Wetsuits are essential diving gear because a wetsuit is what protects your body from becoming too cold in the water. Your body loses heat much faster to water than it does to air which is why even in relatively warm waters you can start to feel cold during a long dive.
There are many kinds of wetsuits on the market with different thicknesses and designs. You need to understand how a wetsuit works in order to find the best wetsuit for you.
How does a Wetsuit Actually Work?
In the following blog post, you’ll learn how a wetsuit keeps you warm underwater and what kind of wetsuit you need for your dives. It’s also important to know exactly how a wetsuit should fit before investing in your own scuba suit for your underwater adventures.
And once you have one, you will need to learn about wetsuit cleaning and care to make sure that your wetsuit lasts for as many dives as possible!
Why You Need a Wetsuit
So why do you need a wetsuit when you go scuba diving? Think back to your physics classes and try to remember how little pockets of air prevent hot air from moving into a space with cold air. Essentially, this is what happens to your body
heat in the water; your body heat naturally escapes to the colder temperature of the water but the layers of a wetsuit trap your body heat and slows down the process.
Hypothermia is a very real risk for scuba divers, especially divers that go into the water during winter months. Your body can even go into shock from such cold environments.
Wearing an appropriate wetsuit makes sure that all your body’s organs keep functioning the way they should and you can dive safely. However, even with an advanced technology wetsuit, diving in cold waters is still dangerous so you need to monitor your body’s condition closely and not dive for too long. Learn what the difference is between a wetsuit and a drysuit here.
Even when you are diving in summer or in tropical waters, a wetsuit is still very useful. You always lose body heat in water, even in warm water so a wetsuit helps you stay comfortable and safe whilst diving.
What Are Wetsuits Made of?
What are wetsuits made of? The most important material used in wetsuits is neoprene. Neoprene is a synthetic material that acts as an insulator. In addition to the neoprene, there are other layers of material that either also helps to insulate your body heat or help to keep your body mobile in the water.
Neoprene is made of millions of little cells that trap nitrogen making it an excellent heat insulator. Also, it has the consistency of soft rubber which is somewhat flexible and doesn’t get weighed down as much as other materials when it gets wet. Just take a look at this video on how do wetsuits work to get an overall understanding.
The outermost layer is usually a water-resistant material like lycra nylon, fleece, kevlar or kanoko. The outer most layer does allow some water in because you need a warm water pocket close to your skin to retain body heat.
In certain suits, there is an extremely thin layer of a metal like copper, aluminum or titanium between the inner layer and the neoprene. This might sound weird but a metallic material can reflect your body’s heat back or in other words, prevents your body heat from seeping through to the other layers.
Another factor to note is that Women’s and men’s wetsuits are tailored differently. This is due to the difference in sizes and shapes between genders. For the best fit for a woman, we would recommend you look at womens wetsuits.
Some more technologically advanced wetsuits even use FAR infrared technology to increase the body temperature. However, these suits are rarely available to the public and mainly used for the navy or specialized divers.
Wetsuit Thickness Guide
The thickness of the wetsuit indicates what water temperatures it is suitable for. The thicker the wetsuit, the better it insulates heat.
There are also different wetsuit designs with some being a full body wetsuit while others only cover the extremities partially or even only the torso and thighs. Shorties are popular for divers in tropical waters while the full body wetsuit is mostly used in winter conditions.
The wetsuit thickness is measured in millimeters and is usually labeled in two or three numbers. The first number is the wetsuit thickness around the torso, the second number is the thickness around the legs but also the arms if there is no third number given.
The thinnest wetsuits are 0.1 – 2 mm, with most full body wetsuits, starting at 3 mm and reaching up to 6 mm. 0.1 – 2 mm is recommended for tropical waters, 3 mm for spring water and 4 mm or thicker for waters that are below 62° Fahrenheit.
When you are diving in cold waters then you will also need to wear dive booties and gloves. Your extremities can go numb in cold water which you must absolutely avoid.
The Importance of How a Wetsuit Is Sealed
Most wetsuits are not waterproof and will let in some water. This little volume of water will get trapped next to your body and actually creates another pocket of trapped hot air.
How much water seeps through the wetsuit depends on how it is sealed. This is why different wetsuits designs have different seals depending on what water temperatures they are designed for.
In tropical warm waters, you might wear a shorty or wetsuit that is less than 2 mm thick. These kinds of wetsuits generally only have flatlock stitching which lets in some water and allows for maximum flexibility.
For temperature waters of at least 55° Fahrenheit, the wetsuit lets in very little water thanks to blindstitching and glued sealed covers. Blind stitches only go through the layers partially which means that the holes of the stitches don’t go all the way through creating less space for the water to seep through.
For cold water divers, the wetsuit is not only glued and blindstitched but also has an extra protective layer of interior seam taping. The interior seam taping makes this kind of wetsuit the most waterproof.
The type of zipper also makes a difference in how well sealed the wetsuit is. A back zipper lets in the most water and a chest zipper lets in the least water.