Swimming in your local pool and wild swimming in open, inland waters as well as around coastal waters can be a chilly business. A wetsuit for swimming has different design features than one intended for SCUBA diving. Try freestyle swimming in one of these diving suits and you will find that there is not enough freedom of movement in the shoulders and the legs have so much built-in buoyancy, that your kick strokes will be too high in the water and therefore, not as effective.
For recreational swimming, it is not necessary to buy one of the high specification higher price tag triathlon suits. However, one designed for swimming will:
- Have greater stretchiness in the shoulder and knee areas, with a neoprene thickness here of only around 2-3mm
- Have thicknesses of up to 5mm in the main torso part of the suit
- Be less buoyant than a SCUBA suit
- Often have a sleek, smooth outer layer to reduce water drag
These suits are also suitable for wearing when snorkeling or even just doing your laps if your local pool is chilly!
An entry-level wetsuit for swimming will probably be a neoprene suit with 30% stretch but one with up to 60% stretch will give you greater freedom of movement but may be more expensive. Depending on how chilly the water you are intending wearing your suit in, you might choose either a full wetsuit with long arms and legs, a shorty with short arms and legs, a sleeveless spring suit with either short or long legs or just a wetsuit top combined with your own swimming trunks.
A Wetsuit for Acclimatizing to Outdoor Swimming
While the pledge of the UK’s Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) is to “embrace the rejuvenating effects of cold water”, getting your body acclimatized to the cold temperatures of rivers, lakes, and sea, is a gradual process. Starting out with a wetsuit for swimming in these conditions will help you to enjoy the experience much more, right from the outset. There is no doubt of the health benefits of swimming in cold water but there are dangers too.
Cold water impairment is not just uncomfortable, it is a major risk to your health and safety. Swimmers who are new to outdoor swimming often feel OK after the shock of that first immersion in chilly water, but shortly afterward the chill sets in again and blood moves from the arms and legs leaving them weak as it moves to the body’s core to keep vital organs warm. Swimming becomes more and more difficult and it is under these circumstances that swimmers get into difficulties.
The advice for those new to outdoor swimming is to wear a wetsuit and in very cold water, wear boots, gloves and a hood as well. Swim close to the shore and acclimatize yourself gradually, over time.
A wetsuit will greatly enhance your enjoyment of swimming in cooler water temperatures. Choose one designed for the freedom of movement in shoulders and knees and with less buoyancy to ensure that you can stay in the water for longer without experiencing the fatigue of working against the resistance of neoprene that is not stretchy enough in the right areas for surface swimming.