What do you wear under a wetsuit?
That’s an understandable question for someone who’s in the process of getting their first wetsuit – or just looking to learn more about how to wear the one they’ve got.
As for the answer… Well, it depends. The type of activity you’re using it for, the temperature, and your personal preference all contribute to the final decision.
Can you ditch these undergarments and choose to go commando? Yes, you absolutely can. But do you like chafing all over your armpits, thighs, and other, more delicate areas? Yeah, probably not.
But I bet having an additional layer of protection against the elements while you’re on the water doesn’t sound too bad, huh?
Well, that’s kind of where this whole “wear something under your wetsuit” thing comes in – which brings me to my main point:
Today, I’ll tell you all about why you should be wearing something under a wetsuit and, more importantly, recommend the best ways to layer up depending on the conditions!
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What Is A Wetsuit?
Have you caught yourself wondering, “What is a wetsuit?”
Well, in simple terms, it’s a type of clothing worn by water sports enthusiasts, designed to keep their body warm in cold water.
These suits are commonly made of closed-cell foam neoprene, a synthetic rubber that creates a layer of insulation by trapping thin layer water between the suit and the wearer’s skin.
Did you know that wetsuits were initially developed in the 1930s?
That said, they didn’t become widely used and worn until the 1950s – right around the time when surfing became a popular sport. Fast forward to today, and wetsuits are now used by millions of people worldwide.
And no, wetsuits are no longer reserved for divers and surfers. They can be used for any water activity – including swimming, kayaking, and windsurfing.
It’s worth noting that wetsuits come in a wide range of thicknesses, meaning you get to choose one based on the climate and the type of on-the-water activity:
Thinner suits – generally around 2 millimeters thick – are used for warmer waters and activities such as surfing. On the flip side, thicker suits (up to 7 millimeters thick) are reserved for colder waters and activities such as scuba diving. Some may even feature a hood to keep the head and neck warm.
Keep in mind that wetsuits are available in a variety of styles, designs, and constructions:
The most common type would be the “full suit” – as in, a head-to-toe suit that covers your entire body – and typically worn in colder temperatures.
That said, there are also the so-called “shorty” wetsuits – suits that cover your torso, upper arms, and thighs – a popular choice for warm water diving.
And finally, you have “Farmer John” wetsuits that cover only your torso and legs but leave the arms exposed.
Can you guess why this is the preferred style among kayakers and paddleboarders?
That’s right – it doesn’t restrict arm movement, making paddling easier.
Even though the primary role of the suit is to help you maintain your body temperature while you are exposed to cold water, it can also act as a layer of protection against UV rays, marine life, and sharp surfaces.
Granted, it’s not an armor that will make you feel invincible – but it’s better than hopping in the water bare-skinned.
Oh, and there’s something you might not have realized about wetsuits – and that’s the fact that they can help you float easier. Neoprene’s natural buoyancy makes you sit higher in the water – which is a definite plus.
While we’re on the topic of exposure suits, I should mention that there’s an alternative – drysuits.
What’s the difference, you ask?
Well, drysuits are designed to keep the wearer dry, hence the name. However, unlike wetsuits, they’re not capable of keeping you warm and don’t act as an insulating layer on their own.
That’s why additional layers worn underneath are a must. They serve as thermal insulation and keep your core temperature stable.
Drysuits are capable of keeping you warm and comfortable in even the coldest water, giving them an edge over neoprene wetsuits. So, they’re ideal for anybody going into waters below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
They’re bulkier than wetsuits – which is something to keep in mind, especially if you must be able to move freely while in the water. But when it gets too cold, there’s only one solution for staying safe and comfortable.
The number one rule here is to double-check the upcoming weather – and always dress for the water.
A wetsuit is great for when you don’t mind getting wet and when the temperatures allow it. But you should have the option of upgrading to a drysuit for those parts of the year when the water gets too cold.
Should You Wear Anything Under A Wetsuit?
Okay, a wetsuit provides insulation and creates a thermal barrier. But why is it important to have something underneath it?
Can I wear nothing under a wetsuit?
