These days there are so many different types of wetsuits that it is hard to know what it is that you really want. Wetsuit terminology can be pretty confusing, and when the shop assistant starts bantering on about glued this, fuzed that, it can be tempting to just switch off.
This article explores what it is that you should actually look for in a good wetsuit so that you can buy the best wetsuit for your specific needs
What makes a good wettie?
In general, a good wetsuit should be...
Sometimes it can be hard to get a balance of all three, but these days there are some really good options on the market that do a great job of covering all of these elements pretty equally.
Different styles of wetsuit.
Depending on where you live, the temperatures you are surfing in and your own personal comfortability preference, there are many different styles of wetsuits out there that should match what you are looking for. Lets explore the most common below...
This is your standard full arm, long leg wetsuit which is usually surfed in winters, or maybe colder climates all year round. These can range in thicknesses, which we will explore later.
This suit will be thinner than a steamer, usually with shorter arms and legs. These often feel very freeing and nice after a long winter in a steamer and can range from having long arms with no legs what so over, or can be t- shirt arm length, with a short cut mid thigh.
This is when you zip up your wetsuit from the back. These are slowly starting to phase out as many people seem to believe that the chest zip system is warmer and less flushy, however in the warmer months, this is not too much of a concern.
This is where you pull the chest part over your head and attach and zip the wetsuit horizontally as seen in the photo. Many people seem to think this style of entry seems to keep you more water tight, however I am sure some people may debate this.
Front zip up
This is most common in Women wetsuits that are made for warmer waters or the summer months. I personally find this style of zip up a little flushier than the other styles, so I would only buy a wetsuit with this entry if I was not too concerned about the water temperature.
Long John's and Janes
Made for the warmer months, this style of wetsuit has no arm coverage, making it great and free to paddle in, whilst keeping your legs pretty warm with its full leg coverage.
Basically this is just a top (generally long sleeve) that is often made of thin neoprene that you pull over yourself just like a sweater. These aren't super warm but can be a good wind barrier on those slightly cooler days in summer.
Thickness of wetsuits
There are many different thicknesses of wetsuits to look out for. Here is an example of the main ones.
1 mil - This means the suit is 1 mm thick, and will be pretty thin it will barely feel like a suit.
2 mil - Same as above, often spring suits will be of this thickness.
3/2 - This will mean that the chest area and the main body area will be 3 mil thick, with the limbs being 2 mil.
4/3 - Same as above, self explanatory...
5/4 - You get the picture.
It is not just the thickness of the wetsuit that will determine how warm it is, but also a combination of things I am going to explain below. Just like anything, quality varies. Its important to know what these terms mean so that you don't get stitched up (no pun intended.)
A good fitting wetsuit is essential to keep you warm, and this is often achieved by using seperate panels. These panels are joined together by stitching along seams. Seams are less flexible than the sheet of neoprene (rubber.) In a quality wetsuit, you want to look for seams that are away from the areas in which you need the most flexibility, for example over the shoulders, or under the arms. In a shabby wetsuit, water can pour through the seams, and the more seams there are, the more potential for chafing.
There are 3 main types of stitching in a wetsuit. Stitching involves poking holes through the neoprene to put the thread through, so it is important to know which type of stitching to look for.
This is possibly the least effective stitching style in terms of keeping water out, and is generally only used on summer suits (or poor winter wetsuits.) The seams are chunky, inflexible and I would most certainly not recommend wetsuits with this style (unless its a wetsuit you don't mind being a little chilly in.)
This style of stitching involves the layering of a panel edge over another, and then stitching through the neoprene. This means that the seam is flexible and strong, however the disadvantage to this is that many holes are penetrated, meaning the suit may be a little flushy. These types of stitched suits are best suited to the summer months.
If I am looking for a high quality winter suit, then this is what I am looking for. Blind stitching is where the edges of each panel are placed end on end and are then glued together. After this, they are then stitched on the inside, without the holes going all the way through to the outside of the panels. These suits are watertight and flexible and if you are somebody that surfs in colder waters, then I would recommend paying extra for the quality.
If water is seeping in, it doesn't matter how cool your wetsuit is, it will suck. You will be cold, and you will end up hating your time in the water (well, if you are a softie like me anyway.) Rather than peeing 50 times each session to keep you warm, pay attention to the type of seals applied to the suit.
This is where the panels are glued together before the stitching process to increase the strength of the seam and create a water proof seal.
Partially (or fully) taped seams
Here, tape is glued to the inside of the seam in important areas (or all) to give the suit extra strength.
This is by far the best seal in which a liquid rubber is applied to the inside of the seam, making it fully water proof.
This is basically when a wetsuit has some kind of lining that makes it either warmer, or faster drying. It sounds great right? It is! Only downside is that it often adds a little bit of weight, which can be a bummer if you already have a heavy, thick ,wetsuit. Generally, thermal linings don't add to the durability of the suit. Thermal linings often have fancy little names such as RipCurls "flash dry" or O'Neills "firewall."
Neoprene verse Yulex.
More recently, with the evolution of Patagonia's wetsuits, yulex, the alternative to neoprene has come into the spot light. I know, I know, more things to consider. I am sorry, but here we go.
Whats the deal with neoprene? This is the most commonly used material for wetsuits but neoprene is made from petroleum or limestone, meaning each suit is a product of either mining or drilling. It is also not biodegradable. Not ideal.
Yulex is a newer form of material to arrive in the wetsuit world, and is what the eco friendly company Patagonia swears by for their suits. Their suits are made from a plant based rubber. From my personal experience of yulex, I can say I am pretty happy with the quality, the only downside is that it seems to be slightly less flexible (maybe 20%.)
How should a wetsuit fit?
Basically, wetsuits should fit snug, but not so snug that you cannot breath deeply and comfortably. Of course, the type of wetsuit you are wearing will change things, but generally, with a full length steamer, you should have the suit hugging your lower back (as this is where your kidneys are.) Some brands are notorious for having suits with longer legs and arms than others, so it is best to try around. Personally, I would never buy a winter wetsuit online, unless I know the brand inside out.
The tighter the wetsuit, the less likely you are to have flushing, but you do not want the wetsuit to be so tight that you feel you are in a straight jacket and cannot swing your arms about. Go on, have a secret dance party in the changing room to see how the suit performs. No one will ever know.
That was a LOT of information, the saying ignorance is bliss is sometimes true, but when it comes to buying a wetsuit, you want to be as clued up as possible. The best way to make sure your wetsuit (investment) lasts is to make sure you rinse it after each session, and to dry it out of direct sunlight.
Good luck wetsuit hunting!