Yes, wetsuits are designed to keep you warm in cold water by trapping a thin layer of water between the suit and your body. The suit is made of neoprene, a type of synthetic rubber that provides insulation. Here’s how it works:
- Neoprene Material: Neoprene is a closed-cell foam material that contains nitrogen gas bubbles. These bubbles are excellent insulators, helping to reduce heat transfer between your body and the surrounding water.
- Water Layer: When you wear a wetsuit, a thin layer of water enters between the suit and your skin. Your body heat warms up this water, and because neoprene is a good insulator, it helps retain that heat close to your body.
- Thermal Protection: The trapped water acts as a barrier against the cold water outside the wetsuit, providing thermal protection. The thicker the wetsuit, the more insulation it provides.
- Snug Fit: A proper fit is crucial for a wetsuit to work effectively. The suit should be snug to prevent excessive water flushing in and out, ensuring that the water layer stays in place and warms up against your body.
- While wetsuits are effective at keeping you warm in cold water, they are not meant for extremely cold conditions or prolonged exposure. In such cases, drysuits with waterproof seals may be more appropriate, as they keep you dry and provide better insulation against extremely cold water temperatures.
How thick of a wetsuit should I get?
The thickness of a wetsuit you should get depends on the water temperature you’ll be diving or surfing in, as well as your personal tolerance to cold. Wetsuits are available in various thicknesses, typically measured in millimeters (mm). Here are some general guidelines:
- Warm Water (above 22°C or 72°F): For warm water conditions, you may only need a shorty wetsuit (short sleeves and short legs) or a full wetsuit with a thickness of around 1mm to 3mm.
2. Moderate Water (16-22°C or 61-72°F): In moderate temperatures, a full wetsuit with a thickness of 3mm to 5mm should provide adequate insulation.
3. Cool Water (10-16°C or 50-61°F): For cooler water, a wetsuit with a thickness of 5mm to 7mm is recommended.
4. Cold Water (below 10°C or 50°F): In cold water, you may need a thick Neoprene wetsuit (7mm or more) or consider using a drysuit, especially for extended exposure.
Keep in mind that personal factors such as your metabolism, activity level, and cold tolerance can influence your choice. If you’re unsure, it’s often better to err on the side of a slightly thicker wetsuit, as you can always adjust your insulation by wearing additional layers underneath.
Additionally, some wetsuits are designed with varying thicknesses in different areas of the suit to provide more flexibility where needed (e.g., in the arms and shoulders) while maintaining insulation in critical areas (e.g., the chest and back). This can enhance your overall comfort and range of motion.
Do you wear anything under a wetsuit?
Yes, it’s common to wear a swimsuit or rash guard under a wetsuit for several reasons:
- Comfort: Wetsuits can sometimes chafe against the skin, especially in areas where there is a lot of movement. Wearing a swimsuit or rash guard can help reduce friction and enhance overall comfort.
- Hygiene: Wearing an additional layer under your wetsuit helps keep the wetsuit cleaner by preventing direct contact with your skin. This can be particularly important if you’re renting or sharing wetsuits.
- Warmth: While the primary function of a wetsuit is to trap a thin layer of water against your body for insulation, wearing a thin layer underneath can provide additional warmth, especially in colder conditions.
- Quick Drying: Swimsuits and rash guards are often made of materials that dry quickly. This can be beneficial when you’re out of the water, as it helps prevent the wetsuit from staying damp and uncomfortable against your skin.
When choosing what to wear under your wetsuit, opt for materials that wick away moisture and dry quickly. Avoid cotton, as it tends to retain moisture and can make you feel colder. Instead, consider synthetic materials or neoprene-specific undergarments designed for use with wetsuits.
Why Do I Need to Wear a Wetsuit for Surfing?
Wearing a wetsuit while surfing serves several important purposes, especially in colder water conditions: