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How to Break in a Wetsuit

   April 16th, 2024   Posted In: How-To  

How to Break in a Wetsuit

People wear wetsuits in the water for a variety of activities because there are several benefits of wearing a wetsuit including improving warmth, buoyancy, and compression. Most swimmers will find that they are a bit faster when wearing a wetsuit, surfers will find that the cold waves and wind are a bit more tolerable while they hang ten in a wetsuit. Despite the pros of wearing a wetsuit, it is common for people to find that they are initially uncomfortable. Some of this may be due to trying something new, but wetsuits can sometimes be snug, depending on the material.

When you first put on a wetsuit, it may feel extremely tight. While wetsuits are designed to be quite snug, you should not feel excessively uncomfortable or claustrophobic while wearing it. Experts disagree on how to break in a wetsuit, or if this is even necessary. But, realistically, your wetsuit will become somewhat “broken in” the more you wear it and will slowly but surely conform and become a bit more comfortable.

How to Soften a Wetsuit

If your wetsuit feels too stiff or uncomfortable, you might be wondering how to soften it up for a better fit and enhanced comfort. While modern wetsuits are designed with advanced materials that offer flexibility and comfort right off the shelf, there are still a few tricks you can try to make your wetsuit more pliable and easier to wear.

One effective method to soften a wetsuit is to soak it in a tub filled with lukewarm water for about 30 minutes to an hour. This allows the neoprene to absorb moisture and become more supple. After soaking, gently massage the wetsuit to help distribute the moisture evenly throughout the material. Once you’ve done this, properly clean the wetsuit by rinsing it thoroughly with fresh water and hanging the wetsuit to air dry away from direct sunlight. Avoid using hot water or harsh detergents, as they can damage the neoprene and affect its elasticity.

Another technique is to use a wetsuit conditioner or a specially formulated wetsuit shampoo. These products are designed to moisturize the neoprene and keep it soft and flexible. Simply follow the instructions on the product label for the best results.

Additionally, wearing your wetsuit regularly and moving around in it will naturally help to break it in and soften the material over time. As you use your wetsuit more frequently, the neoprene will gradually mold to your body shape, providing a more custom fit and greater comfort.

Remember that while these methods can help soften your wetsuit, it’s essential to properly care for it to maintain its durability and performance. Always rinse your wetsuit with fresh water after each use to remove salt, sand, and other debris, and store it in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

Wetsuit Technology

how to break in a wetsuit

Doing some light movements or stretches will give you an idea as to whether the wetsuit is too tight, too large, or just right.

Thanks to the latest wetsuit technology, there is very little “break-in” required for wetsuits because of the already-super-stretchy materials that are used to manufacture them, like 100% stretch neoprene in some brands. Despite the many technological advances in wetsuit manufacturing, many people still feel that it takes some time to truly make the wetsuit conform to your body. This may be true, or you just may become accustomed to how your wetsuit fits over time. Whether you consider this a break-in period for the wetsuit or just an improvement in your comfort level while wearing it, be sure to try it a few times before giving up (and either not wearing one or buying a new one).

Each time you get in or out of your wetsuit, you will stretch it out just a little bit. When you consider how to break in a wetsuit, remember that the stretching from getting into and out of your wetsuit will occur in the shoulder region of the wetsuit, and to a lesser degree, the legs, since you will probably be pulling them up repeatedly, stretching the fabric. Trying to pull harder to intentionally stretch out the wetsuit is a bad idea, as you can tear the neoprene if you pull too hard or snag it with fingernails.

How Tight Should Your Wetsuit Be?

Wetsuits need to be snug to do their job, but you have to be able to move freely and breathe while wearing it. Think of them as needing to be more form-fitting than tight. Try on your wetsuit before your first swim or surf session, just to make sure you are fairly comfortable. It will always feel tighter when you are out of the water. Remember that it will feel a little bit looser once it fills with water. However, if it is too loose, it will not retain the water, and it is this thin layer of water between your body and the neoprene that makes you warmer and more buoyant while wearing the wetsuit.

Additionally, a wetsuit that is too loose will not provide appropriate compression, which helps with the circulation of blood through your muscles during exercise. You don’t need to know how to break in a wetsuit to recognize the differences after a few tries.

Be Mindful of Wetsuit Size and Fit

Keep in mind that it’s important to choose the right wetsuit size for your body, and don’t buy one expecting it to stretch out during a break-in period. If you want more stretch, opt for the higher-grade materials, like the super stretch neoprene that can stretch up to 300%. While this material does not necessarily become “broken in,” it does tend to be more comfortable for those who are less fond of a very snug wetsuit. If your wetsuit is too small, it will probably never stretch enough to fit you properly, regardless of what you do to try and break it in.

