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How to Choose a Wetsuit : Types, Usage, Industry, Thickness, Temperature Ratings & More

how to choose a wetsuit

When choosing a wetsuit, you want to ensure that the suit you choose is comfortable and provides the protection and performance that your activity requires. Whether you’re swimming in open water or surfing on big waves, there are several factors to consider when selecting a wetsuit to get the most out of your experience.

Firstly, it is important to first consider the activity you’ll be engaging in. Different activities require different levels of flexibility, buoyancy, and thermal protection from a wetsuit. Open-water swimming will require more insulation than surfing, for example. It is also important to consider the water temperature at your chosen location, as this will determine what type and thickness of wetsuit you need.

The industry has responded to the demand for better performance with a variety of styles and thicknesses that can be chosen based on the activity, temperature, and duration required. This article will explore the different types of wetsuits, thicknesses, and temperature ratings available to make the best choice for your needs.

What Are the Different Types of Wetsuits?

When picking a wetsuit, the type you pick will influence how warm you are in the water. They should be comfortable, fit well and allow you to move freely. Consider what activities you plan to do when choosing a type of wetsuit.

There are two fundamental varieties of wetsuits: full suits and spring suits. Full suits go over your entire body with long sleeves and legs, which make them ideal for providing warmth. Spring suits cover only your upper body with short sleeves and legs, making them easier to get into but provide less insulation.

So, which type of wetsuit should you choose? It depends on the water temperature and your sensitivity to cold. Spring suits are generally better for warm water, and full suits are better for cold water. But if you’re sensitive to cold, you might need a full suit even in warm water.

Full Body Wetsuits

Full Body Wetsuits

Full body wetsuits are the most popular choice and provide maximum coverage, warmth, and flexibility. They cover your entire body from the neck down to the ankles and wrists, keeping you warm in cold water temperatures. 

Full suits are usually made of a combination of neoprene and nylon, which provides excellent insulation. Different thicknesses are available depending on the type of activity you’re doing and how cold the water temperature is.

These types of wetsuits are usually used for activities like surfing, diving, and open-water swimming. They are designed to keep you afloat in the water and provide excellent flexibility to move freely while still staying warm.

Shorty or Spring Suits

Spring suits offer less coverage than full body wetsuits but still provide great insulation. They have short sleeves and legs, coming up just below the waist and just above the knee. They are often made of a combination of neoprene, nylon, and Lycra materials, providing insulation and excellent flexibility.

Spring suits are usually used for activities like swimming or surfing in warm climates. They provide less insulation than full body wetsuits, but they still keep you nice and warm in the water. They are also much easier to put on and take off compared to full body wetsuits, so they’re a great choice if you need something quick and easy.

Now that you know the different types of wetsuits, let’s look at the thicknesses and temperature ratings available. 

Best Shorty Wetsuit

How are Wetsuits Rated for Thickness and Temperature?

When choosing a wetsuit, it is important to understand how they are rated for thickness and temperature. The industry has developed unique systems that provide guidance when selecting the right type of wetsuit for your needs.

The most common rating system measures the thickness of wetsuits in millimeters. The thicker the wetsuit, the more insulation it provides, and the warmer you will be in cold water. This rating system provides a thickness measurement for different areas of the suit, such as the chest, arms, and legs.

Thickness ratings are typically notated with two numbers, such as 3/2 or 5/4. The first number refers to the thickness of the material on the torso of the wetsuit, and the second number refers to the thickness of the extremities of the suit. For example, a 3/2 wetsuit has 3mm of neoprene (or other material) on the chest and 2mm of neoprene on the arms and legs.

Occasionally, you’ll see wetsuits with booties that have a third number. This is the thickness of the material on the feet and ankles.

In addition to measuring the thickness in millimeters, wetsuits are also rated for temperature by their manufacturers. Most companies will provide temperature ratings that indicate what type of water temperature you can expect to be comfortable in while wearing a certain kind of wetsuit

These temperature ratings are based on the thickness of the suit and can range from mild (20-23°C) to cold (4-15°C). Be sure to check the temperature rating before purchasing a wetsuit, as this will help you determine if the wetsuit is suitable for your chosen environment. When shopping for wetsuits, make sure to check the thickness and temperature rating so that you can make an informed decision. 

Factors to Consider When Looking for a Wetsuit

Factors to Consider When Looking for a Wetsuit

When shopping for a wetsuit, you should consider the type of activity you’ll be doing, the water temperature, and how long you plan to be in the water. All these factors will help determine which type and thickness of wetsuit is best for you. Let’s look at the most important factors to consider when choosing your wetsuit.

