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How to Choose a Wetsuit

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How to Choose a Wetsuit

With the wide array of wetsuits available these days, choosing the right one can seem a little daunting at first. You need to decide on a style, go through all the features, materials and suit construction details, select the proper thickness and find the right fit. To help you navigate through the process, we have outlined 3 major consideration points, covering the basics of choosing a wetsuit, and added links to our series of buyers guides dealing with the nitty-gritty of the matter, if you want to learn more.


Primary Activity

First, you should know that wetsuits are usually tailored for a specific activity, as different aquatic pursuits have different requirements. So, think what your primary sport is - will you mostly use the suit for diving, swimming, surfing or some other activity? This will dictate some of the features you should look for in a wetsuit.

Diving. Wetsuits for scuba divers are usually made with warmth and durability in mind. Manufacturers use denser neoprene that can stand up to changes in pressure as you descend deeper underwater. This does make the wetsuit stiffer, but since you don’t move around a whole lot on a dive, mobility is less of a priority. Additionally, diving wetsuits often come with double lining to withstand abrasion from weights and all the other gear.

Surfing, paddling, kiteboarding. Surface water sports normally involve a lot more movement and are designed to balance mobility and warmth. Many surfing wetsuits are pieced together using different thicknesses of neoprene - heavier on the chest and back areas to maintain core body heat, and thinner on the arms, legs, and shoulders for increased flexibility. This approach helps to reduce the upper body fatigue that results from repetitive motion, while still keeping you warm.

Triathlon, open-water swimming. Triathlon wetsuits are specifically designed for speed while swimming. Typically, they have more stretch than surfing or diving wetsuits so that you benefit from unrestricted movement (particularly around the shoulders). They’re lighter in weight and can have panels with different thickness and materials to optimize the swimmer’s position in the water. Triathlon wetsuits rarely have any lining on the exterior so they glide more efficiently in the water with less drag. On the flip side, these suits are very delicate and sensitive to tearing.


Water Temperature

The second big thing you need to consider is the water temperature you will be in. With regard to this, you will decide on wetsuit thickness, style, and construction (seams and lining).

Wetsuit Thickness. Neoprene thickness is the most obvious factor that determines how warm the wetsuit will be. As a rule of thumb, the thicker the suit, the more warmth (and buoyancy) you’ll have, but with less flexibility of movement. To determine the exact wetsuit thickness you need, consider air and water temperature (colder environments require thicker suits), your activity (for active surface sports you can normally use a thinner suit than for scuba diving) and your personal cold sensitivity (if you tend to get cold fast, wear a few extra millimeters).

For more recommendations and wetsuit temperature charts, read this guide.

Wetsuit Style. In addition to neoprene thickness, the cut of a suit will also dictate how warm it will keep you. Shorties or springsuits are ideal for hot summer days. John\Jane wetsuits are great if you want more versatility, as you can sport the sleeveless suit when the weather is balmy and add the jacket when you need a bit extra warmth. Full suits that cover the entire body except for the hands, feet, and head are usually used in cool to cold water. However, because full suits come in a variety of thicknesses, you’ll find use for them in temperatures as low as 40 degrees (5 C), and as high as 70 degrees (21 C).

For more info on different wetsuit styles, check out this buyers guide article.

Wetsuit Construction. Last but not least, wetsuit construction peculiarities such as the type and quality of seams and lining, will affect the warmth of the suit as well. Overlock and flatlock stitching is considered to be the least effective at keeping the water out since it penetrates the neoprene, creating many needle holes in the material. For this reason, wetsuits with overlock or flatlock stitching are better suited for use in the warmer water. Blindstitched and welded seams, on the other hand, do not allow the water to leak through and are ideal for cold water suits. Additionally, any seam can be fluid-sealed or taped, which would make it almost 100% waterproof. As for the lining, wetsuits can be double lined, single lined or unlined. Suits with double lining (meaning that the neoprene is laminated to a certain material, usually nylon or spandex, on both sides) are extremely durable but have increased heat loss above the water due to the effect called evaporative cooling. In single lined wetsuits a closed cell neoprene is only lined on the inside for comfort and warmth. The outside has a smooth skin appearance that absorbs heat quickly and does not allow the wind to penetrate the suit. Thus, single lined suits are great for surface water sports.

To learn more about wetsuit stitching, zippers, neoprene and lining, take a look at our wetsuit construction guide.


Fit

Once you know what kind of suit you want, you still need to make sure it will fit you properly. Fit is crucial to ensure good mobility and to prevent heat loss. If the wetsuit is too loose, the water will flush through it, reducing the suit’s thermal effectiveness. On the other hand, the wetsuit that’s too tight can hinder your movement or restrict breathing. The right fitting suit should have no baggy spots or large wrinkles in the arms and legs, it should be snug in all areas but not uncomfortably tight.

Sizing differs between brands, and some will offer tall or short sizes. Make sure to check the sizing charts specific to each manufacturer and suit model, and take your measurements to select the correct size.

If you have any concerns about the fit or can’t find the proper size in the off-the-rack selection, there is the option of a custom made wetsuit. A number of companies offer custom service. The process involves supplying a complete set of your specific measurements, and a custom suit will be made just for you. Although it’s the best way to ensure the correct fit, custom made suits usually have a considerably higher price tag.


Hopefully, these tips will help you make a well-informed decision and choose a wetsuit that will be ideal for your needs.

If you have further questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below or if you have already decided on a kind of suit you want, check out our collection of wetsuits.


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