How to Choose a Wetsuit
There are many types of wetsuit on the market with wildly differing price ranges, this article explains how a wetsuit works, how to put it on properly and points you should be aware of when deciding what you want.
How to Choose a Wetsuit
For a first-timer, the choice of wetsuits can be bewildering but it need not be. Just ask yourself 3 simple questions:
1) What is your sport?
Most manufacturers have a comprehensive range of wetsuits which will work well for most watersports. No problem at all doing a bit of surfing in a windsurfing wetsuit or a bit of canoeing in a
wetsuit designed for sailing. If this sounds like you, then make sure you buy an all-round multisport wetsuit.
For many people, however, once they become hooked on their chosen sport, they will want a wetsuit dedicated to the task. This is because each sport has a specialist set of requirements, such as:
- Surf wetsuits should have close-fitting arms and neck to stop water flushing through the suit.
- Windsurf wetsuits need re-enforced knees, for climbing on and off the board.
- Diving suits need thick neoprene because the water is much colder the deeper you go –
especially in the West!
- Kitesurf suits need to be very flexible, with the arms cut high – making the suit less
comfortable when your arms are down by your side but perfect for kite flying.
2) How cold will the water be?
Pick a suit suitable for the water temperature you will be using it in. Please remember, these are WATER, not air temperatures.
Hot 22c/71F+ = Tropical or Mediterranean Summer
Sun, UV, and wind chill protection are the most important factors
Rashies or light thermal vest with board shorts, possible shorty wetsuit for prolonged water time.
Warm 19C/66F+ = Hottest Ballycroy/Achill Summer Days
Rashies or light thermal vest for a short time in the water. Shorty or short sleeve/ full suit 3/2mm thickness for prolonged sessions.
Mild 17C/68F+ = Typical Mayo Summer
Sun and wind protection plus protection from the cold water now becomes important.
Short arm sealed seam steamer or a full wetsuit 3/2mm or 4/3mm thick neoprene.
Cold 12C/54F+ Irish Spring or Autumn
Coldwater and strong windchill can make conditions unpleasant for those left standing on the Shore but, with a good quality wetsuit, you can still be lovely and warm. Choose 4/3 or 5/3mm full suit
with good construction and sealed seams (also known as GBL, blind stitched, heat taped, liquid seal or TPU) to keep the water out. For surface sports with high wind chill factor such as Kitesurfing or Windsurfing a smooth skin or mesh surface suit will be warmer, for Surfing a doubled lined surface ie: fabric on the outside will be OK unless it is windy and the surf is blown out. In cold conditions, a thermal vest can be worn under the suit to considerably increase the thermal capacity of the suit, as it fills any small gaps and increases the effective thickness of the suit by 2x the thermal vest thickness. In these conditions, boots and gloves can also be worn and a hood or beanie style cap will make you feel much warmer. The above is only a guide. It will also depend on how active you are being and how much time you spend in the water. The longer you spend in the water, the warmer the suit needs to be.
3) What size do you need?
What is Neoprene?
Invented in World War One, neoprene was used to coat the outside of fighter plane fuel tanks. If a bullet pierced the tank petrol would leak out and the neoprene would melt, sealing the hole again!
Neoprene is a foam rubber material containing small bubbles of nitrogen. It is this trapped nitrogen that keeps you warm, whilst at the same time making your wetsuit and you fairly buoyant.
How does a wetsuit work?
A wetsuit is a close fitting suit cut from a sheet of neoprene which is stitched and/or glued to form a body hugging shape. The suit is designed to allow a thin layer of water between your skin and the
suit. This water quickly warms up and adds to the insulation provided by the neoprene. It is important that as little water as possible enters the suit and that it is not being constantly replaced
by cold water flushing through.
Not all neoprene is the same. Neoprene as in all high performance materials comes in a range of quality levels. High end/performance wetsuits will feature some panels made from super stretch
neoprene which is much better fitting as it can follow the body contours and will have a greater level of elasticity and actually performs better and giving more insulation than older or more basic
materials. High performance neoprene will also have microscopic particles of titanium embedded with its structure, adding to the insulation properties.
Single lined (smooth skin) or double lined?
All wetsuits are nylon lined on the inside. Without this lining they would be impossible to put on or take off because the neoprene would cling to your skin. Some wetsuits are also either fully or
partially lined on the outside too.
A smooth skin (ie single lined or un-lined on the outside) wetsuit is likely to be slightly warmer because the water runs off almost immediately. On a double lined suit, some water is held in the outer nylon lining, which has a cooling effect. A smooth skin suit is also more stretchy and flexible, making it fit better, which in turn makes it warmer. It also gives the wearer greater freedom of movement – which is important for most action sports.