That’s a common question – and rightfully so. It seems logical. Why add more layers under a suit that’s designed to keep you warm in the water?
You don’t have to wear anything underneath it; it’s perfectly acceptable – common, even – to go commando under a wetsuit. But before you do, let me ask you something:
Does having your bare skin rub against the inside of the suit all day long sound comfortable?
I’m about to beat you to the punch – it’s not.
It’s not comfortable at all.
When it comes to comfort, wetsuits are far from a sweatshirt-and-pants combo. Things will get sweaty, and you’ll chafe – especially around your armpits, neck, behind the knees, and yes, the crotch area.
5 Reasons Why You Should Wear Something Under A Wetsuit
If you’re going to get a whole new set of clothes to wear when you head to the water, you may want to see some solid reasons why spending your money is necessary.
I get that.
So, here are a few:
No matter what the temperature is on the surface, once you’re in the water, your temperature starts to drop. The water basically pulls heat out of your body.
Now, when you get into the water wearing a wetsuit, it will create an insulating layer that helps keep that heat where it should be – within your body.
Remember that wetsuits don’t keep you dry, though. They let a good amount of water in – and it stays there. That has a purpose:
The layer of water gets warmed up by your body and acts as insulation.
But because of the way wetsuits work, the clothes you wear don’t make much of a difference in how warm you’ll be; they’ll get wet, anyway.
However, more layers generally equal more insulation – and when the temperatures drop, you’ll appreciate every bit of help in that department.
The next thing everybody worries about is comfort.
Wearing a full-body suit made of neoprene can get uncomfortable after a while.
Sure, you probably know people who insist on wearing nothing at all under their wetsuits, and I know some of them, too. But those are some strange folks – and here’s why:
Your skin can’t handle rubbing against a wetsuit for extended periods. It’ll stick to it and scratch against it – and keep doing so until you take it off. In short, you’ll be sore and miserable after a couple of hours.
And no, you won’t magically “get used to” the friction. Adding another layer between your bare skin and the wetsuit is the only way to prevent chafing.
Adding another layer under the suit ensures that you remain well-insulated and keeps your core temperature at a comfortable level. But beyond that, layering also allows for some flexibility:
You can add – or remove – a layer according to the weather so that you’re always dressed for the occasion. And when you’re constantly in and out of the water, being able to adjust to the changing conditions becomes crucial for comfort and safety.
This part is as self-explanatory as it sounds:
A wetsuit generally offers you a good amount of protection while you’re in the water – but it’s not enough to protect you from the elements and your surroundings.
When you add more layers – undergarments that offer UV protection or help prevent stings and bites, as well as cuts – you create additional “barriers” between your skin and your environment.
In short, wearing something – anything, really – means being more protection. And that’s always a good thing, isn’t it?
#4 Privacy & Decency
Going commando under your wetsuit sounds fine – until you need to take it off, that is.
I know that there’s a simple solution to this problem if you really insist on not wearing anything underneath:
Find a private spot where you can get changed.
That sounds simple enough in theory – but it’s not always the easiest thing to do. Participating in water sports often involves changing in relatively public places, like beaches. The issue is that a wetsuit isn’t something you can simply slip in and out of while covering up with a towel.
And that means there’s a risk of accidentally flashing an innocent bystander.
So, just do yourself – and others – a favor and throw something on under your wetsuit. It’ll make the whole ordeal a lot more convenient.
While most of us prefer to buy and own a wetsuit that we know is our own, many people rent out a suit when they arrive at the put-in spot.
Where am I going with this?
Well, the chances are that some of those people who rent out wetsuits tend to go “commando.” Not to mention that many don’t wait to get out of the water when they need a bathroom break… if you get what I’m saying.
Nothing about this sounds particularly hygienic, huh?
You might want to cover up some of your “more sensitive” areas; that’s all I’m saying.
What To Wear Under A Wetsuit For Men: Recommendations
Alright, let’s get to the point:
What exactly should you wear under your wetsuit?
I’ve decided to split the list into a couple of sections. First, we’ll cover the items that men would need – besides the actual wetsuit, that is. Ladies, feel free to skip this and go straight to the next section.
