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Coldwater Diving

Ready to dive in cold water? This is our guide to cold water diving equipment.

By 13 Min Read
Scuba diver in drysuit diving in lake

In this guide, we will look at the coldwater diving equipment needed for diving in fresh or saltwater at temperatures of 10°C and below.

From the right BCD for cold water diving to picking the best 7mm wetsuits and drysuits, this is your guide to cold water scuba gear.

However, this is not a guide to ice diving which is another topic altogether. We offer special courses for that and go on ice diving trips every year so make sure to check that out if you are interested.

Scuba diving in cold water

Have you ever dived in cold water? I don’t mean 28° C “Oh no, I need to wear a long-sleeved suit instead of my shorty!” kind of cold. I am referring to really cold, 5-10° C or less.

If you have not, I strongly suggest you try it out! 😃

Temperatures like that you will usually encounter when diving in freshwater lakes, quarries, or under ice.

The Silfra rift in Iceland, for example, is 2-4°C year-round and can only be dived in a drysuit.

Moreover, due to the more pronounced thermocline in lakes, you might need cold water diving equipment even in the middle of summer.

Scuba divers in Silfra rift
Diving in Silfra, Iceland requires coldwater scuba gear.

When you visit our Munich dive center, for example, to go diving in Munich and around, this is a common phenomenon.

Lake Starnberg is one of our favorite places for cold water diving which is over 120 meters deep. While the surface can reach up to 30°C in August and September, this drops quickly down to 4°C year-round at 20 meters.

As you hopefully learned in your OWD, water colder than 15°C requires special equipment and preparation. When we get to the 4°C mark, there are even more things to consider.

At the same time, not all scuba gear is certified as cold water diving equipment and as such might need a replacement for this purpose.

As you know, every scuba dive starts with good dive planning, and diving in cold water even more so.

Let’s go through our dive gear and look at potential changes and adjustments we need for our cold water diving equipment setup.

ABC-Set for cold water diving

The ABC-Set consists of mask, snorkel, and fins. Just like scuba gear for warm water, every cold water diving equipment setup needs these parts.

Mask for coldwater diving

There is no need for a new mask for diving in cold water. Whichever one you have been using in warm water will be a good fit.

However, remember to have a spare one as part of your cold water diving equipment setup at all times.

In warm water, you are used to flooding your mask regularly and blowing water out of it often. Therefore, leaking water due to poor fit can be compensated to some degree.

When diving in very cold water, on the other hand, any water coming into your mask will be unpleasant.

Get something that really fits well and is not obstructing your vision in any way. Lakes and quarries often offer less than perfect visibility in comparison to warmer waters. Hence, glare from the sun is not such a big issue.

Still, a solid dark frame is often advisable, just like in warm water.

Check out the best scuba masks in 2022 for more inspiration.

Snorkel for cold water diving

Many people disregard the snorkel for cold water diving completely, as there is seldomly any swimming at the surface involved.

However, a snorkel is part of the basic dive gear and as such should not be missing from any cold water diving equipment setup. If you can, buy one that can be folded and stored away in a pocket underwater.

Fins for cold water diving

Fins are always a topic of their own. While any scuba fin will work for diving in cold water, my suggestion is to find some that are good for frog kicking.

We use frog kicks to swim without disturbing the sediment from the bottom.

While this is helpful in the sea, it is necessary for freshwater lakes and quarries.

Make sure to read up on the most useful scuba fin kicks to understand exactly, why frog kicking is great for cold water diving.

The strength and type of the fins are mostly dependent on the BCD and exposure suit you use, as well as your conditioning. Most divers use drysuits or thick 7 mm semi-dry suits when going diving in cold water.

As such, you will need a pair of fins that balances out the extra buoyancy of your feet.

Heavy, full-rubber fins like the ScubaPro Jet Fins or the Hollis F2 work great in that case. They are heavy enough to work well for drysuit divers and give you the means to carry out powerful frog kicks.

If you don’t need the extra weight, for example as a wetsuit diver, then the Apeks RK3 are the best fins for cold water diving. They are very light and perfect for travel, as well.

If you dive in poor visibility, consider buying colorful ones – especially if you are an instructor – so your students and fellow divers can spot you more easily underwater.

I mean…it doesn’t always have to be pink! They come in something more subtle like white now.

Check out the best scuba fins in 2022 for more inspiration.

Exposure suit for cold water diving

The most noticeable change from warm to cold water probably has to do with the type of exposure suit you will be wearing.

While most divers might have worn a shorty or 3-5mm wetsuit before, cold water will require 7 mm wet- or semi-dry suits or a full-blown dry-suit right away.

Picking the right suit for your cold water diving equipment setup is very important.

Drysuit diver in lake
A drysuit is an essential part of your coldwater diving equipment setup.

So which one should you choose?

It comes down to personal preference which one you use in the end and is mostly dependent on your perception of cold.

However, going by manufacturers and training agency recommendations, the following list will show you what suit to go for. I added a more conservative option for those who get cold easily.