Choice of Activity

Figuring out what kind of wetsuit thickness you need begins with assessing the activity you’ll be doing. If your main focus is surfing in warm water, then insulation won’t have to be as thick as it would for someone diving in cold water. Before making a decision, consider the following:

  • Will there be lots of physical movement?
  • How much time will you spend submerged vs. on top of the surface?
  • Will you need to wear a wetsuit for extended periods of time?
  • What water temperature will you be dealing with?

Once these important questions are answered, it’ll be easier to decide which wetsuit is best for you. When it comes to water activities, having the right wetsuit for the job can make all the difference. 

Flexibility and durability are two key features to look for in a wetsuit that will keep you comfortable and performing at your best. If you need optimal flexibility and durability, you may need to sacrifice a bit of insulation in order to find the perfect balance between comfort, flexibility, and warmth. 

Ultimately, it’s best to discover what kind of wetsuit will work best for your specific activity and needs. Taking the time to research different types and thicknesses available can help you make an informed decision when it comes to choosing the right wetsuit

The recommended suit thickness for a given water temperature depends on what sport you are doing – for active surface sports like surfing, you can usually use a thinner suit than for scuba diving, for example. Also, remember that the type of wetsuit you choose can greatly impact how warm and comfortable you feel while participating in water activities. 

ambient temperature for wetsuit

Ambient Water Temperature

You should also consider the water temperature when deciding which wetsuit to buy. The ambient water temperature determines the minimum level of insulation your wetsuit should provide. Generally, the colder the water, the thicker and warmer your suit should be. 

Manufacturers will often rate their suits for a certain temperature range, so if you know what temperatures you’ll be dealing with, it’s easy to find a suit that is made for those conditions. For example, most wetsuits come with various temperatures that they can withstand. When looking generally, here’s how each type of wetsuit will perform in different water temperatures:

Water Temp Range (°F)Water TempRange (°C)Wetsuit ThicknessIdeal Wetsuit TypeSeal Type
65°- 75°18° – 24°0.5 mm – 2/1 mmTop / ShortyN/A
62°- 68°16° – 20°2 mm – 3/2 mmSpringsuit / Full SuitFlatlock
58°- 63°14° – 17°3/2 mm – 4/3 mmFull Suit Sealed
wetsuit material

In addition to the water temperature, you should also consider your own body temperature when choosing a wetsuit. Everyone is different, and some people may feel colder than others in the same waters. Make sure you factor in your own body temperature and sensitivity to cold when making a decision.

At the end of the day, finding the right wetsuit to suit your needs is not an exact science, but with these tips in mind, you should be able to make an informed decision that will keep you safe and comfortable while enjoying water activities.  

Season & Climate Conditions

The season and climate conditions should also be taken into consideration when choosing a wetsuit. If the weather is consistently cold, you should opt for a thicker suit than if it’s only occasional cold temperatures. 

It is also worth investing in multiple types of suits depending on your own personal needs and preferences. For example, if you go surfing in the summer, then a thinner suit might be ideal. But a thicker and warmer suit may be necessary if you plan on going scuba diving or doing any other type of water activity in cold temperatures. 

Wetsuit Material, Features, Size, and Optimal Fit

Wetsuit Material, Features, Size, and Optimal Fit

Wetsuits come in an array of materials, sizes, and fits. In addition to the type of activity and water temperature you’ll be experiencing, you must factor in wetsuit material, size, and fit when making a decision.

Investing in a high-quality wetsuit is essential for long-term use and comfort. Look for one that will endure the elements like sunlight, heat, and saltwater without deteriorating quickly—lower-grade materials are more susceptible to wear and tear, which can create dangerous situations when cold water enters your suit through the holes. Let’s look at each of the most common types of wetsuit material and how they impact performance

  • Neoprene – Neoprene is the most common type of wetsuit material because it’s durable, lightweight, and provides great insulation for both warm and cold waters. Most wetsuits are made from neoprene or a combination of neoprene and other materials, such as nylon or lycra. 
  • Nylon – Nylon is a lightweight and flexible material that provides good insulation in both warm and cold water. It’s often used as a liner for neoprene wetsuits to provide extra comfort and protection from the elements.
  • Lycra – Lycra is lighter and stretchier than neoprene, so it’s often used in warmer waters where more flexibility is needed. It also provides good insulation and sun protection, making it a great choice for activities like snorkeling or diving

When choosing your wetsuit size, make sure you read the manufacturer’s size chart to get an accurate fit. This will ensure that your wetsuit fits snugly but isn’t too tight. Finally, make sure you get a good feel for the material and fit before making your purchase – try on as many suits as possible to determine which one is most comfortable for you. 

What Size Wetsuit Do I Need

What Size Wetsuit Do I Need?

A wetsuit should fit snugly against your body but not be too tight. It should also allow for a full range of motion so you can comfortably participate in whatever activity you’re doing. When trying on a wetsuit, ensure the sleeves and legs fit snugly against your body without any gaps or sagging in the material. 

The appropriate wetsuit size for you will also depend on your body type and whether or not you’re wearing a rash guard (or another base layer) underneath. If you need help determining which size to get, it’s best to err on the side of caution and choose the larger size to have extra room if needed. 

You should also opt for a suit with an adjustable waist to adjust the fit if necessary. It’s also important to make sure that the zipper functions properly and is easy to close. And if you’re buying a full-length suit, ensure the foot openings fit comfortably around your ankles.

Measuring Guide for Wetsuit Sizing

Once you’ve identified your size, it’s always best to double-check the measurements before making a purchase. Here’s a general guide for measuring your body and comparing it to the manufacturer’s sizing chart:

  1. Chest – Measure around the fullest part of your chest, keeping the tape parallel to the floor 
  2. Waist – Measure the narrowest part of your waist, keeping the tape parallel to the floor
  3. Hips – Measure around the fullest part of your hips, keeping the tape parallel with the floor 
  4. Neck – Measure around your neck at a comfortable height 
  5. Sleeves/Shoulders – Measure from shoulder to wrist with arms outstretched 
  6. Inseam – Measure from the crotch to the ankle with legs straight
  7. Height – Measure from the ground to your head without wearing shoes
  8. Weight – Measure your weight in pounds. Remove all bulky clothing and accessories. 

Sizing is more complex than it may seem, so read the size chart of the wetsuit you’re considering before making a purchase. By following these simple steps, you should be able to find a wetsuit that fits both your body and your activity. A good fit ensures warmth, comfort, and safety in any aquatic environment.

Wetsuit Features and Accessories

Wetsuit Features and Accessories

In addition to choosing the right material, fit, and size, there are plenty of other features and accessories that you should consider when selecting your wetsuit

Quality Zippers & Reinforced Seams 

Wetsuits must provide an optimal snug fit to ensure superior insulation and be easily removable when needed. To guarantee this, only the highest quality wetsuits use top-notch YKK zippers – renowned for their unbeatable strength and reliability. Wetsuits of lower quality utilize weaker and clumsier zipper constructions that are not as durable nor easy to operate.

The seams of a wetsuit are essential in determining its overall flexibility, comfortability, and longevity. There are two kinds – flatlock and blindstitched – each with its own set of advantages. Flatlock seams offer more movement but are less long-lasting; on the other hand, blindstitched seams provide greater durability without sacrificing too much flexibility.

Inner Linings – Polypropylene, Nylon, or Thermal Fleece 

Wetsuits are available with a range of inner lining materials intended to suit various conditions and uses. The three most common options are polypropylene, nylon, and thermal fleece linings. Thermal fleece provides the highest level of insulation from cold temperatures; however, both polypropylene and nylon offer more rapid drying times for greater user comfort.

Gloves, Booties, and Hoods 

Gloves, Booties, and Hoods 

If you plan to go swimming in cold water, it’s a good idea to invest in additional accessories such as wetsuit gloves, booties, and hoods. These items provide extra protection against the elements and can significantly increase your overall comfort level. Additionally, some items have special features like reinforced palms and non-slip soles for greater grip. 

Protecting your core from the cold is critical, but remember to pay attention to your hands! Wearing neoprene gloves will make sure they stay warm and comfortable in even the most frigid of waters. Plus, having properly heated hands makes it much easier for you to keep a tight grip on whatever you may need in this type of weather – so take care of them! 

Wetsuit gloves are also available with various fastening systems, such as Velcro straps or zippers. Choose the option that best suits your needs and provides the most secure fit.

When it comes to booties and hoods, you also want to ensure they are designed specifically for cold water use. The right type of booties can help keep your feet warm and dry even in the chilliest of waters. Similarly, a proper hood will protect you from the elements while still allowing your head enough airflow to stay comfortable.

