How to buy a scuba diving or watersport wetsuit

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If you’re in the market for a new wetsuit, you are probably “thinking what would be right for me?” Unless you are constantly diving in water that’s 98.6° (Normal body temperature), you’re going to need a wetsuit as cooler water will quickly absorb body heat. So we aim to give you an impartial guide of what to consider.

THICKNESS – The single most important decision you will make is what thickness of wetsuit you will need. There are many to choose from 2mm, 3mm, 5mm, 7mm and even 9mm, Titanium, then varying thicknesses of Semi-Dry Wetsuits and Dry suits. Some wetsuits offer different thicknesses of neoprene on different parts of the body. For instance a 5/3mm would have 5mm for the body and 3mm on the legs and arms. And it’s important to remember that while we offer a guide there is no fixed rule as to what wetsuit is ideal. Different people have very different tolerances to the cold. The best idea is, when in doubt air on the thicker side.

Generally water temperatures of above 30°C (85°F) a 3mm shortie wetsuit would be the most comfortable option. 20°- 30°C (70°- 85°F) would suit a 3mm Full Wetsuit. 15° - 20°C (60° - 70°F) Go for a 5mm. 10° - 15°C (50° - 60°F) would require something like a 6.5mm semi-dry suit. Less than 10°C (50°F) would be in Dry suit territory. Also, do not discount the value of a hood, even in warmer weather. 25% of the body heat is lost through the head and this can mean the difference between a very chilly or a very comfortable dive.

DESIGN – How you want your suit to be constructed is another important decision. Should it be one piece or two? Hood attached or not? Front zip or rear zip? These are decisions that will affect the thermal comfort.

For warm water dives where a 3mm will do, you might want to give a thought for just a shortie. The advantage is that it will be cheaper, less buoyant, less weight and easier to put on. But consider that your legs and arms will be exposed.

A full wetsuits offers you the best protection, both thermally and physically. There isn’t much difference with front and rear zips but a rear zip will have a higher collar that may provide added warmth. However, if you have sensitive gag reflex you may find the higher collar too restrictive. In this case a two piece front zipped suit would be best.

For a 5mm suit, you’ll probably want a 2 piece suit with a long john and a matching jacket. Since you will probably be diving in colder waters a hooded jacket may come in use. This will help stop any water from running down your back during the dive. Some two piece suits can be complicated and time consuming to put on, look out for easy systems like a long john and simple jacket with Velcro attachments.

FIT – The warmest best constructed, most expensive materials won’t be of any benefit if the suit doesn’t fit correctly. The generally rule of thumb is get the best possible fit without being restrictive and uncomfortable. Just remember the looser the suit, the more it will allow cooler water to flow through it regardless of the thickness. In General:

Armpits and crotch – Should not have any major gaps.

Neck – Should be snug but not restrictive. Look our for adjustable neck attachments.

Wrists and Ankles – Should be very snug and smooth. These are major areas for water seepage.

Zips – If you need to pull the zip together to close, go a size down. If it zips too easily, go for a size up.

STITCHING – How a suit is physically held together will affect its durability and generally there 4 are types of stitching.

Glued and Taped – Two pieces of neoprene are glued on the edges, then a special tape is applied over the seems. When heated it all bonds together. A cheaper method but is not especially strong or long lasting.

Zigzag Stitch – Thread zigzags through the neoprene. Generally only used for low stress area. Like any garment if one part of the stitching fails the whole seam will fail.

Mauser – As the zigzag but will a fairly broad stitch. Again, holding 100% of the seams. However it can be quite strong and economical.

Blind Stitching – Strongest of them all. The material is first glued, and then stitched with interlocking thread. This makes for a very strong, durable and flexible seam.

TYPE OF NEOPRENE – This choice will affect the cost and durability.

Skin – Bare neoprene. Gives you the tightest seal but is most difficult to get on and off.

Nylon – The Nylon covers the neoprene and makes it easier to get on and off. Also come in nice colours.

Titanium – The jury is still out on this one. It definitely adds to the cost of the suit. Titanium, which reflects heat, is woven into threads or coated on the inside of the suit. The thought is that it does a better job of preventing heat escape from the body as some is radiated back. The fact is that an extremely well fitting wetsuit will be the best option.

LAYERING – Don’t overlook the benefits of layering. Put a 3mm shortie over a full wetsuit and you have 6mm where it matters most. The same applies with the 5mm 2 piece suits. This also gives you versatility and allows you to add or remove layers to suit colder depth and comfort.

OTHER THINGS TO LOOK FOR

Kneepads – These are a must. No matter what type of dive you are in you will probably be climbing up something and the knees seem to be a useful stop gap.

Ankle &/or Wrist Zips – Hated or loved, they definitely make a wetsuit easier to get in and out of. There are good sources of water leakage, look for zips with a rubber barrier of closure.

CLOSING THOUGHTS – The choices are endless but the most important thing is the thickness and fit.

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