Wetsuits are made from neoprene, a synthetic and waterproof material that contains many tiny air bubbles. The wetsuit allows some water to enter the suit at the neck, ankles, and wrists. This small amount of water is heated by the diver’s body heat, keeping the diver warm. The tiny air bubbles in the material also help to trap body heat. A good quality wetsuits allows in the right amount of water and helps keep you warm. While a quality wetsuit is an investment and is not inexpensive, it will greatly enhance the quality of your dive and even keep you safe from hypothermia and other conditions related to cold water exposure.
There are in fact a few different types of wetsuits on the market, and when buying your wetsuit, one of the first things you will want to consider is which style you prefer:
1) Shortie wetsuits. These wetsuits usually zip up at the back and cover the legs to mid-thigh, the arms to the mid-bicep, and the torso. While they are not good for very cold water dives, they can protect warm-water divers and snorkelers from injuries, scrapes, sun damage, and other types of hazards. They are easy to put on and remove. They also allow more freedom of movement than any other style of wetsuit, because part of the arms and legs are free.
2) One-piece jumpsuit-style wetsuits. These wetsuits also zip in the back but they cover the entire arm and leg areas as well as the torso, making them better for cold water dives. Good-quality jumpsuit wetsuits usually have a higher collar, which allows a diver to attach a hood and allows for some protection of the neck area (even without a hood). One-piece jumpsuit-style wetsuits offer less freedom of movement than shorties, because they cover more of the body.
3) Farmer Jane or Farmer John wetsuits. These wetsuits are two-piece, designed to offer extra warmth to the vital torso area. The bottoms of these wetsuits cover the legs to the ankles as well as the torso area. The tops of these wetsuits cover the arms and torso. These wetsuits are ideal for cold-water dives and they have the advantage of keeping the central core warm, so that the body only needs to focus on warming the limbs.
No matter what style of wetsuit you choose, there are several features you will want to look for:
1) Thickness and warmth. The neoprene used in wetsuits comes in different thicknesses, and the thicker your wetsuit, the warmer you will be. Wetsuits with 2-3mm thickness are best for warm or cool water dives. They will protect you from sun damage and from any scrapes or cuts you may get underwater. Wetsuits with 5mm thickness are best for warm water dives but for divers who feel cold with a thinner wetsuit. Wetsuits with 7mm thickness are best for cold water dives. When considering the thickness of your wetsuit, consider range of motion as well. The thicker your wetsuit, the more limited your motion range will be, since you will be hampered by additional material. As well, at depth, the air bubbles in the neoprene will compress due to air pressure. This will make you colder, which is why you need a thicker wetsuit for greater depths.
2) Fit. To try on a wetsuit, you should not just place your feet in the legs of the wetsuit and tug. This can add pressure on the seams and wear out your wetsuit faster. To put on a shortie, just insert your legs into the legs of the suit. For a one-piece, roll each leg so that it leaves a hole in the center. Place your foot in the center of the hole and then roll the leg of the wetsuit gently up your leg to the knee. Gently position the wetsuit over your torso and close the suit once you have your arms through the arm holes. For a two-piece, don the bottom the way you would a one-piece. However, zip the top of your wetsuit about three inches and step into it. Slip into the jacket and zip up. Once you have done this, you can judge the fit of your suit. The suit needs to be snug to trap body heat but should not be tight and should not constrict movement too much. Take a deep breath in your wetsuit. You should feel a slight restriction. There should be no bulges anywhere, as these can be a sign of a too-big wetsuit. You may need to try on a few wetsuits to find one that is comfortable and the right fit. If you get almost the right fit, you can get a perfect fit by having your wetsuit altered. However, make sure that you have this done by a professional who has experience altering wetsuits. Your regular tailor may damage your wetsuit and affect its ability to keep you warm.