If your priority is warmth, when looking for the best wetsuit, there are a few general rules to follow.. Some of them may appear fairly obvious, but they are only obvious when you know you have options!
When looking for warmth, the first priority should be ‘fit’. If the suit is too large, too much water will slosh around and the suit will provide almost no warmth, however good it may be by the criteria below.
With modern high quality suits, there is a lot of flexibility in the neoprene, so finding a standard size to fit well should not be too difficult. If you do not fit any of the standard size profiles, then it may be worth paying for a custom made suit.
Someone new to water sports may not realise that almost every thickness is available from 0mm (Such as a lycra dive skin) all the way up to Up to 8mm or more. You can double layer the 8mm particularly around the torso, and even have a neoprene rash vest underneath making as much as 18mm or more!
Dive skins and tropical water suits normally have between 0 and 2mm of neoprene and are primarily intended to protect against scrapes, stings and sunburn.
Typical ‘multipurpose’ suits sold in many shops and hired by many schools are 3mm. If you feel the cold, this may not be enough. Around Devon and Cornwall in the UK, I prefer a 5mm even in the summer.
4, 5 and 6mm suits are generally sold as winter suits, but in the winter I need at least another 3-5mm on my torso!
For diving, 7mm suits are the norm, with many designed to give two layers over the torso. In the coldest waters you may want to add a thermal rash vest underneath! You also need to bare in mind that the suit compresses with depth and loses its efficiency very quickly. This is another reason why diving wetsuits are typically much thicker than those for most other water sports.
Many people do not give sufficient consideration to coverage. The obvious differences are a suit with arms and legs versus a shorty’ that just covers the torso.
Even if you don’t think you feel the cold, it is well worth considering covering your extremities. You can get boots and gloves for feet and hands. This alone can make any water sport much more enjoyable!
More important though, is your head. It is said that we can loose up to 50% of our body heat through our head, so a hood can be essential in the winter, but well worth considering in the summer too.
As far as it goes with technology the ‘high end’ manufacturers continue to push the boundaries of what is possible and are continually coming out with new ideas and concepts for retaining heat and keeping the wearer warmer.
Different types of neoprene composition are being used, and some of the latest designs even included heating elements. Here is Rip Curl’s version – Good enough for surfing in the arctic!
Seams play a very important role in keeping the wearer warm. Older type seams relied solely on stitching, where the better suits were stitched from both sides and the stitches didn’t penetrate all the way through.
There were also taping systems that were intended to completely stop water penetration, but the glue was a ways a problem, and after a while the seams would start to lift. In the past, the best seams were ‘glued and blind-stitched’, and this method is still used on a number of high quality suits, particularly for diving and spear fishing.
Most suits still use some form of stitching, but a number of high end suits have moved on to using a ‘fluid seam’ which is a type of rubberised bonding that has significant strength and durability. It also allows almost zero water penetration. This makes a big difference to warmth!
One final thought with regard to warmth is whether the suit is single or double lined with a nylon type material. The advantage of this lining is it makes the suit more resistant to damage on the outside, and easier to put on if it is lined on the inside.
Cheaper suits are often double lined so they stand up to wear and tear better.
Better quality suits designed for above the surface sports such as surfing and wind surfing often have significant outer panels that are not lined. This helps the suit dry much faster, reducing wind chill. The neoprene is usually made to be resistant to tearing in these areas, but this does typically cost more.
Suits designed for triathlons or open water swimming often are not lined on the outside and this is to reduce drag. These suits are typically more susceptible to damage.They need to need to be put on very carefully.
It is unusual to find a suit that is lined on the outside but not the inside. An exception is suits designed for spear fishing snorkelling, or static apnea. These suits are some of the warmest as the lack of an inner lining means the suit almost bonds to the skin, minimising water flushing through the suit.
There is definitely a skill to putting on one of these suits,. but if you really feel the cold, and are prepared for a bit of hassle putting the suit on, then short of a heated suit, nothing is warmer!
If you feel the cold, consider the points above, but the shortcut is to buy a quality suit made specifically for your sport by one of the high end manufactures.
Some of the mainstream quality manufacturers are
If can add any further suggestions of manufacturers who focus of creating the warmest suits, then please add your thoughts below. Much appreciated!
If you are a supplier of manufacturer that I haven’t mentioned, PLEASE get in touch!