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Many people wonder whether or not they need a wetsuit when snorkeling. You see divers wearing them all the time, but they diving much deeper where the water is much colder. Although, there will be many situations when you won’t need a wetsuit for snorkeling, there are certainly times when you will greatly benefit from a wetsuit.
In this guide, I will help you decide whether or not you actually need a wetsuit (or if you will be better off with a rash guard instead), and I will also run through the different type of wetsuit. I have also provided a wetsuit temperature guide to give you a rough idea of what you will need. Finally, I have recommended some excellent wetsuits, and explain why I think you are better off buying, rather than renting a wetsuit.
Do I Need a Wetsuit?
Whether or not you need to wear a wetsuit depends on a few things. Obviously, the water temperature is the most important, but the length of time you will be snorkeling, and personal preference also comes into play.
As a general rule, if the sea temperature is under 75 °F (24 °C), for most people, I would recommend wearing a wetsuit unless you will only be in the water for a short amount of time. Between 75 °F (24 °C) and 80 °F (27 °C), you may want to wear a light wetsuit if you’re sensitive to the cold. If the sea temperature is above 80 °F (27 °C), you’re probably not going to need a wetsuit. Seatemperature.org is a great resource for looking up average sea temperatures in different locations.
As well as protecting you from the cold, wetsuits have some other advantages too. They protect you from the sun and against abrasions, and they also help to keep you afloat (although this can be a bad thing if you like to dive down).
If you will be snorkeling in warm water but want these extra benefits that wetsuits offer, you might want to consider a rash guard.
Rash Guards – Great Alternative for Warmer Water
If you decide that you don’t need a wetsuit because the water will be warm enough without one, you still might want to think about getting a rash guard. A rash guard won’t help keep you warm, but it will provide SPF protection from the sun, and some light protection from scrapes, scratches, jellyfish stings, etc.
When you’re snorkeling it can be all too easy to lose track of time. And when you’re lying in the sea with your back exposed to the sun, you need to make sure you’re well protected! Wearing a rash guard is much more convenient than having to constantly re-apply sunscreen. You can check out our rash guards for snorkeling guide here.
Different Types of Wetsuit
When choosing a wetsuit for snorkeling, the main things you will need to consider are the style (full vs. shorty), and the thickness of the wetsuit. This all depends on the temperature of water you will be snorkeling in.
Full vs. Shorty Wetsuits
The main two styles of wetsuit are full and shorty. Full wetsuits cover almost all of your body leaving only your hands, feet, and head exposed. Shorties are basically the shorts and t-shirt version of a wetsuit. Both are suitable for snorkeling, but beware that they will make it hard for you to dive down as they are quite buoyant.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both styles. Full wetsuits obviously offer more protection. Not only from the cold, but also from the sun, jellyfish stings, scrapes, etc. The downside is that they are bulkier and more cumbersome to get on and off.
Shorty wetsuits are lighter, easier to get on and off, and generally more convenient. But they don’t offer the same protection as a full wetsuit. If you do decide to wear a shorty wetsuit, make sure apply sunscreen to your exposed arms and legs.
For most snorkeling trips, a shorty wetsuit will be sufficient. The water on the surface is warmer than the depths below so you don’t need the same level of insulation as divers do. But if you have a low tolerance to the cold, or you just want to feel really warm in the water, a full wetsuit is fine too.
The other important difference between wetsuits in the thickness. I probably don’t need to tell you that the thicker the wetsuit, the warmer it will keep you! Below you can find a guide for the types of wetsuit I recommend for different sea temperatures.
Wetsuit Temperature Guide for Snorkeling
This is a rough wetsuit temperature guide for snorkeling. There are other things to consider too, like how long you will be in the water, and how tolerant you are of the cold, but for most people, this will give you a good idea of the sort of wetsuit you will want to wear.
You can check out seatemperature.org for average sea temperatures in different areas.
|Sea Temperature (°F)||Recommended Type||Recommended Thickness|
|75° – 80°||Rash Guard/Shorty||2mm|
|70° – 75°||Shorty/Full||2mm/3mm|
|65° – 70°||Full||3mm/5mm|
Best Wetsuits for Snorkeling
Hopefully, by now, you have a good idea of whether you will need a wetsuit or rashguard. Below you can find a few of the best options for different situations.
Not exactly a wetsuit, but rash guards are a great alternative for snorkeling in warmer water. They offer protection from the sun and coral, rocks, jellyfish, etc. Although you can get rash guards with short sleeves, I recommend long sleeves as they offer the most protection.
The O’Neill Basic Skins range of rash guards are popular, high quality, comfortable, and reasonably priced. For a tight fitting rash guard, you can find the men’s version on Amazon here, and the women’s version here. If you prefer the fit to be a bit looser, you can find the men’s version here, and the women’s version here.
We also have a more in-depth guide to rash guards which is worth checking out if you want to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of rash guards.
If the water’s a bit too cold for just a rash guard, you might want a shorty wetsuit. Just remember to apply sunscreen to your exposed arms and legs.
For even colder water (around 70°F and under), you will probably be better off with a full-length wetsuit.
Before purchasing, it’s worth checking out the Amazon reviews as many users have helpfully shared their height and weight, and how well the sizes fit.
Buying vs. Renting a Wetsuit
If you will only be using a wetsuit very rarely, you might be tempted to just rent one when you need it. Most destinations with good snorkeling will have places to rent wetsuits, but there are a few things you need to think about first.
Yes, it will be cheaper to rent a wetsuit than buy one, but only for the first few times. The cost of renting will soon catch up to the cost of buying one outright.
It will also be hit and miss in terms of how well the wetsuit fits you. And there’s also the thought that many other people will have worn (and possibly peed in) it.
Overall, unless you REALLY can’t justify it, you are better off buying than renting a wetsuit.
Wrapping it Up
Whether you are snorkeling in warm water or cold water, you are going to want some kind of protection, whether that’s a rash guard or wetsuit. Hopefully, this guide has helped you decide which you will need.