A wetsuit is an amazing gear that allows divers, surfers, swimmers, and other water sports enthusiasts to enjoy and adventure the waters all year long. Getting the thickness of the wetsuit right for the activity and area you intend to visit will ensure that you stay warm, comfortable, and ready to have fun.
But there are several factors you need to consider when deciding the thickness of your wetsuit, all of which will determine how warm you stay underwater. The most obvious and probably the main one is water temperature, as the thickness of your suit will determine how long you can stay in low-temperature waters without taking a chance with conditions like hypothermia.
In this wetsuit guide, therefore, we are going to discuss the major aspects to think through when choosing your wetsuit so you can land a suit that keeps you warmer, a long while in the water. But first things first, let’s understand how a wetsuit works.
How Wetsuits Work
A wetsuit is designed to provide warmth and protection while water sports. When you jump into the water for free diving, scuba diving, snorkeling, or other water-related activities, the neoprene material from which your suit is made traps some water between your skin and the wetsuit. Your body warms this water preventing you from losing excess heat.
Water molecules are known to conduct heat much faster than air molecules. That’s why on a 60˚F day you will probably feel okay outdoors with only a pair of shorts and a t-shirt but immediately start to shiver when you dive into water of the same temperature.
Unlike a dry suit, a wetsuit is not made to keep you completely dry. Neoprene is designed to provide insulation against cold water. The material is made of tiny closed air cells that offer insulation by sealing heat in.
The thicker the neoprene of your suit is, the more insulation it will provide, and the warmer you will remain underwater. It is therefore important to know the temperature of the water in the area where you will be using your suit, as this will help you decide how thick you will need the suit to be.
Factors To Consider When Buying Your Wetsuit
As we have just stated, one of the most important things to think about when buying a wetsuit is thickness, as this is what determines how cold or warm you stay underwater. The thickness of wetsuits is measure in millimeters and most wetsuits often come in bands of 3/2 millimeters (3/2mm), 4/3 millimeters (4/3mm), 5/4 millimeters (5/4mm), and 6/5 millimeters (6/5mm).
The larger number represents the neoprene thickness around the torso while the smaller number represents the neoprene thickness around the arms and legs. For instance, a 4/3 mm wetsuit will have a neoprene thickness of 4 millimeters around the torso and 3 millimeters around the arms and legs.
It is crucial that you invest in a wetsuit of the right thickness, as this will keep the temperature of your body at acceptable levels and help you stay warm while diving or undertaking other water sporting activities.
It is also important to ensure that the thickness of the wetsuit you choose matches the temperature of the waters in which you will be diving, paddling, or surfing. So, always be informed of the water temperatures you are about to encounter so you can bring the right suit.
2. Water Temperature
Did you know that water draws heat from your body 20 to 40 times faster than air? Technically, this means that you would not survive cold water without a suit and would probably die of hypothermia.
If you are water sporting in cold water, you will probably be dealing with water temperatures of around 39˚F to 41˚F and the longest you can last in such waters is 15 minutes. After this, your body temperature will have dropped to below 70˚F and this is when most people experience cardiac arrest.
But even before you get to that point, your muscles will have gotten too weak and you may not be able to move. To avoid finding yourself in such a situation, you need to invest in the right wetsuit.
In extremely cold waters, you will require a thicker suit. If you are going for an underwater adventure and looking for a diving wetsuit, then you need to think about how deep you will be diving, as most waters tend to get colder with depth. That’s not all. The small air cells in the neoprene fabric will be compressed as pressure increases below the water’s surface, decreasing the efficiency of the wetsuit.
Here is a quick diving wetsuit temperature guide to help you get the right suit thickness for the temperature of the waters you intend to enter.
Water Temperature Wetsuit Thickness
40 ˚F and below 6/5 mm to 6/5 mm
40˚F to 52˚F 5/4 mm to 5/3 mm
52˚F to 57˚F 4/3 mm to 5/3 mm
57˚F to 62˚F 3/2 mm to 4/3 mm
62˚F to 67˚F 2 mm to 3/2 mm
68˚F to 75˚F 0.5 mm to 2/1 mm
Please note that this is a general temperature chart. Different manufacturers will provide different wetsuits guidelines on temperature recommendations that might differ slightly from what we have listed above.
What do you plan to do in the water or rather, how active do you intend to be? How you answer this question will help you decide how warm you need your wetsuit to be.
Maybe you plan to do intense paddling or underwater adventuring. Perhaps you just want to sit on your surfboard meditating, contemplating, or thinking about whatever or do a few yoga poses on your yoga paddleboard.
