Whether paddle boarding, scuba diving, surfing, or just swimming, a wetsuit allows you to tolerate cold water for longer, giving you more time to enjoy the water and your favorite pastime.
Finding the right type of wetsuit for your chosen sport is only the first step and many beginners struggle with the question of what to wear under a wetsuit.
Is wearing undergarments suitable, or is it better to wear nothing at all? Mostly, what you wear under a wetsuit is a matter of personal preference, although the type of wetsuit and activity will also influence your decision.
While surfers seem to prefer board shorts, tri-athletes usually opt for a triathlon suit. A diver wearing a very thick wetsuit has very different needs from a swimmer wearing a much thinner one.
We’ve considered all these factors, along with a few others, and come up with a range of options that can be worn under a wetsuit to enhance your comfort and maximize your time in the water.
Do You Wear Anything Under a Wetsuit?
Some people prefer to wear nothing, going naked underneath their neoprene wetsuit. While this is more comfortable for some, it presents a variety of problems for many.
The four most common reasons for wearing something under a wetsuit include:
When you first attempt a new watersport, there’s little point in shelling out $50 or more on a wetsuit you may only wear once.
As a result, most beginners hire wetsuits which means sharing that neoprene skin with other people.
To work effectively, a wetsuit needs to fit snugly, which means it could rub against sensitive areas of your body.
A hired wetsuit has inevitably rubbed other people’s skin in the same places it’s rubbed yours, which can be quite an off-putting thought, especially if you’re naked underneath.
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Imagine the person before you also went commando. Worse still, they might have given into the call of nature and peed in it! It’s not exactly hygienic, is it?
Whatever you decide to wear under a wetsuit, anything is better than rubbing your private parts against the same neoprene as the previous diver or surfer rubbed against!
Even a top-of-the-range wetsuit that fits perfectly may chafe or rub a little, especially if you’re participating in an active sport like surfing or swimming.
If this rubbing action continues for a prolonged period, it can cause skin irritation and inflammation.
Known as wetsuit rash, this chafing most commonly affects the armpits, neck, crotch, and behind the knees.
You can use anti-chafing gel and other products to prevent wetsuit rash, but simply wearing a rash guard or swimsuit underneath might be a more effective way of solving the problem.
If you continue to get wetsuit rash even after trying both the above solutions, you might need to change your wetsuit for a sport-specific design.
Surfing wetsuits, for instance, are thinner than those divers wear and are “designed to be more flexible and agile.”
Scuba wetsuits, on the other hand, prioritize insulation over flexibility and are, therefore, more likely to rub.
Wearing something underneath your wetsuit improves the insulation, keeping you warmer for longer.
This is particularly important for divers who spend extended periods submerged in the water.
While you can get a thicker wetsuit if you want to dive in colder waters, these are expensive and inflexible. Wearing a thicker wetsuit means working harder and conserving less energy, shortening your time underwater.
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Wearing an extra layer under your wetsuit works in precisely the same way as wearing an extra layer of normal clothes. Less heat escapes, giving you more thermal insulation.
Wearing a dive skin or thermal rash guard under your wetsuit gives you extra thermal protection while allowing you more freedom of movement than you’d get wearing a thicker wetsuit.
While a swimsuit or pair of board shorts offer little protection, other purpose-made undergarments provide much more than just thermal protection.
For example, some dive skins provide UV protection and offer an extra layer that can protect you against cuts, bites, stings, and scrapes.
Wearing nothing under your wetsuit might give you greater freedom in the water, but once you’re out of it, it can inhibit changing in and out of your wetsuit.
Divers often have limited options about where and when they change and are often forced to get in and out of their wetsuits on boats or busy beaches.
Wetsuits are notoriously difficult to get on and off, so using a towel to protect your decency is rarely an option.
That’s why having something on underneath is so handy, saving you and your fellow divers any potential embarrassment.
Best Things to Wear Under a Wetsuit for Females
#1 One Piece Swimsuit
A simple one-piece swimsuit is one of the best things to wear under a wetsuit in warm waters. It provides good protection against wetsuit rash while giving you optimal freedom of movement.
While any old swimsuit will do, those with decorative embellishments won’t be very comfortable, and the tight-fitting wetsuit will press those decorations into your skin.
The type of one-piece swimsuit women prefer is one designed for sporting activity, like the Speedo range. High-performance swimwear of this nature is made of lightweight, flexible, and durable material.
Wearing bikinis under wetsuits is popular, especially when diving, surfing, or swimming in warm water. Providing only minimal coverage won’t do much to keep your body warm or provide any UV protection, but they will keep your decency intake.
In some respects, bikinis are more versatile than a bathing suit because they give you coverage up top regardless of what’s going on down below.
The two parts mean you can keep your upper body covered, making sneaky trips to the marine toilet or ducking behind a bush on a shore dive.