First things first – you’ll need to get some diving shorts.
These are usually made of polyester, lycra, spandex, or nylon – and are a fantastic layer to have under your suit. Plus, they make it much easier to get the wetsuit on and off since there won’t be as much friction between your skin and the fabric.
And trust me, that’s a huge plus.
Wetsuits generally already have a layer of nylon material on the side, in direct contact with your skin. That liner is supposed to help get the suit on and stay comfortable for extended periods.
The thing is that comfort is not always a guarantee – and even then, it’s still great to have an additional layer.
But why buy diving shorts? Can’t I just wear board shorts under the wetsuit?
Well, you can – but it’s not really a perfect compromise.
They’re usually much looser, meaning the material could bunch up, making them uncomfortable to wear under a wetsuit – and it doesn’t look that great, either.
So, do yourself a favor and get the Mares Rash Guard Shorts.
They’re made of polyester, lycra, and spandex blend and serve as a great rash guard, as well. You’ll wrap up your paddling trip without any of the annoying signs that you were in a wetsuit for hours on end.
And as a good addition, they won’t set you back too much but will provide a great bang for your buck.
2. Long Sleeve Skins (Rash Guard)
Even if you don’t have a long-sleeve wetsuit, many scuba divers will wear compression shirts, also known as a long-sleeve rash guard or rash vest.
They are usually paired with diving shorts or rash guard pants and make up the core wetsuit undergarments.
A rash guard is a type of shirt that helps to protect your skin from rashes and skin irritation. They are typically made from a tight-fitting, stretchy material so that they can provide a snug fit and stay in place during activities like swimming, diving and surfing.
When it comes to rash guards, you’ll want to cover as much of your skin as possible – especially if you are wearing a very thick wetsuit.
My go-to is the O’Neill UPF 50+ Long-Sleeve Rash Guard.
It’s made of a spandex-and-polyester mix that offers great UV protection to ensure you don’t get sunburnt while out of your suit, and helps keep your upper body warm. It’s also quick-drying, meaning you won’t have to take it off after you’re done paddling.
The price might be a bit higher than your average long-sleeve shirt, but between the chafing and UV protection, the available colors – and not to mention the quality of materials – you won’t find a better deal.
3. Swimming Briefs Or Trunks
Last – but not least – in the Men’s section, I suggest getting a good pair of briefs.
Now, you have two options here:
You can wear them instead of your diving shorts – or underneath them.
So, why wouldn’t you wear diving shorts?
They cover a greater area of your lower body, meaning that they protect more skin from rashes and irritation. Well, that’s true – but they’re just a bit uncomfortable for some.
Briefs protect the most vital parts of your lower body without sacrificing any movement.
The other option is wearing both – and as I said, the more layers you have, the better. I generally recommend going for shorts either way, especially if you often get chafed inner thighs.
My recommendation is the Speedo Powerflex EcoSolar Briefs. Yup, the good old Speedos!
The materials are high quality and resistant to sagging, the drawstring and elasticity of the briefs ensure a flattering fit – and they’re comfortable, too. What more can you ask for, really?
What Do Women Wear Under Wetsuits?
You might have figured out that the formula for picking out what you’ll wear under your wet suit is pretty simple:
Cover as much as you can – or however much you need to feel comfortable!
With that in mind, here’s what I think you’ll need in your bag if you’re a woman heading out for a paddle trip. And yes, my wife had a lot to say on the matter.
1. Neoprene Shorts
Wetsuits are usually lined with nylon, as I mentioned earlier. But anybody who’s ever worn – or tried to put on – a wetsuit on bare skin knows how much actual comfort that nylon or polyester (or whatever the particular suit uses for the lining) provides.
I’m not trying to knock every wetsuit out there – but you have to admit that they’re not the definition of comfort.
A good pair of shorts to wear under your suit is, in my opinion, the perfect half of a two-punch combo you need to cover the most important parts of your body.
Some neoprene water shorts are pretty much suitable for any water sport and activity out there, including surfing, diving, kayaking, or water aerobics – you name it.
Because they don’t hold water well, they almost serve as a literal second skin. That also means that they can dry pretty quickly when you actually get out of the wetsuit.
There are many brands and models – but I reckon you can take a look at the GoldFin Neoprene Shorts. It’s a relatively basic model, but it does more than a good job; there’s no doubt about that.
2. Rash Vest
Remember that two-punch combo I just mentioned? Well, here’s the second one – a high-quality rash vest.
A rash vest is a second-skin type of shirt, typically made of lightweight and breathable polyester.
But what does it do when you’re actually in the suit?
Well, the rash guard works as a layer between you and the water. It helps regulate your body’s temperature and dries quickly once you take the suit off.
There’s no such thing as a perfect second skin layer; there is always at least some friction between your skin and the fabric.
Go for the O’Neill Women’s Short Sleeve Rash Guard.
The seams on this short-sleeve rash guard are minimal, and they’re designed to be in the spots where there’s minimal movement, offering even more protection against chafing and rashes.
Plus, the fabric boasts UPF 50+ UV protection, which is a hell of a sun guard when you’re out of the suit.
3. Sports Bra Or Compression Suit
When choosing what to wear underneath your wetsuit, I generally recommend first taking care of the basics.
You need protection and support. After all, we’re not talking about just sitting around on the main deck of a yacht; you’ll be putting in some effort into enjoying your chosen water sport.
I suggest checking out the MIRITY Racerback Sports Bra. This one fits into activewear, so it’s not exactly marketed as a “water sports” model – but it does what it’s supposed to do.
That said, I advise you to wear something over it – not because only wearing a sports bra under a wetsuit is a bad idea or anything like that but because wearing more than one layer is typically better.
So, can you wear a bra under a wetsuit? Like, just a bra – and no shirt over it?
Well, yes, you can – if that’s what you prefer. But colder water requires more layers, so I suggest you go for the full outfit whenever possible.
4. Bikini Or One-Piece Swimsuit
Last but not least, there’s the option of wearing a bikini or a one-piece swimsuit. Both the bikini and swimsuit are usually made of materials that work perfectly as wetsuit undergarments.
My advice is to go for the one-piece, and I have a simple reason – chafing.
A two-piece bikini can move around under the wetsuit and has, by design, more seams that can cause irritation and rashes. A one-piece swimsuit stays in place better and covers more of your skin – which is always a plus.
Now, as far as suggestions go, my wife swears by her Daci rashguard swimsuit and highly recommends it to all the ladies reading this.
It’s a long-sleeve, one-piece swimsuit made of an 80/20 blend of nylon and spandex, and it boasts a built-in bra – a welcome addition that you’ll rarely find in this price range.
Plus, it offers UPF 50+UV protection, which, paired with the fact that it’s a long-sleeve swimsuit, provides exceptional protection from the sun – even when you get out of your wetsuit.
Oh, and my wife said I should point out that it comes in many lovely designs, too!
What To Wear Under A Wetsuit In Cold Water?
Okay, now that I covered the basics you might need to wear underneath your wetsuit, let’s talk about a paddler’s worst enemy – cold water.
You can go with a thicker wetsuit; there are options that are designed for colder weather. Plus, there’s the option of upgrading to a drysuit.
But the obvious trade-off that I have to mention is the potential loss of mobility:
Wetsuits are already kind of limiting your movement, and adding thicker, more rigid material to the mix usually makes for a more rigid-feeling suit.
If you don’t want to go with thicker materials, here’s what to wear under a regular wetsuit to keep warm instead:
1. Wetsuit Vest
I know I said I’d tell you what to wear under your wetsuit, but I’ll start things off with the next best thing. The LayaTone Diving Top is a wetsuit vest that goes over the wetsuit.
Allow me to explain:
A neoprene vest goes over your wetsuit, but it does the same thing it would do if you were to put it on underneath the suit – it serves as an additional layer.
The idea here is to have the layers underneath to keep you warm – but to add the optional extra layer without sacrificing movement.
LayaTone’s vest is made of 2-millimeter thick neoprene, boasts a nice-looking camo print, and is definitely worth considering.
