What Should You Wear Under Your Wetsuit?

Swimsuits, Board Shorts, Rash Guards, and More Options

From board shorts to tiny swim briefs like Speedos, or nothing at all, you have options for what you wear under you wetsuit when scuba diving. But there are advantages and disadvantages of each type of base layer, and safety is a consideration.

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Board Shorts

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Board shorts are the most common type of men's swimsuit, at least in North America, and most men show up for open water courses with these loose-fitting, quick-drying shorts. The disadvantage of board shorts is that they wrinkle and bunch under wetsuits, requiring the diver to straighten them out once he has squeezed into his wetsuit. Smoothing board shorts under a tight-fitting wetsuit can be difficult, and most professional divers who must don a wetsuit multiple times during the day quickly find an alternative.

Board shorts that bunch up under your wetsuit could also cut off the circulation to your legs—a dangerous situation.

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Women's Swimsuits

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Women have an advantage when it comes to finding garments to wear underneath their wetsuits. Most women's swimsuits hug the body tightly and do not shift as the diver dons her wetsuit. But a wetsuit will press decorative swimsuit features such as knots, beads, metal, and wood into the diver's skin uncomfortably.

Simple string bikinis or athletic-style swimsuits are usually preferable to fancier suits. (Knotting string bikini tops on the side prevents the strings from jamming a wetsuit's zipper.) Strapless swimsuit tops are usually a bad idea, as you may pull yours off when you remove the wetsuit.

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Men's Briefs

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This skimpy men's swimsuit is perfect for layering under a wetsuit. Men's briefs, like the Speedo brief, stay in place and do not bunch or shift when you don or remove a wetsuit. Many dive instructors use briefs for this reason. The downside of men's briefs is that many men are hesitant or embarrassed to wander around scantily clad on a dive boat or at a dive shop, despite the practical advantages of this swimsuit.

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Bicycle-Style Shorts

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Tight-fitting bicycle-style shorts work well under a wetsuit. They provide more coverage than men's briefs or women's bikini bottoms and have the additional advantage of helping a wetsuit slip easily over a diver's thighs. Some divers use commercially available bicycle shorts, but tight-fitting swim shorts are also available. Women who opt for bicycle-style shorts often pair them with sports bra-style tops or tankinis.

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Neoprene Shorts and Pants

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Neoprene shorts and pants are available through many wetsuit manufacturers. These garments are designed for divers to layer under wetsuits; they tightly hug a diver's body and don't shift or bunch. Like bicycle shorts, neoprene shorts allow a wetsuit to slide easily over a diver's thighs.

Neoprene shorts have the advantage that they provide additional thermal protection. But neoprene is buoyant, and a diver who uses neoprene shorts may need to use slightly more weight on a scuba dive to compensate for the increased buoyancy of his undergarments.

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Neoprene Vests and Shirts

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Neoprene vests are an excellent option for divers who chill easily. Layering a neoprene vest (particularly a hooded vest) under a wetsuit is an excellent way to conserve warmth without increasing wetsuit thickness. Neoprene vests help a wetsuit slide over a diver's chest easily and provide coverage for more modest divers. Some divers wear only a neoprene vest, while others layer swimsuits underneath.

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Dive Skins and Rash Guards

Warm-water divers often dive in only a dive skin or rash guard, but these items can also be layered under a wetsuit. Dive skins and rash guards are available in a variety of materials, including spandex and neoprene. They come in a range of styles, including long-sleeved and short-sleeved shirts, long and short pants, and full-body jumpsuits.

These garments aid a diver in donning and removing his wetsuit, and provide solar protection at dive sites (many even have UV-protection).

Thin neoprene dive skins and rash guards give a diver additional thermal protection when layered under a wetsuit. Some wetsuit manufacturers have created dive skins in innovative materials, such as a combination of fleece, spandex, and other materials to provide extra warmth.

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Some types of underwear are obviously inappropriate for scuba diving. Still, you can wear underwear under a wetsuit, but be prepared to receive the occasional condescending stare from other divers if your underwear looks like, well, underwear. Cotton underwear does not last long when worn underneath a wetsuit, but other materials fare better.

Spandex pants and tops, especially athletic garments such as sports bras, can often be used interchangeably with swimsuits. Athletic undergarments are often cheaper than swimsuits and work just as well.

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Veteran scuba divers remember when wearing pantyhose under a wetsuit was standard operating procedure. Before wetsuits had linings, pulling a wetsuit on was nearly impossible without using something to help slide the wetsuit over the diver's skin. Clever male divers began stealing their wives' pantyhose to help them don their wetsuits, and it was not uncommon to see teams of macho scuba divers decked out in stockings before a dive.

These days, most divers opt for dive skins to help slide on difficult wetsuits, but the occasional pantyhose-wearing diver can still be spotted. If you see a diver in pantyhose, chances are that he has been diving for a long time and has some fascinating scuba stories to share.

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Nothing At All

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Why wear anything under your wetsuit? Provided that a diver has a place to change into his suit, there is nothing wrong with going commando. Wetsuits are continually evolving, and many are coated with inner linings that make sliding them on and off easy, even without undergarments.

Some divers prefer wearing nothing under their wetsuits because doing so avoids the necessity of packing a swimsuit; others just like the way it feels. When diving commando for the first time, just remember not to rip your wetsuit off after a dive.

Watch Now: How to Care For Your Wetsuit Before You Dive