Properly fitted and worn, a BARE neoprene or trilaminate suit can be a miraculous piece of gear. A good suit can mean the difference between a quick in-and-out dip or an extended multi-hour immersion, so matching the suit to the conditions is paramount to the overall enjoyment of your time in the water.
Not all suits are created equal. Some wetsuits and drysuits are specifically designed to beat back frigid, icy temps while others are meant to do little more than keep your skin protected from the sun. Similarly, some neoprene layers—such as BARE’s UltraWarmth base layers—are almost entirely designed to supplement other aquatic insulation systems.
But how to determine what suit is right for you? There is no one single answer, as there’s a lot of other factors to consider like outside air temp, if you are wearing other layers, personal preference, etc. Roughly speaking, however, it’s a good rule of thumb to correspond your suit’s thickness (in millimeters) to the water temperature you’ll be immersed in.
To dive deeper into the topic, we took a look at the various temperature ranges our suits cover and which one is best for you and your local aquatic playground.
Frigid (Below 50°F/10°C)
Below 50 degrees, protecting your body from the cold becomes a serious safety issue. Waters at these temps, especially below 43ish degrees, can push someone into hypothermia in a matter of minutes, so outfitting oneself with proper thermal insulation and protection can literally be a matter of life and death. These conditions exist in winter months, places like the arctic, and also during spring snow melts across the Earth.
A 5mm full-body wetsuit with a hood, gloves, and booties down to 47F is acceptable, but you’ll certainly be more comfortable in a 7mm suit. Any temps lower than 43F and donning a drysuit becomes a mandatory safety precaution.
- Wetsuit for men: Reactive 7mm + Hooded Vest
- Wetsuit for women: Evoke 7mm + Hooded Vest
- Drysuit for men: Sentry
- Drysuit for women: Guardian
Cold (50–62°F / 10-17°C)
Common in places like California, Maine, South Africa, and British Columbia, the 50-60F temperature range necessitates a 7mm or 5mm at the lower end and a 3mm as the thermostat climbs upward. Although waters at these temps aren’t initially life-threatening, prolonged exposure is still dangerous.
If you live in a coastal area where the temps fluctuate heavily from season to season and you can only choose one suit, it’s perhaps best to err on the side of caution and go with a thicker option. It’s always better to be a little too warm than too cold.
- Wetsuit: Velocity Ultra Semi-Dry for men and women
- Drysuit: Trilam Tech or Pro Dry for men and women
Cool (62-69°F / 17-21°C)
In between 62 and 70F, water’s lethality decreases and it saps your body heat much less. At these temps, brief exposure without a suit is safe, but probably not comfortable for most people.
In this range, a 5mm or 3mm is appropriate for achieving maximum comfort. Waters at this temp are common in many North American rivers and lakes as well as regions such as the Oregon Coast. Take note: water at these temps can be deceptive and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Additionally, waters in this range tend to swing wildly because climate changes drastically from season to season. If conditions are unpredictable and you’re not sure how comfortable you’ll be in your suit at this range, it’s always a good idea to bring along some extra UltraWarmth gear, just in case.
Warm (70°F / 22°C or above)
At these temperatures, safety is no longer a primary concern and your decisions are largely based on personal preference and comfort. Some folks who run cold like to wear a 2mm wetsuit at these temps to regulate body heat, especially on big days where you’ll be doing more than one dive.
Even at these relatively warmer temps, the body loses heat 25x faster in water than it does in the air, so donning a minimal suit in warmer waters is a great way to sustain body heat and energy levels over the long haul.
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