Ever been around a group of divers where the women complained about how cold their dive was…and the men either did not understand, or thought the women were a bunch of “wimps?” Being “wimps” has nothing to do with it. There are real physiological reasons why women tend to get colder more easily than men, and every woman should be aware of them when choosing an exposure suit– no matter where they are diving.
Since our body temperature must be kept at 98.6 degrees F, diving in any water temperature below that will, eventually, cool us off. While there are great variations in how individuals respond to water temperatures, most women tend to feel cold sooner and continue to feel colder longer than men in the same water temperatures due to differences in male/female physiology. The main difference between the genders is in the rate of onset and level of vasoconstriction that takes place. Vasoconstriction is the phenomenon by which blood vessels near the surface of the skin constrict to minimize heat loss. Women experience vasoconstriction sooner, and to a higher degree, than men do for the same given temperature, and as a result, we feel the cold sooner, particularly in the extremities and on the surface of the skin. In addition, we generally are smaller than men, thus causing us, and men smaller in size, to have more surface area over which to lose heat. While we usually have a higher percentage of fatty tissue (which preserves body heat), we also have a corresponding lower amount of muscle mass and do not create as much body heat during normal diving activities.
With all these factors working against us, no wonder women seem to be less enthusiastic about diving than men. After all, this sport is supposed to be about having fun; not seeing who can tough it out. It is difficult to have fun if you are anticipating an “inevitable” shiver or chill towards the end of the dive, or if you can’t go in for the second or third dive because you are still warming up from the last dive. If women can stay warm and comfortable while diving, no matter what the water temperature is, diving will be more comfortable and enjoyable.
In general, women need to consider using a greater degree of thermal protection than their male dive buddies doing the same type of diving. In waters where men are comfortable with a given type of exposure protection, a woman with the same exposure suit would most likely feel less comfortable. It is also important to consider length of time in the water, type of dive, number of repetitive dives and the quality of comfort. A 6mm wetsuit or a drysuit might be needed even in the warmer waters of Florida.
Drysuits make particular sense for women. With a drysuit, you can dive in any temperature of water comfortably by just varying the insulation worn underneath. With drysuits, anyone can enjoy diving and can stay comfortable no matter how easily they get cold or how often they dive. For people who get cold easily, staying warm is an essential part of having fun no matter what the sport. So make diving more enjoyable…
Stay warm, Stay comfortable, Dive Dry!