I see you in the back….shaking your head and grumbling about the added cost. Ok, let me address your concerns. Most often a custom suit is not as expensive as you think, will fit better allowing you for more enjoyable diving, and can even be cheaper in some instances when the only off the rack suit for you is the super expensive model!
What Drysuit Type Should You Get?
A shell drysuit is exactly what the name implies…a shell. Within the category of the shell drysuit are bilaminate and trilaminate. Most often these type of drysuits carry no inherent insulation value. All insulation must come in the form of a quality undergarment. While this may seem like a negative, it gives the diver flexibility in what undergarment to use and the ability to dive the suit in a wide range of water temperatures. Another plus of the shell type suit is the material is thin, tough and forms well. This allows for ease of travel, although this quality may be negated if traveling to a cooler diving locale where thicker undergarments may be required. On the subject of travel, shell drysuits are often easy to repair with limited loss of time.
One downside to the shell drysuit is traditionally the material has little, if any ability to stretch. This could be a deal breaker for divers who tend to put on a few pounds during the off season and will find the suit has “shrunk” during those non diving months. Included in the category of shell type suits is the breathable membrane materials. These materials breathe and allow for moisture exchange to eliminate that “damp feeling” caused by mainly by perspiration throughout the dive. As a final plus for the fashion conscience divers, shell drysuits can often be had in a variety of colors and designs beyond the basic black.
The crushed neoprene drysuit is made from the same tried and true material as the wetsuit, with one exception. In a crushed neoprene drysuit the neoprene is compressed to eliminate that buoyancy shift common with just about every wetsuit out there. This creates a tough and insulating material. With the insulating qualities of crushed neoprene, many divers can dive a crushed neoprene suit in mild waters with as little as a baselayer underneath the suit. This is a distinct advantage over the shell type drysuit. However, this advantage becomes a disadvantage when traveling and space is at a premium as the crushed neoprene suit doesn’t pack as well as a shell type suit. However, if you’re primarily diving locally in cooler waters a crushed neoprene suit may be the way to go. In addition, a crushed neoprene suit has quite a bit more stretch than a shell type suit which makes it a good option for those who gain the “Holiday 10” each year only to lose it when the weather warms up. In addition there are drysuits that are made of non crushed neoprene. These type of suits provide outstanding inherent insulation value but also tend to be a bit on the bulky side.
What Are The Ongoing Costs Of Owning A Drysuit?
Drysuits require regular maintenance to keep them functional and you dry during a dive. First, your suit will require replacement seals at normal intervals. Even simple glue on latex seals will run you 150-200 dollars per replacement, and it is recommended to replace them once a year if you’re an active diver. Of course the possibility exists of having a seal rip on a dive trip. If that happens you either have to call the dive and repair the suit or you can have an ungraded replaceable seal system installed. While the replaceable seal system has a higher upfront cost, the ongoing seal replacement will be less painful and you won’t miss dives over a damaged seal(unless you forget to put replacement seals in your dive bag).
In addition to seals, your drysuit will eventually require the zipper to be replaced. For most drysuit owners this represents the most significant repair expense of their suit. While most drysuit zippers will last at least a few years if maintained properly, their replacement is still a sizable hit to the wallet…usually running 275.00 and up.
Of course, the biggest thing that will turn your drysuit into a “moist suit” are leaks. Most often a suit will develop small leaks and require a leak test to determine the leak location and then the subsequent repair. Oftentimes, a suit will have multiple leaks and require a good deal of time and effort on the repair.
If you dive your drysuit long enough, you will desire to add some upgraded items to it to truly supercharge your dry diving experience. Some of these options include a pee valve, which will provide much needed comfort on dives. Another option would be a replaceable seal system, so you’re not stuck on the dive boat with a damaged seal while your buddies are enjoying the depth. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include one of the most popular drysuit upgrades…drygloves. For warm and dry hands on your dives, these are simply a must have!
So the question still lingers of how you can have an amazing drysuit diving experience and not have to take out another mortgage? Well, don’t fret because the crew here at DRIS have a line up of industry first lifetime drysuit warranty options! First, we want you to know that all drysuit purchases come with our standard warranty free of charge! This warranty includes 1 free leak test per year for the life of the suit. In addition to that we offer 2 upgraded warranty options with the aim to keep you diving dry and save some money!
Our Premium Lifetime Warranty comes at a modest cost of 250.00 and includes free leak tests for the life of the suit, one seal replacement per year and free leak patching for the life of the suit! You can read the fine print of the warranty here. If you would like added peace of mind we offer our Platinum Lifetime Warranty. Included in the warranty are lifetime leak tests, lifetime patches, lifetime seam guarantee, one set of seals per year, and one zipper replacement every 3 years. This warranty carries an affordable price tag of 500.00 and basically covers all of your bases with respect to your suit. You can read the fine print of the warranty here.
What About Undergarments?
You will most likely need more than one undergarment. Yep, I know you didn’t want to hear that but it rings true…unless you only dive in one place and that place is within the same temperature range all year long(both water and air). I mean, would you wear a ski jacket in Miami in the summer, or board shorts here in Chicago in January? The same rule applies for dry suit undergarments. Most often, experienced drysuit divers own a few sets of undergarments…one each for warm, moderate, and cold temperatures. Of course, if your initial budget forbids this we recommend buying an undergarment for the waters you dive the most. You can add the other ones later.
One Piece or Two Piece
When you shop for a drysuit undergarment, you will notice that they come in one piece and two piece ensembles. If you ask 10 different divers which one they prefer you’ll most likely get 11 different answers. I know, I know…the math doesn’t quite work with that statement but you get the point. It’s a matter of personal preference. Most often you will find that one piece drysuit undergarments are simpler(less pieces), easy donning, and don’t ride up at the midsection leaving a strip of chilled skin on your lower back. Two piece undergarments are easier to be mixed and matched as well as good for base layers underneath thicker loft style undergarment suits.
Custom or off the rack
Yes, that’s right…you can get a custom fit drysuit undergarment right here from your friends at Dive Right In Scuba! I know, I know…I see you out there thinking “why would I need something custom fit that’s just going UNDER my drysuit?” Well, bear with me for a second ok? You went the extra mile to ensure that your drysuit fits you well…even resorting to a custom fit for that bad boy. Why would you want to do anything less with something that’s designed to be worn against your skin and carry the task of keeping you warm and comfortable? Just imagine an ill fitting undergarment bunching up or even worse, squeezing underneath your drysuit when you’re trying to execute perfect trim, a frog kick, or even a valve drill that is a safety thing? I know I would want a drysuit undergarment that fits me just as well as the drysuit itself. Who wants to be uncomfortable or even unsafe on a dive? I sure don’t!
Well, there you have it. The main concerns that you need to address when looking at purchasing your first drysuit. Of course, individuals differ so you may have more concerns or questions about your investment in diving dry. That’s what the crew at DRIS is here for! Anytime you have questions, feel free to call, email, or live chat with us. We love to talk diving and dive gear!