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What To Wear Under A Wetsuit

Nicola Burridge
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Planning to hit the waves or indulge in water sports?

Don’t forget to gear up with a wetsuit for warmth and protection from the elements.

But did you know that what you wear under your wetsuit can impact your comfort and performance?

Choosing the right layers can regulate body temperature, prevent chafing, and provide extra support.

However, the wrong choice of clothing can cause discomfort and even injury.

In this article, we’ll guide you through what to wear under a wetsuit for a safe and enjoyable aquatic experience.

What To Wear Under A Wetsuit - Pinterest ImagePin

What Is A Wetsuit?

hanged wetsuits near the sea on a sandy beach on a bright sunny day with boats and kayaks in the backgroundPin

A wetsuit is usually made from neoprene fabric and is designed to keep your body warm during various water activities. 

Wetsuits come in different styles and thicknesses. The thicker the fabric, the more thermal insulation the suit will provide. The thickness of the suit is determined by a numerical scale. The higher numbers represent a thicker fabric. 

The numbers that you see on wetsuit descriptions tell you how thick the material is in millimeters. The scale generally ranges from 0.5 mm to 6+ mm. 

One important thing to remember with a wetsuit is that it is designed to let water in. The water gets trapped inside your suit and is warmed by your body temperature. This layer of water is what helps to provide the insulation. 

Generally, it’s best that you choose a wetsuit that’s suitable for the water temperatures that you plan to paddle in.

> What to wear when out kayaking

Different Types Of Wetsuits

There are typically four types or styles of wetsuits. The type you need will depend on your personal preference and comfort level, plus the weather and water temperature. 

In addition to the four types, there is also the option of wearing separate wetsuit pants and tops. The tops and pants can often be worn on top of existing wetsuits in cold temperatures, as well as on their own in warm waters.

Full Length Wetsuit (ideal For Cold Water)

This is probably what you think of when you think of a traditional wetsuit. Full length wetsuits cover your entire body, with long sleeves and long pants, like a full body suit. 

These types of wetsuits, particularly the thicker suits, can be ideal for cold water and colder weather. But there are thinner wetsuits in this style that can be suitable for activities in warm water. 

Shorty Wetsuit (Or Spring Suit)

A spring suit or shorty wetsuit features short sleeves and short pants. This type of wetsuit can be better suited for wearing in warm waters, such as warm water diving or snorkeling.

Some women’s spring suits differ from shorty wetsuits as often feature long sleeves rather than short sleeves, but still feature either shorts or swimsuit-style bottoms on the lower half.

Long John (Or Jane) Wetsuit

Long John wetsuits feature long pants and a wetsuit vest on the top half. The women’s version is called a long Jane wetsuit.

This type of one piece wetsuit can be good for surfing or other water activities where you need full movement of your arms.

Short John (Or Jane) Wetsuit

Similar to the long John suit, the short Johns have short pants. These are similar to the shorty suit but without the short sleeves. These can be ideal for warmer waters.

You could also layer up the short John or Jane suits if you plan to be in cold water or colder temperatures. You could combine the short John with additional neoprene layers, such as a wetsuit jacket and wetsuit pants. 

You could also wear a long-sleeve rash vest under the wetsuit to add to the layers for your upper body.

What To Wear Under A Wetsuit

The important thing to remember when deciding what to wear under your wetsuit is to make sure you are comfortable. While wetsuits are not always the most comfortable items to wear, they shouldn’t be uncomfortable.

If you plan to take part in any activity that requires movement, such as kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, or scuba diving, then you will need to make sure that what you wear under the wetsuit is also comfortable. 

Many paddlers and scuba divers often choose to wear a bathing suit or rash guards under the wetsuit to help with insulation. If you wear undergarments, you can also help to minimize chafing from the neoprene wetsuit. 

Wearing layers under your wetsuit can also help to regulate your body’s temperature in cold waters. However, it is also important that you choose the right thickness of wetsuit for the climate and waters that you plan to be in.

Opting for a wetsuit that is too thin for the conditions may result in hypothermia if you’re in the cold water for too long and are unable to regulate your core temperature.

Do You Need To Wear Anything Under A Wetsuit?

Man on the sea shore putting on a wetsuit Pin

As far as rules go, there are no rules when it comes to what you should wear under a wetsuit. So, technically, you don’t need to wear anything under a wetsuit. But you probably should. 

Apart from being uncomfortable if you’re not wearing anything underneath, it will also make things a little more difficult when it comes to getting changed at the end of your session. 

This is especially true if you have to get changed in the parking lot, shielded only by the back of your car. 

A changing robe could help. But it only takes a gust of wind to kick that robe up and potentially put you on display to the rest of the parking lot. 

Another benefit to wearing something under your wetsuit is that it can be much easier to get the suit on and off when you have something underneath. Trying to peel off a wet suit from bare skin is no easy feat. 

But if you have a thin layer of fabric between you and the suit, then there should be less friction when it’s time to take it off. 

The extra layer of material can also boost the thermal properties of a thin wetsuit by providing an added thermal barrier between you and the cold waters. This can mean you get the protection of a thick wetsuit but the comfort and mobility of a thinner wetsuit.

Are There Any Clothing Items To Avoid Wearing Under A Wetsuit?

In general, you should avoid any clothing that retains water and takes a long time to dry. Remember, wetsuits will let water in, so your skin and whatever clothing you have on under the wetsuit will get wet. 

You should avoid fabrics such as cotton, as this holds a lot of water and takes a while to dry. Cotton will generally become very heavy when it is wet, which means you will probably be uncomfortable if you wear cotton t-shirts or undergarments under your wetsuit.

Because cotton is very absorbent and retains water, it will also likely make you feel cold, which could affect the performance of your wetsuit, particularly if you’re paddling or scuba diving in colder waters. This could potentially be dangerous and lead to hypothermia if you are unable to keep your upper body warm.

Fabrics that become heavier in the water may also affect your ability to swim or move effectively. Cotton sleeves or long pants could restrict your movement, as the cotton will tend to stick to your skin. Sportswear fabrics tend to allow for unrestricted movement, even when wet, and they are usually lightweight.

You may also want to avoid clothing that is loose fitting. Loose clothing may become uncomfortable under a wetsuit if it bunches when you pull on the wetsuit. 

Tight layers that remain in place against your body will be less likely to move and bunch when you put your arms and legs into the wetsuit. This is where a one piece base layer can be a good idea since this will be less likely to move around when you pull on the suit.

Remember it can be best to avoid wearing your regular underwear underneath your wetsuit, as this will probably take a long time to dry. And when it’s time to take the wetsuit off, you will probably want dry underwear to put on. 

This is why it can often be better to wear swimwear as your initial layer before you put on a rash guard or long pants.  

What To Wear Under A Wetsuit For Men

Wear Compression Shirts Or Rash Guards

Compression shirts can be one of the best options to wear underneath a wetsuit as they provide a thin base layer that adds minimal bulk but provides a decent amount of warmth with minimal skin irritation. 

Rash guards are designed to be worn under wetsuits, making them an ideal option. A rash guard shirt can help to reduce the amount of chafing on your arms while paddling or swimming. 

Rash guards can also help to minimize irritation on your arms and upper body if you’re carrying scuba diving gear.  

Rash guards can be useful base layers for all types of wetsuits and all types of conditions, even if you have a thicker wetsuit. 

Most rash guards will tend to provide UV protection as they are often made with UPF fabric. This means they can help protect your skin from sunburn. They can also be worn on their own for surfing or swimming in warm weather when you don’t want to overexpose your skin to the sun.

Similarly, you can wear a rash guard without a wetsuit while kayaking or paddle boarding in hot weather as this can help to prevent chafing from your life jacket. 

Opt For Diving Shorts

Diving shorts for men are usually made from neoprene and are designed to be a tight fit, like bike shorts. These can be worn underneath a full length wetsuit or a short wetsuit, giving you extra thermal protection for your lower body.

