Do I Need a Rash Guard for Snorkeling?

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Rash guards were originally intended to prevented surfers from getting rashes as they paddled out to the waves (hence the name). However, rash guards are now widely used for lots of other water-based activities (including snorkeling of course) because of the protection they provide from the sun and abrasions. But do you need a rash guard for snorkeling?

In this guide I will tell you why I think you do need a rash guard for snorkeling, or at least why it will be a huge benefit and time saver. I will also go over some common questions about rash guards and the difference between rash guards and wetsuits. Finally, I will walk you through the different types of rash guards and offer some recommendations.

What is a Rash Guard?

Rash guards are shirts that were originally intended for surfers to prevent their skin rubbing against their surfboard as they paddled out. Now, rash guards are widely used for all sorts of water-based activities due to the SPF protection most rash guards provide.

Rash guards come in various designs such as long sleeves, short sleeves, tight fitting, loose fitting, etc. I talk more about the different types down the page.

One thing that a rash guard isn’t, is a wetsuit. Unlike a wetsuit, a rash guard won’t provide you with any protection from the cold. Rash guards are best suited for warmer waters as they provide protection from the sun and rocks, coral, jellyfish stings, etc.

Do I Need a Rash Guard for Snorkeling?

Unless you will be wearing a wetsuit, then yes, I highly recommend a rash guard when you’re snorkeling. When you are snorkeling, you spend a considerable amount of time lying horizontally with your back facing the sun. It can be very easy to lose track of time, or forget to re-apply sunscreen, or miss a spot with the sunscreen. It just makes sense to prevent all of these problems and wear a rash guard.

Another reason that you need (or will at least greatly benefit from) a rash guard is the protection it provides from the underwater environment. Although you should always avoid touching coral wherever possible, accidents can and do happen. Coral can be very sharp and certain species can give you a nasty sting. Wearing a rashguard will help to protect from that, as well as sharp rocks and jellyfish stings.

If you will be snorkeling in a cooler climate, or will only be in the water for a short amount of time, then sure, you can get away with not wearing a rashguard, as long as you keep yourself topped up with a high SPF sunscreen. But for most people, it’s worth investing in a rash guard and saving yourself some hassle.

Can’t I Just Wear a T-Shirt Instead?

You might be tempted to wear a standard t-shirt instead, hoping it will provide adequate protection from the sun. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work very well. A standard t-shirt offers about the equivalent of SPF5 sunscreen which is very low. This gets even lower when the t-shirt is wet. When you’re lying down with your back exposed to the sun, this level of protection simply isn’t enough.

What Should I Wear Under a Rash Guard?

You might be wondering what you should wear under a rash guard. Most women find wearing a standard bathing suit provides the most comfort. And for men, you’ll probably just want to wear a pair of board shorts or swimming trunks.

Do I Still Need to Wear Sunscreen?

Despite the fact that most rash guards offer high SPF protection, you will, of course, still need to apply sunscreen to any exposed skin. If you choose to wear a loose fitting rash guard, you might also want to apply some sunscreen to your lower back as they can sometimes ride up, exposing your lower back to the sun.

The Difference Between Rash Guards and Wetsuits

Rash guards and wetsuits do look very similar, and they both offer protection from the sun, but there is a big difference which separates them. Wetsuits are made from a special material called neoprene. The explanation of how neoprene works can get a bit sciencey, but all you need to know is that it keeps you warm whereas a rash guard won’t.

Whether you would be better off with a rash guard or wetsuit depends on a few factors, but most importantly, the sea temperature you will be snorkeling in. You can find a rough temperature guide here to help you decide which option is best for you. A general rule of thumb is, if the water is above 75°F, you probably won’t need a wetsuit.

Types of Rash Guard and Our Recommendations

There are various different types of rash guard suitable for different needs. For most people, I would recommend a long-sleeved rash guard because they offer the most protection. In this section, I go over the differences and offer a recommendation for each type.

Long-Sleeved vs. Short-Sleeved

Overall, I would highly recommend long sleeves over short sleeves. They offer more coverage and protection from the sun, abrasions, jellyfish stings, etc. Since that is the whole point of wearing a rash guard for snorkeling, it just makes sense to get as much coverage as possible.

Tight Fit vs. Loose Fit

For most people, I would recommend a tight fitting rash guard. A loose fit causes extra drag and the rash guard can ride up your back. If you don’t like the feeling of tight clothing, then you may want to consider a looser fit. (If you do wear a loose fitting rash guard, apply sunscreen to your lower back as it can sometimes leave you exposed there).

Our Recommendations

The O’Neill Basic Skins range of rash guards is really popular and very highly rated. The range covers all of the types and you find links below to find them on Amazon.

Wrapping it Up

In conclusion, yes you do need a rash guard for snorkeling (or at least, it will be hugely beneficial). Wearing a t-shirt isn’t a viable option because it doesn’t offer enough protection. Although you won’t need to apply nearly as much sunscreen, you still need to cover any exposed areas. For most people, a tight fitting long-sleeved rash guard is the best option.

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