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The Ultimate Wetsuit Guide



Water sports don’t end when the temperature begins to drop – with the right wetsuit, it’ll feel like summer year-round.

If water is your medium, chances are you’ll need a scuba or surfing wetsuit when low temperatures start rolling in. Depending on where you’ll be going for your sport of choice, you’ll have a lot of decisions to make. Between deciding if you need a heated-suit or surf-suit, determining what thickness you’ll need and narrowing down your neoprene choices, surviving the end of water-sport season can be a bit confusing without a wetsuit guide.

Check out our ultimate wetsuit guide to be prepared for every nautical adventure ahead.

Heated wetsuits

Your body is no longer the only source of heat in blistering winds and waters. Manufacturers, such as Quicksilver and Rip Curl, have recently made great strides in this long-sought technology. Heating elements have been incorporated into cold-weather sports equipment for some time now, but the technology is on the verge of warming water-sport enthusiasts the world over. At this point, most companies have settled on similar designs: a thin vest with sewn-in, battery-powered heating pads. This thin, waterproof garment can be layered under your wetsuit. The pads are located on the back or sides to warm the blood as it is filtered, while the small battery pack sits inside the sewn pouch. The technology still has some ways to go, but the idea can help water devotees across all sports.

Surfing wetsuits

Surf wetsuits are made to maximize movement capabilities while retaining warmth. This ensures you don’t turn into an iceberg while waiting for the next set to roll in. Most brands use liquid rubber to seal the seams of their pro-grade suits. Fine stitching, however, can just as good, and is generally used on intermediate-grade and some beginner suits. The rule of thumb is to stay away from seams that have been sewn with wide stitches, which allow water in more easily.

Wetsuit Thickness and Zipper Styles

Wetsuit thickness is measured in two ways, consisting of a torso thickness and limb thickness. A wetsuit with a thickness measurement of 3/2 means the torso consists of neoprene three-millimeters thick while the limbs consist of neoprene two-millimeters thick. Depending on whether you tend to run hot or cold, you’ll probably opt for a 3/2 full-suit (with full arms and legs) for water in the mid- to low-60 temperatures. If the temperatures are warmer, you can go with a spring suit, nicknamed “shorty” for its short arms and legs. In colder water, go for a 4/3 full-suit. Finally, if it’s really chilly, like it gets in the waters between Baja and Vancouver in the winter, consider neoprene booties, gloves and hoods.

Another major consideration is to go with one of two popular zip-up styles. There’s the traditional back-zip or the newly-popular chest-zip, in which a flap of neoprene is pulled over the head and zipped across the chest. Some surfers have said that chest-zip suits keep out water better, while others claim it comes down to personal preference. Try both and decide for yourself.

Dry Suits

Then, there are the dry suits. These are the warmest of the warm, a characteristic achieved by preventing you from getting wet at all. Underneath the waterproof fabric, divers, kayakers and other cold-water enthusiasts can layer fleece or down pants, jackets or vests. High-quality rubber gaskets seal the water out of the neck, wrists and ankles. These cost more than neoprene wetsuits, but are absolutely essential in cold- and deep-water diving situations.

Scuba wetsuits

Scuba diving is a sport that demands a huge amount of technical know-how, but limited body movement. In the depths, warmth is infinitely more important than flexibility, and scuba wetsuits are made for maximum heat retention. Most are constructed out of a single thickness of neoprene (often 5-7 mm). Since warmth is your primary concern, find a suit that hugs your body impeccably—it should be rather difficult to get on, and there should be no air pockets. Any loose space will get filled with cold water, compromising your body temperature. Consider getting a suit with a built in hood as well, as these will have a better seal than hoods that are separate from the suit. Again, make sure the hood has a nice seal around your face – this is an easy place for water to seep in.

Shark-proof wetsuits

While the probability of being attacked by a shark is incredibly low, you should prepare yourself if you spend a lot of time in and below the surf where they live. Rather than sitting helplessly in the water dressed like a shark’s favorite food item, you can choose to be invisible to the predator’s senses. Some Australian scientists have announced that the way to do this is to wear a shark proof wetsuit with one of two patterns: zebra stripes, which trick the shark into thinking we are poisonous, or a camouflage of blue, a hue that the color-blind shark can’t see. There is still some conjecture as to whether these patterns actually deter attacks, though the creators of SAMS (Shark Attack Mitigation Systems) make a convincing case. The jury is still out on this new technology, and some experts denounce as unproven. If you’re the kind of person who would prefer to avoid a shark attack, there’s no harm in playing it safe.

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