July 28, 2021 9 min read

When it comes to hitting the water and becoming one with the waves, the water temperature will not only affect your performance but the enjoyment of the activity as well.

This is where wetsuits come in. To help water lovers spend as much time in the water as possible – regardless of the season – these innovative pieces of swimwear provide the protection need to do so while remaining safe and warm of course.

Naturally, to accommodate different activities as well as temperatures, a wide range of wetsuits have been designed.

This allows the wetsuit thickness to vary, as well as the coverage that they offer to the person wearing them. To help you determine what wetsuit thickness is ideal for you, we have compiled a list of things to consider.

Additionally, we will even share the different types of wetsuits available so that you can make an informed decision and choose the right wetsuit.

surfers in thick wetsuit

How to select the correct wetsuit thickness

The first two things you need to consider when deciding to buy a new wetsuit are your budget, as well as the correct wetsuit thickness. In most cases, the thickness of the suit will have an impact on the pricing so you will need to determine how cold or warm the water is where you will be surfing, swimming, or participating in another water sport. In some cases, the suitability of the wetsuit can vary a few degrees as a result of the activity, outside temperature, your body type, and your weight. We have developed a wetsuit temperature guide to better explain this.

The basic wetsuit temperature guide:

  • 6 – 7 mm wetsuit is ideal for cold water temperatures between 0 and 3°C
  • 4 – 6 mm for a water temp between 4 and 7°C
  • 3 – 4 mm wetsuit for a water temperature between 8 and 11°C
  • 2 – 3 mm for temperatures between 12 and 17°C
  • UV lycra or spring suit for a water temperature between 18 and 26°C -this could be considered a summer wetsuit given the specifications
  • Spring shorty for water temperatures above and around 25°C – this is the thinnest option available, a thin layer offering protection from the elements

Additional factors that need to be considered when it comes to choosing a wetsuit in addition to following the wetsuit thickness guide include wind speed, activity level, air temperature, wind chill, and your sensitivity to cold. While these guidelines are available, you know your body best, and your personal factors will play a role in the suit that you choose to wear. It is worth mentioning that different wetsuit brands may have different guidelines, so it is worth doing your research before heading out to the store.

What is the purpose of a wetsuit?

In case the water temperature guidelines did not give it away, men's wetsuits and wetsuits for women have been designed to keep you warm while in the water. The neoprene insulation suit offers protection from the elements while ensuring that you are comfortable while surfing, swimming, or participating in another water sport.

Have you ever noticed that you could wear jeans and a t-shirt on a day that is about 20°C, but jumping into water that is the same temperature will have you shivering from the cold? This is because water molecules can conduct heat and energy faster than the air.

It is worth mentioning that a wetsuit will not keep you dry. What the neoprene suit will do is provide insulation from cold temperatures. This is because it consists of small, closed cells that have been filled with air and are able to trap in the heat from your body. Research the water body you will be swimming in to determine the temperatures. In some cases, the freezing cold water may require wetsuit accessories. This can include hoods, wetsuit boots, and gloves.

The role of a thicker wetsuit

To ensure that you stay warm while in the water, the correct wetsuit thickness is important. The thicker the wetsuit is, the warmer you will be, although your movement will be restricted. Thin wetsuits will provide a wider range of motion but depending on the materials use to make the wetsuit, may leave you vulnerable to the cold which defies the entire point of wearing one. Some people will invest in more than one suit to accommodate the different seasons, which if you ask us, is a really smart way to approach this. Having more than one suit will also come in handy while travelling to make sure that regardless of where you are, you are still able to surf it up.

choosing a thick wetsuit

Choosing the correct wetsuit

While knowing the water temperature and recommended wetsuit thickness you need is important, there are additional factors to consider.

We have already touched on the importance of wetsuit thickness, but what also needs to be considered is the neoprene thickness. You may have already noticed, but wetsuit thickness is always measured in millimetres and will be indicated using two or three numbers. These numbers are separated by a slash, with the first number indicating the wetsuit’s thickness in the torso area, the second is the thickness in the extremities, and if there are three numbers this will refer to the legs while the third number refers to the arms.

The first number is important because it will maintain your body’s core heat, something that needs to be maintained to prevent hypothermia and offer thermal protection. Thinner neoprene is used on the extremities to improve flexibility, while thicker neoprene is used to maintain core temperature, and because the torso does not require as much flexibility as the extremities, the thickness is not as much of a problem. The general rule of thumb is that a thicker wetsuit is ideal for colder water conditions while a thinner wetsuit works best in warm conditions.

The ideal fit

Essentially, a wetsuit will act as a second skin. This means it cannot sag or bunch up in any area. It needs to be as tight as possible to reduce the space between your body, suit, and the water. In the event that the suit is not properly fitted, water will be able to creep through, bringing with it colder temperatures. It needs to look, feel, and act as a part of your body, and if it doesn’t, then you may want to rethink the wetsuit. Remember, the wetsuit is supposed to protect you and keep you warm. It cannot work effectively if it has been poorly selected.

It is worth mentioning that while it should be tight, you should be able to move freely and have unrestricted breathing. A rash guard may be necessary to protect your neck. Some people also wear a swimsuit underneath to provide extra protection, enhance the thermal properties and provide extra warmth. After all, you need to be able to paddle and swim in the water, if you cannot, you will have a major problem on your hands.