Wearing a wetsuit that is too small can lead to problems including chafing (particularly in the neck and armpit areas), fatigue because you will be working your muscles against the resistance of the wetsuit, poor circulation, and difficulty maintaining comfortable body temperature in the water. Wearing a wetsuit that is too large will not keep you warm enough, and you will experience limited improvements in buoyancy. You may also find that a too-large wetsuit will cause you to fatigue more quickly since you will experience additional drag while wearing it.

Make sure that you try on your wetsuit before using it. Being comfortable in it is important, and you should not count on the fit changing too much, even if you try different ways for how to break in a wetsuit. In the end, little will change with regard to the fit while wearing it, though it may become a little easier to get on and off once you go through the motions a few times.

By following these tips, you can ensure that your wetsuit stays soft, comfortable, and ready for your next water adventure!

Lauren McIndoo has been participating in marathons and triathlons for the past 15 years. With more than 40 marathons, and countless triathlons of all distances (including 8 full Ironman finishes), she has a ton of practical experience and finds passion and excitement in all things related to swimming, biking and running.

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  • Emily Flower says:

    I have a stoma that needs to stay dry on my leg. Can a wetsuit achieve this? I struggle to swim, but would like to get better, and I do a lot of hydrotherapy type exercises. I want to swim in salt and chlorine.

  • Jane Schultz says:

    I would like to swim in an unheated (possibly chlorinated or salt pool-I don’t know) in the winter. It is approximately 52 degrees F. Which women’s full-body suit would you recommend?

    • Elizabeth Werdnik says:

      Hi Jane! I recommend checking out our recreational swimming catagory here, and selecting the specific water temperature in the left-hand filter bar to find a selection of great wetsuit options for your pool swimming!

    • chuck says:

      I routinely swim 1-2 miles in laps in my pool which now runs 50-60 degrees F. I use a cheap but good fitting 3mm full suit. And when the temp gets below 55ish I will use booties,a hood and even gloves which makes the swim much more comfortable and I barely notice them.

  • joan stafford says:

    Hi. Ive returned to the UK after paddle boarding and diving for several years in the MiddleEast. I want to do some open water swimming and paddle boarding but the water is so cold. I realise I cant have the same wet suit for diving but can you recommend a warm flexible suit for messing about in the water.

    • Elizabeth Werdnik says:

      Hi Joan, I can imagine how much colder the water is in the UK than what you have gotten used to! Depending on the average water temps in your area, and how sensitive you are to the cold I definitely recommend going for a 4/3mm wetsuit or thicker! You can conveniently browse our wetsuits by temperature in the left-hand filter bar. That should help you find an option ideal for the new waters you are conquering!

  • Paul White says:

    Lauren we live in AZ. Although the weather is still warm our small pool will soon be below 70 degrees. I am 71 and just swim for exercise. What’s a good choice for me for wet suit and cap. I like the idea of short sleeves.

  • Tom M says:

    Hi. I have been ocean swimming Almost daily for the past 5 months with a full length wetsuit which is great. I would like to reduce my dependence on the suit. Is a short John suitable for serious swimming? What would you recommend?

  • Scott S says:

    Just bought a 2 mm springsuit from the internet. On the tag, it says that I should not swim in a chlorinated pool. That seems to directly contradict this article. I swim about 3x per week in an unheated chlorinated pool. Anyone have any thoughts about this?

    • Lauren Belt says:

      Hey Scott,

      We’ve had success with wetsuits in chlorinated pools when they have been immediately rinsed (and even cleaned with a wetsuit shampoo), properly hung to dry and stored away. Chlorine does eat away at the neoprene fabric over time, which is why you saw that warning. But, with proper rinsing and care, your neoprene suit can still last you a relatively long time even when dealing with chlorine.

  • Joel Altstein says:

    We live in New England and have a swimming pool that doesn’t get warm until mid July.
    I do lap swimming but only in July and want to swim in June when the water temperature is about 68 which wet
    suit should I buy??

    • Lauren Belt says:

      Hey Joel!

      Typically for lap swimming, we recommend checking out a triathlon wetsuit. Since your pool is around those water temperatures, try checking out a triathlon long john wetsuit like this one: https://www.wetsuitwearhouse.com/PROD/666-S553.html. This suit helps you glide through the water and the sleeveless feature allows you to have a great range of motion without overheating. If you need help with sizing, go off of your chest measurement first (and look at the size chart on the product page). If you need additional help, let us know!

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