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Wetsuits are designed to keep us warm on the water and when it comes to choosing a wetsuit, the quality of the wetsuit will make a difference. It is worth spending some time considering what you plan to use it for and your location before rushing out and buying one.
There are several terminologies banded about when it comes to wetsuits so we thought we might break them down for you to give you a beginners guide to buying a wetsuit.
You may have heard of 5:3, 5:4, 3:2 – what does it mean? This comes down to the thickness of the neoprene, expressed in millimetres– the higher number represents the thickness of the core of the wetsuit, keeping you warmer around the major organs.
The smaller number represents the thickness of the neoprene though the arms and legs, as the neoprene is slightly less thick, this allows you to be kept a little cooler.
What is neoprene? Known as polychloroprene, this is one of the first synthetic rubbers ever made. It is waterproof and durable and is made from petrochemical or a limestone process.
In its simplest form the pieces are glued and/or stitched together to make a wetsuit, and then the seams can be sealed to prevent water leakage.
How does a wetsuit work?
A wetsuit works by trapping a thin layer of water between your skin and your suit, the heat from your body heats the film of water to keep you warm. If your wetsuit is not a snug fit, then a ‘flush effect’ can occur. The flush effect is effectively allowing new cold water to enter the suit and flushes out that warm layer of water, essentially cooling you down!
How should it fit?
A wetsuit should fit snuggly, it should be a slight challenge to get into and once on, it should feel like a second skin, as mentioned it should fit snuggly, but not be restrictive.
There should not be any excessive bunching where cold water can become trapped.
When getting into your wetsuit, it should not be too easy to put, but once you have the right wetsuit on for your shape and size, it will allow you maximum time on the water, doing what you love!
Back or Front Zip
There are three types of access to a wetsuit, they include Back zip, Front zip, or Zipless. Today we will be discussing Back and Front zip suits.
Back zips are the traditional type of entry system; they have a long zip which runs from the tip of the spine to waist level with a cord attached to the zip to fasten yourself in. They can be easier to get on as you step into a wide opening. An example of a back zip wetsuit is like the ION Element men’s and women’s wetsuit.
One drawback of a back zip wetsuit is the positioning of the zip, as the seams and zip are placed straight down your back. This reduces the overall flexibility of the wetsuit and can limit arm movement for swimming and paddling, it will also this will impact on the overall stretch and flexibility of the suit.
The zip also presents a weak point for the suit as the seams and zip allow water to enter the wetsuit, creating an access point where the suit can be flushed with cold water.
The front zip wetsuit creates the perfect environment to keep you warmer and on the water for longer. A neoprene panel is placed behind the front zip to assist with greatly reducing the water from entering the suit, making it a warmer and more effective option when you are on the water. An example of this is the Ion Amaze Core.
When the zip is unfastened the collar acts like a hinge that sits at the back, you then pull the collar section over the top of your head and fasten it to the lower section of the suit. This creates a seal around your neck to stop water gaining access to your suit.
As there is no zip or panel across the shoulders and back area, this allows the user to retain maximum flexibility and movement for swimming and paddling.
To get into the suit; you must enter through a front panel entry system which stretches open to allow you to step into your wetsuit. It is more of a challenge to put on, however, we can attest that the more you do it, the easier it becomes to get into. And the difference, in terms of keeping warm and having range of motion compared to a back zip wetsuit is second to none.
The seams of a wetsuit play an important role in the overall make of a wetsuit. The type of seam, the number of panels and how it is sealed will dictate the amount of water that can breach the wetsuit, the flexibility of the suit as well as its durability. Lower grade wetsuit stitching will allow more water to enter the suit, as well as risk of unravelling at the seams or chaffing.
Good quality wetsuits will not have seams running along the shoulders or arms to allow for increased movement when swimming and paddling.
There are three difference types of stitching which include Overlock, Flatlock and Blind stitching.
Overlocking, the edges of neoprene are rolled up and stitched together, this is not a very flexible stitch for a wetsuit and can be found on lower grade suits.
Flatlock stitching, this is where two edges are placed overlapping and are stitched together, this is the most common stitch. The drawback with this method is that each stitch produces a tiny hole where water can penetrate the wetsuit. All flatlock stitching is glued so that the seams are watertight; however, the seams from the stitching process makes the wetsuit less watertight and durable.
Blind stitching is where the two panels are glued together before stitching through the neoprene. This ensures the fabric is watertight. This method ensures that the wetsuit is flexible, durable and keeps water out of the suit.
For additional waterproofing and reinforcement, higher quality wetsuits will have taped or sealed seams such as the Rip Curl Flashbomb. There are several ways to seal a seam and the type of seal will have an impact on water entering your wetsuit.
Glued Seams: The panels are glued together before the stitching takes place, this increases the strength of the seam and creates a more waterproof seal.
Spot Taped Seams: In the critical areas of the wetsuit, tape is spot glued to add strength to targeted areas.
Fully Taped Seams: Tape follows the seam line and is applied to all seam areas, this is usually neoprene tape which ensures that flexibility of the suit is not lost.
Liquid Taped: A liquid rubber is applied to the full seam line and ensures that the wetsuit is 100% waterproof.
Internal Wetsuit Lining
When you start looking at high quality wetsuits you tend to come across internal thermal linings. They start at the core, central area of your body and then the higher quality suits offer linings to your knees through to full body linings such as the Rip Curl Flashbomb.
The quality of the lining will also be determined by price of the wetsuit. So, it is best to do your research. What we would say is that you can cool always off in a wetsuit, but you can’t heat up once you are on the water, so having a thermal lining can make a significant impact on your day out on the water.
Winter vs. Summer Wetsuits
It is fair to say that a 2:2 or a 3:2 wetsuit is more in line with a summer wetsuit. However, when you start looking at the cooler months and thicker neoprene wetsuits. You must consider the location you are looking to use to use your wetsuit. You can’t just say that one type will work in all environments.
In Scotland on the Lochs, Sea and Reservoirs, some people find that a 5:4 works from April to October, it is a very personal choice, but in Cornwall this might be too hot. Again, this comes down to the quality of the wetsuit, lining and how the seams are sealed. Make sure you do your research to determine what will work for you.
There is a very wide range of wetsuits on the market and the size, cut and type of neoprene will impact on the induvial fit. Some brands run smaller than others and each brand have their own unique selling points, so as mentioned earlier, doing your research is key. A higher quality wetsuit in a 5:4 can be just as good as a winter wetsuit in a 6:5.
We offer a personalised fitting service in our store in Dalkeith, Edinburgh and offer a wide range of wetsuits to suit your needs and budgets, so pop in to try some on or give us a call to find out how we can help.