Before we delve into the types of wetsuits, we need to understand the purpose of this garment. Wetsuits are protective clothing for individuals in water environments. The purpose of the suit is to keep the body warm. In fact, it purposely traps water into the suit so that it acts like a protective layer from coldwater exposure. The suits are made of a fabric called neoprene, a synthetic rubber created by DuPont. The fabric essentially allows warmth to be trapped because of the nitrogen gas in the synthetic rubber. Because of the low thermal conductivity, heat has less chance to leave the body. However, human skin in contact with water causes heat to lose rapidly from the body.
So what should we look for in wetsuits? It all depends on what you plan to do. The sport could be water skiing, diving, snorkeling, surfing, or swimming. There are wetsuits that are made specifically for these types of activities.
Otherwise, you determine the weather and conditions of the environment and make a decision based on the wetsuit thickness. Thickness is measured by millimeters (mm), so a 1mm wetsuit will literally mean that the fabric’s thickness is 1mm. For warmer waters, that don’t cause too much loss of body heat, consider 1mm to 2mm. If the water temperature is 45 to 70 degrees, consider a thickness of 3mm to 4mm. For very cold weather below 45 degrees, one might wear a 5mm suit with a hood.
The quality of the wetsuit can be determined by the seam construction. As with any clothing, tightly woven seams are indicators of quality. Conversely, loosen seams can allow exposure to the elements, which is poor quality. The purpose of the suit is to keep all elements away from the body. A wetsuit that’s closely seemed or flushed is seal proof.
Besides neoprene, there are other fabrics. Spandex, a thin fabric that can stretch very well, can be used in tropical weather conditions. It can protect one from the effects of the sun. Thermoplastic is another fabric that’s around 1.2mm. It has a little more insulation than spandex, but it can be used very warm climates.
The important part of choosing a wetsuit is trying it on. The best suits are the one that fit snug on the body, provided that it doesn’t suffocates or limits your movement. Test the suit by flexing or moving your body parts. Once you’re in the water, the suit should be much more flexible. Learning how the suit responds to your movements will allow you to better get a feel for the product.
Wetsuits varies in size, shape, quality and flexibility. Understanding these qualities will better help you to choose the right suit. If you’re not sure which suit is right for you, consult a retailer for the advice.