How to choose the right wetsuit:
Whether you're planning your next trip to Iceland or you're going kiting to Mexico we've got all the information you could need!
The type of wetsuit that you need will generally be decided by a combination of two major factors, neoprene thickness and wetsuit design. These key features will determine how warm the wetsuit will keep you in varying water temperatures and how flexible the wetsuit needs to be for your chosen sport.
What Are Wetsuits Made Of?
Wetsuits are usually constructed with neoprene but more an more are turing to natural alternatives. Wetsuit neoprene varies in thickness and in general a thicker neoprene is required in colder waters.
Wetsuits are often a combination of 2 or 3 different neoprene thicknesses, for example a 5/4/3 refers to a wetsuit with 5mm neoprene in the body, 4mm on the limbs and 3mm in areas that need more flexibility.
Back Zip Vs Chest Zip Entry
Back zips are the traditional entry method for wetsuits. The zip extends down the back of the suit and is made accessible with a long cord attachment.
Chest zips are a more recent innovation where you enter through the neck opening and fasten the zip across the front.
Some prefer the chest zip as it means there can be a complete neoprene panel across the shoulder area. They also allow less water entry than back zips which will keep you warmer and it also means there will be less restriction to paddling movement.
Others choose the back zip as they feel it is easier to get in and out of. Many back zips now have a batwing. This term is used to describe an extra layer of neoprene in the back of the suit. This provides more protection against water coming in through the zipper.
Temperature vs Thickness Table:
Wetsuits are sized in a two dimensional manner to ensure the user has a snug fit, no matter what their body shape is. Wetsuits are measured in both body width as well as body length. With regards to width - regular clothes sizes such as small, medium, large and extra large apply.
The below table will give you a rough guide to wetsuit sizing:
How should it fit?
This is an extremely important aspect to consider as if your wetsuit does not fit properly it will not be able to keep you warm or allow you the mobility you need.
Many brands have size charts for wetsuits to help you get an idea of sizing but for optimal fit you should try the wetsuit first. It should be comfortale with no sagging in the back or excessive bunching in the arms or legs. It should fit tight in order to keep only a thin layer of water between your body and your suit. If your suit is loose, too much water will flush through, making the suit less effective at keeping you warm. A wetsuit should also fit snugly around your neck (many people wear a rashguard underneath their wetsuit to prevent a neck rash). Wetsuits are uncomfortable to wear when not in the water. Its called a wetsuit for a reason :)
Wetsuit care and repair
Taking good care of your wetsuit can greatly extend its lifespan and performance. Washing and drying your wetsuit regularly helps avoid things like premature wear and tear, mildew and that horrible wetsuit smell which is hard to remove. They can become a breeding ground for bacteria that in turn produce the bad smells if not properly washed and dried.
Cleaning your wetsuit
After use, always clean and dry your suit as soon as possible.
Rinse your wetsuit with fresh water.
Hand wash with mild non-detergent soap as needed. Special wetsuit shampoos and conditioners are available (baby shampoo can also work to clean wetsuits.)
Drying your wetsuit
After washing and rinsing your wetsuit, turn it inside-out to help retain the flexibility on the outside of the wetsuit and also if it is dried inside out then when you go to put it back on you will slip into the dry side.
Hang to dry on a special wetsuit hanger/padded clothes hanger. DONT hang on a wire hanger as the metal will cause the neoprene to stiffen, crack, and degrade along the shoulders.
Do NOT dry in the sun. UV rays can damage the neoprene, shortening the overall lifespan of the wetsuit.
What can damage your suit?
Hot water can ruin neoprene, causing it to lose some of its flexibility.
Sun and UV rays cause neoprene wetsuits to age quickly. Dry your wetsuit in a shaded area when possible.
Chlorinated water or salt water will break down the neoprene. This is why it is important to rinse your wetsuit with fresh water after use in chlorine or salt water.
Inspect your wetsuit for rips and tears after each use. The rips and tears are much easier to fix when they are small. Wetsuits can easily tear from things like fingernails and small rocks. Small tears (around 1-2 inches long) can be easily repaired at home. Tears bigger than a few inches may require professional repair services. If the stitches or seams are torn it may also be a good idea to take your suit to a professional for repairs.
What you need to repair:
Repair Adhesive/Sealant/Neoprene Cement: there are brands of adhesive and sealant made specifically for wetsuit repairs, such as Aquaseal. You can also buy a “puncture repair kit” from any bike store as the glue used to fix an inner tube is basically the same.
Small Brush (bristle or small artist’s brush)
There are also wetsuit repair kits available that contain everything you will need.
Before repairing your wetsuit make sure that it is clean and dry.
Clean the area around the rip with alcohol. Allow the alcohol to evaporate.
Open up the rip to reveal both sides of the tear.
Apply a first coat of the adhesive to both surfaces. The glue can be applied with a short bristle brush or painter’s brush. Do not press the sides together.
Let the glue dry for about 1 to 3 minutes, keeping the two sides apart. The glue normally looks glossy when it is wet and will appear matte when it is dry; it should feel slightly tacky and not stick to your finger.
Once the first coat of glue is dry, apply a second coat of adhesive to both sides of the rip. Allow the second coat to dry for about 10 minutes.
Firmly bring the two sides of the rip together, doing your best to keep the seam in a straight line.
Use a weighted object to keep pressure on the tear while it dries and seals.
The seal dries within 2 to 3 minutes, but the seal will form more fully if you allow it to dry for at least 6 hours. The best option would be to allow it to dry overnight to allow the strongest seal possible to form.
How to put on a wetsuit
Put on or take off the wetsuit on a clean surface. Rocks or rough surfaces can damage wetsuits. A plastic bin, changing mat, or board bag works well to stand in.
Make sure your wetsuit is not turned inside out and is completely unzipped before putting it on.
Use only your fingertips, not your fingernails, to put your wetsuit on.
If it is still wet you can wear plastic bags or socks over your hands and feet. The bags/socks will help your hands and feet slide into the wetsuit.
Be careful with watches and jewelry as they can tear or nick wetsuit material.
Use controlled motions and avoid yanking as it can easily damage the neoprene or the rubber seams on your suit.
How to take the wetsuit off
If there is a hood, pull the hood up and over your head. Unzip your wetsuit and make sure it's fully unzipped. Then gently peel off the shoulders one by one with your thumb.
You can then peel the arms of your wetsuit to your elbows one at a time. Then pull each arm down to the wrist and fully out of the sleeve, making sure to leave it inside out.
Peel and roll the suit down your torso. Then pull it down your hips and legs and gently roll the suit down off your calves.
Put your fingers on the inside of your wetsuit that is still around your ankle and slowly slip one foot out of the leg. Trying not to stand on your wetsuit, slowly use your fingers to slip the suit off the remaining foot.
If you have to take off a wetsuit in public, the best method is to wrap a towel around yourself and shimmy out of your suit beneath the towel. If you have a car, you can open the doors and stand behind them for more privacy.