How Does A Wetsuit Work?

Wetsuits are worn for many outdoor sports, including outdoor swimming, surfing, SUP, kayaking, canyoning, rafting, diving and more. The main purpose of a wetsuit is to keep the wearer’s body warm in cold water. Wetsuits are made of neoprene, a synthetic rubber that is impermeable to water, which provides insulation. Neoprene is also buoyant, which helps keep the body afloat in water.

So the million dollar questions: How does a wetsuit work? Well, first off a wetsuit is a neoprene garment or piece of clothing designed to keep a watersports user warm in cold water. Neoprene comes in a wide range of options and usually lined, both inside and out with a layer of standard fabric, usually nylon or polyester. The neoprene traps a layer of water between the suit and the skin. The layer of body heated warm water is then protected from the cold of the outside by the neoprene.

What Is Neoprene Made Of?

Neoprene is a synthetic rubber that was invented in the 1930s. Oil is turned into neoprene fabric through a complex chemical process known as free radical emulsion polymerization. It is stretchy and durable. Neoprene is also resistant to both heat and cold, which makes it ideal for use in wetsuits. Most neoprene is either made from oil or limestone (calcium carbonate). Limestone is far more eco friendly and far more expensive.

Different Kinds Of Neoprene For Wetsuits

Since the 1930s there have been many kinds of neoprene synthetic rubbers created. Wetsuits are made of neoprene foam, which is cut into varying thickness depending on the intended use case and water temperature. For example, you can buy suits in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 all the way upto  8mm! And coated in various materials, i.e the surface coating. Modern wetsuits take this further and use different thicknesses of neoprene foam in different areas to increase warmth and buoyancy in those areas. A typical swimming wetsuit may have 4mm panels on the chest for warmth and buoyancy, yet 2mm super stretch neoprene foam around the shoulders for extra mobility. Other factors that can effect warmth and performance are the zip, the seals (wrist, ankle, neck) the stitching and construction method used. 

It’s All About Getting A Good Fit For Your Wetsuit.

Wetsuits should be very snug and you should feel a tight squeeze all over your body.

It is of key importance that you have a wetsuit that fits well to ensure that you are warm. Do not invest in a wetsuit that is loose. There is more chance of a well fitting thinner wetsuit keeping you warmer than a baggy, bulky, ill fitting thicker wetsuit.

A good fitting wetsuit.

If you are wearing a wetsuit with a good fit there will be just a thin layer of water between your skin and the wetsuit. This water enters via the neck, wrist and ankle seals. Another reason for good seals in this area. 

The cold water that is able to enter inside the wetsuit will be warmed up by your body heat. Because there’s not a lot of water in the wetsuit, it won’t take long to warm the water up. Now your body, the thin layer of water will be insulted by the neoprene against the outer water (sea, loch etc) i.e from the colder water.

A bad fitting wetsuit.

Bad fittings around the neck, wrist and ankle will allow lots of water in and drastically affect body heat and body temperature. If the wetsuit fit is also baggy, then this water will pool and take longer to heat. In fact, if the seals are so bad, you may find a continuous flush or flow of water preventing your wetsuit from working. 

Neoprene Thickness

If all else is equal (fit, seals etc) then a 5mm thick neoprene wetsuit will be warmer than a 3mm thick one. Wetsuit thickness does count, and this is because thicker neoprene retains more heat than thinner neoprene. 

Construction Methods Used In Wetsuits

The main routes for water to enter other than the wrists, ankles and neck is through the zip and the stitching.

Flatlock Stitching

Water will penetrate some types of stitching and seep through the seams to the skin. This is ok if you’re swimming in the summer and the ambient temperature is ok, but not good if you’re a winter swimmer. Flatlock stitching allows for the most water to pass.

Blind Stitching

In winter conditions we have to try hard to keep as much heat as possible in the suit, so we try to stop water seepage at seams. 

Blind stitching is where the thread does not go all the way through to the other side of the wetsuit. Therefore, the water that passes through the wetsuit cannot get through the needle holes in the material reducing water seepage.

Glued, Welded And Taped Seams.

Some manufacturers use tape, glue or sounds welding to stop water seeping through seams.

Wetsuit Zips 

Some wetsuits have dry zips on the top to prevent water from getting through. The cost of adding a dry zip to a wetsuit can almost double and is unnecessary. To reduce the amount of water that is able to penetrate the zip of a wetsuit, some manufacturers add a layer of waterproof material behind the zip to prevent the water from getting through.

Neoprene Fabric Coatings.

This fabric is very beneficial for the performance, construction, and design of a wetsuit. The key coatings either bring strength and robustness or smoothness and warmth.

Depending on the wetsuits’ use case, a cannoning wetsuit needs a tough exterior for scrapping over rocks and cliffs as they navigate the canyon. A Triathlon swimmer needs the smoothest’s, least resistant neoprene coating to glide effectively through the water. Depending on you uses case, the manufacture will have developed a surface coating suitable for the job in hand. 


Hopefully, this has given you a little more information to assist you in making the write purchasing decisions when buying a neoprene wetsuit. Neoprene wetsuits are key to watersports saftey, especially in colder waters. If you have like the article, please give it a share. Sharing is caring. 

Team Best Outdoors.


Wetsuit FAQ

How effective is a wetsuit?

