Choosing a Wetsuit

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An important part of an enjoyable water sports experience, whether that is scuba diving, windsurfing or any other water sport, is wearing the right kit, including the right wetsuit. While for the novice, a wetsuit may just be a wetsuit, there are a wide choice of wetsuits available with a variety of thicknesses, designs and features.


It is firstly important to understand that no single wetsuit can cater for every activity at evere time, or for the needs of every person. While those who just trying activities may just use the suits provided to them by the organisers with little choice on the suits available, it is still worth asking if they have thicker suits, and accessories like booties, gloves or hoods, if you are prone to the cold and need something warmer than they would normally provide that time of year.


The Design


A wetsuit works by trapping a layer of water between the skin and the suit, which is made from neoprene. To be effective in its job, it has to be skin-tight and this means for some people with additional needs, getting in and out a wetsuits can be a huge exercise. It is therefore important to have a design of wetsuit can make it dressing as easy as possible, although there are few shortcuts. The thickness of the suit will directly affect how warm it is going to be from a 2mm in the summer, to a general norm of a 3/4mm, to the 5/6mm winter suits or the extremely heavy 7mm suits.


The most common design of wetsuit is a one-piece suit with a back zip, which is actually easier to put on than one with a front zip. Suits generally have long arms and legs, called a steamer, but they can have short arms and legs, called a shorty. Shorty wetsuits can be very useful for wearing in the summer or in swimming pools to take the chill off.


Another common design is the 2 piece long john and bolero jacket combination. A long john is a trousers and vest all-in-one with either a front zip or Velcro fastenings on the shoulders, the bolero jacket is a tight fitting jacket that goes down to the waist level. Long johns are generally used for canoeing with a waterproof ‘cag’ on top, to enable flexible arm movement and to protect the arms from the splashes made by paddling.


A final design to consider is the beavertail wetsuit, which consists of waist high trousers and a front zip jacket that has a wide crotch flap, the beavertail, that fastens to the front of the jacket with Velcro or turn locks. The beavertail stops the trousers from falling, the jacket from riding up and water flushing in under the bottom of the jacket, so more suited to immersive activities. Skin divers use beavertail suits that have no zip on the jacket and an integrated hood.


While the design is suit will depend on personal choice, years of experience would suggest beavertail suits are generally more easy to put on and easier for those who need easy access for toileting, although they can be less comfortable when worn dry for long periods and their fashionableness is questionable.


To make suits easier to put on, it is possible to have zips on the ankles and wrists although this can make the suits uncomfortable to take off, as they can dig in as you peel of the suit.




For wetsuits to work, it is best to wear as little as possible underneath, and in your own suit it is not unreasonable to go commando, although this is less acceptable in borrowed suits. Swimwear is the norm and in colder weather, you may consider a t-shirt or rash vest. If you use pads/nappies, you may wish to wear a swimming nappy for immersive activities, or simply plastic pants over your usual garments to stop wetness seeping in as well as out if you are not likely to be getting wet, like doing sailing or canoeing.


Booties are an essential accessory for most activities, especially if you have difficulties walking barefoot. There are also plenty of other accessories to consider to maximise your warmth and/or comfort including skull caps, hoods and gloves. If the weather is very cold, you may consider abandoning your wetsuit and going for a drysuit, which is a waterproof suit with latex seals at the neck, wrist or angles, or incorporating full latex socks, gloves and/or a hood.


A drysuit aims to keep the wearer dry obviously but on its own, offers no warmth, and so thermal clothing should be worn. Drysuits can be worn over street clothing and can be an easier alternative to a wetsuit at any time of year if people prefer, although putting on the neck seal can be quite a stressful experience.


Top tips


  • Find the right wetsuit for the activity and time of year
  • Consider how long you will be wearing the suit dry or in the water
  • Always ensure a wetsuit fits as skin tight as possible
  • Do not worry about being fussy with organisers to find a suitable wetsuit available to use
  • Beavertail wetsuits are generally easier to put on and take on
  • Booties are essential for most activities
  • eBay can be an great source for new and 2nd hand wetsuits
  • Committed water sport users may consider having a custom made suit
  • Tight fitting swimwear is generally worn underneath wetsuits
  • Hand wash wetsuits and leave them to drip dry


Small things to consider


  • When putting on a one-piece suit, ensure the suit as been pulled up and is snugly fit in the crotch before putting on the top half.
  • A silicone swimming cap can be a lighter alternative to skull cap or hood, or used together for extra warmth
  • Never be frightened to ask for help putting on or taking off a wetsuit


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