Wetsuit Buyer’s Guide

Wetsuits

Although wetsuits are not a necessity in all environments, they are a very important addition to your equipment kit. They provide warmth if necessary, and more importantly provide overall environmental protection. Protection from jelly fish stings, man-o-war, fire coral, etc… as well as abrasion protection from reefs, wrecks, and your catch. They also provide protection from the sun on your back if you are free diving, as you will be spending a considerable amount of time at the surface sighting the reefs below. And last but not least, if you are using euro style “Band” guns, most wetsuits have additional padding in the chest area which will be greatly appreciated after repetitive loading of your gun.

So, down to the details… Wetsuits come in several different styles and a few different materials as well. We will start with styles first.

Styles

The desired style of suit will depend slightly on whether or not you will be free diving or on SCUBA. SCUBA divers tend to prefer one piece full suits. Full meaning long sleeve and full length legs. Free divers tend to prefer two piece “farmer john” suits. These suits are composed of a long sleeve top with a hood, and a second one piece “over-all”; sleeveless upper body with full length legs combined. The benefits of the two piece suit would be additional mobility to the diver as well as the flexibility in being able to go from a full suit with double insulation around the main torso, to thinner upper body protection only. Most spear fishing specific two piece suits also have an added loading pad on the chest for even more padding when loading large euro guns.

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One piece closed cell neoprene
(click picture for details)
Materials There are three main material options. Closed cell neoprene, open cell neoprene, and Lycra. The neoprene suits generally have a nylon outer shell, but the most efficient types have a smooth rubber shell which is commonly referred to as “chicle” meaning showing gum in Spanish.

  • Closed cell neoprene: The most common of the three mentioned, these suits are easily identifiable by their rigid, rubbery nature. They are less expensive and longer lasting than open cell suits, but they have several downsides. Closed cell suits are much more constrictive, difficult to get into and out of, less efficient at insulating, and can be slightly abrasive during long diving sessions.
  • Open cell neoprene: The best quality option of the above, these suits are much softer and more flexible than closed cell suits. The softness and stretch properties of the open cell suits allow them to form and stick to the divers body which provides greater insulating efficiency, minimal abrasion to the skin, and excellent range of motion. Open cell suits do require soapy water in order to put them on, but this makes the efforts of donning them extremely simple. The downsides to open cell suits would be their costs and delicacy. The range in cost from $250 US dollars to $600 US dollars and their softness makes them much more susceptible to damage from sharp or abrasive surfaces.
  • Lycra: These suits are commonly referred to as “skins” and are only useful as minimal environmental protection in very warm waters. They provide a very thin layer of protection that shields you from the sun and stinging organisms. The do not provide any form of thermal insulation. These suits are rarely used in free diving, and never used in SCUBA.

The most comfortable and efficient type of suit available is made of open cell neoprene with a smooth rubber shell. These suits provide the greatest amount of stretch as well as the least amount of friction. This provides the diver with ultimate flexibility and diving efficiency. These suits are some of the most expensive suits (ranging from $350 US dollars to $600 US dollars) and not surprisingly the most delicate as well. These suits are most commonly used by professionals for competitions only.

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Two piece open cell “chicle” w/ mesh
(click picture for details)
Thickness There are three main categories for thickness. Warm water, 1mm to 1.5mm; Moderate water, 3mm to 5mm; and Cold water, 7mm plus. As expected, the thicker the suit, the greater the insulating ability. The downsides are decreased mobility and increased bouncy (which we will address in the weight belt section). There are several suits available that utilize a mix of thicknesses in order to increase insulating ability with minimal impact to mobility. An example would be a suit labeled as 3-5-2. A suit like this may have 5mm in the torso, 3mm in the arms and legs, and 2mm in the joints and hood (if applicable). These can be good suits for slightly cooler waters and are very common among SCUBA divers where the additional bouncy and decreased mobility do not have as great an impact as they do on a free diver. Shell color There are many different designer colors put out by manufacturers to appeal to all different tastes. A very common question people have is whether or not camouflage has an impact. The answer to this question is yes, but only as a spear fisherman becomes more skilled and learns to minimize movement. The purpose of camouflage is to brake-up the otherwise large and solid silhouette of the diver (associated with a predator), and create a disorganized mass that the prey will hopefully associate with food and come closer to check out. As mentioned above, the effectiveness of the camouflage heavily depends on the ability of the diver to minimize movement. As far as color of camouflage, these varieties are more for marketing purposes than effectiveness. Choose whichever colors and patterns appeal to you.

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Two piece open cell camo
(click picture for details)
Making your selection We have covered a lot of information regarding wetsuits here. The most important purpose of the wetsuit is comfort. Therefore, you should really spend a little time checking different suits out and trying them on if possible. You need a suit that is loose enough to be comfortable, but not loose enough to easily allow water to circulate through the suit. This would remove the suits ability to insulate you. You are better off having a suit that is a little short in the legs or sleeves but seals well, versus a suit of proper length but too loose fitting and poor sealing. Of course you should match the thickness of the suit to the environment that you will find yourself diving in. The environment will also influence whether or not you require a hood. You do not want to use a hood if you are in warmer waters, nor too thick of a suit. Too thick of a suit or the unnecessary use of a hood can easily result in the overheating of the body, which will cause major discomfort and disruption in your diving as well presenting dangers to your health. You may also want to look for suits with added rubber seals in the wrist, ankles, and neck areas (face area if hooded) as these will provide a greatly increased seal and minimize water circulation within the suit increasing the insulating efficiency even more. Just remember that comfort is key!
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