Exposure suits are designed to keep you warm underwater or protect you from getting stung or scraped or both. There are a variety of exposure suits on the market, such as dive skins, wet suits, and dry suits.
Dive Skins are usually made of Lycra and are designed to protect you from scrapes, stings, sun, and chafing from dive gear. They offer little thermal protection from the water. This type of suit is used mostly in warm water environments, dries quickly, is easy to pack, and is easy to take on and off.
Wet suits are made of neoprene and also protect you from scrapes, stings, sun, and chafing from dive gear but they also offer thermal protection. Wet suits trap a slim layer of water between the suit and your skin. Your skin warms the water and the neoprene provides the thermal properties.
Wet suits come in all sizes, designs, and thicknesses. Some suits only cover your torso area, called shorties and others cover your entire body. There are wet suit vests, hoods, and gloves. Depending on where you dive and what the water temperature is where you plan on diving is the main thing to consider when deciding on the type and thickness of suit you want to purchase. Thickness of suits varies from 0.5 mm to 7 mm. A thinner suit that only covers a portion of your body, such as a shortie is generally used in the warmer climates with water temperatures 78 degrees Fahrenheit and warmer. A full suit from 3 mm to 5 mm, such as a one-piece suit, is generally used in water temperatures ranging from 72 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Farmer john two-piece suits of 5 mm to 7 mm are usually used in 65 to 72 degree Fahrenheit water. When diving in water below 65 degrees Fahrenheit for any length of time, you may want to consider a dry suit.
Cost: $50 to $400
Dry suits offer the ultimate in thermal protection, because no water comes in contact with your skin. Dry suits are extremely good at keeping you warm, but they are more expensive and harder to use. They may even require equipment modifications.
Most dry suits are designed with built in boots, which are sometimes pretty bulky. This means that you may have to use a different pair of fins that will accommodate the larger boot size.
Dry suits require air to be added inside the suit to offset the uncomfortable compression at depth. This is done by using a low-pressure inflator hose that connects to the first stage of your regulator and to an inlet valve on the dry suit. Make sure you have an extra low-pressure port on your regulator.
There are two types of dry suits, neoprene and shell suits. Neoprene suits offer some thermal protection by themselves through the neoprene. Neoprene suits are more buoyant and require more weight and the neoprene crushes at depth, just like a wetsuit, removing some of its thermal properties. However, neoprene suits because of the way they are built produce less drag than a shell type suit. Neoprene suits are usually the least expensive type of dry suit.
Shell suits are simply that, just shells that offer little or no thermal protection. Shell suits are usually made of vulcanized rubber or nylon sandwiched between butyl rubber called trilaminate. These materials are not flexible and do not stretch, which make them more baggy than neoprene suits, which produces more drag in the water.
Because dry suits themselves offer little thermal protection, you must wear thermal garments under your dry suit. There are a number of different types of garments you can wear, such as fleece, thinsulate, and polar tec. Each of these materials offer different thermal properties and come in various thicknesses and weights. Water temperature determines the type and weight of undergarment you should wear.
Dry suits also have seals, valves and zippers. The seals are on the neck and wrist of the suits and are usually made of latex, which seals against your skin and keeps the water out. The valves are used to add air to the suit and dump air out of the suit. The intake valve is usually on the chest of the suit, which is where the low-pressure inflator hose is connected. A button on the valve is used to add air. The dump valve is usually on the upper left arm on the suit. The dump valves can usually be tightened or loosened, which controls the amount of air dumps from the suit each time the button is pressed. The button on the valve opens the valve and allows air to dump from the suit. Adding and removing air from your suit is required when descending and ascending. The zipper on the suit is waterproof and usually runs across the back of the suit or across the chest. The placement of the zipper allows for easy donning of the suit.
Cost: $600 to $2800
Gloves are either used to protect your hands from cuts, abrasions, stings, etc. or to keep your hands warm or both. Gloves come in all types and depending on what type of diving you’re doing determines the type of gloves you need. There are neoprene, nylon, fake leather, gloves as well as dry gloves for use with some dry suits that can accommodate gloves. Dry gloves require some type of liner, which is what keeps your hands warm. Liners can be made of polartec, fleece, etc. Gloves can make it harder to operate clips, valves, reels, etc. Some technical divers diving in warmer water cut the fingers out their gloves so that they can feel things better and operate equipment easier. Cost: $15 to $125