Discovery and adventure have always been a part of human nature. As a diver, you are at the forefront of the final frontier, the ocean. However, as you swim off on each new exploration, you want to make sure you’re doing it comfortably, so you can truly focus on the scuba experience. Exposure suits, specifically wetsuits in this post, will help with that. We will give you a step by step guide on what you should look for when buying your first, second, or third wetsuit.
This information never gets old and having a good wetsuit can mean the difference between a great dive and calling a dive off.
If you remember from your first scuba diving course, while diving, water takes heat away from your body about 20 times faster than the air at the same temperature. This is why even prolonged exposure to water as warm as 27-30C can get you feeling a bit chilly. Given enough time, it can even be fatal. Your body simply cannot generate as much heat as the water carries it away!
Even if you don’t need a wetsuit to keep you toasty on a dive, you may want to consider one to protect your body from stinging jellyfish or that accidental brush up against a coral while you were having your mind blown by the wall of fish swimming by.
Sometimes coming in contact with something harmful is inevitable in emergency situations. Perhaps you just don’t know what to avoid because you aren’t familiar with the underwater environment.
A good way to solve this problem is to become familiar with your diving environment.
Now, let’s talk wetsuits.
FIT IS EVERYTHING
More than all the other scuba gear in your kit, your wetsuit must be properly fitted to be effective. Wetsuits work by trapping a thin layer of water between you and the wetsuit. Your body then heats up this layer to keep you cozy.
If you use a wetsuit that fits poorly, water can flow into your neck, wrist and ankle seals during a dive, which completely disrupts the function of a wetsuit.
To avoid this, be sure to try your wetsuit on before you use it. When shopping online, make sure you are clear on the return policy for the retailer.
Here are some useful tips on how to know if a wetsuit fits:
- The neck seal should be snug, but not too tight. You don’t want to feel like your breathing is restricted.
- Wrist and ankle seals should be flat against your skin. As you move, there should be no gaping holes or folded areas.
- Make sure the arms and legs reach your wrist and ankles. If not, consider ordering a size up or look for a tall version of the same wetsuit.
- You want it tight. A solid shimmy into your wetsuit is a good sign. Be able to lift your hands above your head, place your palms together in front of you and bend your knees. If you can’t do either of those, go up a size. Also, make sure circulation to the wrist and ankles are not cut off. On the other end, if you can put the wetsuit on without a struggle, it’s too big.
- The crotch of the wetsuit should be close to your own, not between your knees and nether regions. The same goes with under the armpits. No gaps.
- The wetsuit should conform to your whole body. When the zipper is done up, there should be no airy spaces between your body and the wetsuit. If that is the case, it is too small and the zipper is more likely to rip if it is a rear-zip wetsuit.
Thickness: Choose the Right Amount of Thermal Protection
It doesn’t make much sense to buy a 7mm wetsuit for the warm waters of the tropics, just as much as it would be to buy a 2mm shortie for the lakes and coastal waters of Canada.
Be sure you know the type of diving you will be doing before buying a wetsuit. This will keep you comfy both in the water and on the shore. Keep in mind that each individual is different though and we all have our own cold threshold. Fortunately, you can layer if need be.
Thickness ratings are fairly standard among different brands and are measured in millimetres. The thicker the wetsuit, the warmer it will be.
There are several different styles of wetsuits, which means you can choose one that meets your needs. The more body your cover, and the thicker the material, the warmer you will be.
A shortie wetsuit is a wetsuit that has short legs (to the knees usually) and short sleeves (just above the elbow). This keeps the torso warm, which, other than the head, is the most important area for maintaining body heat. These tend to be used for warmer temperatures above 27C/81F.
A full wetsuit/jumpsuit will have full length arms and legs and are warmer than shorties because they cover more body. They also offer more abrasion protection.
A two-piece wetsuit can come in a few different ways. One with a jacket with full arms and short legs that fits over a farmer John/Jane (full legs, no arms). The second is a core warmer (short legs, no arms) that fits over a full wetsuit. This style will double the amount of thermal protection over your core.
Thin and very elastic. Best for simple UV and sting protection. Typical material for skin suits. Though, there are some very innovate skins suits in the world, made out of recycled plastics!
Minimal stretch and basic comfort qualities. The most standard type of material.
More flexible than regular neoprene. Conforms to your body better, easier to get on and take off, which overall makes the wetsuit more comfortable.
Seals and Zips
Like any other product, the more expensive they are, the better they should perform. Zips and seals are two factors that affect wetsuit quality and the price. If you can, choose a wetsuit with a sturdy zipper over a cheap, flimsy plastics zipper, go with the first.
Also, we recommend looking for a wetsuit with sealed seams. Sealed seams mean that all the seams have been glued together in addition to being sewn in place and as a result, less water can seep in via the seams, keeping you warmer.
Most wetsuits come with back zips, but you can find front zipping suits. This all comes down to preference.
Whether it’s a tropical holiday or a freezing cold expedition, you want to have the right wetsuit. No matter how time-consuming it is to order and try on different wetsuits, it is definitely worth the time and effort!
And lastly, as always, dive safe and have fun!
“Life is an ocean, fathom it.”
– M. K. Soni