In my experience as a snorkel guide for Snorkel Venture, I’ve found that a lot of guests turn up on tours thinking that they will be comfortable snorkeling in their swimming suit and a lycra rash guard because the tropical water is warm. While this may be true for certain individuals who are immune to being cold, the vast majority of guests who didn’t bring an insulated exposure suit like a wetsuit, do start to get cold several days into our snorkeling expeditions. No matter how warm the water, after three to four snorkels every day for a few days in a row, most will find that they are getting cold soon into the snorkeling session and eventually end up renting or borrowing an exposure suite from the resort. To avoid this, I always suggest to guests that they bring their own. Then of course there is the question and debate about which kind of exposure suit is best for you. To make things quick and simple, here’s a little breakdown of the pros and cons of the two most popular types of exposure suits, the more traditional neoprene wetsuit, and the newer and very popular thermal suits, both of which now have an eco-friendly options from one of the industries most trusted brands.
Neoprene wetsuits have been around for ages now and have become the most common type of exposure suit. There are a variety of styles from full suits, shorties, ones with hoods, front zips, back zips, and ones with cup holders. Just kidding about the cup holders. These are not the only options either, each of these different styles will be offered in a variety of thicknesses to suit each person’s susceptibility to getting cold and water temperatures. Wetsuits are a great option as an exposure suit as they are quite durable so long as you take care of them and they instantly make you look like a superhero. However, there are a few downsides to them with the most common complaint being their difficulty to put on one. They are very tight, particularly the first few times you wear them, and it does take some time to get one on and take it off again, which a lot of people find very annoying. So annoying in fact that I’ve known people who would rather be cold than put on a wetsuit. However, once you move beyond that ‘getting to know each other phase’ a wetsuit can be very comfortable and offer a significant amount of warmth. In regards to traveling, they are quite heavy and a rather large item to pack into your suitcase, particularly the thicker ones.
Thermal suits have become increasingly popular since they were released in the last decade or so, particularly for those who are tired of cumbersome neoprene and also for those with an allergy to the material. These thermal suits may look, feel, and fit more like a pair of trendy pajamas than an underwater exposure suit, but don’t be fooled because these will keep you at a very comfortable temperature for the duration of your snorkels. In terms of how they fit and feel thermal suits are very different than wetsuits. Instead of being made from neoprene, they have a soft fleece lining and a durable nylon exterior. The function in the water is nearly the same as a wetsuit though, as the fleece traps a thin layer of water which your body heats up and in turn keeps you warm. However, out of the water, the fleece wicks the water from your skin which again helps keep you comfortable during windy surface intervals, unlike neoprene. The designs are as varied as the wetsuit designs, with full suite options, top and bottom sets, shorts, bikinis, vests, hoods, and anything else you could imagine. The top and bottom set to fit just like a fleece sweater set would and are very easy to put on as they have front and back zip options. Another point in the ‘Bonus’ column, particularly for those that like to duck dive, is that thermal suits are neutrally buoyant which means you don’t need to wear weights to counteract the buoyancy of neoprene. The thermals are also very lightweight, and dry very quickly, which relieves a lot of the stress of packing.
An Eco Twist
Whether you are preferential to the old-school neoprene wetsuits like I am, or prefer the more sophisticated thermals, there is an awesome and highly durable eco-friendly option for each type of exposure suit thanks to Fourth Element, a company whose products have been on the cutting edge for years already. Their sleek thermal option is all fabricated from recycled ghost nets, which are responsible for unimaginable destruction on reefs and marine creatures alike and transforming them into a thread which their thermals and an assortment of other products are then made from. For their wetsuits, since they are made largely of rubber-based, they are using post-consumer scrap tires along with a host of other post-consumer materials to formulate the neoprene. Regardless of your choice, you can snorkel easily knowing that not only tyat you will be warm throughout the trip, but also that your new suit is not contributing to the production of excess materials with a significant reduction in energy consumption during the manufacturing process.