A wetsuit is a garment, usually made of neoprene, that is worn by surfers, divers, and other water sports enthusiasts. The main purpose of a wetsuit is to keep the wearer’s body warm in cold water. Wetsuits are also used to protect the wearer from abrasion and sunburn.

Wetsuits are generally effective at keeping the wearer’s body warm in cold water. However, they can make it difficult to move around and can be uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time.

Do you put on a wetsuit wet or dry?

Most people put on their wetsuits wet, as it is easier to slide into the suit when it is wet. However, some people prefer to put on their wetsuits dry, as they feel it is easier to get a tight seal around the neck and wrists.

What do you wear under a wetsuit?

There are a few different options for what to wear under a wetsuit. The most important thing is to make sure that you are comfortable and that your suit fits properly. Many people choose to wear a swimsuit or a rash guard under their wetsuit, anything of synthetic fibre. Whatever you choose to wear, make sure that it is not too loose or too tight and do not wear cotton, it will keep you cold.

Is it OK to pee in a wetsuit?

There is no definitive answer to this question as it depends on personal preference. Some people are perfectly fine with urinating in their wetsuit, while others prefer to avoid doing so. If you do decide to pee in your wetsuit, it is important to rinse it out afterwards to prevent any bacteria from building up.

How do you stay warm in a wetsuit?

There are a few ways to stay warm in a wetsuit. One is to wear a thicker wetsuit. Another is to wear a wetsuit with a hood. And lastly, you can wear a wetsuit booties and gloves.

Can you swim in cold water with a wetsuit?

Yes, you can swim in cold water with a wetsuit. Wetsuits are designed to keep you warm in cold water and they work by trapping a layer of water next to your skin. This layer of water is heated by your body heat and helps to insulate you from the colder water.

Why are wetsuits black?

Wetsuits are black because they need to absorb as much sunlight as possible. Sunlight is the main source of heat for most people, and wetsuits help keep you warm by absorbing as much of it as possible. Black is the best colour for absorbing sunlight, so it makes sense that wetsuits would be black.

How tight should a wetsuit be?

A wetsuit should be tight enough to keep you warm, but not so tight that it’s uncomfortable. You should be able to move freely in your wetsuit, and it shouldn’t restrict your breathing. If you’re not sure how tight your wetsuit should be, ask a professional or someone who is experienced with wetsuits.

How do I know my wetsuit size?

There are a few different ways to figure out your wetsuit size. The first is to use a wetsuit size chart, which you can find online or in a wetsuit retailer’s website. To use a size chart, simply find your height and weight, waist and chest and look for the corresponding wetsuit size. Another way to determine your wetsuit size is to try on different sizes and see which one fits best.

Can you sink in wetsuit?

Yes, you can sink in a wetsuit if you’re not careful. Wetsuits are designed to keep you warm, but if you’re not a strong swimmer, you can still sink.

How do you get out of a wetsuit?

To get out of a wetsuit, first remove any accessories such as gloves, hoods, or boots. Then, peel the suit down from your body, starting at the ankles and working your way up. If you’re having trouble getting the suit off, you can ask someone for help. Once the suit is off, wring it out to remove any excess water.

Can you wear a wetsuit all day?

Yes, you can wear a wetsuit all day. Wetsuits are made to be comfortable and keep you warm in the water, so they are perfect for wearing all day long.

How Should A Wetsuit Fit?

A wetsuit should fit snugly and like a second skin in order to keep you warm in the water. When considering buying a wetsuit, it is important to try it on and make sure that it fits properly. The wetsuit should be tight around the wrists, ankles and neck in order to prevent cold water from entering. It is also important to make sure that the wetsuit is not too tight, as this can be uncomfortable and restrict movement.

Do Wetsuits keep you Dry?

Wetsuits are designed to keep you warm in cold water conditions. They work by trapping a layer of water next to your skin and using your body heat to keep the water warm. This layer of water also provides insulation against the cold water. if you wish to stay dry, you need a dry suit.

What is the difference between a back zip, chest zip, & zip free wetsuit?

The main difference between a back zip and chest zip wetsuit is the location of the zipper. A back zip wetsuit has the zipper located on the back, while a chest zip wetsuit has the zipper located on the chest. Both types of wetsuits serve the same purpose, which is to keep you warm in cold water. However, some people prefer one over the other because of the different levels of comfort and mobility that each offers.

Back zip wetsuits are generally more comfortable because they don’t have a zipper running across your chest. This can be especially important for women, as it can avoid any discomfort in the bust area. Chest zip wetsuits tend to be a bit more difficult to get into and out of, but some people find that they provide a better fit overall. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference as to which type of wetsuit is best for you.

Do loose wetsuits keep you warm?

Wetsuits are designed to keep you warm in cold water, and they do a great job at it. Even in surf conditions where the water is cold and the air is chilly, wearing a wetsuit will keep you plenty warm. That’s because wetsuits work by trapping a layer of water next to your skin and using that water to insulate your body from the colder water outside. As long as the wetsuit fit is snug, you’ll be plenty warm even in the coldest conditions. Any wetsuit, snug or loose is better than no wetsuit.

Different types of wetsuits

There are different types of wetsuits available, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. The most common types are the 5mm and 3mm suits, which are made of neoprene. The 5mm suit is less flexible than the 3mm, but it provides more warmth in cold water. The 3mm suit is more flexible, but it does not provide as much warmth. Shorties are another type of wetsuit that is usually only worn in warm water. They are much shorter than the other types of wetsuits and do not provide as much coverage.

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