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Welcome to Dive Gear Reviews, a comprehensive guide to scuba diving equipment. Scuba diving is an expensive pursuit, so looking up reviews for a particular article of equipment is a wise precaution before investing any hard-earned money in it. However, consumer reviews may or may not be written by an experienced diver, and magazine reviews could be suspect due to the advertising ties of the publication in question. Dive Gear Reviews provides cross-referenced reviews assembled by an expert, making it possible to see at a glance what multiple sources said about a particular piece of scuba equipment. If one magazine loved a scuba regulator or a dive computer, but the consumers hated it, that information will be found here.
19
October

Product Guide: Wetsuits

Written by Dive Gear Reviews Editor. Comments Off on Product Guide: Wetsuits Posted in: Scuba Product Guides, Wetsuits

First and foremost, wearing a wetsuit is about insulting your body. Most wetsuits use a synthetic rubber called neoprene to trap a layer of thin layer of water between your body and the surrounding water. Body heat warms the trapped water, creating more insulation against the cold. Of course, that only works if a there is a minimum of exchange between the water in the wetsuit and the surrounding water and if a minimum of water is admitted in the first place, which is why wetsuits are usually tight-fitting.

Wetsuit Temperature Guide

85-80 F: Shorties
75-80 F: 2 mm and 3 mm full suits
65-75 F: 5 mm  full suits, but for temperatures in the 60s some additional layering underneath is advised.
55-65 F: 6.5 mm and 7 mm full suits, drysuits

Wetsuit Guide

Two-piece farmer john and jacket wetsuitCredit: Wikimedia Commons

Styles

Wetsuits come in three formats. The shorty is a short-sleeved, short-pants one-piece body suit that is used solely in the tropics. The waters suitable for a shorty are so warm that the suit is meant mostly to protect the wearer from chafing rather than the cold, which is why so many shorties are made from Lycra.

Full suits are what most people imagine when they thing of a wetsuit. This is a one-piece suit that covers the most of the body, and may or may not have a hood attached. Full suits may also have mixed levels of thickness. For example, the 3/2 full suit is a common sight in temperate waters. The torso is protected by a layer of 3 mm neoprene, while the arms and legs have a thinner 2mm layer.

The last format is the flexible “farmer john” wetsuit. This is a two-piece set consisting of an overalls-style suit and a jacket-style suit. The big advantage of this format is that it can be scaled up or down to fit the circumstances, as a diver venturing to warmer waters can wear only half of the two-piece. However, because the suit is not an integrated unit, it admits water more freely than a one-piece suit of equivalent thickness, and therefore relies on bulk instead of efficiency to provide insulation. A 5mm farmer john and jacket has a 10 mm-thick core, but admits a lot of water.

Outstanding Wetsuit Qualities

What makes for an outstanding wetsuit is directly tied to what the suit needs to guard against. In tropical waters where a shorty or a 2mm full suit are sufficient, a wetsuit really only needs to be durable. Extra features for constricting the flow of water are superfluous.

Once into the realm of the 5mm wetsuit or thicker, however, the extras might be what stands between you and shivering throughout a dive. First, not all neoprene is the same. The best material improves its isolative qualities by trapping micro-bubbles of nitrogen in the fabric. Next is how the neoprene is stitched together. Blind stitching is the best, which combines interlocking stitch-work with gluing to produce a strong, waterproof bond. Over-lock stitching is most like what is what you see in your clothing, and for a wetsuit is the worst kind of stitch-work. The seam is neither waterproof nor very durable. In between is flatlock stitching, where overlapping pieces of neoprene are sewn together. Once again, how much you need depends on what the wetsuit is meant to do. A cold-water suit without blind stitching is a rip-off, while plenty of shorties are perfectly fine with over-lock stitching.

Wetsuit Guide

Wrist sealsCredit: Wikimedia Commons

Another major point are the seals. Wetsuits admit water at not just the seams in the material, but at the ankles, wrists, neck and zipper line. A top-quality wetsuit will have special seals at these points, and the colder the water the more specialization is required. As the name implies, seals work by forming a seal with your skin to keep water out, but water will trickle in if the seal is broken. Smooth skin and o-rings are basic seals, with rolled/folded smooth skin and gaskets providing better protection.

Accessories

A hood may or may not be attached to even a 6.5 mm wetsuit. Since most of your body heat escapes through the top of your head, having a hood might very well make the difference between needing a 3mm and a 5mm. If is the sort of accessory every diver in non-tropical waters needs.

Gloves are a different story. Only in truly deep or frigid waters do cold fingers become a real issue. However, even in tropical waters, rocks, corals and anemones can sting and shred fingers into a sorry state. Even tropical divers should have thin gloves for protection.

Wet boots are another item that may be more about protecting you from harm than from the cold. In temperate waters, the fin alone should provide enough protection from the cold. However, fin straps and full-foot fins in particular have a nasty tendency to chafe the skin. It is often the case that wet boots are meant more to protect you from the chafing effect of your fins than from the chilly water. However, if you are diving in waters that require a 5mm wetsuit, you definitely need wet boots to keep your feet warm.

Some wetsuits have built-in accessories, such as tassels with clasps on the end for attaching things like hoods, gloves or even heavy items like dive lights. These are often very useful, but they are also very fragile and should not be expected to last as long as the wetsuit as a whole. Ergo, you diver should pay a premium to get such extras.