Listed below are the main factors and features to consider when buying a wetsuit. Top of the line wetsuits should have most of them - especially look for blind stitch/liquid seal in winter wetsuits and stretchy neoprene in general. These two really make the most of the difference. And a wetsuit that fits of course. Expensive wetsuit without some kind of liquid seal is at the moment not a very good deal if warmth is your primary target.
WHERE AM I GOING TO USE THE WETSUIT?
First thing you need to ask yourself when buying a wetsuit is – "When and where am I going to surf?" The location and the season more or less determine the water temperature and that is the first thing to consider when buying a wetsuit. Do I look for a shorty, full suit, thick steamer maybe with booties, integrated hood and gloves? If you tend to travel to different places for surf we generally find a long wetsuit to be more versatile and useful than a shorty.
WETSUITS AND NEOPRENE
Wetsuits are made from neoprene. Neoprene is an elastic synthetic rubber material with good insulation properties. Considering which body parts the neoprene covers we divide wetsuits:
- Shorty – neoprene only covers the body and upper parts of the arms and legs
- Full suit – neoprene covers the body, arms and legs to your wrists and ankles and possibly also the head when the wetsuit has integrated hood
- Spring suit – neoprene covers the body and usually legs and upper arms, but vice versa combination is also possible – neoprene entirely covers the arms and only upper parts of the legs.
HOW DOES A WETSUIT WORK?
The basic thing that a wetsuit does to keep us warm is this – wetsuit catches a thin layer of water between our skin and the neoprene. Body heat warms this layer of water and we are all warm and comfortable in the freezing surroundings. The better the fit of the wetsuit, the warmer we are. Because every time we fall, wipe out, duck dive, get our arses kicked by the white water etc. cold water wants to enter the wetsuit and flush the warm water out. That is how we get cold. Cold water can penetrate the wetsuit:
- Obviously through holes for your head, hands and feet
- Through stitches that keep the wetsuit together
- Through the zipper
- The second thing that keeps us warm is isolation from the environment that depends on the thickness of the neoprene.
Wetsuit thickness or better the thickness of the neoprene is the insulation between us and the forces of nature that provide us with fun environment for our sport. Wetsuit thickness is usually given with two numbers like 3/2, 4/3, 5/3, or three numbers like 5/4/3. The numbers mean that the thickness of the neoprene is 3 millimetres (or 4 or 5) on the body (and legs with winter suits) and 2 millimetres on arms (and legs with spring suits). The goal of this variable thickness of the wetsuit is better and easier movement of our limbs that move a lot between our surfing, windsurfing, rafting, swimming, kayaking, kite surfing etc. This is also the reason that some cheaper wetsuits have only one thickness.
A 3/2 wetsuit is generally suited for summer and autumn surfing, windsurfing, swimming, kite surfing etc, while 4/3 wetsuits and 5/3 wetsuits keep us warm when surfing in winter and spring.
Cold water wants to get into your wetsuit. That is why the most important thing to look for when buying a wetsuit is the right size. The better the wetsuit fits us, the less flushing through holes for our head, hands and feet we get and the less place we leave for the cold water. Even the best, warmest, high-tech, feature packed and solar panel integrated heating system with ipod wetsuit won't help if its too big. Lucky for us, the modern neoprene is stretchy and elastic so it fits and hugs our body better than old wetsuits. Also note, when trying a wetsuit wet neoprene is looser and feels a bit bigger than dry neoprene. So if a dry neoprene feels a little tight it is very likely that a wet one won't. The wetsuit should really hug our skin everywhere – snug fit. But don't go to far - without making us crouch because it's so tight we can't stand up straight.
Now we are moving on to the next factor with cold water flushing our wetsuit – the stitches. The deal on stitches is simple – to stitch neoprene together you need a thread and a needle. Needle makes holes in neoprene. Water and wind use holes to get inside the wetsuit. Less holes through the neoprene – warmer wetsuit.
OVER LOCK STITCH
Over lock stitch is the thing of the past or maybe it is still the thing of the cheap, thin tourist wetsuits. You can recognise it by the big stitches on the inside of the wetsuit that stick out of the neoprene and can therefore also be uncomfortable. Over lock stitch is very strong, but leaves a lot of needle holes for water and wind to flush the wetsuit. Conclusion: cheap wetsuit, durable, strong, for summer wetsuits, for beginners (not very flexible). Surfworld only stocks the best wetsuits so we don't have any of these kind for sale.
FLAT LOCK STITCH
Flat lock stitch is strong, but the thread is exposed on the outside of the wetsuit. It leaves small holes along the seam which reduces the warmth of the suit. Strong and durable, for summer surfing and also good performance for demanding surfers (flexibility).
Blind stitch is the stitch for the warm wetsuits. It has more versions that have different effect on warmth, durability, flexibility and price of the wetsuit. Wetsuits that are made using blind stitches which are "waterproof" are called a steamer.
BASIC BLIND STITCH & GLUED
All wetsuits that have blind stitch are made in a similar way. First the neoprene is glued together. Then a curved needle brings the thread through the neoprene in such way, that it exits on the same side that it went in, without punching through the neoprene. The result is watertight stitch with no holes through the neoprene.
