Finding the perfect wetsuit is much like finding the perfect partner. There are a whole host of elements to consider, but the key is finding one specific to your needs and having clear knowledge of what you are looking for. With the variety of wetsuits available these days, choosing the right one can seem a little daunting, so Torpedo7 wetsuit guru Durand Coldicott has put together this informative guide.
What do you want to use it for?
Do you plan on using this wetsuit for swimming, surfing, kayaking, waterskiing, wakeboarding, or a combination of sports or activities? Add to this your ability level within your chosen recreation and how far you’d like to progress. If you’re a beginner surfer, or a recreational wake boarder for example, one of the more basic models will be completely adequate for your time in the water. But, if you are a competitive surfer wishing to progress to higher levels, an advanced performance wetsuit, with extra warmth, flexibility and durability will help give that added edge you need to progress. Being specific about what you plan to use a wetsuit for can help narrow down your options.
How cold will the conditions be in which you will use this wetsuit?
This is an important aspect for choosing a wetsuit. Wetsuits are made to insulate and each model is designed around a certain water temperature. The colder the weather and water temperature, the thicker the wetsuit will need to be to keep you warm. If the conditions are cold, a full length wetsuit (or steamer) will generally be required to keep your body temperature at an adequate level. In contrast, the warmer the conditions, the less material the wetsuit will need to have.
What budget do you have?
Buying a cheaper model doesn’t mean it won’t insulate you in the water, but instead it will likely not be as stretchy or as light as a more expensive model. There are many technologies and design features that influence price, with performance features and technologies generally being limited to higher end wetsuits.
Wetsuits are designed to insulate and keep your body temperature at normal levels while in the water. Neoprene is a form of synthetic rubber that is used in virtually all wetsuits to help achieve this. Not all forms of neoprene are equal with higher end materials will offer greater flexibility, lower water absorption, and lighter overall weight.
The thickness of the neoprene in a wetsuit is often the most important indicator as to how warm it will be.
Neoprene material is measured in millimetres and this is usually stated in the title or description of the product.
Wetsuits vary in thickness and can range from 0.5mm for summer or warm water conditions to 5mm for winter surfing wetsuits and even 7mm+ for dive wetsuits. The most common thicknesses are 2mm, 3/2mm, 4/3mm, and 5/4mm. A combination of thicknesses refers to different thicknesses in different zones of the wetsuit. So for example, if you see 4/3mm it will be referring to 4mm in the core, and 3mm in the arms and legs. The first number is always the thickness around the core of the wetsuit.
A 3/2mm wetsuit is one of the most common thicknesses used in New Zealand conditions and can cater to a wide range of water temperatures. A good option when you want one wetsuit for a range of weather and temperature conditions, these suits work anywhere from summer surfing in the deep south to winter surfing in the far north, and are great for waterskiing or wake boarding year-round. A general rule is, if you need a surf hood or gloves to be in the water, then you should probably be wearing a wetsuit thicker than 3/2mm.
Chest zip versus back zip wetsuits
Back zip wetsuits offer easy entry and exit while chest zip wetsuits can be a little trickier to get in and out of due to a smaller opening. Back zip wetsuits are a good option for those with previous shoulder injuries as they involve less articulation of the joint to enter.
Although a chest zip can be more difficult to enter and exit, the smaller entry and position of the zipper help minimise water flushing through the suit that can occur when duck diving under waves. Chest zip suits generally hold a more consistent seal around the collar line than back zips, ultimately meaning it is harder for water to penetrate the neck and flush the suit with cold water.