The Wetsuit Buyers Guide examines the key features of wetsuits to help you determine the perfect wetsuit and accessories for your purposes. This guide covers:
• Wetsuit Materials
• Neoprene Thickness
• Seam constructions
• Entry Systems
• Types of Wetsuits
• Other Features
Wetsuits are made primarily with neoprene and nylon.
Wetsuits insulating warmth comes from their neoprene material (a.k.a. rubber). Neoprene varies significantly in terms of stretch, durability and warmth. Neoprene technology has improved immensely in recent years. Older suits are not nearly as stretchy or “gooey”—not only because the neoprene in suits has improved over the years—but also because neoprene looses its stretch over time even if it has never been used.
Traditionally, neoprene has been made with oil based products. Recently some suits have been made with more environmentally conscious neoprene that is limestone based.
All the suits Boardsports sell also use nylon. Neoprene without any nylon is called Smoothskin neoprene. Smoothskin is sometimes used for internal ankle and cuff seals to help prevent water entering the suit.
Nylon is used in two ways:
Nylon 1 - Neoprene rubber with Nylon bonded to the inside of the material for comfort and ease of entry. The smooth neoprene on the outside of the wetsuit reduces wind chill since it repels water and it does not get wet. This is great for windsurf and kite suits. But it is not as durable as Nylon 2. Nylon 1 can often be found in the chest area of a suit.
Nylon 2 - Neoprene rubber with Nylon bonded to both the inside and outside of the material. This increases the durability of the neoprene.
Traditionally, nylon has been made with oil based products. Recently some suits have been made with more environmentally conscious nylon that is bamboo based.
Airprene is a new technology in premium wetsuits that uses “honeycomb” cells to trap air. The additional air in the wetsuit provides additional insulating warmth without increasing thickness. Wetsuits that feature Airprene are also especially
stretchy and comfortable.
The thicker the neoprene, the warmer the suit will be. We carry wetsuits ranging from 1-6mm thick. And we have booties up to 8mm thick.
0mm (no suit): tropical conditions and really hot July days.
1-2mm: Warm temperatures – July
2-3mm: Warm/Cool temperatures – June & August (typically the season for this suit is very short in Canada)
3-4mm: Cool – May & June, August & September
4-5mm: Cold – April & May, September – November
5-6mm: Cold-Frigid: November - April
Many of our suits are also suitable for scuba diving. Neoprene compresses under water. The deeper the scuba diver swims, the thicker suit required. Some specialized scuba suits are 10mm+ (we do not carry these).
A big factor in the quality and warmth of a wetsuit is the type of seams used. These are the most common seam designs found in high quality modern wetsuits:
Flatlock Stitching (FL) – FL stitching provides great flexibility and strength and because the stitches are designed to lay flat and not push into your skin, it helps prevent a rash. However, this type of seam lets water through so it isn't ideal if insulation is a top priority. Flatlock seams can be found on our Lycra shirts, neoprene tops and shorts, farmer john and jackets and entry level. shorty.wetsuits.
Glued & Blind Stitching (GBS) – GBS is produced by first butting together and gluing the two adjoining pieces of neoprene. The two pieces of neoprene are then stitched together with a special stitch that does not penetrate through both sides of the material. This is a very watertight method of construction and is also very comfortable.
Critically Taped (CT) means that a nylon tape with rubber backing is placed over the seams in high stress areas. GBS and CT can be found on our higher end summer suits and our price point full steamer suits.
Liquid Taping (LT) – Also known as Fluid Seam Weld, this seam construction is the same as GBS but the seam (inside, outside or both) is reinforced with liquid neoprene tape. The taping reinforces the strength of the seams, preventing tears or leaks in your suit. This is found on our warmest steamer suits.
Neoprene Taping is a similar method that basically accomplishes the same thing as LT. Here, a long strip of neoprene tape is glued in place to form a seal along the seams.
Full Back Zip: This wetsuit has a zipper that runs the full length of your spine from the lower back to the back of the neck. This option offers the least amount of flexibility and loses warmth to water flushing into the lengthy back zipper. However, these suits are the easiest to put on.
3/4 Back Zip: Just as the name implies, this zipper covers 3/4 of the length of your back, starting at the middle of the back and closing at the back of the neck. This style offers increased flexibility and range of motion as well as increased warmth from reduced water intake.
Chest Zip: With a horizontal zipper across the front of the suit, this style allows for the most flexibility and minimal water intake.
DIFFERENT STYLES OF SUITS
Also known as spring wetsuits, shorties are cut off at the knee and elbow. With neoprene 2mm thick, they are designed for maximum arm movement in warmer summer weather. Price point shorties are typically back zip and flatlock stitched, meaning water freely flows in and out of the suit. However, some higher end models feature chest zip entry, GBS seams and full sleeves.