Water TemperatureIf you get cold easilyIf you don’t get cold easily
More than 30°C (86 F)1 – 3 mm shortyRash guard
28 – 30°C (80 – 85 F)3 mm shorty or full suit1 – 3 mm shorty
25 – 27°C (78 – 80 F)3 -5 mm full suit3 mm shorty or wet suit
22 – 24°C (73 – 78 F)5 – 7 mm wet or semi-dry suit3 – 5 mm wet suit
18 – 21°C (66 – 72 F)7mm wetsuit or semi-dry5 – 7 mm wet or semi-dry suit
14 – 17°C (57 – 65 F)Dry Suit7 mm wet or semi-dry suit + ice vest
10 – 13°C (50 – 56 F)Drysuit7 / 8 mm semi-dry suit + ice vest or drysuit
7 – 9°C (44 – 49 F)Drysuit + thick undergarmentsDrysuit
6°C and belowDrysuit + heating systemDrysuit + thick undergarments
Recommended exposure suits for each temperature range.

The numbers above refer to the state of “feeling comfortable” in the water.

Shivering and numbness in your limbs is a clear signal to leave the water!

Please take this list with a grain of salt as you are the only one who knows for certain how quickly you get cold! If in doubt, warmer is always better.

Check out the best wetsuits in 2022 for more inspiration.

Cold water diving equipment below 20°C

Per definition, 14 – 17°C (57 – 65 F) already falls under the definition of “cold water” so let’s look at the bottom rows in more detail.

I put the range according to my experience as an instructor working with students in freshwater lakes in Germany – which can get really cold!

The ScubaPro 7mm Everflex Steamer is arguably the best 7 / 8mm wetsuit for cold water diving. It fits great and will definitely keep you warm for a long time.

Unless you plan on going for a dedicated drysuit, this is the warmest wetsuit out there. If this isn’t enough, try out an ice vest over it and maybe wear a rash guard underneath.

If you need more reasons why this is my number one pick, the Everflex is also the standard wetsuit of all our instructors and staff at Social Diving.

We use cold water diving equipment year-round as the temperatures below the thermocline constantly stay at 4°C and this suit has never failed us.

The second one I can recommend is the Bare Reactive ii 7mm wetsuit. Bare makes superb scuba gear (especially exposure suits) and this will serve you well on any coldwater dives you undertake.

Scuba diver in the Green Lake in Austria
Getting good coldwater dive equipment allows you to explore beautiful mountain lakes.

For anyone who gets cold easily, I highly recommend using at least a 7 mm semi-dry suit in any cold water diving activities. “Semi-dry” refers to the woven-in extra cuffs in your arm and leg sleeves.

Some divers criticize this to be a marketing gimmick, however, it does decrease water exchange in your suit which ultimately will make you feel warmer underwater.

There are many manufacturers of semi-dry suits nowadays and the quality gets better every year. Among the best of them are Camaro, ScubaPro, Waterproof, and Bare. They all start at around €300-500 and come in both hooded and jumpsuit configurations.

Cold water diving equipment below 10°C

Once water temperatures drop to the low double-digit numbers or start falling below 10°C (50F) you are better off with a quality drysuit. Buying a drysuit can be a challenging process so check out my dry suit buying guide!

A drysuit can be a big investment in your diving career, however, if you are an avid coldwater diver, you will want to get one eventually.

If you are one of those people who seem to always be warm-blooded and never get cold while diving, I still recommend at least a 7 mm wetsuit, as it will make potential repetitive dives in a day much more pleasant.

Don’t expect long diving sessions with this equipment setup, since even the best wetsuit will eventually be not enough to keep you warm enough.

As we all know, you can never be warm enough in the water and if you are really “hot”, let in a little water through the sleeves.

I myself have used a wetsuit even when ice diving in 3°C (37F) water, but I have never seen anyone else do it this way, and please do not use it as a reference.

Realistically, if you want to do serious diving in below 7 – 8°C (44 – 46 F) water, always get a dry suit.

Being cold in the water not only makes diving unpleasant but can also be dangerous.

There is an increased DCS risk when your body is cold besides other dangerous effects of hypothermia.

My recommendations are Kallweit or Ursuit drysuits if you are from Europe, and Santi anywhere else.

Check out the best drysuits in 2022 for more inspiration.

Gloves, boots & hood for cold water diving

You absolutely need to wear gloves, boots, and a hood for diving in cold water in order to protect your most sensitive body parts from rapidly losing heat.

These items do not need to cost a fortune but are a vital part of your cold water diving equipment setup.

At least 3 – 5 mm gloves are recommended for any diving in cold water. If you are used to thin 1 mm gloves or wearing none at all this will be a big change. Practice handling your instruments and clips before starting the dive.

Although there are 5-finger gloves, I suggest going for the so-called 3-finger versions. You might lose a little bit of movability with these, however, they keep your fingers much warmer.

Again, you can never be too warm in the water so 7 mm gloves might be the right choice for you. If you wear a dry suit, dry gloves will be an optimal choice as they keep your fingers even warmer throughout the dive.

Check out the best diving gloves in 2022 for more inspiration.

For dive boots, I suggest anything between 5 – 7 mm if you aren’t using a dry suit. I have had good experiences with the Mares Ng 5 Classic ones, as well as the Aqualung Ergo 6.5 mm boots.

Unless you are a dive instructor with hundreds of dives in these conditions every year, you should be fine with either one.

Check out the best diving boots in 2022 for more inspiration.

Coldwater diver in lake
Don’t forget diving gloves and boots when diving in cold water.

Many exposure suits come with an integrated hood but if you don’t have one buy one right now. The thicker the better as you lose the most heat through your head.

Brain freeze really is a thing and whoever felt the pain in your head when dipping it into ice-cold water can relate. 5-7mm is the gold standard here.

Do make sure it really fits well without cutting off the circulation around your neck.

Regulators for cold water diving

Not all regulators are created equal and not all of them may be used at any water temperature. The chance for freezing regulators is a lot higher in colder temperatures than in warm water.

Most vacation divers never get into contact with this phenomenon, however, anyone who dives “at home” in lakes and such can probably tell you about more than one incident of freezing or free-flowing 1st or 2nd stages.

If you only dive in the sea at warm water locations you probably never paid attention to it but check out the first stage on your regulator (after finishing this article!) and read the engraving on the knob.

If it reads EN250A you own a cold water certified regulator which may be used in water colder than 10°C.

The EN250A with A standing for “annex” means this model type was tested under extreme cold-water conditions and may be used in water temperatures below 10°C under the condition that you use one 2nd stage per 1st stage.

This is important so make sure you understand this. Whether your regulator is certified for certain temperatures is determined by tests the manufacturers conduct and must be decided before purchasing the model.

Scuba diver at water surface in ice hole
Under ice you need a regulator that works flawlessly.

The second part is on you! One 1st stage (and thus one valve in your tank) per 2nd stage.

If you want to read more about diving with redundant 2nd stages, check out my article on that. Naturally, both the two 2nd, as well as 1st stages must be EN250A compliant.

My own go-to regulators are always the Apeks XTX series, either the XTX50, XTX100, or XTX200.

Honestly, there are other regulators out there like the ScubaPro Mk25 or others, but I just love my regulators so much that I would like to point that fact out here.

Check out the best scuba regulators in 2022 for more inspiration.

Other cold water diving equipment

The rest of your equipment should be able to remain unchanged. Many cold water diving spots, though not all, are fresh water and as such will require less weight.

Using a thicker wetsuit or even a drysuit will negate this effect, however, and you might use more in the end. As always, do a weight check before descending for the first time and you will have certainty.

Your dive computer does not require replacement for the sake of diving in the cold, however, make sure it is charged to full power. The cold environment will drain the battery quickly and if you can dive with a backup computer.

For dark waters, bright displays, or at least those that can be lit up are recommended.

For drysuit divers, heating vests are a great way of adding an extra layer of thermal protection during the dive. Try out different insulating layers underneath your suit and find the sweet spot for you.

Bonus: Surface equipment for cold water diving

Last but not least, every dive begins with preparation long before descending into the depth. Bring plenty of water and stay hydrated even when it isn’t hot outside.

Take a thermostat of tea to warm up after diving.

If you dive in a wet suit in acceptably cold water, try pouring warm (not boiling!) water over your boots and gloves right before the dive. The warm water will stay in there for a while during diving and keep you warm a little longer.

It has helped many of my students before but be very careful not to burn yourself. Try it at your own risk!

Take extra warm clothes for after the dive because you will most likely be cold even after using a dry suit. If there is snow on the ground, don’t drag your regulator through it as it may cause freezing of the 1st or 2nd stage.

Advanced first aid kit
A first aid kit should always be part of your diving equipment.

First aid material and emergency oxygen should be available on every dive anyway but for cold water diving, I recommend double checking if you brought a warm blanket. In case of an accident, you can wrap your buddy in it and keep him or her warm until help arrives.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed my ultimate cold water diving equipment guide 2022 and learned something.

If you have never dived in cold water, make sure to try it out soon. It is a great adventure and opens up a new world of diving for you!

We discussed all the necessary parts of a good cold water diving equipment setup. Sticking to these suggestions will make sure you have everything you need to go cold water diving safely.

Your exposure suit, gloves, boots, and hood should be suitable for the water temperature you plan to dive in.

For extremely low temperatures, a drysuit is absolutely necessary to prevent hypothermia and DCS.

In that case, take scuba fins that can balance out the extra buoyancy of the suit.

Your scuba regulators must be EN250A compliant and a redundant setup of two 2nd stages and two 1st stages is necessary.

Stay warm before, during, and after the dive, and take the necessary safety precautions to ensure everyone gets back home safely after a great diving adventure.

Let me know what you think about these suggestions for the perfect coldwater diving equipment setup and leave us a comment.

If you can think of anything I forgot, share it with others, as well.

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Always dive with friends and happy bubbles. 😃

Cheers

Julius

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