Yes, even when snorkeling in warm tropical waters there are many times a lightweight snorkeling wetsuit, or even just a top, is a really nice bit of gear to wear. It will keep you warm, and protect your skin from the sun and jellyfish stings and abrasions. Neoprene wetsuits also add buoyancy, which helps you float easily. Although our favorite Thermocline suits we share below are neoprene-free and neutrally buoyant, which makes diving underwater much easier (plus they stink less and dry easier).
Many of your questions about how to select the right snorkeling wetsuit for different water temperatures, and how much to spend, are answered further down this page, below the wetsuits.
Note: Our suggestions come from hands-on experience. We hope you find them helpful. You can help us if you purchase from the links below. We may make a small commission, from Amazon or other companies, at no extra cost to you.
Our Favorite Snorkeling Wetsuits
We love this company’s environmental commitment and their products. Their wetsuits are top notch in quality, and performance. And in a world full of plastic ocean trash and companies who don’t care, Fourth Element is doing their best to make as many of their products as they can from recycled fishing nets and renewable natural rubbers. And they have nearly eliminated plastics in their packaging. And in many other ways their company is trying to operate in an environmentally friendly way. Learn more about their OceanPositive endeavors here.
Fourth Element Thermocline – 2mm – Neoprene Free – Neutrally Buoyant – Fast Drying
This is the snorkeling wetsuit we use and love. Galen is in his in the picture at the top of the page. Although these provide the equivalent warmth of a 2mm neoprene wetsuit, they use a completely different technology compared to neoprene wetsuits, and are made with recycled fishing nets.
These suits are neoprene-free, are neutrally buoyant, so you don’t need to add a weight belt to dive, and are super comfortable. They also dry faster, don’t get as stinky as neoprene suits, have a comfortable fleece lining, and are machine washable. They are also compact in the luggage. They still fit your body very snugly though, like a wetsuit.
We like their two piece system of Thermocline, with a front zippered top, and separate leggings. It makes it easier to get the suit on, easier for quick bathroom breaks, and allows us to use the top by itself.
They also make Thermocline in a variety of other configurations, from pull over tops, one piece suits, vests, shorts, hoods, and fins socks, for men and women.
Fourth Element Xenos Wetsuit – 3mm or 5mm
This is another great wetsuit for snorkelers, that is designed to be as easy to get on and off as possible. This is a nice feature for when you are getting in and out of the water multiple times a day.
The neoprene on this wetsuit is manufactured using Limestone, instead of petrochemicals, and recycled rubber.
Nicole now wears the 3mm Xenos snorkeling wetsuit when her Thermocline isn’t warm enough. It is a very comfortable and flexible wetsuit, and it fit perfectly. They have many sizes to choose from. It also provided the perfect amount of warmth.
As mentioned above, one of the design features of the Xenos wetsuits is a low friction fabric that lines the inside of the wetsuit. It is intended to make it easier to get it on and off. At home, when I was first trying on my new snorkeling wetsuit, I was not sweaty and had dry skin. That inside fabric worked like a charm to make it easier to get on. Unfortunately in a warm and moist tropical environment, my skin is never dry, so that fabric didn’t really make the wetsuit easier to get on. This problem is easily solved though, by wearing rash guards underneath.
Fourth Element Surface Suit – 4/3mm – Designed for snorkelers and freedivers
Another very unique option from Fourth Element is their surface suits. This will be a warmer snorkeling wetsuit with a mix of 4mm and 3mm panels made from Yulex Pure™, a 100% plant based, sustainably grown alternative to neoprene, which is lined with recycled polyester made from post-consumer plastic bottles.
This suit was designed for freedivers and snorkelers, for maximum comfort and mobility. It has a very minimal neck opening with a chest zipper. Getting into and out of a chest zip wetsuit, can be more difficult. So if you need to get in and out of it many times a day, or if you have shoulder mobility issues, or a lack of arm strength, this may not the best suit for you.
You probably can’t buy a more environmentally friendly neoprene snorkeling wetsuit.
Fourth Element RF – 3/2mm, 5/4mm
This line of wetsuits was developed for recreational freediving (RF), and works great for snorkelers also. It is available in a variety of configurations from single piece suits, to multiple piece. It utilizes fabrics and construction that optimize freedom of motion in the water, while providing good thermal protection.
These use Limestone Neoprene, recycled rubber, and natural dyes.
Tuga Sunwear makes some of our favorite rash guards, and they have some nice 1.5mm thermal tops as well, in either a front zipper, or pull over. And they have a hybrid top that has 1.5mm neoprene on the body, and rash guard material on the sleeves. This is a nice snorkeling wetsuit option for just a little added insulation on your core.
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Tips for Choosing a Snorkeling Wetsuit
Do Snorkelers Need a Wetsuit?
If you are snorkeling in tropical waters that are 80° F (26° C) or above, a snorkeling wetsuit may not be necessary, unless you run cold. Most of the time we do not wear one, although we do always wear full length top and bottom rash guards. But we really like having a bit of extra warmth when the water is a little colder at different destinations, or if we are getting in often, or during night snorkels. And we have found that many of the more mature snorkelers in our community like to wear them all the time, because they tend to run a little colder.
It is important to note that if you are on a snorkeling intensive vacation like these amazing snorkeling trips, where you get in the water three or four times a day, up to two hours at a time, then you should really consider wearing a wetsuit, no matter what the water temperature is. When you get in the water that much your body temperature may start to cool down slowly, to a dangerous level, without the normal signs of hypothermia. Read more below about Warm Water Hypothermia.
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Water Temperatures for a Snorkeling Wetsuit?