We have compiled a checklist to go through when selecting a wetsuit:

  • Is there excess room? Check the areas with joints, like the shoulders, knees, elbows, and torso. If there is space, you may want to rethink it.
  • Wetsuits should be difficult to put on but wearing socks can make them easier to slip into.
  • Once you are wearing the wetsuit, lift your arms and stretch your shoulders. While movement should be slightly restricted, there should not be excess pressure. If there is, try a bigger wetsuit size.
  • Squatting and other forms of movement should be possible, although thicker wetsuits will provide some resistance.

Wetsuit seam seals

In addition to all of the abovementioned factors, we have another one to add to your it, the type of seam used on the suit. Simply put, the suit needs to be expertly put together in a way that blocks out water and offers thermal protection. We will keep it short, sweet, and to the point.

Flatlock wetsuit stitching

The first type of wetsuit seam seal is flatlock wetsuit stitching and is ideal for temperatures above 16°C. This type of stitching lies flat against your body, is comfortable but may let in a bit of water.

Sealed wetsuit seams

Next on our list are sealed wetsuit seams and are best suited for temperatures above 12°C. It involves blind stitching and glue. The panels are glued together, and blind stitched with the stitching not going all the way through the suit. Instead, it goes back in the side it came out of. This makes it incredibly watertight, keeping you dry.

Taped and sealed wetsuit seams

Lucky number three belongs to taped and sealed wetsuit seams and is suitable for temperatures lower than 12°C. It follows the same process as sealed wetsuit seams with the addition of interior taping on the seams. This taping makes the fully taped seams more durable by reinforcing them. It also prevents water from seeping into the wetsuit.

How to choose a zipper

Getting into a wetsuit can be tricky and selecting the correct zip will help ease the process. There are three options to choose from, namely, chest zips, back zips, and zip free wetsuits. Each of these options has its own benefits, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to what you are comfortable with.

Back zip wetsuits

Back zip wetsuits are the classic option, and as the name implies, the zip goes down the back of the wetsuit. Back zip wetsuits have a long cord attached to the zip to make them easy to open and close. It typically offers the easiest entry and exit of the suit. The downside of back zip wetsuits is that water can creep in through the seams of the zip, although many companies have added their safeguard against potential leaks.

Chest zip wetsuits

When it comes to keeping out cold water, the chest zip wetsuits certainly deliver. The zip is located by the next and goes down to the chest. A chest zip wetsuit is more difficult to put on as you have to climb in it from the neckline and zipped up from the chest. A chest zip wetsuit offers more flexibility, reduces the risk of rashes developing, and is overall a more comfortable fit.

Zip free wetsuits

For warmer conditions that have you looking for flexibility more than warmth, ziperless wetsuits are the best option. It is often found on thinner wetsuits as well as tops. Although they are labelled as zip free, the opening is often secured using Velcro, elastic, or a zip.

Types of wetsuits

Different wetsuits have been designed to meet different needs and varying conditions. Now, when we say different types of wetsuits, we are referring to the type of sleeve and cut used. You can get bottoms, tops, and even full suits that have their hoods. Depending on the type, sometimes neither men nor women wear anything under a wetsuit.

Using water temperature guidelines to choose a suit

surfing in a thick suit

A full wetsuit covers the whole body, arms, and legs, and comes in varying thicknesses to accommodate different conditions and protect you from the cold. Springsuits on the other hand use thinner neoprene and do not fully cover the arms and legs making them better suited for warmer waters.

Long John wetsuits are like full-body wetsuits but without arms. The thickness of the neoprene is also thinner and ideal for warmer conditions. Wetsuit tops, as the name implies, is a vest or top that can be worn with a bikini or board shorts and women wear this more commonly. Neoprene tops can also be layered underneath a full suit for additional warmth in colder waters. Following the same train of thought, you can also get wetsuit bottoms that can range from shorts to long pants.

To prevent chafing while wearing the wetsuit, a rashguard may be necessary. This is a light shirt used to protect you from sand, sun, and wetsuit irritation. Another form of protection you can look into is wetsuits featuring FAR infrared technology. The mineral-enriched fibres of the wetsuit have been designed to trap your body heat and change it to FAR infrared rays that will keep you warm.

FAR infrared rays are spectrums of sunlight that have a wavelength of between 4-1000 microns. The folks at NASA have found that FAR infrared rays between 6 and 24 microns can increase body temperature, stimulate cell growth, and improve blood circulation. Wetsuits using this technology can be a lot thinner, improving mobility while maintaining your body’s temperature. Unlike traditional wetsuits, these wetsuits work by generating heat in addition to insulating your body and reducing heat loss while taking part in water sports.

The truth is, it is not a simple solution

As much as we would love to tell you that there is a single wetsuit that can meet all needs, this is not the case. You will need to do your research on the conditions beforehand and base your wetsuit selection on those needs to assist you in staying warm. To get started, feel free to consult our temperature guide to get an idea of the wetsuit thickness you may need.


Author - Aleksandra Djurdjevic
Aleksandra Djurdjevic          

Senior Content Creator

Aleksandra Djurdjevic is a senior writer and editor, covering surf, kayak and various watersports activities. She has previously worked as ESL teacher for English Tochka. Aleksandra graduated from the Comparative Literature department at the Faculty of Philosophy in Serbia. Aleksandra’s love for the ocean / rivers, getting out waves, season after season, seeking epic adventures across the globe helps her continue to be a top expert at CSG.

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