Membrane Drysuit vs Neoprene Drysuit

Divers looking to keep warm in colder water or during long dives have more choice than ever before but the choice is a very personal thing. Some divers will swear by a neoprene suit from one manufacturer whereas another will only dive in a membrane from another brand.

Besides the obvious option of membrane or neoprene you’ll also need to consider whether you want an off the peg size, customised fit or fully made to measure, what type of wrist and neck seals you want, the type of boots you’ll need and several other possibilities.

These days most drysuit manufacturers offer some degree of customisation, especially those that either make or finish the suits in their own facilities rather than receiving a finished product from a mass production factory.

Here we will cover some of the basics of how to choose the right drysuit for you and we will start by looking at the differences between membrane and neoprene drysuits. You can find out more about the two different suits by clicking the links for more information about how they work.

 

Membrane vs Neoprene

The two suits are significantly different. By themselves they offer different thermal and buoyancy properties, the fit is different because of the stretch of the materials and components such as the seals, zips type and zip placement options can be different.

 

Membrane Drysuits

Let’s start with the membrane variety. When we say membrane we are referring to a drysuit that is made from a fabric material rather than neoprene and might also be called a trilaminate drysuit.

The ‘Tri’ refers to the typical three layers of materials that make up the fabric which include a hard-wearing outer, a waterproof middle and a softer more comfortable inner. There are and have been drysuit that are only made from two different materials and there are some that are made from more than three.

Membrane drysuits are very versatile and the possibilities that can be achieved by a manufacturer are almost endless because there is so much choice of material combinations. If you want a heavy duty suit you might add a Cordura or similar material to the outer layer for outstanding abrasion protection, if you need a lightweight suit you go for lightweight materials that fold and roll easily.

The major weakness of a membrane suit is that it has next to no thermal insulation itself so it is essential that additional thermal layers in the form of an undersuit is also bought. This might sound like a big disadvantage but it can also be a massive advantage if you dive year round or in various dive destinations where the water temperature various.

A few pros and cons are listed below but the merits and pitfalls of this type of suit are discussed further in our Membrane Drysuit Guide.

Pros

Cons

  • Versatile – Much more design, material and component options
  • No buoyancy fluctuations due to material compression.
  • Quick drying
  • The design is more forgiving for diver weight and size changes.
  • Negligible thermal insulation – an undersuit is essential
  • The fabric has little stretch so are baggier to accommodate movement

 

Neoprene Drysuits

Neoprene drysuits also offer some degree of material choice but generally we are choosing the thickness of the neoprene and whether it is standard neoprene or been subjected to compression or crushing processes.

Neoprene is thermally insulating so the need for additional thermal layers is reduced but neoprene is also buoyant because it is full of tiny air bubbles which is what helps to provide that insulation. The trouble with air when diving is that it compresses as you go deeper. As with a wetsuit the neoprene is naturally compressed, the suit gets thinner and its buoyancy is reduced making the diver heavier at depth.

To help reduce this problem manufacturers offer suits made from compressed and crushed neoprene that has been through a process of altering the structural make-up of the neoprene to pre-compress the air bubbles and therefore reducing the fluctuation of buoyancy as you dive. Compressed and crushed suits offer slightly less thermal insulation than standard neoprene because the air gaps have been shrunk and can cost a little more due to the extra steps needed during manufacturing.

A few pros and cons are listed below but you can find out more about neoprene suits in our Neoprene Drysuit Guide.

Pros

Cons

  • Neoprene is thermally insulating reducing the need for additional thermal layers
  • Neoprene stretches with movement allowing for a snugger fit
  • Neoprene is buoyant and affected by compression
  • The suits tend to be heavier and bulkier to transport
  • The snugger fit is not so accommodating for diver weight and size changes.
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