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How Wetsuits Work
A wetsuit is a neoprene insulation suit made for warmth and protection in watersports. It functions by trapping a thin layer of water between your body and the suit. This layer of water is warmed by your body, to prevent you from loosing too much heat while in the water. Water molecules conduct energy (heat) 25-40 times faster compared to air molecules. For example, on a 60 degree day you probably feel comfortable outdoors with jeans and a shirt whereas you will probably start to shiver within minutes while swimming in the same temperature water.
Wetsuits are not meant to keep you entirely dry. Neoprene is made of small closed cells that are filled with air which provide insulation against cold water by trapping heat in. The thicker the neoprene is in the suit, the warmer the suit will be because it has more heat trapping insulation. It is important to research the water temperature (keeping in mind the different seasons and swells) in the region where you will primarily use your wetsuit. If the temperatures are cold enough to make your extremities go numb, think about using boots
too.Wetsuit Temperature Guide
In addition to water temperature consider the following:
- Air temperature
- Wind speed
- Your sensitivity to getting cold
- (For cold air temperatures, more wind, an activity with less movement or if you get cold easily, consider a thicker wetsuit.)
One of the most important aspects when considering wetsuit warmth is the thickness of the neoprene. Wetsuit thickness is measured in millimeters, represented with two numbers separated by a slash. The first number represents the thickness of the neoprene in the torso area and the second number represents the thickness of the neoprene in the extremities. The thicker neoprene (the first number) is used for your torso in order to maintain your core body heat. Your core heat is extremely important to maintain in order to prevent hypothermia. The thinner neoprene (the second number) is used for your extremities. The thicker the neoprene, the more warmth but less flexibility; thus the thicker neoprene is placed where you need less flexibility (your core) and the thinner neoprene is used where your body is constantly in motion (arms and legs).
Shop wetsuits by thickness: 1mm
, 5/4/3 mm
How should your wetsuit fit?
Fit is a very important aspect to consider when buying a wetsuit. If your wetsuit does not fit properly it will not be able to keep you warm or allow you the mobility you need for your sport. Consulting brand-specific size charts for wetsuits is the best way to start finding the correct wetsuit fit. A wetsuit should fit like a second skin with no sagging in the back or excessive bunching in the arms or legs. It should fit tight in order to keep only a thin layer of water between your body and your suit. If your suit is loose an abundance of water will flush through and is then ineffective at keeping you warm. A wetsuit should fit snugly around your neck (many people wear a rashguard
underneath their wetsuit to prevent a neck rash). Most women wear a swimsuit
underneath for extra protection and support.
- After you have your wetsuit on there should be no excess room, including the torso, crotch, shoulders, and knees. A proper fitting wetsuit will be hard to put on when dry.
- Lift your arms over your head and stretch out your shoulders. This move should only be slightly restricting. If you feel a lot of pressure during this movement then the suit is too small.
- You should be able to squat down and move your arms easily (if under a 5/4mm).
*Each brand has a slightly different fit; make sure to shop for your body type. Check out our guide to How to Put on a Wetsuit
Wetsuit Seam Seals
- This stitch is recommended for use in water that is above 62°.
- This stitch will lie flat against your body, causing no discomfort.
- This seam may let in a little water.
Sealed (Glued and Blindstitched)
- This stitch is recommended for use in water that is 55° and higher.
- These stitch panels are glued and then blind stitched. Blind stitching does not go all the way through the neoprene. Instead the stitch comes out the same side it went in, making it watertight.
- This seam will let in very little water.
Sealed and Taped (Glued, Blindstitched and 100% Taped)
- This stitch is recommended for use in water that is 55° and below.
- This stitch is glued and then blind stitched but it also contains interior seam taping. The interior taping will add durability, reinforce the seam, and prevent any water from seeping through.
There is more to getting into your suit than you may think. There are essentially two different types of zippers: back and chest zippers.
This is the classic solution with the zipper going down the length of the spine with a long cord attached so you can zip yourself in and out. The advantage of a back zip is that, of the two zipper positions, it is typically the easiest to enter and exit, which is a big deal when you are trying to get into something that is skin tight. The disadvantage is that water can get through the seams on the back zip, which in cold water can become a major deterrent (think ice cubes down your back). Many companies have come up with their own flush guard technologies to reduce this from happening (i.e. Quiksilver Hydroshield). Also, when you are bending forward, the suit will go taut in the back and the zipper lacks give, which may restrict movement.
Chest zip wetsuits are entered through a zippered cutout around the neck and you drop down into the suit through the neckline, finally pulling the neck cut over your head and zippering at the chest. Chest zips are the trickier of the two types to enter and exit. The chest zip is superior at keeping water from penetrating the suit both through the seams and the neckline. The chest zip may also be a more comfortable fit once on with a snug neck that is less likely to cause rashes and a zipperless back with a greater level of flexibility.
Types of Wetsuits
A full wetsuit covers your entire body - these suits can be found in many different thicknesses made for different water temperatures. Full suits cover the entire body including arms and legs up to wrists and ankles.Billabong Synergy 4/3 CZ Wetsuit - Women'sShop Full WetsuitsShorty WetsuitA neoprene suit made with short legs and arms that is primarily used in warmer water temperatures. XCEL SLX Springsuit 2mm - Women'sShop Shorty WetsuitsWetsuit VestA neoprene vest made with about 2mm thick neoprene that has no sleeves, primarily used to keep core body warm.Short John WetsuitA neoprene suit that is a mixture between a shorty suit and a long john suit primarily used in warmer water temperatures. Long John WetsuitA spring suit that covers your legs and body but is without sleeves. Wetsuit Top
A top made out of neoprene that is made of 0.5mm-1.5mm neoprene that is primarily used for warm weather water sports.
Shop Wetsuit TopsRashguardA light shirt made out of Lycra and is used to protect against sun and sometimes worn under a wetsuit to prevent rash.Shop Rashguards Shop All WetsuitsLearn more with our other Wetsuit guides:How to Put on a WetsuitWetsuit Repair and Care GuideThis is evo. We are a ski, snowboard, wake, skate and clothing online retailer with physical stores in Seattle and Portland. Our goal is to provide you with great information to make your purchase easy.Still have questions? Please give our customer care team a call at 866-386-1590, Customer Care Hours. They can help you find the right wetsuit to fit your needs.
Heated wetsuits generally use FAR infrared technology to keep you warm. You can also use a heated undershirt/undersuit/under-vest underneath your wetsuit in order to keep you warm while participating in cold water sports. A FAR Infrared Ray is a spectrum of sunlight with a wavelength between 4-1000 microns. NASA discovered that a Far Infrared Ray between 6-14 microns is capable of penetrating into the core of the human body where they can raise the temperature while improving circulation and stimulating cell growth. The Quicksilver Cypher PS+ Heated Vest
is an excellent example of this technology.
FAR Infrared technology benefits the human body in the following ways:
- Heat penetrates deep into your core
- Provides warmth
- Relieves joint pain and stiffness
- Accelerates metabolism
- Improves blood circulation
- Stimulates cell growth
Using this technology with a normal neoprene wetsuit allows you to wear a thinner wetsuit in colder water, increasing your flexibility. Being cold drains your energy and cuts your time in the water shorter than if you had the capacity to stay warm for hours at a time. Normal wetsuits are only able to insulate and reduce heat loss while heated wetsuits have the capacity to generate heat. The heat generated will keep your core body temperature up, allowing your heart to continue pumping blood to your outer extremities instead of purely focusing on keeping your core warm. Most heated wetsuits or heated under-articles are controlled by batteries and a small hand controller allowing a maximum freedom of movement.