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"Most people tend to think that the thickness of the neoprene is the most important".
How to decide?
With the growth of open water swimming, surfing, SUPPing and triathlons etc, the market for wetsuits as increased enormously.
Because of the nature of these activities, wetsuit are now coming in all different technologies, thicknesses and functions. Many wetsuits now differ massively in flexibility, buoyancy, warmth and comfort purely dependent on what it is going to be used for.
It is clear that if you want to spend any significant time out in the water, a wetsuit is one of the most important pieces of kit. Therefore, getting the right one for you is important.
Over the years I have worked with wetsuits and worn many myself for swimming training, racing, triathlons, surfing, dipping and exploring up rivers etc.
I have found brands that I really like personally that work for me and will recommend my favorites in this blog.
It is however important to know that with all of these things, it comes down to personal preference. I would highly recommend finding a local shop that hires out wetsuits so you can see what it feels like first before committed to buying one.
I would put wetsuits into two groups.
1. Swimming Wetsuits. (Swimming, triathlons, training & racing).
2. Surfing wetsuits (Surfing, SUPPING, exploring etc).
1. Swimming Wetsuits. (Swimming, triathlons, training & racing).
The most common questions about swimming wetsuits is "How thick is it"?
Most people tend to think that the thickness of the neoprene is the most important. However, when it comes to swimming in a wetsuit, you are ideally looking at the grade of the neoprene, how flexible it is and how much buoyancy it provides.
The grade of the neoprene that is used for swimming wetsuits is actually very different to wetsuits that are made for Surfing/kayaking or water sports in general.
If you buy a surfing wetsuit for your open water swimming, you may be a little warmer, but you will probably start to struggle pretty quickly.
Surfing wetsuits do not offer much flexibility and comfort for swimming specifically, but they do keep you warm if you are out in cold water.
If you are planning to get more into swimming, then a swim specific wetsuit is what you should be going for.
The next questions is, what should you be looking for in the suit?
Swimming is a very technical therefore how we swim as individuals is going to change from person to person. Luckily for us, some wetsuit brands have managed to create different suits depending on the type of swimmer you are.
Most wetsuit manufactures use Yamamoto neoprene to make their suits but just change the grade at different parts of the suit for example the core, legs and arms etc which differentiates the suits.
Let's have a look at the different grades.
This grade is one of the most durable neoprene grades which is most commonly used for scuba diving as it gives divers more warmth however it really doesn't offer great flexibility because of how strong the material is. This makes swimming in them pretty difficult.
This grade is what most entry level suits are made of which tend to be cheaper. I would suggest staying away from these lower price point suits because they are very hard to swim in.
They may seem cheap and "do the job", but it will probably hinder your stroke as there is not very much flexibility which is what you want for swimming.
It seems that more new swimmers or those who are not so confident go for this suit just in case they don't carry on with the swimming but is a catch 22 because the suit will probably put you off the swimming because of how inflexible it is.
If you can, get the next suit up and enjoy the swimming!
This is the most common grade of neoprene used for swimming wetsuits.
All you have to do is compare each suit and you will see an instant difference.
It is said that this grade is 5 times more flexible then #38 which is a huge difference!
As a swimmer, most people will be looking for as much flexibility as possible, buoyancy if they need it or want it and to be as comfortable as possible.
Warmth will also come into play as well for a lot of people but if you are racing then being too hot is not great.
#40 and #45 are the newest grades to be released with #40 offering flexibility and buoyancy with #45 being the most flexible grade out there.
These suits are more commonly used by triathletes or swimmers who are racing a lot and want to feel like they are not even wearing a suit.
What I recommend for swimming.
I would highly recommend Orca as a swimming brand. I love how flexible every suit that have is and how comfortable the neckline is.
Most other brands have their neck really high and tight which just causes more chaffing which is not nice at all when swimming.
