A Complete Guide to Wetsuits for Snorkeling

A Complete Guide to Wetsuits for Snorkeling

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When thinking about wetsuits, diving is the first sport that pops into mind. But what about other popular water sports, such as snorkeling? Can you wear a wetsuit for snorkeling?

In this article, we’ll discuss whether you should put on a wetsuit for this surface water sport. We’ll also discuss the diving outfit’s benefits and how to find the perfect fit. So, stick around!

Should You Wear a Wetsuit When Snorkeling?

The short answer is that it depends. You generally don’t need to wear a wetsuit when snorkeling. That’s especially true in tropical regions where the water doesn’t experience seasonal changes.

Unlike diving, snorkeling revolves around swimming at the water’s surface. On the other hand, in scuba diving, you descend deeper into the ocean.

As you might know, the water temperature decreases as you go deeper toward the bottom. On average, the temperature range extends from 86ºF at the surface to 30.2ºF as you swim near the seabed. That’s because surface water gets a lot of sunlight, while deeper water levels don’t.

Additionally, cold, salty water is denser than hot water. As a result, it sinks to the ocean’s basins, below the less dense, warm water, which stays near the surface.

Having said that, it’s recommended to wear the diving outfit at low water temperatures, even for snorkeling. That’s because wetsuits’ primary function is to keep the wearer warm to reduce the risks of hypothermia.

Why Wear a Wetsuit When Snorkeling?

Putting on a wetsuit for your snorkeling adventure is something you should consider, and for good reasons. For one, the diving outfit provides thermal protection against freezing water.

However, that’s not the only benefit of wetsuits. They also make snorkeling easier, thanks to their buoyancy. Plus, wetsuits can help protect you from sea life and avoid shark attacks!

Here’s a detailed explanation of why you should wear a wetsuit when snorkeling:

1.   Warmth

As mentioned earlier, wetsuits are essential for water sports enthusiasts to keep them warm, thanks to neoprene. The former is a stretchy, synthetic rubber used in manufacturing wetsuits.

So, how do neoprene suits work?

The flexible material traps a thin layer of water between your skin and the wetsuit.

Afterward, your body warms that layer since heat transfers from high-temperature objects to low-temperature ones. That heated water helps you maintain a warm body temperature throughout your snorkeling journey.

Now, you might wonder, since the ocean water is cold, why doesn’t your body cool down again? The answer to that is insulation. Not only do wetsuits eat trapped water, but they also have insulation properties.

Again, it’s all because of neoprene. This synthetic rubber has a foam structure with numerous tiny chambers.

Those rooms trap nitrogen gas, which conducts heat poorly. As a result, it prevents the warmth from escaping the suit and the cold ocean water from cooling down your body.

2.   Buoyancy

Another perk of wearing a wetsuit is that it helps you stay afloat due to its low density and water absorption.

Remember the gas enclosed within the neoprene thanks to its foam-like structure? Not only does that provide insulation, but it also reduces neoprene’s density.

So, when you submerge yourself in water, the trapped air provides buoyancy, lifting your body toward the surface. Sure, a wetsuit won’t make you float like a life jacket. Still, it contributes to extra buoyancy, which can be handy in elevating your body, making your snorkeling venture easier.

Additionally, wetsuits don’t soak up much water. Although the diving suit isn’t waterproof, it’s typically made of a material that doesn’t absorb much water. If that’s the case, wetsuits will weigh you down, which is the exact opposite of what you want when snorkeling.

What’s more, some modern wetsuits have special coatings that repel water and achieve 0% absorption!

3.   Protection

Providing thermal protection isn’t the only function wetsuits offer. They can also keep you safe from sea life, such as jellyfish stings. Getting stung by those pesky little sea creatures is a common problem for those who enjoy water sports.

Although jellyfish stings produce painful symptoms, like swelling, burning, and throbbing pain, they usually don’t require medical intervention. Still, in some cases, you could experience severe symptoms that need emergency treatment.