2. Full-Body Jumpsuit (Diving Skin)
A “diving skin” is pretty much just all of the layers I mentioned so far bundled up into a one-piece jumpsuit. It has long sleeves and serves as a true second-skin you can wear under your wetsuit.
The COPOZZ Diving Skin is a perfect example:
It’s a Lycra spandex suit that offers great thermal isolation, above-average UV protection, and a full-length front zipper.
And while it’s technically just all the different layers I’ve mentioned so far stitched together, there is one benefit – and that’s the price. It costs only a fraction of what you’d pay when buying all the layers separately.
If you’re on a budget, be sure to consider this option.
3. Wetsuit Pants
Let’s assume that you already have the top part covered. Why would you buy a jumpsuit when you can just get the pants, right?
But can you wear leggings under a wetsuit?
You absolutely can! And not only that – having a pair of leggings to wear under your wetsuits is always a good idea when you’re paddling in cold waters.
As far as recommendations go, the Skyone Leggings do a great job at protecting your legs from cold water and UV rays.
These are neoprene thermal-regulated pants that you can wear under the suit, and they work as a great base layer for colder weather.
Now, I know I know, I already said that. But hey, it’s true:
High-quality neoprene is genuinely your best friend when kayaking during the colder months!
4. Diving Hood
The wetsuit hood (or diving hood, depending on who you’re talking to) is generally only needed in extreme conditions.
It’s a hood that’s typically made of neoprene and is designed to be worn under a hooded wetsuit or, you guessed it, scuba gear. In short, it will provide additional protection to the neck and head as you participate in water sports.
And yes, that includes kayaking, too – especially during the colder months.
Neoprene does a fantastic job of supporting thermoregulation and keeping you warm.
The NeoSports model is one of the best diving hoods out there.
It’s made of neoprene, comes in three thickness levels – 3/2mm, 5/2mm, and 7/2mm – and it has a so-called flow vent that’s designed to eliminate trapped air. Most importantly, it ensures a nice, tight fit.
These, I believe, don’t need to be explained. It’s going to get cold out there – and your hands are generally exposed while you’re paddling.
It’s not just about keeping your hands warm, though. Gloves should be an essential part of your gear (as should all of these items). Hypothermia is no joke, and your limbs are the first victims of a cold-weather paddling trip.
Always keep your hands and feet warm – and as dry as possible – during the colder seasons!
The Dizokizo Diving Gloves do just that. The high-quality blend of anti-slip neoprene and nylon keeps your hands warm and safe so that you can steer your ‘yak through the coldest of waters, no matter the season.
Not thrilled with this model? Check out this round-up, then!
6. Wetsuit Socks & Booties
Last but most definitely not least, the sock-and-shoe combo you choose is arguably even more important than the gloves you wear – and for a good reason:
Your hands are at least doing something while you’re paddling through a freezing river, but your feet are pretty much just sitting there, which means restricted blood flow.
My suggestion is simple – get a pair of wetsuit socks and top them off with water shoes!
What do I recommend?
Much like the gloves, these socks are made of high-quality neoprene and nylon that will keep your feet warm and dry – as much as possible.
As for the NRS kayak shoes, I don’t think they need any special introduction. They’re rubberized neoprene water-sealed shoes that will keep your feet dry while you’re paddling and comfortable while walking on pretty much any trail.
You’ll get a side zipper, so you can put them on and take them off quickly, too.
They’re obviously a bit more expensive, but you really don’t want to save money when it comes to reliable, water-friendly shoes. Your toes can thank me later.
You’ll find more recommendations here!
What To Wear Under A Wetsuit – A Quick Summary
Yes, you should wear something underneath your wetsuit. It’ll keep you warm when needed, it’s more hygienic – and a lot more practical when taking the wetsuit off – and it prevents rashes and chafing.
Here are my recommendations:
- For men – Shorts, long-sleeve skins, swimming briefs, or trunks
- For women – Neoprene shorts, rash vest, sports bra, bikini, or one-piece swimsuit
- For cold water – Full-body jumpsuit, gloves, wetsuit socks and booties, diving hood, wetsuit vest, wetsuit pants