Gloves, booties, and hoods come in a variety of sizes, so make sure to measure your hands, feet, and head before making a purchase. If you are looking for specialty items such as scuba diving gloves or triathlon booties, be sure to look for specific features that meet your needs. 

Wetsuit Thickness

Wetsuit Thickness

Wetsuits are available in a wide range of thicknesses to match the water conditions. More insulation and warmth can be expected from thicker wetsuits, but they may require additional effort when putting them on or taking them off and could cause feelings of claustrophobia.

Conversely, thinner wetsuits offer greater flexibility but less insulation. A good rule of thumb is to check the manufacturer’s temperature ratings and choose a thickness that best matches the water conditions in which you plan to use your wetsuit

The right thickness depends on a few conditions, including the season, water temperature, and intended use. Let’s break down the appropriate usage for each type of wetsuit thickness:

Wetsuit ThicknessProperties/Ideal Conditions for Use
.5 to 2mm  Thinnest wetsuit optionsMinimal exhaustion and no overheatingIdeal for warmer water temperatures/summer conditionsBest for warm-water activities such as snorkeling, diving, and swimming in tropical watersFor water temps at 65°F+ (18.3+ celsius)
3mmIdeal shorty thickness for summerFor water temperatures at 60°F-65°F (15.5-18.3 celsius)3mm fullsuit with watertight seams for late spring and early fall
4mmColdwater surfingPair with optional booties and gloves For water temps at 55°F-60°F (12.7-15.5 celsius)
5mmDeep winter and cold-water surfingBooties and gloves become a necessityWetsuit hoods become an optionFor water temps at 50°F-55°F (10-12.7 celsius)
6mm/7mmExtremely cold surfing conditionsSerious surfers who track winter swellsBooties, gloves, and hoods become a necessityFor water temps at 40°F-50°F (4.4-10 celsius)

Whether you’re in warm, tropical waters or diving in the arctic oceans, having the right wetsuit is essential. By understanding the various materials and components of wetsuits, you can find a suit that fits your needs while staying comfortable and protected. With a bit of information and some trial-and-error shopping, you’ll be sure to find the perfect wetsuit for your next aquatic adventure. 

How Do I Know What Wetsuit to Buy?

How Do I Know What Wetsuit to Buy?

Buying a wetsuit can be a daunting task, but with the right information and guidance, it doesn’t have to be. Consider the type of activities you plan on doing in your wetsuit – surfing, diving, swimming – as well as the water temperature and season when searching for your perfect fit. 

To make sure you choose the right wetsuit, it’s important to consider the conditions in which you plan to use it. Decide what type of activity you’ll be doing and research the temperatures and water conditions associated with that activity. Refer to a temperature chart or manufacturer’s ratings to determine what type of wetsuit you should buy. 

Additionally, make sure to factor in the thickness and material of the suit, as these both affect the insulation. Lastly, try on multiple suits to find one that fits snuggly and is comfortable to wear. 

Depositphotos 428874642 L

Safety First: Wearing and Caring for Your Wetsuit 

Once you’ve chosen the right wetsuit, it’s essential to take proper care of it so that it lasts a long time and maintains its insulation capabilities. Properly caring for your suit includes cleaning and rinsing it after each use, storing it away from direct sunlight, and repairing any tears or punctures. Here are some tips to keep in mind when wearing and caring for your wetsuit

  1. Rinse your wetsuit with clean, fresh water after each use. This will help prevent the growth of bacteria and odors. 
  2. Make sure to hang your wetsuit up in a well-ventilated area and allow it to air dry before storing it away. This will help preserve its elasticity and life expectancy. 
  3. When putting on your wetsuit, pull it up slowly and evenly so that all of the seams are properly aligned. This will help ensure a secure fit and maximum insulation. 
  4. Avoid contact with sharp objects or surfaces that may damage the material, such as rocks, coral, or metal.  
  5. Avoid using any detergent or chemicals to clean your wetsuit, as these may damage the material. 

Quality wetsuits tend to last between four and ten years, depending on how they are cared for and the frequency of use. By following these tips, you can keep your wetsuit in good condition and extend its life expectancy. 

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right wetsuit isn’t just about staying warm; it’s also about comfort and safety. Consider the type of activity you plan on doing, the water temperatures, and your own personal preferences when selecting a suit. With so many options available, finding the perfect one for your needs is easier than ever. Just be sure to take care of it, and your wetsuit will last you many years.

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Picture of Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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