The main downside of a smooth skin wetsuit is that the surface is a bit more delicate and prone to wear and tear – so should not be used if the suit is in contact with any hard or abrasive surfaces. Some manufacturers produce textured smooth skin neoprene, to help improve durability.
In practice, most suits are made of a combination of double lined and smooth skin neoprene. High stress area such as the legs and seat are double lined and the chest/arms are single lined for warmth and freedom of movement.
There are various ways a Wetsuit can be sealed together and the way depends on the designed use of the suit. Some of the different methods of fitting the panels together include stitching and sealing. Some suits have “sealed seams” so that water can not penetrate the seam – more expensive but makes for a warmer suit and are used in medium to upper level suits, these include blind stitching – where the stitching only goes part of the way into the material and not all of the way through, taped and heat sealed – where a material is applied over the seam to give it a full seal, glued – where the edges of the neoprene are stuck together with a contact adhesive.
Thinner suits for use in warmer waters or summer conditions, they have the seams sewn together using a flat-locked or over-locked system – this gives a more economic method of building the suit
and gives a reliable construction system but not as warm or high performance as the various sealed seam construction systems.
Not only are the suits of different construction systems have different levels and thicknesses of materials but come in a huge range of styles. Steamers or full suits are generally slightly thicker
materials and cover from the wrist to the Ankle but some can have hoods or even boots built in for the most extreme conditions. Short arm suits or Short sleeve steamers have long legs but short arms or even removable arms, Shortly suits with short legs in a wide range of options are more for warmer water and summer conditions and are generally a bitter thinner in the construction.
Your First Wetsuit
When you first try on your wetsuit it may feel uncomfortable and restrictive out of the water, particularly under the arms. This is normal as there is extra material to allow for movement and
lifting of the arms when windsurfing, sailing and water skiing. If you are unused to wearing a collar and tie then the neck of the suit may also feel tight. Again this is normal – the neck has to be
reasonably tight to prevent excessive water entering the suit. The suit may feel generally tight and uncomfortable but remember ordinary clothes only touch our bodies here and there; a wetsuit
needs to touch everywhere in order to work. Any feeling of discomfort soon goes unnoticed as you use and enjoy the suit in the water.
How to put on a Wetsuit
Sometimes people encounter difficulties whilst putting a wetsuit on. To understand why this happens, we need to look at the differences in the way a wetsuit and clothing varies. Our clothing
hangs on our bodies and touches at certain points making casual contact at others. Shirts, blouses, and jackets hang from our neck and shoulders and usually hang away from our bodies in most other areas. Pants and skirts are drawn about our waist and often hang loose around our legs. There are a few exceptions and some people do wear tight clothing. Lycra is much like a very thin wetsuit. Wetsuits differ greatly from this loose hanging concept. A properly fitting wetsuit will make contact over most of the area it covers, leaving as little space as possible between it and your skin. The less space, the less room there is for water to enter and carry away your body heat. Water will find spaces where the wetsuit does not follow the contours of your body and this will cause the body to cool. You will then use energy warming these areas, which will leave less energy to do your activity. Not every one can be a perfect “off the shelf” fit and children in particular will have a suit that may be a little loose here and there.
The closer fit and stretchiness of neoprene, makes it more resistant to sliding on your arms and legs. This often results in people getting their suits on but not pulled up in vital areas. This throws off the fit for the rest of the body. This is the usual reason that most people believe their suit does not fit. This problem is often worse for women as their different proportions makes it harder for them to get comfortable unless the suit is worn properly.
Fortunately, there is an easy way to make sure your suit fits properly but you cannot grab hold of the suit and expect your foot to slide through like a pair of trousers. All you have to do is pull it up at
various times as you put it on.
- Once over the ankles pull the legs up to the thighs, and then remove any folds by pulling on the shins to move the ankle into position.
- Then pull on the knee to move the shin area and then pull on the thigh to put the kneepads in position.
- As you pull it up over your thighs, make sure it is pulled up snugly into the crotch. If your crotch area is sagging, the suit will feel too tight at the shoulders and chest and you are
going to be uncomfortable.
- At this point, many people will insist the suit is too small but it probably isn’t. As you pull the sleeves on, be sure to pull them up, once over the wrists and on your lower arms, the same
way you did with the leg.
- Once on, make sure the armpit area is pulled up snug, similar to the crotch. If not, your chest area is likely to feel cramped from the bunching of the excess material along your arms and
from the pull on top of your shoulders and across the back. Having said that wetsuits are made with extra material under the arms to allow for free movement when doing your sport, be it surfing, windsurfing, sailing etc. This extra material can sometimes feel a little uncomfortable when you lower the arm and notice the fold of the neoprene, but don’t worry, you won’t notice it when using the suit.
- Pull the zip up and secure any Velcro fastenings.
- Get wet!