Some people run hot, some cold. Some have more natural insulation, or bioprene, than others. And it depends on how long you will be in the water, and for how many consecutive days. So it is not easy to give temperatures for when to wear a wetsuit or not. Generally speaking though, if the water temperature dips down to 75° F (24° C) or less, you may want to start thinking about some extra warmth. Although, there are circumstances when folks like to wear wetsuits all the time in warmer waters.
Warm Water Hypothermia Is Important to Understand
Be aware that hypothermia can happen in very warm waters, and you may not know it is happening. This is called “Warm Water Hypothermia”. In any temperature below 98° F (36° C) you will lose heat. And water is 25 times more efficient than air at drawing away heat from your body. And in warm waters your body may not lose temperature fast enough to show normal symptoms of hypothermia like shivering.
You can reach a dangerous level of hypothermia without being aware. It has been known to happen in water temperatures as high as 81°F (27° C). Pay attention to any signs of fatigue, lack of motivation, and cognitive impairment. These symptoms may indicate hypothermia before the normal signs of violent shivering set in.
This is why wearing a wetsuit even in warm waters is a good idea when you are doing a lot of snorkeling.
How Thick of a Wetsuit for Snorkeling?
Wetsuits are labeled by their neoprene thickness. A 5mm wetsuit, is supposed to have 5mm thick neoprene. A 3/2mm suit will have a combination of thicker neoprene around the core, and thinner neoprene at the arms and legs. But there are no labeling laws, so there can be a great amount of variety in warmth and panel layout between brands that are labeled the same.
Even a 1mm snorkeling wetsuit will provide a bit of warmth compared to a rash guard. For years we wore 1mm tops when needing a little extra warmth. We find though that in tropical situations a 2-3mm suit is plenty. If you tend to run cold, and are visiting a colder water spot, or plan to spend a lot of time in the water, you may want a 4-5mm suit. But keep in mind that the thicker the wetsuit the more restrictive your movement will be. And it will be heavier and larger in your suitcase. Thicker wetsuits also take longer to dry.
Price to Quality to Comfort Ratio
We have tried cheap 2.2mm wetsuits that only cost $100, and we hated them. They were super restrictive feeling and uncomfortable. You really get what you pay for with wetsuits, so we don’t recommend going cheap. High quality wetsuits have better neoprene, better linings, better fit, and constructed without the stitching going all the way through, preventing water intrusion.
Good wetsuits will be easier to get on and off, and be much more comfortable in the water. As mentioned, there are no labeling standards for wetsuits. So it is safer to buy from a well-known brand that is accountable for its product, and cares about its long term reputation. If it is cheap, and from an unknown brand, it is likely for a reason. We suggest going with high quality, known brands for a snorkeling wetsuit.
How Tight Should It Fit?
For a wetsuit to work, it needs to be very snug, like a second skin, without bagginess or gaps. It should be tight enough to feel a little unusual. They are designed to trap a thin layer of water against your skin, without allowing more water to flow in and out. But they should not be so tight that your movement is highly restricted.
Front Zip Vs. Back Zip Snorkeling Wetsuit
Where the zipper is on the suit is mostly just a matter of personal taste. Back zip suits tend to be easier to get on, because they open up more. But they can be harder to zip up. And front zip suits tend to be more difficult to get on, but may be more comfortable in other ways. Ideally, try the suit on before buying.
Single, Two Piece, or Shorty
One piece suits are probably a bit warmer, because they don’t have as many openings. But since we snorkel in rather warm water, we don’t mind the trade off of a slightly less warm suit for the convenience that two pieces brings. A separate top and bottom are easier to get on and off, and are more convenient for bathroom breaks as well. Plus, you can use the top by itself if the water is not that cold, which is very versatile.
A shorty is another good option in warmer water, although then you lose the sun protection factor. Without a reef friendly sunscreen, your arms and legs will get fried in a shorty.
Wetsuits are great, but they certainly have their downsides, and cramp our style. Life is just easier without them. Here are some issues to be aware of.
Buoyancy When Diving
If you like freediving, even just doing a quick duck dive to take a picture, a neoprene wetsuit can make that very difficult because of the added buoyancy it creates. So you may need a weight belt and some lead to offset that buoyancy.
That is a big reason we choose to use Fourth Element’s Thermocline product. It is neutrally buoyant, making it easier to dive in without adding extra weight.
Drying and Smelliness of Snorkeling Wetsuits
Unfortunately neoprene wetsuits are stinky things. And they are challenging to clean and dry. It is just the nature of neoprene. Plus its going to get stinkier because you are going to pee in it (read below). That is another benefit of our Thermocline suits. They don’t smell of neoprene, and they seem easier to clean.
You will have to pee more often when you are snorkeling than walking about on land. It is a known thing called immersion diuresis, and it is a natural bodily response that is part of the mammalian dive reflex. Peeing in the water while snorkeling, in your swimsuit, is natural and to be expected.
But what about in a wetsuit? A wetsuit rental company understandably will tell you not to even think about it. But the truth is everyone does it, or lies about doing it, unless you enjoy the pain of holding a full bladder, which is a bad idea. And you definitely do not want to try and dehydrate yourself before you go out so that you don’t have to pee. And your pee won’t damage your wetsuit. But you will need to rinse your wetsuit very thoroughly after, and maybe add some soap if it gets stinky.
A Pain to Get On and Off
If your wetsuit fits right, it is going to be a bit difficult to get on and off. It is just the price you pay for the warmth.
Luggage Size and Weight
Wetsuits are bulky, and will take up a good amount of space in your luggage. And they can weigh a bit also. And you may not be able to get it dry before you return. A big plastic bag to keep it in for the return is a good idea.