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Guide To Buying A Wetsuit For Winter
When the temperatures drop outside, the thought of going in the cold water can put you off your session completely. However, with the right wetsuit, nothing will stop you from getting in the water.
We’ve put together a guide on what to look out for in the wide range of winter wetsuits available and what may be best suit to suit your needs. As with any type of wetsuit, quality over quantity, especially in colder waters – nothing worse than a wetsuit that doesn’t do the job properly when you’re out having fun.
Neoprene is the material that keeps you warm, it works with water to trap a thin layer between the material and your body. In turn this water layer will conduct the heat produced by your body to provide extended warmth in the water.
Having thicker neoprene ultimately keeps you even warmer as it is harder for water to get in or cool you down. In the colder half of the year, you are looking for a winter wetsuit that has thicknesses of 5mm or 4mm.
Most people go for 5mm as it is ensured that throughout the coldest months of the year (Jan-March) you will be kept warm, or if it isn’t as cold you will be warmer for longer. Wetsuits will likely be described with two measurements – 5/4 or 5/3. The larger size is the neoprene thickness that will cover the main body of the wetsuit (legs and torso) and the smaller size is the thickness that you normally find on the areas that need a bit more stretch, the arms (either the full arm sleeve, or the lower half under the arm, and sometimes the back of the knee).
If the larger number of the two is a 4 (4/3), that means that this suit is suitable for some aspects of the winter months and is known as a 3-season suit (spring, summer, autumn). If you are going out in more mild conditions you may pick a 4mm wetsuit, if you want reassured warmth, then stick with a 5mm for winter.
When picking a wetsuit, you need to find one that works and is comfortable for you. How you get into the wetsuit is a big factor in this as there is a personal preference on what is comfier or easier.
Back zip entry is the most common entry and known to be the easiest. A long zip through the centre of the back with a pull cord to do up over your shoulder. This is a more popular entry for those who have some certain mobility limitations, particularly within the back, shoulder, or elbow. In winter wetsuits, this back zip can be a source of heat loss due to the large entrance where heat can come through quickly. As such, in most suits they have this thin neoprene panel over the zip called a ‘flush system’ to stop the water hitting your skin first and increasing warmth.
The chest zip entry is a favourite among winter wetsuits if you find them easy enough to get on! With only a zip around the top of your chest, this style provides greater stretch and movement across the shoulders, ideal for those surfing, kitesurfing or swimming etc. With a smaller entry, it also keeps you warmer as there is no flush of cold water along your back. The only limitation is that is can be harder for some people to get in as the entry is smaller and requires more squeezing through your shoulders and over your head. However due to this they generally have a higher quality, stretchier material on the arms to make it more comfortable.
We definitely recommend trying on both styles of wetsuit entry suits to see what is best for you.
Even if you had the warmest and on-paper best suit for you, it doesn’t mean anything if the fit to your body is not right. A wetsuit that is too big will not keep you warm as the neoprene needs to create that thin water layer between the neoprene and your skin to generate warmth. You do not want any bagging on your wetsuit where heat will be lost, and water will flush through and make you cold. You want your wetsuit to act like a second skin, obviously not too tight so you can’t move, but you need it to be a ‘skin fit’ to your body to be the most efficient at keeping you warm. Don’t be alarmed by a tight winter wetsuit, as the wetsuit is thicker it will feel slightly more restrictive, but once in water they soften, and that thickness will keep you warm!
As well as neoprene, the thermal linings inside a wetsuit are important during winter too. A 5/4 mm winter wetsuit will keep you warm, but the same thickness with added thermal linings on the inside will help you last longer in the coldest sessions and be more comfortable. Jersey and fleece linings reduce the amount of water touching your skin, and while the neoprene still works with the heat of your body and the thin water layer, the thermal in between will stop you feeling the water in the first place. Some wetsuits have these in the main chest panel of the wetsuit (where you produce and want most warmth) and other high-end wetsuits will have some form of thermal lining throughout the whole suit.
Another lining can be added to the front of the wetsuit. A ‘glide skin’ on the front and sometimes back chest panel of the wetsuit ensures slightly more warmth for certain sports as it prevents windchill on your chest as neoprene can cool quicker with wind exposure.
When buying a winter wetsuit, you will find that they all have a mix of these elements and as such you can find the right one for you and the conditions you go out in. Not everyone needs the warmest suit and it can depend on your sport.
If you are looking for the warmest wetsuit for the coldest winter days, here are our top 5 picks for men and women.
For any more guidance or advice on this blog, please let us know at 01202 700503, firstname.lastname@example.org , Live Chat or pop in the shop!