For extra warmth, or if you have a thinner wetsuit, there is also the option of diving pants. These are long pants that act like rash guards for your legs. They are tight, like running tights, so you can easily slip on your wetsuit over the top. 

Diving shorts or rash guard pants can make it easier to get the wetsuit on compared to pulling it directly over your skin.

You could also opt for sports underwear. Sports underwear will tend to be quick to dry and it shouldn’t hold water. Most sportswear is designed to wick moisture away from the body, as well as remain breathable. 

Running shorts or bicycle shorts can be good alternatives to diving shorts.

What To Wear Under A Wetsuit For Women?

Woman in a shorty wetsuit standing on the beach looking at the seaPin

Wear A One Piece Bathing Suit

A one piece swimsuit can sometimes be a better option under a wetsuit than a bikini. This is because it covers more of your body and it will tend to be more likely to stay in place. 

However, if you plan to paddle in warm weather and will be wearing a shorty wetsuit, then a bikini can be perfectly adequate underneath your wetsuit. Many women wear bikinis under their wetsuits so that it’s convenient when it’s time to take the wetsuit off.

You might find that a sports bikini can be more comfortable for water sports than a beach bikini. Beach bikinis or string bikinis often have loose tie straps that can be uncomfortable and bulky under a wetsuit. 

Sports bikinis generally offer more coverage and they tend not to slip out of place when you’re wearing them, as they are designed for physical activity.

If you plan to take part in water sports where it might be a little colder, then you may want a little more coverage than a bikini. A one piece rash guard swimsuit can be a good option, as this has long sleeves to provide extra warmth and to stop the wetsuit chafing under your arms.

While you might be fine with just a one piece swimsuit, you might want to consider your legs. If you plan to be moving around a lot, such as swimming or scuba diving, you might want to think about wearing a pair of diving shorts or rash guard pants. 

Diving shorts are generally neoprene shorts that are thinner than most wetsuits. These shorts can provide an additional layer both for warmth and comfort. 

It is best not to wear board shorts as these tend to be looser and will likely bunch up when you try to put on your wetsuit, which probably won’t look great either. 

There is also the option of wearing a two piece base layer under the wetsuit. This can consist of a pair of surf leggings or neoprene shorts plus a rash vest. This could be easier to get on and off than a full body jumpsuit, especially when it is time to use the bathroom. 

Wear A Rash Guard

Rash guards can offer excellent protection for your skin under a wetsuit. Rash guards generally come in two different styles – long sleeve and short sleeve.

Whether you choose a long sleeve or a short sleeve rash guard will be down to personal preference (and the temperature of the water). 

Rash guards are designed to be a snug fit, almost like a second skin. This is so that when you put your wetsuit on over the top, the rash vest doesn’t bunch up. 

You can wear a rash vest over the top of your swimsuit to protect your skin before you put on your wetsuit. Most rash guards are suitable to wear with all types of wetsuits, even if you wear a very thick wetsuit.

Remember A Sports Bra

If you’d rather not wear swimwear, you might want to opt for a sports bra. 

Sports bras can be more comfortable to wear under a wetsuit compared to traditional underwear, as they tend to stay in place more easily. And there’s less chance of clasps and underwires digging into your skin during water sports.

Sports bras are generally not intended to be worn in the water. But they can be a better option than wearing a regular bra. 

You may find some options that are designed for both running and swimming, often described as “gym to swim”. These can be a good idea if you want one product that can handle water and land.

However, you may prefer to stick to a surf bikini top if you plan to be active in the water for any length of time.

Key Takeaways

Choosing the right clothing to wear under your wetsuit can greatly enhance your overall comfort, performance, and safety when engaging in water sports. 

From wetsuit-specific garments to more general athletic wear, there are a variety of options to choose from depending on your needs and preferences. 

Remember to factor in the temperature of the water and your own personal comfort level when you choose both your wetsuit and your undergarments, so that you can have fun and stay safe at the same time. 

Let us know your thoughts and don’t forget to share this to help other paddlers and scuba divers who might not know what to wear under their suit.

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