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It seems a simple question with an obvious answer, a wetsuit is a close-fitting suit made of neoprene, worn by surfers and scuba divers right? Right in part; you would be surprised at how many people think that all suits worn in the water are ‘wet’ suits but in fact, there are a lot of situations where a drysuit would be a much more appropriate choice – and many people do not really understand the difference. In addition, many do not realize that there are so many choices when it comes to buying a wetsuit, not only in terms of style but also in terms of thickness, type, and design features that give the wearer more freedom of movement in their chosen watersport.
Wetsuits are designed to protect the wearer in water temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They allow a little water in, which circulates between the inside of the suit and the wearer’s body. Initially, this obviously feels cold, but as it is such a small volume of liquid, it quickly warms to the body temperature of the wearer and together with the thickness of the neoprene suit chosen, keeps the wearer warmer for much longer.
Drysuits are designed to provide comfort and protection in much lower water temperatures. They have protective seals around wrists, ankles, and neck as well as fully waterproof zips. They keep out the water and rely on thicker fabric and thermal inner linings to provide warmth to the wearer. They might be worn by people fishing from boats (for example) as the drysuit will keep them warm and dry onboard, whereas a wetsuit would only protect them from rain and spray. They can also be worn for diving in colder water conditions teamed with accessories such as a hood, gloves, and boots.
Wetsuits come in a variety of styles and thicknesses depending on their intended use and mainly for water sports such as surfing, water skiing, sailboarding, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
Types of Wetsuits
Wetsuit Top: In the warmest water conditions, the suit chosen might comprise only a top, also sometimes called a shirt wetsuit. These are designed to be worn with normal swimwear bottoms, just to give some thermal protection for the torso of the wearer.
Shorty Wetsuit: These suits are short-legged, short-sleeved, and made of thinner material, usually 2 – 3mm. These are designed to be worn in warm weather/water conditions.
Spring wetsuit: While the names spring suit and shorty are almost interchangeable, spring suits with short, long, and no sleeves are available and designed to give greater warmth.
Long John: This is a suit with long legs but it has a sleeveless or vest type top. There is also a version called the Short John. This has the same type of top but short legs.
Full Wetsuit: As the name suggests, this type of suit covers the whole body from neck to wrists and ankles. It offers the most protection and is available in various thicknesses to provide comfort for the wearer in a range of water temperatures.
So you see, the question “What is a Wetsuit?” does not have a simple answer and if you are considering buying one, you need to give careful consideration, not only to style and design but also the type of use you want it for as it may turn out that what you actually need, is a drysuit!