Wearing a wetsuit can help you avoid all that, as it prevents the stinger’s tentacles from contacting your skin.

Aside from sea creatures, neoprene suits shield you against harmful UV sunlight—a much-needed protection since snorkeling involves spending many hours in the sun.

That’s especially true in hot regions like the tropics. Because the sun’s intensity is strong in tropical climates, it takes less time to get sunburned.

Not to mention, you’ll be doing the environment a favor by not wearing sunscreen. Those products contain a highly toxic chemical that endangers marine life.

4.   Help Elude Sharks

Sharks typically see contrast quite well. So, wearing bright-colored apparel, such as yellow, can make you a delicious meal for the fish. To reduce these risks, some companies developed special shark-repelling wetsuits.

Those suits use unique shades and patterns to make the wearer invisible to the predatory fish.

In contrast, some wetsuits have zebra-like patterns that increase your visibility to sharks. The idea is to disguise the wearer as a dangerous food source. As a result, wearing it will deter the sharks.

This benefit might not be as significant as the others because the probability of encountering sharks while snorkeling is generally slim. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry and put on those special wetsuits to reduce your chances of a shark attack.

What to Look for When Buying a Wetsuit for Snorkeling

Proper fit is the most significant factor to look for when purchasing a wetsuit, regardless of the brand you’ll buy it from. You should also consider other factors, such as material quality, thickness, color, and purpose, to get the most out of your wetsuit.

Let’s discuss each factor in further detail!

1.   Proper Fit

Getting the right wetsuit size is crucial for many reasons. For one, an ill-fitting suit won’t provide any of the mentioned functions, like warmth and buoyancy.

For instance, if your suit is too loose, water will rush in and out of the diving outfit. That’s the exact opposite of what you want from a wetsuit. Not only will the excess water make you cold, but it’ll also weigh you down.

As a result, it makes snorkeling harder, as suits filled with excess water can slow down your movement.

Small wetsuits, on the other hand, are too tight. That can make it painful, especially around the neck and groin area. Moving in an extra-tight wetsuit is also challenging because it restricts your range of motion.

2.   Thickness

Wetsuit thickness can be a double-edged sword. A thick wetsuit contains more neoprene. As a result, it provides better thermal protection and heat insulation than thin suits.

Additionally, thicker wetsuits contain more gas chambers. That means it’ll help you stay afloat while snorkeling. A perk that’s helpful for beginners since the added buoyancy of wetsuits can help you expend less energy on floating and enjoy a more extended snorkeling session.

Plus, thicker panels can help protect you against cuts and scrapes.

All that sounds great; however, it comes at the cost of losing convenience. Thicker neoprene panels are less flexible. So, you might need to put in extra effort to move when wearing those wetsuits.

The good news is that you usually don’t need thick wetsuits for the surface water sport. Most 2.5-mm to 3-mm wetsuits will cover most of the conditions you can encounter in your snorkeling journey. That’s because they can keep you warm at temperatures between 62ºF and 68ºF.

For colder weather conditions, 5 mm would do. Those suits cover temperatures lower than 62ºF. They’re also not as restrictive as thicker diving suits, such as 7 mm. That makes 5-mm wetsuits excellent if you plan on spending a long time in the water.

3.   Material

Sure, most wetsuits are made of neoprene, but that doesn’t mean they’re of equal quality.

This synthetic rubber is a product of a chemical called chloroprene. The former comes in powder form. Manufacturers then add other ingredients and expose the mixture to heat as well as pressure to produce the synthetic rubber.

Like all plastics, using low-quality materials that contain impurities produces weak synthetic rubber. That subjects the wetsuit to premature wear and tear.

4.   Zippers and Seams

Aside from neoprene quality, zippers and seams also play a role in a wetsuit’s durability. Zippers that slip and aren’t sturdy will allow water to seep into the diving outfit.

Similarly, seams can also fill wetsuits with excess water. That’s especially true in low-end suits with overlock stitches. The former involves butting the neoprene panels together and sewing over the edge of the two pieces.

Not only does that result in a bulge from the inside, which can be uncomfortable, but it also creates thousands of pinholes in the neoprene. The latter results in water passing through the tiny punctures and overfilling the wetsuit.

Overlock seams are usually found in cheap, low-quality wetsuits. Flatlock seams, on the other hand, are typical in most entry-level wetsuits. While that stitch type also produces pinholes, it’s still more durable and comfortable than overlock.

Blind-stitched seams that are reinforced with waterproof glue are what you’ll find in high-end suits. Why? Because this stitching type doesn’t puncture the neoprene through the other side. Consequently, the wetsuit won’t fill up with excess water.

5.   Purpose

When buying a wetsuit for snorkeling, it’s good to think about other water activities you might need the suit for. For instance, you may enjoy other sports, like surfing, swimming, kayaking, and paddle boarding.

The above are all surface water sports. For that reason, a snorkeling wetsuit would be suitable for those activities, unlike diving. The latter involves swimming into large depths. As you are aware, the water conditions at deep sea levels differ from the surface.

If you want to try various water activities, it’s best to invest in thicker wetsuits, around 3 mm or above. Those suits are more versatile, and you can use them in different environments.

How to Choose the Right Wetsuit Fit

Choosing the right wetsuit fit is a tricky task. That’s because the diving outfit is meant to be comfortable inside the water. If the fit feels slightly roomy, it’ll end up too loose when submerged in water.

In general, a wetsuit should feel like a second skin layer. Yet it shouldn’t be too tight that it’s hard to move while wearing it. Plus, it shouldn’t restrict your breathing or circulation. Since that sounds confusing, here are three steps to help you choose the proper wetsuit fitting.

Step 1: Take Your Measurements

Most wetsuit size charts require your height, chest, and waist measurements. It’s essential to take accurate measurements to determine the right wetsuit fit. Using a soft measuring tape, measure the widest part of your chest.

Likewise, look for the widest part of your waist and wrap the tape around it. For women, taking your hip measurements can be helpful.

Step 2: Try It On

After taking your measurements, compare them to the chart to find the suitable size. If your measurements are between two sizes, opt for the bigger one.

Next, try on the wetsuit. Start from your legs and pull the suit up to your hips. One little trick to help you slide the wetsuit on quickly is wearing a plastic bag on your feet. Then, put the arms one at a time and close the zippers well. Make sure to align the kneecaps and elbows perfectly.

Additionally, pull as much material toward your upper body so that the suit doesn’t pull down on your shoulders and cause tension.

Step 3: Check for the Essentials

Once you’ve got your suit on, check for the following:

  • Length: A wetsuit’s length is the easiest way to know if it fits well. It should cover the ankles, wrists, and neck.
  • The fit: The wetsuit should fit snugly but allow a full range of motion. Try squatting and lifting your arms to determine if the suit is restrictive.
  • Excess material: Armpits, behind the knees, and the waist are common areas where you can find folds. If that’s the case, the suit is too big, and you need a size down.
  • Zippers: Make sure the zippers are easy to use and don’t get stuck as you slide them.


Ultimately, using a wetsuit for snorkeling is a good idea. The diving outfit offers various benefits, such as thermal and UV protection. It also aids in the prevention of potential marine life injuries, such as jellyfish stings.

Plus, it can make snorkeling less challenging as the suit contributes to extra buoyancy. All those benefits, however, are achievable with the proper wetsuit fitting and thickness. So, make sure to double-check the fit’s size.

That way, you can enjoy a comfortable snorkeling adventure without the risks of hypothermia, sunburns, and other sea hazards.

Jack Thompson

Jack Thompson, a scuba diving enthusiast from San Diego, has spent over a decade exploring the underwater world across the globe. Sharing his passion through captivating stories and informative articles, Jack aims to inspire others to embark on their own scuba diving adventures and uncover the ocean's hidden treasures. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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