BLIND STITCH, GLUED & SPOT TAPED
Is the same as above with the addition of taping the stress points of the wetsuit. Stress points are places where three or more stitches come together. This stitch is common with super stretchy high performance wetsuits, where durability is not in the first place.
DOUBLE BLIND STITCH & GLUED
Double blind stitch is first sawn the same way as the above basic blind stitch. Then the neoprene is turned around and is sewn again from the other side. This is a good compromise used with cheaper winter wetsuits.
BLIND STITCH, GLUED & FULLY TAPED
All the inner parts of stitches are completely covered and glued at high temperature and with special tape. That means no opening of the stitches and no water. This type of stitch is very time consuming to make and therefore expensive.
BLIND STITCH, GLUED & FULLY TAPED with NEOPRENE TAPE
Instead of taping the stitches of the wetsuit with special tape at high temperature they are taped with glue and neoprene tape. This eliminates the lower flexibility of the taped stitches.
Also called S or Super Seal or something else, depends on which company uses it. Liquid taping is a pretty new wetsuit invention. Special rubber is used when sewing the neoprene to seal the inner or/and outer side of the stitches. That makes them stronger and additionally closes any holes. 100% waterproof stitches and still very flexible!
Zipper helps us get into and out of our wetsuit. The longer the zipper the easier that process is. But the longer the zipper the more flushing you can get through it. So some winter wetsuits have special, short zippers i.e front entry suits. Also the size and shape of the teeth on the zipper has some influence on the flushing. Note also that metal zippers are more durable than plastic ones. We are talking about the part that slides up and down, the teeth of the zipper are always plastic. There is also a small Velcro safety belt that stops the zipper from opening.
BAT FLAP / BAT WING / DRAIN HOLE etc
With some wetsuits an additional piece of neoprene is put under the zipper. This neoprene membrane is thin and stretchy so it doesn't bother you too much when putting on a wetsuit. But it stops the water that comes through the zipper and keeps it away from our body.
How to get into a wetsuit that has no zipper? Again almost every wetsuit company has its own zipperless system that more or less successfully lets you into the suit. The benefits of this system are of course no flushing through the zipper and better fit and flexibility. Without the zipper the neoprene on our back, chest and shoulders flows freely and is therefore more elastic. The downside is trickier changing into the wetsuit and bigger abuse of neoprene in the place where you try to squeeze yourself info the wetsuit through some ridiculously small hole.
OTHER FEATURES OF WETTIES
There are some basic and more advanced features of the wetsuits that you also often come across and it is nice to know what each of them does for your wettie.
Neoprene is surrounded on both sides by a layer of nylon. Nylon on the outer side of neoprene helps to protect the neoprene from sharp objects and other damage and makes neoprene more durable. Nylon on the inner side of the neoprene prevents neoprene from sticking to your skin.
Same as above, just that nylon in only on one side of neoprene. Single lined neoprene looks smoother than double lined neoprene.
MESH SKIN / SHARKSKIN / SMOOTH SKIN / GLIDE SKIN / AND ANY OTHER SKIN
Those are all different types of single lined neoprene. This type of neoprene is sometimes intentionally used in places where you want the neoprene to stick to the skin. Places like the neck and holes for hands and feet, to prevent or let's say reduce flushing. Besides that, single lined neoprene is often also used on the body of the wetsuit, especially upper part of the wetsuit. Single lined neoprene (without the nylon on the outer side) makes a wetsuit warmer in wind, as the layer of nylon holds some water and makes you colder while water quickly runs off the mesh neoprene. Neoprene is by itself also a very stretchy material. More than nylon, so single lined neoprene makes a wetsuit more elastic. But of course there is a downside that we already mentioned, single lined neoprene is less sustainable to damage and is therefore wise to use it only on parts of the wetsuit that are not very likely to hit a rock or something (no single lined neoprene on the knees for example).
A layer of titanium is placed between the neoprene and the nylon. Titanium helps reflect the body heat back into the body and preventing it to leave the wetsuit. That makes a wetsuit warmer. One of the tests mentioned somewhere says the wetsuit is supposed to be 24% warmer.
SECOND GENERATION TITANIUM
Second generation titanium is supposed to be twice as effective as normal titanium.
SUPER ELASTIC AND STRETCHY AND X-STRETCH NEOPRENE
Most of the wetsuit companies are developing and using some kind of new neoprene that is much more elastic that "old" ordinary neoprene. But a difference between an ordinary neoprene wetsuit and stretchy neoprene wetsuit is more than evident. Wetsuits made from stretchy neoprene are much more flexible. Flexible wetsuits have some advantages – you loose less energy when moving as you have less resistance in neoprene and they fit better, which makes them warmer and more comfortable.
AERO CORE / FIRE SKIN / POLY-PRO / AIR SOMETHING ETC
Is a fabric made of special hollow fibres and covers the neoprene on the inside of the wetsuit. Fibres are made of polyester and contain large amounts of trapped air, which is one of the best isolation materials.
If you are a beginner there is a big possibility that you will spend some time on your knees and even if you are not, some added protection for the knees and for the neoprene on the knees is very welcome. Some wetsuits only have anti-skid print on the knees, some have another patch of neoprene sewn onto the knees, some have knees reinforced with Kevlar.
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