Orca have suits for different swim types making it easier to find the right suit for you. They have flex, flow and float suits that are for people who are more natural swimmers, for those who really need help with buoyancy (probably because their legs are sinking) and for those who need help with both flexibly and buoyancy.
"The Orca Flex range is specifically designed for swimmers without technical deficiencies who can maintain a correct position in the water, horizontal and elevated".
"The “flow” swimmer makes minor mistakes in their kick technique that buoyancy would help correct, raising the legs to achieve a more effective horizontal posture".
"The Float family is ideal for those who are just starting out in triathlon or swimming. This solution is for swimmers who are not completely comfortable in the water".
However, although the flexibility of these suits are top class, it means that it is easier for them to rip if you are not careful.
I would not recommend wearing swimming suits for surfing, SUPPING or exploring around the seaside or river. If you graze against a rock, you are more than likely going to put a hole in them.
These swimming wetsuits are so flexible that if you don't put the suit on right and use your fingers nails too much then again you are going to see holes appearing everywhere, so it is something to bare in mind.
Surfing wetsuits (Surfing, SUPPING, exploring etc).
When out doing these activities, you are often not moving constantly like you would be whilst swimming. This is why the neoprene tends to different more in thickness rather than grade.
The biggest thing is making sure your core is going to stay warm because once that starts getting cold then it can be hard to heat back up again.
The neoprene on these suits tends to be a lot more durable and can take you kneeling on boards, touching rocks and are generally hardier.
1-2MM Shorty wetsuit is super lightweight and stretchy meaning that you are not going to overheating or get paddle exhaustion as it's the thinnest option available out there.
This is something you would probably wear on a warm summer's day, it offers UV protection, keeps you warm if there is some wind and helps with any jelly stings.
There are options out there to get this thickness but with mid, short or long sleves and legs.
3/2MM Full wetsuit is probably the most popular wetsuit thickness ad style as it is the most versatile for the weather especially here in the UK.
You can wear it from Summer through to Autumn so is a great all-round suit until it starts getting a lot colder in the winter and then I would maybe opt for a warmer suit with more accessories.
I would say this is your all-round exploring suit. It is pretty flexible for surfing and for short distance swims.
4/3MM Full wetsuit is a suit that you would use for the cold-water surfing months. It has 4mm around the core and 3mm on the legs and arms so it will give more protection and keep your warmer in the cold water for longer.
If you are looking at a suit like this, then I would recommend getting gloves and booties for keep warm and to avoid any injures from being cold.
5/4 or 5/3MM full wetsuit is for anyone who loves being out in the winter in the Uk.
It is 5mm around the core, 4 or 3mm arms and legs making it very thick and warm.
A lot of these suits have the option for being extra lined providing more warmth which I would recommend.
At this temperature, gloves, boots and a wetsuit hood is a great idea to keep you warm!
6/5MM Full wetsuit is probably the thickest and warmest suit that you can get.
You will find a lot of surfers up in Scotland will wear these to battle the freezing waters.
It is 6mm of neoprene around your torso, and 5mm on your arms and leg and if you wear these in summer you will be over heating for sure!
Although people will wear these in the winter to keep warm, the flexibility in them is not great at all but many would prefer the warmth over the flexibility in these temperatures.
What I recommend for surfing and exploring.
My favourite surfing and exploring wetsuit brand has to be Mystic.
They have so many different suits to offer and I love how durable and warm they are. You can find a suit for any time of the year depending on what you are doing.
I would also advice to wear a Mystic or surfing wetsuit in general if you are going to be doing a mixture of water sports which includes a little bit of swimming.
Obviously, you are not going to get as much flexibility as a swimming suit but if you are wanting to surf, SUP and explore etc then you want a sturdier suit that is not going to rip.
You may find that a lot of people have two suits, one for exploring and one for swimming but try to hire some suits to see how you feel in them first before committing.
Whichever suit you go for, enjoy it!
Get out into the wild and explore.
Get your friends and family involved and see how many new places and things you can do together!
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