How to Choose a Wetsuit and When to Wear One

While no one on this planet enjoys the process of putting a wetsuit on, it is a must in cooler water conditions where hypothermia is a risk. Even in warmer climates, mornings can be chilly, or you might be paddleboarding in waters with cold currents. As a general rule, if the water temperature is below 21°C (70°F), you should consider wearing a wetsuit.

Water sports vary, so too should your thinking when it comes to wetsuits.

Scuba Diving: Scuba wetsuits are designed for depth and longer duration in the water. Look for features like thicker neoprene for thermal protection, reinforced knees for durability, and good buoyancy control. Sealed seams are essential to prevent water exchange and maintain body temperature at different depths. The thicker the wetsuit, the greater the buoyancy at the surface so if you take 1-2kg with a 2mm shorty in Sharm El Sheik, you may want 3-5kg with you for a 5mm full wetsuit in Cornwall.

Freediving: Freediving suits prioritize flexibility and a streamlined fit to enable free movement and reduce drag. They’re often made of smooth neoprene with open-cell interiors for better adherence to the skin, minimizing water flow inside the suit. Performance freedive wetsuits often sacrifice durability and warmth for speed.

Open Water Swimming: These wetsuits are lighter and prioritize flexibility, especially around the shoulders, to allow a full range of motion. They also have a slick outer surface to glide through the water more efficiently and are designed to provide buoyancy which can aid in swimming posture and efficiency.

Paddleboarding: Paddleboarders need a wetsuit that offers a balance of warmth and flexibility, as they may not be fully submerged all the time. A thinner suit or a neoprene top paired with board shorts might suffice, depending on the climate.

Coasteering: Wetsuits for coasteering should be robust with reinforced panels for abrasion resistance against rocks. Flexibility is also key for climbing and swimming. They should offer good thermal protection since you’ll be frequently in and out of the water.

Surfing: Surfing wetsuits need to offer an optimal blend of warmth, flexibility, and durability to handle the dynamic nature of surfing.

Cold water wetsuit for surfing with hood

Hire vs. Buy? That is the question.

When to Hire:

  • If you’re trying out a sport and are not sure you’ll continue.
  • When traveling and unable to bring your own gear.
  • To test different wetsuit styles and brands before purchasing.
  • When participating in sports in varying conditions that would require many different wetsuit types.

When to Buy:

  • If you regularly participate in a water sport.
  • When you have specific requirements for fit or features that rentals can’t provide.
  • To ensure hygiene and comfort from using your own suit.
  • Over time, owning is more cost-effective than renting.
Open water swimming wetsuit

Considerations for Purchase:

  • Fit: It’s the most crucial aspect of a wetsuit. An ill-fitting suit can cause chafing, restrict movement, or fail to provide adequate thermal protection.
  • Material: The type of neoprene and its lining affect warmth and flexibility.
  • Thickness: Match the suit’s thickness to the water temperature you’ll be frequenting.
  • Seams: Sealed and taped seams offer the best protection against water ingress but can reduce flexibility.
  • Zippers: Back-zip suits are easier to put on, while front-zip suits provide better flexibility and a snugger fit.
  • Price: Set a budget but consider investing in quality for durability and better performance.
  • Warranty: A good warranty can be a lifesaver for defects or premature wear and tear.

Whether hiring or buying, the right wetsuit can significantly enhance your water sports experience, making it safer and more enjoyable. Consider the unique demands of your chosen activity and balance them with the cost and frequency of use when deciding between hiring and purchasing a wetsuit.

Types of Wetsuits:

  • Full Wetsuits: Cover the entire body except for the head, hands, and feet. Ideal for colder waters (below 60°F or 15°C).
  • Spring Suits: With shorter arms and legs, these are good for milder conditions (60°F-70°F or 15°C-21°C).
  • Wetsuit Tops: For days when the air is warm but the water is cool, a neoprene top can be paired with board shorts or a swimsuit.

Choosing the Right Thickness:

The thickness of a wetsuit is a key factor in how warm it will keep you. Thickness is measured in millimeters and often comes in combinations like 5/4/3, which means 5mm in the core area, 4mm in the limbs, and 3mm in the joints for flexibility.

  • 2mm: For warm water (68°F-72°F or 20°C-22°C). Offers flexibility and slight warmth.
  • 3/2mm: For mild water (58°F-68°F or 14°C-20°C). A versatile choice that balances warmth and flexibility.
  • 4/3mm: For cooler water (52°F-58°F or 11°C-14°C). Ideal for colder seasons or chillier waters.
  • 5/4/3mm and Up: For cold water (below 52°F or 11°C). These suits are for very cold conditions and will have features like sealed seams and thermal lining.

Fit and Features:

  • Fit: A wetsuit should fit snugly without restricting movement. Too tight, and it will be uncomfortable; too loose, and it will let water flush through, negating its warmth.
  • Seams: Higher-end wetsuits have sealed and taped seams for better water resistance and durability.
  • Zippers: Back zips are traditional and easier to get into. Chest zips offer a better seal and flexibility but can be harder to manage.
  • Material: Look for super-stretch neoprene, which offers better flexibility for paddling motions.

Brands and Care:

Popular brands like O’Neill, Rip Curl, and Patagonia offer a range of wetsuits tailored for different conditions. When choosing a brand, consider durability, warranty, and sustainability!

Care for your wetsuit by rinsing it with fresh water after each use and hanging it to dry away from direct sunlight. Proper care will extend the life of your wetsuit significantly.

Happy swimming / diving / paddling.

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Co-founder and Chief Adventurer

I am Max, the co-founder and CEO of adventuro. We are on a mission to help you get into the sports you have always wanted to try, or develop in the sports you love, exploring new skills and locations. We do this by partnering with the best instructors, guides, and activity centres to get a great spread from beginner all the way to instructor training.

For too long, it has been way to confusing to find your next steps, or even to know where to start when getting into adventure sports. I am an experienced and/or qualified paraglider, skydiver, scuba diver, freediver, power boat driver, snowboarder, kitesurfer, kayaker, mountain biker, surfer, dirt biker, wakeboarder, and sailor.

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