Whether you are a beginner diver, seasonal snorkeler or expert surfer, buying a wetsuit depends on insulation, fit, quality of construction and the environment you'll be swimming in. This wetsuit guide gives you the basic information about different technologies behind a wetsuit, providing you with the tools to choose the best wetsuit that is right for you. When fitted properly your wetsuit will:
- Provide additional flotation
- Reduce drag through the water
- Offer a degree of comfort from colder water
How a Wetsuit Works
A wetsuit works by trapping a thin layer of water between your body and the wetsuit, letting your body warm the water to a comfortable temperature. The thicker your wetsuit, the longer and warmer your body will remain in the water.
Wetsuit Styles and Accessories
- Full Suit: Also called a full-length suit, this is a one piece suit that covers your neck and full body to the ankles.
- Spring Suit: This wetsuit either has full length legs and a short sleeve top or a full length top and short length legs. The type depends on your personal preference.
- Dry Suit: This suit is used for extremely cold water conditions. It's designed to keep as much water as possible out by using rubber seals around the neck, wrists and ankles. Some also use Velcro™-style straps around the wrists and ankles to provide an extra measure of sealing.
- Three Quarter Suit: One piece wetsuit with short sleeves and legs that extend to the ankles.
- Farmer John / Long John / Short John (Jane): Single piece suit which combines a vest top and either short or long legs.
- Spring Suit: One Piece wetsuit with short legs and long or short sleeves.
- Rashguard: Can be layered under a wetsuit for extra warmth and to protect against chafing. Rashguards and looser fitting surf shirts block UV rays while under the sun.
- Hood: In colder water the hood is used to keep your head warm and keep the wind out. Some wetsuits come with the hood attached or you can purchase the hood separately.
- Gloves: Gloves keep your fingers and hands warm in colder water. They come in different thickness levels and styles depending on your environment.
- Booties: These come in round toe and split toe styles. The split toe, or two toe, has a compartment for your big toe and another space for the rest of your toes. This adds more stability in the water, keeping your feet warm in colder climates and offered in different thickness levels.
Thickness and Warmth
The thickness of your wetsuit should be determined by the temperature of water you will be swimming in. Wetsuits aim to keep warmth in and cold water out. The colder the water, the thicker your wetsuit should be; the warmer the water, the thinner it can be. For maximum warmth, a wetsuit is made with neoprene inside for a quicker drying time and maintaining body heat. Some wetsuits use air chambers on the outside of the suit to trap heat. Fused with a lock zip, this mechanism blocks out water to prevent flushing. Below is a chart to help you decide what style and thickness (mm) of wetsuit is right for your water climate.
||Type of Wetsuit
||2mm Long Sleeve Springsuit or 3/2 Fullsuit
||3/2mm Fullsuit + Optional Booties
||4/3mm Fullsuit + Booties
||5/4mm Fullsuit + Booties + Hood
||6/5mm Fullsuit + Booties + Hood
The Magic Behind the Material: Neoprene
Neoprene is a synthetic, elastic rubber with excellent insulation properties. The thicker the neoprene in a wetsuit, the warmer you'll remain in the water. The neoprene in a wetsuit traps the water between the suit and the skin while body heat warms the water, reducing heat loss in cold water. Buoyant and lightweight, neoprene can also be used as a protective cover because of its resistance to abrasive textures.
Freedom of Movement
In the water your movements shouldn't be restricted. Your wetsuit should fit snug and comfortable against your skin, without restricting arm, leg or body movements. Each wetsuit manufacturer has their own standard sizing for wetsuits, which may have a different fit on your personal body type depending on the brand of wetsuit you choose.
- Overlock Stitch: Found on the least expensive wetsuits, the overlock stitch sticks out of the neoprene, which at times can be uncomfortable. Although strong, this stitch leaves needles holes for water and wind to enter the wetsuit.
- Flat Lock Stitch: As a completely flat stitch, the stitching goes through both sides of the neoprene shell, not providing a water tight seal.
- Glued and Blind Stitched: This stitch is first glued together then threaded with a needle on the same side, not going all the way through. Continuous stretching and use over time may allow small holes to appear.
- Liquid tape: Rubber used to seal the inside and outside of the stitching, creating a 100% waterproof seam.
- Neoprene Tape: The most flexible seam tape which can be used on the inside of the seams, creating the most flexible 100% waterproof seal.
- Back Zip: The back zip opens vertically down the back, creating the easiest on/off method to putting on your wetsuit. This type of zipper also reduces flexibility and can be stiff.
- Chest Zip: The chest zipper zips horizontally crosses the upper chest, providing more flexibility on the back of the suit. Chest Zip suits are also popular because they keep water flushing through the suit while swimming or surfing.
- Zipper Free: This wetsuit is made of neoprene with flexible liners utilizing Velcro™ closures, keeping the cold water out and flexibility in.
Wetsuit care and maintenance
- Rinse your suit with cool, fresh water after each use.
- Hang your suit to dry inside-out in the shade as sunlight and heat can damage neoprene.
- Avoid stowing your wetsuit in a hot place.
- Never iron your wetsuit.
- Never place your wetsuit in the dryer.
- Keep your wetsuit as clean as possible, ridding the suit of any dirt or salt.