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How To Choose The Best Wetsuit For Swimming

Choosing the best wetsuit

A wetsuit is an insulating garment worn when spending a lot of time in the water. They’re especially useful for outdoor and cold water sports, such as:

  • Open water swimming
  • Triathlon
  • Scuba diving/snorkelling
  • Surfing

Neoprene rubber is the material used for most wetsuits. It is made from petrochemicals, which are derived from fossil fuel oil. Increasingly, however, companies are choosing green alternatives, including sustainably produced natural rubber. Both types of material work to keep you warm, and it’s worth understanding how when choosing the best wetsuit for your activity.

How does it work

wetsuit material

The material that comprises a wetsuit isn’t a woven cloth but a kind of foam with a matrix of tiny bubbles. Wetsuits usually are made from a kind of neoprene foam that allows water to pass through it. In other words, you will get wet in a wetsuit!

When the water passes through the suit and gets close to the skin, your body temperature warms it. That layer of warm water helps maintain your body temperature. If you’ve ever been swimming in calm water only for a sudden wave to crash over you, you may have noticed the cold. That’s because the tiny layer of warmer water next to your skin, even in a basic swimsuit, has been washed away and replaced with colder water.

Consequently, getting a close, snug fit from a wetsuit is crucial. If you have a chance to try one on before you buy it, definitely do so. A loose or baggy wetsuit will allow cold water to continually flush through, defeating the purpose of wearing it.

But wait, there’s more

man swimming in the sea with wetsuit

Wetsuits don’t just keep you warm. There are a few other benefits to wearing one, especially for:

  • Ocean swimmers
  • Surfers
  • Open-water competitive swimmers

These additional benefits improve safety and the overall experience of these endeavours. They provide:

  1. Protection against jellyfish – An encounter with a jellyfish can lead to a nasty sting. Or worse, a serious injury. Any thickness of a wetsuit will protect your skin from the minuscule stingers.
  2. Buffer against scrapes – Tumbling through rough ocean surf can lead to contact with sharp stuff. Coral, rocks, and even a surfboard can all cause unpleasant abrasions and cuts. A wetsuit cushions against the worst of it.
  3. Buoyancy – The same foamy, bubbly network in neoprene that helps keep you warm and also helps keep you afloat. This is great for long-distance, deep water and cold-water swimming. All of these conditions make it harder to stay at the surface.
  4. Streamlining – A wetsuit smooths over the natural shape of the body to improve streamlining. In addition, however, some wetsuits come with a sleek coating called a Super Composite Skin. This reduces friction, making the swimmer faster.

Makes and models

Woman triathlete in wetsuit

There are loads of wetsuits on the market. Choosing the best wetsuit means considering:

  • Temperature
  • The sport
  • Range of mobility

Since most wetsuits are primarily designed for warmth, picking the right material thickness is key. A thinner suit, with a 2-3mm layer of fabric, is perfect for warm weather and tropical locales. Fourth Element’s Xenos suit is a good mid-price option. It has lots of flexibility, and it can be used for multiple sports.

For colder conditions or endurance swims, a thicker layer, up to 7mm, is a better bet. And there are options in between as well, such as the Bare Revel 5mm suit.

Private Swimming Lessons

Triathletes, open water swimmers, scuba divers and surfers can all find suits tailored to their sports. These specialist suits have different coatings, pads and other features to optimise them for the activity. Triathlon has rules around wetsuits about age, location, type of event and more that are worth reading through.

  1. Triathlon – In a triathlon, the wetsuit must double (triple?) as a cycling and running garment. A good tri-suit will:
    • Meet all the event requirements
    • Keep the swimmer insulated and the cyclist/runner cool
    • Transition directly from the water to cycling
    • Allow a full range of shoulder and hip rotationZone 3 has a good range of reasonably priced tri-suits that are suitable for beginners to regulars.
  2. Open water swimming – Those swimming in natural water, but not participating in a triathlon, will want a different type of suit. A full-body suit will provide the swimmer with:
    • Warmth
    • Protection against objects, sand, animals
    • BuoyancyFor the casual open-water swimmer, there are suitable wetsuits available at most swimwear shops. For a more dedicated or competitive swimmer, consider shelling out for a more luxe garment, such as the Roka Maverick.
  3. Scuba diving – Divers spend long periods submerged, so they need good insulation. Additionally, they are more likely to come into contact with wildlife, such as jellyfish and corals. Scuba suits need:
    • Warmth
    • Buoyancy
    • Full coverageFor cooler waters, check out the Nova Scotia from Scubapro, which even has a handy pouch pocket. For really freezing waters and specialist underwater work, divers need a drysuit, a very different piece of kit!
  4. Surfing – People surf all over the world, in waters both tropical and frigid. Choose a thickness and coverage that suits your location. For warmer climes, consider a shortie, like the Rip Curl Omega.

Taking a test drive

If you’ve never used a wetsuit before, it can feel very different from an ordinary swimming costume or trunks. It’s a good idea to practice somewhere safe before taking it straight into tough conditions.

You can even try out a wetsuit in a swimming pool. Once you’re done choosing the best wetsuit for your activity,

With a Swim Now coach, you’ll get plenty of personalised advice as well as a lovely quiet space to practice in your new wetsuit! Get in touch to book in today.

by Alistair Mills

In 2016 I saw an opportunity for a new swimming company that did things a little bit differently and here we are almost 4 years later, having built a family of teachers and clients that we are all really proud of.

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