STEAMERS or SEMI-DRY
(NEED A PICTURE)
Steamers or semi-dry suits are full-length wetsuits varying between 4 and 6mm thick with glued and blind stitched seams. Of all wetsuits, they allow the least water to flush in and out of the suit. The 4:3 steamer is the most popular for windsurfers and kiteboarders who want to extend their season from May to October. Some brands have even introduced steamers designed specifically for kiters and windsurfers that feature ankle drainage holes and harness padding. Surfers often turn to a 6:5:4 or 5:4 with attached hood to get out on the water all year round.
(NEED A PICTURE)
Another option to keep you warm year round is a drysuit. Drysuits have waterproof zippers and tight latex cuffs to prevent water from entering the suit altogether. Some are loose fitting and allow you wear insulating layers underneath. However, it is difficult to swim or dive underwater in a drysuit because their bulk creates so much drag in the water. Therefore, while well-suited to kiters, sailors and some windsurfers, drysuits are not appropriate for surfers and may be problematic for windsurfing on really windy days.
WHAT TO WEAR UNDERNEATH
Many people wear nothing at all under a wetsuit but some prefer rash guards for comfort. If you’re still feeling a little cold in your suit, try out thermal Lycra for extra warmth. And if you are wearing a drysuit, be sure to layer up with fleece underneath.
All our brands have detailed size charts that will let you know the correct size based on weight, height, chest and waist size.
Enter size Charts for each brand here
If you are having a difficult time determining the exact size, we find that weight and height are the most important criteria. However, if you are more muscular, you may find you fit into a smaller suit then what your weight indicates (muscle weighs more then fat), and vice versa if you no longer have the body of a 20 year old.
The ideal wetsuit fit is snug. It should actually feel a little too small the first time you put it on. Suits will stretch and form to your body. If a wetsuit is too big, the extra space will fill with water and this will result in:
o Increased heat loss
o Increased discomfort
o Extra weight
However, if the suit is so tight that you are uncomfortable (i.e. you can’t breathe or your movement is severely restricted), the suit is too small.
HOW TO PUT ON A WETSUIT
Be prepared for some difficulties the first few times you put on a new wetsuit. There are usually certain aspects of this process can cause problems (especially for thicker suits). You will find after wearing a suit a few times, it will get easier to put on.
Every wetsuit is different please refer to the videos below for the proper technique.
Back Zip suit video
Chest Zip suit video
Suits with back zip.
Typically, you want to choose a boot with a thickness that roughly corresponds to your wetsuit. Thinner booties (1-2mm) are not for warmth but protection against sharp rocks, coral reefs and broken glass. Thicker booties (3-8mm) feature a higher cuff and will offer warmth as well as protection and traction. Boardsports focuses mostly on performance booties, which tend to be more expensive then what would be found in other stores. But they offer a more secure fit to prevent the foot sliding inside the boot and a thin sole for better board feel.
Split Toe (ST) boots offer better performance because the big toe can move independently giving better balance (important for surfing). The V in the boot also helps to prevent the foot sliding forward in the boot and jamming toes (important for windsurfing and kiteboarding).
Round Toe (RT) boots, preferred by customers that hate the feeling of flip flops, have been traditionally been the most popular. Some 7-8mm boots only come in RT because the thickness of the neoprene.
Gloves range in thickness from 1-7mm. Generally, you want a glove about the same as or slightly thinner than your suit. But certain sports have different needs to consider. For instance, windsurfers and kiteboarders who need to handle a control bar or boom should typically be wearing gloves about 1.5mm thick. On the other hand, winter surfers who do not require the same dexterity in their hands often use a 5-7mm three-finger glove or mitt to stay warm in frigid temperatures.
HOODS AND NEOPRENE TOQUES
Of course, if it’s cold out there, be sure to keep your head warm. Many thicker wetsuits come with hoods built in, but you also have the option of buying a separate 2-3mm hood. Neoprene toques have also been especially popular with windsurfers and kiteboarders.
As wetsuits get older, they will naturally stiffen, crack and compress due to the effects of sunlight, salt water, overstretching, etc. In order to slow down this process and get the most out of your wetsuit, follow these simple care, storage and cleaning guidelines:
• Rinse your wetsuit well with fresh water after every use, especially after use in salt water.
• When not being used, always store your wetsuit out of direct sunlight since UV radiation and heat will damage the suit.
• Never put a wetsuit in the dryer or near any other heat source.
• Don't overstretch your suit, as this can lead to cracking. This can be prevented by not buying a wetsuit that is too small.
• Fix wetsuit leaks and holes with neoprene glue as soon as they appear to prevent further damage to your wetsuit.