by Dr. Thomas Powell:
Divers of all types often worry about thermal protection and water temperature. No one wants to be cold when they hit the water. This fact is especially true if a diver is planning a long dive. Temperature is definitely something that can cause a diver to complain. The surface weather may be too hot or too cold. The water temperature may drastically change as a diver crosses thermoclines. Despite these issues, divers will still brave the elements and hit the water.
One thing divers rarely complain about is having feet that feel too warm. The truth of the matter is that no one likes cold toes, but warm and cozy toes in the water can make for a pleasant dive. Every day in dive shops around the country, divers often buy the standard boots that the shop has on display. What many people do not realize is that there are more boot types out there than you can really count.
First, you have standard neoprene boots. Just like wetsuits, they come in different thicknesses based on what a diver prefers. Just like a wetsuit, the thicker the material the more thermal protection a diver will get from the boots. A secondary thickness factor that many divers do not think about is fin sizing. I do not mean the size of your typical recreational fins for warm water, but instead, the size of the fins a diver would wear with his or her dry suit. In many cases, wearing a thicker boot for wet diving will help fill the space in a pair of larger fins worn with a dry suit. Remember that dry suits often call for a diver to wear a shoe size larger than normal. This space allows for added insulation layering if needed. I have discovered that if I wear 6mm wet boots with the larger fins I use with my dry suit, I only need one pair of fins for both types of diving (dry or wet).
Second, dive boots may come in low-top or high-type design. Remember that the objective of any item used for thermal protection is to trap water against the skin creating a pocket of water at body temperature. High-top boots often provide more thermal protection since the boot is constructed to sit higher on a diver’s ankle. Simultaneously, if a pair of high-top boots is too tight, calf cramping may ensue. Any boot that is too tight can cause foot cramping. High-top boots may also have zippers or fasteners to allow the diver to put on the boot with greater ease. Low-top boots are better designed for warm water and minimal thermal protection needs. Low-top boots are designed for comfort, foot stability, and to provide support while wearing open-heeled fins.
Soft or thin
Soft or thin soles are found on many typical inexpensive booties used for scuba. These soles are glued or stitched to the neoprene foot pocket. This type of sole provides basic foot protection, but more than anything provides traction beneath a diver’s foot. Most low-top booties and some high-top booties are designed with thinner soles.
Hard or thick
Hard or thick soles are one boot factor that a diver should consider if you have to trek any considerable distance to the water, or will spend any time on uneven ground. For instance, if a diver is carrying cylinders through the wilderness to a dive site, and is forced to make multiple trips, foot protection is critical. Similarly, if an entry point is located on a rocky beach, like many entry points in Bonaire, hard soles can prevent stone bruises. Essentially, hard soles are more like the ones you find on a typical shoe. They provide a higher level of protection and support, but also cause boots to be more rigid.
Another type of boot that many divers use is an over-boot. Not all dry suits come with mounted boots. Many individuals purchase dry suits with soft feet so that an over-boot can be worn over the soft foot pocket. Over-boots may be made of many different materials. Some lace up like tennis shoes and some have different forms of straps. The goal is to choose what is most comfortable and suits your needs.
There are many different types of boots a diver may choose to wear. Different boots are designed to provide different values and even to be worn in different environments. When you purchase boots for diving, you should look at where you will be diving, and what needs may be prevalent. Then look for a boot design that meets those needs.
– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC