Why's it Called a Wetsuit, Anyway?
They call it a wetsuit, yet it covers your entire body. Why, then isn’t it called a drysuit? Isn’t all that material meant to keep you warm and keep your body dry while you swim?
You may be surprised to learn that that isn’t the case! In fact, when you wear a wetsuit, you don’t stay any more dry than if you didn’t wear the suit at all! Here’s why:
Wetsuits Let Water Seep In
To help you keep warm, wetsuits actually let a bit of water seep in and cover your entire body, forming a seal between your skin and the water. This water will not flush during your swim, as long as the suit has no tears and functions as it should. Because of that, you will not stay in a wetsuit!
But, if you’re wearing a wetsuit to stay warm, why would it let cold water in the first place?
If you’ve ever been out in snowy conditions, you may have worn multiple layers of thinner clothes rather than one big jacket to keep yourself warm. Those layers are better at keeping you warm because they trap air between them, air that your body heats up on its own. That warm air is trapped between the layers, and helps keep you from freezing in cold weather.
Wetsuits follow the same principle. They let the water in to form another layer over your skin. Your body heat then warms the water, which the suit keeps from flushing, and that warm water helps to keep your body warm! It’s like having a second layer between yourself and the wetsuit.
Why does this work?
Don’t worry, we won’t bore you with a complicated science lesson, though science is the reason why wetsuits function the way they do. Basically, heat flows from hot objects to colder objects. You may think that when you wear clothes, you are trying to keep the cold out, but in actuality, you are keeping the heat in. When you wear a wetsuit, the heat from your body flows into that layer of water first, warming it. By keeping that warm water there, you keep more heat near your body.
Does it make sense? If not, don’t worry! Just know that you’re supposed to get wet when you wear a wetsuit and that is why it works!
You can think of neoprene as the wetsuit’s “Secret” weapon. It’s what gives it the ability to keep the water warm around you and prevent the water from draining. Neoprene is a synthetic rubber made with a cellular structure that allows it to trap nitrogen bubbles inside. Why does that matter? Because it’s a great heat insulator! A neoprene suit can be thought of multiple layers, rather than just one, and as we talked about above, the more layers you have, the warmer you will feel!
The thickness of the neoprene is what determines how warm the wetsuit is. For more information on wetsuit warmth, see our article called Best Wetsuits For Cold Weather where we break this down even further and help you choose the perfect suit based on your needs!