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Bikinis with knots, buttons, beads, and other decorations will become uncomfortable if worn for a long period under a wetsuit. They might not provide the protection you need when struggling out of a tight-fitting wetsuit either.
The best bikinis to wear under a wetsuit have thick straps to keep them in place and fit snugly enough to prevent chafing.
#3 Dive Skin
Dive skins or full body suits provide maximum protection against everything from icy water temperatures to hot sun. They also offer an extra layer of protection against stings, bites, scrapes, and the myriad of other minor injuries that plague divers and surfers.
Some people will only wear a dive skin when warm water diving, enjoying the extra freedom of movement. On their own, they offer very little thermal protection, but when paired with a good-quality wetsuit, will keep you warm even in cold waters.
Not only do dive skins keep you warm, but they also make it easier to slide your wetsuit on and off and give you greater freedom of movement than a thicker wetsuit, especially if you opt for one with a 1mm thickness.
#4 Triathlon Tri Suit
While surfers tend to prefer bathing suits and bikinis, and divers wear dive skins or thermal rash guards, triathletes have a very different set of requirements.
Most triathletes start off wearing a bathing suit under their wetsuits and put additional clothes on over the top for the next phase of the race.
As they become increasingly competitive, they find this makes the transition to the next phase of the race too complicated.
A one-piece tri suit is made of lightweight, stretchy material similar to that used to make swimsuits. It’s designed to meet the requirements of all three sports involved in a triathlon – swimming, cycling, and running.
#5 Thermal Rash Vest
This is a type of vest preferred by scuba divers that spend a lot of time in colder temperatures. Made of a blend of synthetic fibers, it provides lightweight protection against rashes and a little extra warmth.
Thicker versions have additional layers of thermal lycra or titanium that you wear underneath a wetsuit to keep your core body warm while scuba diving for long periods or in cold water.
Some divers wear compression shirts instead of rash guards because they support muscles and increase blood flow, helping to prevent injury and reduce after-dive muscle soreness.
#6 Full Body Rash Guard
Similar to a rash vest, a full-body rash guard can be worn underneath a wetsuit or on its own.
Originally made to prevent surfers from scraping themselves on their boards, they are now worn for various water sports, including scuba diving, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and windsurfing.
A full-body rash guard is made of a combination of synthetic fibers that create a quick-drying, breathable fabric similar to wetsuit material.
There are both loose-fit and skin-tight rash guards available, of which the loose-fit ones are more suited to a day on the beach.
Tight-fitting rash guards protect against the sun, rashes, chafing, and even jellyfish stings. They also provide extra warmth when combined with a thinner wetsuit.
#7 Dive Shorts
If you’re wearing a shorty wetsuit, having a full-body rash guard on underneath is going to look pretty weird.
A better option would be combining a rash vest with a scuba or dive shorts. This will provide additional thermal insulation and protect you against scrapes and chafes.
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When warm water diving, you can wear diving shorts on their own or paired with a bikini top or compression shirt. They are also suitable for other water sports, including surfing and swimming.
Like bike shorts, dive shorts are lightweight, quick-drying, and extremely stretchy. As a result, they offer protection without restricting movement. They’ll also keep your thighs warm when the water temperature drops.
#8 Bike Shorts
Some women wear tight-fitting bike shorts under a wetsuit, preferring them to bikini bottoms because they make slipping the wetsuit on and off easier.
Bike shorts can be paired with a sports bra or tankini for better UV protection and offer a little extra warmth in slightly colder temperatures.
The best bike shorts to wear under a wetsuit are those with minimal padding. Those with thick padding around the sit bone area will soak up water and take a long time to dry.
Wearing lacy lingerie under your wetsuit can be uncomfortable and more than a little embarrassing. It doesn’t last very long either. Cotton underwear is a slightly better option but still doesn’t fair well with all the chafing and abrasion that goes on under a wetsuit.
Sports underwear is the best to wear under a wetsuit as it’s made from technical fabrics that make it more durable and quick-drying. It’s also designed to reduce chafing and move with the body, maximizing your maneuverability in the water.
#10 Pantyhose and Leggings
Pantyhose may not seem like the most logical choice of clothing, but they work well with a wetsuit. They make getting your wetsuit on and off a lot easier, and they also protect you against chafing and offer a little extra warmth.
Cotton leggings are unsuitable because they’ll tend to ride up your legs when you pull on your wetsuit.
Tight-fitting leggings made of a blend of Spandex and either polyester or nylon are the best for water sports, and you can “also use them outside the water for activities like hot yoga or running.”
Best Things to Wear Under a Wetsuit for Males
#1 Board Shorts
New surfers wondering what to wear under a wetsuit will probably notice most wetsuit wearers sporting board shorts and little else.
