If you live in a cold area like the UK, Canada or North America, you most likely don’t enter in the sea beside in summer months. But if you’re fortunate enough to have a wetsuit, you can surf, swim, paddle board, or go snorkeling whenever you need to.

These wonder clothes are not designed to keep you dry, but they help keep you safe and warm once the water would be cool enough to harm you.

Hugh Bradner, a physicist of the University of California-Berkeley, designed the wetsuit in 1952. DuPont first created the most important component in wetsuits, neoprene, in 1931. Today companies deliver 300,000 tons of neoprene each year.

Surfer in a wetsuit

A surfer wearing a wetsuit, By Brocken Inaglory edit by user:Kallerna (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

What is Neoprene?

The Neoprene used to create wetsuits is honeycombed with small bubbles of nitrogen, which improves both its lightness and its insulating properties.

The neoprene of wetsuits is available in different thicknesses, from 2 to 6 millimeters. The thicker the neoprene is, more comfortable the suit will likely be.

How Wetsuits Work?

The air pockets in the Neoprene material contains the water, which can be easily warmed by our skin, and then continuously remain warm as a result of the closeness of the heat from our body, the conductive nature of water and the insulating abilities of the Neoprene material.

So the insulating material of the suit basically functions since it is wet and therefore we call it a “wetsuit.” Don’t forget, if your wetsuit is too large, then water will flow very easily inside and out of it which will never give it a chance to make use of your body temperature to warm-up – the wetsuit won’t work!

At the same time, if the wetsuit is too tight, the water won’t be able to enter. You’ll have the insulation from the wetsuit, but it is the heat of the water that can really keep you warm.

Different Types of Wetsuits

Among divers, by far the most famous suits are 3, 5 and 7mm, based upon on the water temperature. In addition to the width, divers have a variety of distinct styles to choose from. The most typical are:

Full wetsuit, By NOAA (NOAA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Full wetsuit, By NOAA (NOAA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One-Piece Full-Suit: This is the typical wetsuit, easily obtainable in 3, 5 or 7mm.

Shorty wetsuit

Shorty wetsuit, By BoaNoite (wetsuit jacket) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Shorty: These suits are usually only 3 millimeters thick and while they go over your arms, will not cover your full legs. They’re normally only used in tropical waters 80.6° F (27° C) and warmer.

Two-Piece: These usually include a long-john or farmer-john bottom and have a full-length jacket over the top, normally with a hood.

Semi-Dry: These wetsuits are just about the same as the one-piece suits, but with a lot better seals and zips to keep water from coming into it.

If you do choose to buy then a long-sleeve suit is likely best.  A full suit is a little bit faster mainly because the extra material makes you more confident and it delivers you that little extra comfort and ease.

Moral of the Story

The moral of the story is that wetsuits make it possible for you to stay in the water considerably longer than you’d be able to without one. In the intense cold, you wouldn’t be able to get into the water at all without one.