An active body will always produce heat and the more you move the more heat you are likely to produce. Similarly, your body will lose heat much faster when underwater than when on the surface.
So the thickness of your suit will depend on the activity you plan to undertake. For surface water sports like riding a kayak, surfing, or paddleboarding, for instance, go for a thinner suit, but for underwater activities, consider something thicker.
4. Wetsuit Fit
Fit is also a very important factor to consider during your wetsuit purchase. A wetsuit that doesn’t fit you snuggly will not provide the warmth you need nor will it allow you the flexibility you require for your specific sport.
A wetsuit should be like your second skin – no excessive tucking in the legs or arms and no drooping in the back. It must fit you tight so that only a thin water layer is kept between your skin and the suit. A loose wetsuit will not be effective at keeping you as warm as you would wish because there will be plenty of water trapped between your body and the suit.
Make sure the wetsuit fits you properly around your neck too. If you want, you can wear a rash guard underneath the suit so you don’t get a neck rash. A vest or swimsuit can also offer extra support and protection.
Here is how to find out if a wetsuit fits your snuggly:
- Once you have put on your wetsuit, check to see there is no excess space in the shoulders, torso, crotch, or knees. Note that a well-fitting suit will be difficult to wear when dry. Have your socks on so that your feet can slip in much faster and much easier.
- After the wetsuit is on, stretch out your shoulders and lift your arms above your head. If your suit doesn’t allow you to do this move freely, or you are forced to exert a lot of pressure to do the move successfully, probably it is too small for you.
- Make sure you can squat freely too and move your arms about easily.
Different brands produce wetsuits of the different fitting. Make sure to buy a suit that matches your body type.
It is also worth noting that a brand new wetsuit will fit more snuggly and keep you much warmer than a suit that has been used for a long time. If you are renting a wetsuit, chances are it will be stretched out and may not fit as comfortably as a new one.
Always wear a well-fitting wetsuit when going for a dive so you can stay as warm as possible. Remember to care for your wetsuit to keep it from stretching so it can give you a longer service and make sure that you are always having warmer longer dives.
5. Sensitivity To Cold
Just how quickly does your body catch a cold? People respond to cold differently. Some catch it faster, while others may not even complain about it. Studies show that women usually catch a cold faster than men do.
When buying a wetsuit, think about how quickly your body responds to different atmospheric conditions. If you feel that you are likely to freeze in the first few minutes of your dive, get yourself a thick suit.
The amount of time you spend in the water will matter a lot too and will have a huge impact on how cold your body gets. The longer you stay, the colder you are likely to get. Think about this when choosing your wetsuit so you can invest in something that helps you withstand the cold temperature and stay in the water for as long as you wish.
Should You Buy The Thickest Wetsuit There Is?
After reading the above diving wetsuit temperature guide, many people may think that they should go for the thickest wetsuit possible to stay warm. Even if it gets too warm during a water sport, you can just allow more cold water in the suit to bring the warmth down, right?
Well, thicker wetsuits have a downside that should not be overlooked. For instance, they are clumsier and may not allow you to move freely as you would with a thinner suit. The thicker the suit is, the more resistance it puts on your arms and legs, which could make you tire more quickly.
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Wetsuits For Warmer Temperatures
If you are water sporting in warm temperatures, that is, anything between 78 ˚F and 85 ˚F, wear a warm-water wetsuit. Most of these will be between ½ mm and 3 mm thick. Good examples are kayaking wetsuits, windsurfing wetsuits, and surfing wetsuits. Their neoprene fabric is only a few millimeters thick to ensure that they don’t seal in more heat than necessary.
If you plan on going to the bottom of the sea, where the temperature of the water is likely to drop, however, add another layer to the thin wetsuit or if you don’t mind carrying a lot of gear, bring a thicker wetsuit with you.
In temperate waters (ranging between 60 ˚F and 75 ˚F), a wetsuit 2 to 3 mm thick would be your best bet. You can go for a full suite that is complete with a hood, gloves, and booties or just a “shorty” which is short-legged and short-sleeved. But if you are looking to take a plunge later, make sure to pack enough layers so you can stay warm. A vest or hood can help keep you warm and comfortable during those deeper dives.
Globo Surf Overview
Wetsuits are an essential piece of equipment for any person who wishes to take part in water sports. A good wetsuit can mean the difference between life and death, so it is important to do enough research on the right suit before making your purchase.
The above factors will help you make an informed decision on the wetsuit you need for your specific watersport. But here is a quick tip; the colder the temperature of the water, the thicker your suit needs to be.
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