We wear snorkeling rash guards every time we snorkel. The number one reason is that we don't have to slather sunscreen on our arms and backs every time we get in the water. Rash guards work better than sunscreen and we never get burned accidentally because we missed a spot. They also provide a little warmth and protection from jellyfish stings.
Snorkeling rash guards are made of Lycra, which is stretchy and comfortable. They come in different weights and thicker ones will be warmer. The better ones have an SPF rating on their fabric, normally about 50. They dry quickly and can be washed in a machine.
Because we primarily wear them for sun protection, we wear long-sleeved snorkeling rash guards. It is also nice if it has a high collar to protect the neck a little too. Here is a men's rash guard and a women's rash guard like we use.
For women, we also recommend the Haute Mini, which is like a long sleeved swimsuit, by Slipins (note the discount code below). This style guarantees your rash guard will not ride up so you get a burned low back. We prefer the Haute Mini over the Zippered Mini because of fit. They both have great hand coverage with a thumb hole. But the Haute Mini has a nice collar that adds some sun protection for your neck, and a lower cut on the thighs. You could wear this alone, but Nicole wears shorts over it to protect her backside from the sun, as in the picture above.
Instead of the skin tight options above, you can also opt for a loose fit rash guard. You can get them for both men and women. The good things about these are that they are a bit more modest, and they are easier to get on and off. But, some people don't like them as much because they have a greater chance of riding up, leading to sunburns on the low back. And if you are in the water a long time the extra fabric can lead to some skin chafing.
In cooler waters, we wear thin (1mm) neoprene wetsuit tops for snorkeling. They keep us warm longer than rash guards and still provide sun protection. And they work for night snorkels too. If you get cold easily, this might be the best of the snorkeling rash guards for you.
Neoprene does not dry as quickly as Lycra and is not as stretchy. Wetsuit tops can be more difficult to get on and off. And they are not washable. Here are a men's wetsuit top and a women's wetsuit top like we use.
Basically this is a full body rash guard, sometimes called a skin suit. Many snorkelers have started wearing them so that they don't have to put on sunscreen. We first tried this type of suit out in the Maldives and then in Hawaii. It saves so much time and energy not putting on sunscreen. And it saves you if you miss a spot. Even if you don't want to wear one all the time, they are a good idea on long snorkels when sunscreen would not last, or if you don't have time to re-apply sunscreen and wait long enough before getting back in the water. They are also a great way to keep from introducing sunscreens into the ocean.
Most of the full body rash guards you can find are black, which is boring, not to mention hot in tropical waters. But we found that Slipins makes some colorful high SPF full body skins with great coverage for your hands (Nicole is wearing one in the picture at right) that are really fun. Slipins is offering 20% off to our readers if you use the code TropicalSnorkeling at check out.
If you need real warmth you can get a full body thin neoprene wetsuit as well.
If we needed to cover our whole selves in the water with clothing, we would probably choose a long sleeved rash guard top and some rash guard pants, often found under the names swim or surf leggings or tights. This gives you more freedom for going to the bathroom. You can buy men's rash guard pants and women's rash guard pants. And here are some more interesting color options for men, and fun designs for women.
When dry you want the tight versions of these to fit a little tighter than you might think. They are generally a little hard to pull over your head, and then should have no loose material around the body or arms. The reason you want them so tight is because they loosen up when they get wet. Also make sure you don't buy one that is too short. It should easily pull down over your suit bottom when dry so that when you are swimming it does not inch up and allow a burnt back (it has happened to us - you get in the habit of making sure it is pulled down).
For the loose fit style, just don't buy them too big. They should still be snug, so there is not too much extra fabric.
We prefer ours to be primarily white, mainly because when we are out of the water in the sun, they are cooler. You'd sweat like crazy in a dark one.
A cotton t-shirt is not a good idea. First, a typical white cotton t-shirt only has an SPF rating of between about 6 to 8, when dry. And when wet that goes way down. We have seen family members get a good burn through a wet t-shirt.
There are a couple of other reasons not to wear cotton. First, it picks up water-weight, decreasing your buoyancy. Second, since it is not a skin-tight material (particularly when wet), it creates a lot of drag when trying to swim and will make you much more tired. And if you freedive, it is much easier to snag it on something underwater than a skin-tight rash guard.
We have found that if we wait to get to our snorkeling destination, the rash guard that costs $25-40 online, suddenly costs $60 or more at diving and surf shops in touristy areas. So it is best to try to buy your snorkeling rash guards before you go.
Originally these were invented to protect the chest of surfers and boogie boarders when laying down on their rough textured boards when paddling - hence the name rash guard. But they are also worn under wetsuits to provide some protection from all the seams and zippers for the same reason.
In Australia, tours often require you to wear a full body rash guard, which includes covers for your head and hands. They call it a stinger suit. It prevents sunburn, but is primarily worn to prevent getting stung by the Box Jellyfish, the sting of which is lethal. The ones in the photo at left are not terribly attractive, definitely on the verge of dorky. But the colorful and attractive Slipins Full Body Rash Guards we mention above, provide stinger protection as well. And you can add a head covering to match.