What is a wetsuit? What is neoprene? How does it work?

Let's start with a quick definition: a wetsuit is made out of foamed neoprene and is designed to keep you warm in or on the water. The neoprene contains gas cells or air bubbles and therefore works as a thermal insulation material.

Important note: wetsuit fit is everything.

 A wetsuit should fit nice and tight on your body. Yes, skin tight! If you have air gaps under your armpits, in your back, around your neck or even in your crotch area, you will get cold! These gaps will allow the cold water to get in and flush out any bit of warmth in your wetsuit… Here's a couple of tips to make you sure your suit fits perfect:

  • Make sure there are no excess room and gaps when wearing the wetsuit.
  • Lift your arms over your head and stretch out your shoulders. If the wetsuit pulls down on your shoulders and applies pressure when doing so then wetsuit is too small. If the wetsuit folds up on your shoulder then the wetsuit is too big.
  • Slide your finger around the neck seal of the wetsuit. If you feel like you could slide more than one finger and still not feel the pressure of the wetsuit, then the neck is too loose. And obviously if you are struggling to breathe the wetsuit is too tight.
  • You should be able to squat down and move your arms freely without feeling pressure from the suit.

 

The UK water temperatures range from 5 - 9˚C in the Winter and 16 - 19˚C in the Summer.  For maximum comfort and warmth in the Winter we recommend to wear a 5/4/3mm wetsuit with 3-5mm boots and 2-3mm gloves. You may need to wear a full hood or wetsuit cap depending on how often your head goes under water and how cold the air temperature is on the day. For maximum flexibility and freedom of movement in the Summer we recommend to wear a high end 3/2mm wetsuit. If you are just starting however and only wish to get a taste of the fun, a simple low range suit with Flatlock seams should be sufficient. 

 

Flatlock seams consist of lapping the neoprene together, which creates a flat and comfortable seam. However, the number of holes involved and simple lapping of the neoprene often allows the water to penetrate. This type of stitching, mostly used in cheaper suits, is therefore best advised for summer sea temperatures.

Glue Blind Stitched seams are of much higher quality. It consists of gluing the two panels of neoprene together, which is then secured with a stitch that doesn't penetrate through to the other side of the neoprene. Most often liquid seam / tape (flat silicon beading that is heated onto glued seams) is placed inside and/or outside the wetsuit to assure comfortability and 100% impermeability.

 This type of seam is mostly used in more expensive suits, and we strongly recommend to consider the GBS feature when purchasing a winter wetsuit, as it will help you stay warm during the colder months.

 

Single lined neoprene also known as "smooth skin" only has a nylon lining on one side (usually the inside), making the wetsuit look matt and feel smooth from the outside. This type of neoprene cuts down windchill and improves water run-off, which results in a warmer wetsuit. Smooth skin panels are therefore often used on the chest and over the kidneys in most winter wetsuits.

 Full Smooth Skin suits are often used in Windsurfing (due to its ability to keep the windchill to a minimum) and in Triathlon (due to its ability to let the water glide off and therefore stay lighter as you come out of the water). However, Smooth Skin suits are less flexible, less comfortable and most times more fragile than double lined wetsuits, so tend to be purchased by specialists watermen.

Double lined neoprene are the most popular wetsuits. The neoprene has nylon linings both inside and out and are therefore comfortable, flexible, and longer lasting than its single lined relative. Double lined neoprene is especially good if you use the wetsuits for different purposes, such as surfing, kitesurfing and stand-up paddle boarding, etc…

To achieve the best of both worlds, a lot of the higher end wetsuits include double lined neoprene on the areas that need stretch and strength (shoulders, arms, legs, and over the hips), and use smooth skin on the areas that need warmth (chest and kidneys).

 

Back Zip is the original solution when it comes to wetsuit entry design. It simply consists of a zipper going down the length of the spine with a long cord attached allowing you to zip yourself in and out. The main advantage of a back zip is that it's easier to get in and out of your wetsuit, and is therefore and understandably usually the first choice for beginners.

 This system however often allows the water to go through, which can become highly uncomfortable (cold water dripping down your back), and can also be restrictive in terms of flexibility. Some wetsuit manufacturers have developed a barrier panel to prevent water from flushing in and to protect from zip rash.

Front Zip (also known as Chest Zip) entry has been more recently developed and is the preferred option for the more experienced watermen. The wetsuit is entered by sliding yourself through the top of the suit. A neoprene flap then comes over the head and is neatly zipped to the suit on the chest area.

Chest Zip suits offer a variety of advantages such as higher flexibility levels in the back, a better fit around the neck, less rash, and improved ability to keeping water from penetrating the suit.

 

 Thermal lining is a soft and fluffy material designed to wick water away from your body and increase the thermal capabilities of your wetsuit. Due its lower flexibility levels, thermal lining is often used specifically on the chest and kidneys, which are the key areas of warmth on the body.

 

C-Skin Technology  O'Neil Technology

A C-Skins exclusive. Dry Knit is a multi-function textile made up of several layers of technology, each carrying their own benefit. Using a space blankets as inspiration.

TechnoButter is O’neill’s new, exclusive, and most advanced neoprene on the market. This new material boasts a 20% lighter formula with 30% less water absorption, with quick dry properties, providing the pinnacle in lightweight, neoprene technology.

 

 Stretch is key to the perfect wetsuit fit and freedom of movement. Luckily neoprene is naturally stretchy, so almost anyone will be able to find a wetsuit that fits. However, if you want to make the most of your sport, you'll be looking at getting maximum stretch out of your suit. And maximum stretch comes in 2 ways: quality of neoprene, and the spread of that neoprene throughout the wetsuit.

 The best 'super stretch' neoprene will stretch by 100% whereas the cheaper neoprene will only stretch by 50%. This makes a huge difference in terms of comfort and freedom of movement, and because you won't get tired so quick, it will therefore increase your time in the water.

 Lower range suits will generally have cheaper neoprene throughout but will sometimes include super stretch neoprene where you need it most, like in the shoulders. The more expensive the suit is, the bigger proportion of super stretch neoprene it will have, and most often the top range wetsuit will have 100% super stretch neoprene throughout, insuring ultimate comfort and flexibility.

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