What is the Difference Between a Wetsuit and a Drysuit?

a c skins wetsuit on a surfer

What is the Difference Between a Wetsuit and a Drysuit?

Exposure suits are essential for maintaining body warmth in the water by reducing heat loss. When submerged, our body temperature drops rapidly, making the right gear crucial for safe and enjoyable water sports. Thus, wearing an exposure suit—whether a wetsuit or drysuit—is imperative.

Even in the warmest tropical waters, kite surfers, wing foilers, and surfers need thermal insulation to stay warm and comfortable during extended sessions. Exposure suits also protect the skin from the sun’s harsh rays, which can still affect individuals while on the water.

A common question among water sports enthusiasts is: what distinguishes a wetsuit from a drysuit? The names give a hint—a drysuit keeps you dry, while a wetsuit does not.

In this article, we explore the main differences between wetsuits and drysuits to help you choose the best option for your needs.

Wetsuit vs Drysuit


Material: Closed-Cell Foam Neoprene

Fit: Skin-Tight Fit

Function: Insulation for Cold Waters


Material: Neoprene, Rubber, or Nylon

Fit: Loose Fit

Function: Insulation for Extremely Cold Waters

What is a Wetsuit?

A wetsuit provides thermal protection by utilising your body heat. Made of closed-cell foam material with gas bubbles, it allows a thin layer of water to enter the suit. This water warms up from your body heat, providing insulation.

Wetsuits are designed to fit snugly. A loose wetsuit lets water flow in and out, causing your body to waste energy heating new water, reducing insulation effectiveness.

Wetsuit thickness varies—thicker suits offer more protection for colder waters, while thinner suits provide lighter insulation for warmer waters. Individual needs vary; some may need only a lycra body suit in tropical waters, while others require a 2mm or thicker wetsuit. In cold water, some may need a 6mm wetsuit, while others opt for a drysuit.

When to Use a Wetsuit?

Wetsuits are suitable for water temperatures between 3-32°C. Available in various thicknesses and coverage options, they offer protection based on water temperature:

28-32°C: Dive skin (rash vest) or 1mm shorty wetsuit

 19-29°C: 3mm full-length wetsuit

11-20°C: 5mm full-length wetsuit

 3-12°C: 7mm full-length wetsuit

Consider sun exposure and water hazards when choosing your wetsuit. Covering arms and legs might not be necessary for warmth but offers protection against jellyfish and sunburn.

What is a Drysuit?

A drysuit keeps you completely dry, made from materials like foam neoprene, crushed neoprene, vulcanised rubber, or heavy-duty nylon. It features wrist seals, a neck seal, and a waterproof zipper to prevent water entry.

Drysuits fit loosely, allowing for additional clothing layers underneath. They use inflator valves to control an insulating layer of air, adding gas as you go deeper. Exhaust valves release air during ascent.

Maintaining neutral buoyancy in a drysuit requires skill and training. Proper instruction from a qualified instructor is recommended for those new to drysuit activities.

When to Use a Drysuit?

For temperatures below 10°C, a drysuit is ideal. Some may switch to drysuits at higher temperatures to avoid shivering and extend water sports sessions. Drysuits keep you warmer as they prevent water contact, which conducts heat faster than air. They are also preferred by technical enthusiasts for longer sessions.

Comparing Wetsuits and Drysuits

Thermal Insulation:

Wetsuits use a layer of water warmed by body heat for insulation, while drysuits use air and are fully sealed. Drysuits offer superior insulation as water conducts heat more efficiently than air.


Wetsuits, with their skin-tight fit, allow for better mobility on the water. Drysuits, being baggier, may cause some drag.


Drysuits, though more expensive, can last over 15 years with proper care, making them cost-effective in the long run.


Entry-level drysuits now cost as much as high-end wetsuits, retaining their value better over time.


 Check out C-Skins wetsuits.
 Check out Ocean Roado drysuits.

Exposure Suit Recommendations

Temperature and Recommended Suit Thickness:

24-30°C: 1.6mm Neoprene or Lycra Dive Skin/Wetsuit

20-29°C: 3mm Neoprene Wetsuit

18-25°C: 5mm Neoprene Wetsuit

9-24°C: 6.5mm Neoprene Wetsuit

0-19°C: 9.5mm Neoprene Drysuit

Wetsuit Pros and Cons


Lightweight and easy to carry

Suitable for various water sports, including surfing, wing foiling, and kitesurfing

Available in different styles and thicknesses

More affordable with options for different budgets


Less warmth for extended periods

Takes time to dry after use

Drysuit Pros and Cons


Keeps you warm for longer

No need to dry off after a session

Useful for technical activities with longer durations


Bulky and difficult to travel with

Higher cost for quality suits

More challenging to manage bodily functions during use


We hope this guide helps you decide between a wetsuit and a drysuit, providing the necessary information to make the best choice for your kitesurfing, wing foiling, or surfing adventures.

Get in touch with Northern Kites if you still can't decide! We're happy to help.