These provide a thin layer of protection, so they aren’t much use in colder temperatures.
On the other hand, they’re comfortable, quick-drying, and allow for maximum freedom of movement.
Wearing a pair of board shorts is better than going nude underneath as they offer some protection against chafing.
On the other hand, baggy board shorts have too much excess material to prove comfortable, especially if you’re out on the water all day.
Briefs are tighter fitting than board shorts, meaning there’s less excess material to get in the way. Y-front briefs are the best as “these have the least fabric… and won’t bunch up under your wetsuit.”
#3 Swim Trunks
Many male wetsuit wearers prefer tight-fitting swim trunks like Speedos underneath. These help to maximize freedom of movement but provide little in the way of protection.
Longer swim trunks work better with thicker wetsuits as they keep your thighs warm and prevent chafing.
#4 Dive Shorts
Made of a similar material to a wetsuit, dive shorts work in much the same way. Wetsuits work by trapping a thin layer of water between the wearer’s skin and the neoprene material of the wetsuit.
As the body heats that layer of water, it helps regulate your core body temperature.
Dive shorts won’t do a lot if you need extra layers for warmth, but they will prevent rubbing and eliminate the need to apply anti-chafing gel. The best dive shorts are quick-drying, flexible, and offer UV protection.
#5 Dive Skin
A step up from dive shorts, these full-body suits provide extra warmth, reduce chafing and offer UV protection.
You can wear a dive skin without a wetsuit in warm water or combine the two to create extra layers when diving in colder waters.
#6 Triathlon Tri Suit
A triathlon tri suit offers maximum freedom of movement, UV protection, and reduces chafing. In addition, it is suitable for all phases of the triathlon, so you don’t have to change in better, which is an essential factor for competitive athletes.
Designed to be worn without anything underneath, they manage moisture well, wicking away sweat and water to keep you comfortable regardless of the water or air temperature.
#7 Thermal Rash Vest
Surfing in just a wetsuit and board shorts in the middle of winter is rarely an enjoyable experience which is why many surf riders invest in a thermal rash vest.
Thermal rash vests are ideal for scuba divers and surfers in varying thicknesses. Not only do they protect your skin against scrapes and chafes, but they also provide additional thermal insulation so you can enjoy the water for longer.
#8 Compression Shirts
Compression shirts are very similar to rash guards in protecting the skin against sunburn, rashes, scrapes, and stings.
Worn by surfers and scuba divers alike, they are usually made from synthetic fibers that are flexible, quick-drying, and breathable.
Unlike rash guards, compression shirts also help prevent injury and reduce muscle soreness.
What is the Best Thing to Wear Under a Wetsuit?
The type of activity you’re involved with will dictate what to wear under a wetsuit.
Rash vest and compression shirts are suitable for almost all activities, while thermal rash guards may prove too hot and restrictive for competitive surfers.
Similarly, board shorts may work fine for the casual surfer, but they fail to offer the protection needed when cold water scuba diving.
Do Clothes Under a Wetsuit Get Wet?
As a wetsuit works by trapping water between your skin and the neoprene layer of the suit, whatever you wear underneath will get wet.
Consequently, finding something quick-drying and tight-fitting enough that the excess material doesn’t bunch up underneath is ideal.
Is it Better to Wear a One Piece or two-piece under a wetsuit?
If you prioritize coverage over freedom of movement, a one-piece suit is your best option.
One-piece swimsuits stay in place more effectively when getting your wetsuit on or off, minimizing the risk of accidental exposure!
Two-piece swimsuits also have their advantages, the primary one being that its easier to answer the call of nature as you don’t have to remove the entire item.
Regardless of whether you opt for a one-piece or two-piece, keep your choices simple.
Any beads, buttons, or other decorations will only cause discomfort once you’ve squeezed into your tight-fitting wetsuit!
What to wear under a wetsuit is a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer to be nude underneath, but this isn’t always practical, especially not with thicker wetsuits that chafe and rub.
While many women wear bathing suits underneath their wetsuits, full-body jumpsuits and dive skins offer better protection against chafing and sunburn. They also keep you warmer for longer.
Men tend to wear board shorts or swim trunks under their wetsuits unless they’re diving in cold waters, in which case additional thermal insulation is required.
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A compression shirt or thermal rash vest can make a world of difference in frigid waters, enabling you to move more freely and enjoy more time in the water.
The best thing to wear under a wetsuit is whatever you feel most comfortable in.
If you’re surfing in warm waters, that could be nothing, but if you’re scuba diving in cold waters, you need full body protection even with a thicker wetsuit to protect you.
Nicky is a British adventurer and animal lover who spends her time exploring the natural world and writing about her experiences. Whether on horseback, underwater, running, hiking or just standing with a fishing rod in hand, she embraces everything her adopted home of South Africa has to offer.