Buying a Wetsuit


Spring is approaching and it’s time to take the plunge again. Time to get back in the open water and time to consider buying a wetsuit.

Perhaps you’re buying your first wetsuit or perhaps your old one has done it’s time? Having the correct wetsuit is paramount to enjoyable and successful open water swimming. Some knowledge about wetsuits and their make-up can be very valuable when it comes to choosing the right wetsuit for you.

Swimming wetsuits are constructed from smoothskin neoprene. In a nutshell, neoporene fabric is made up of many tiny nitrogen bubbles, which together give the neoprene it’s inherent buoyancy as well as it’s soft and flexible feel. Various grades of neoprene have either more or less nitrogen bubbles and consequently offer varying levels of flexibility and buoyancy.

However, over time the nitrogen will slowly leak from these bubbles. This results in wetsuits eventually losing their flexibility and buoyancy as the fabric becomes more compact. Older wetsuits rip more easily.

The average lifespan of a properly looked after wetsuit is approximately 4 years. It’s important to know that this lifespan starts from the time it is made. Thus It’s always a good idea to check the manufacture date of a wetsuit before purchasing.

There are three basic categories of swimming wetsuits. Entry levelintermediate and elite. It’s quite easy to know which is which as it is reflected in their price. Higher grades of neoprene are used in the construction of more expensive wetsuits. The result for the consumer is that you can spend more for increased flexibility, buoyancy and performance.

Whichever category of wetsuit you are considering there are certain outstanding features you need to look out for.

The primary reason for wearing a swimming wetsuit is to benefit from it’s advantages. A good wetsuit will make you swim faster. That is a fact.

Swimming wetsuits provide buoyancy, buoyancy in turn gives you a much better, more elevated body position in the water, creates less drag and results in you swimming faster.

They also keep you warm.

Be aware of thicknesses:

An important consideration when buying a wetsuit is it’s thickness. The maximum allowed thickness is 5mm*. It’s crucial that the chest/abdomen/thigh panels are predominantly 5mm. If you are going to wear a wetsuit, ensure that you getting the maximum advantage out of it. The other panels (ie: back arms, etc) will differ in thickness.

It must be flexible:

A wetsuit must fit comfortably and be non-restrictive. This is particularly important around the shoulders. Check that your arms can move freely. The average thickness for underarm and arm panels is 1.5mm – 2mm.

It must be comfortable and keep you warm:

An uncomfortable wetsuit will result in an uncomfortable swim. Swimming wetsuits need to fit snuggly but within reason. Not only must you be able to move freely, you must be able to breathe! A good fitting wetsuit, particularly a wetsuit with 5mm chest/body panels will also go a long way in keeping you warm and comfy in chilly waters.

Be wary of ‘technologies”:

There are numerous ‘technologies’ out there in the ‘world of wetsuits’. Many have come and gone and very few have stuck around. A lot of marketing goes into wetsuits. Some ‘technologies’ have merit, others…well, they just push up the price

Don’t be afraid to ask the seller as many questions as you need to. There are no dumb questions.

Lastly, always ensure that your new wetsuit has a warranty. No warranty is going to cover misuse or general ‘wear and tear’, but you should at least receive a minimum of a year’s warranty on any failure of workmanship and on zips and seams.

Enjoy shopping for that new wetsuit…and enjoy your open water swimming.

*5mm is the maximum wetsuit thickness permitted in all sanctioned triathlon events as well as in Fina sanctioned open water swimming events where water temperatures are below 19 degrees celcius.