Your Top Wetsuit Questions Answered: Part V
It’s time for our next FAQ installment of top wetsuit questions. By the time you finish this article, you’ll be loaded with wetsuit information! Got any wetsuit questions that weren’t mentioned? Let us know in the comments!
How Does a Wetsuit Keep You Warm?
Like all plastics and rubber, neoprene is an extremely efficient insulator. (Quick note, neoprene was the first synthetic rubber produced. And did you know tires are made with neoprene?) Wetsuit neoprene insulating qualities alone can do a tremendous amount to maintain a person’s body temperature. But, what makes wetsuits so efficient at keeping you warm is the fact that the micro-pores in neoprene allows the wetsuit to trap a thin layer of water between the wetsuit and your skin.
Like neoprene, water is an effective insulator too. The thin water-barrier that develops between the wetsuit and your skin absorbs your body’s heat and holds the heat in place. A wetsuit keeps you warm both because neoprene is an insulator and because neoprene creates a second layer of insulation — with water — that prevents your body’s heat from escaping.
Why Wear a Wetsuit in Warm Water?
The temperatures of so-called “warm” oceans, rivers, and lakes are almost always colder than your body. In fact, it is very rare that you will ever be in water that is equal to or above your body’s core temperature. Even “warm” water saps your body of energy, forcing it to continue burning calories to maintain a temperature range of between 97°F (36.1°C) and 99°F (37.2°C). The more calories your body must burn to maintain a normal temperature range, the faster you fatigue which means less time you can spend in the water. A wetsuit prevents the heat your body produces from escaping into the water or air which means you have larger stores of energy to spend surfing, windsurfing, kayaking, rafting, canyoning, fishing, etc.
How to Choose Appropriate Size of Wetsuit?
Sizing yourself for a wetsuit is easy if you use the size charts on a product’s page. You will also need a tailor tape measure or a flexible construction tape measure to determine your measurements.
The most important measurements to consider when purchasing a wetsuit are: chest (men)/bust (women) followed by height. But, by also taking measurements of the circumference of your neck, waist, and hips and measuring the length of your inseam, you can even more accurately determine the size of wetsuit you require. *Important note, when using a size chart, select a wetsuit on the low end of measurement ranges. For example, if you are purchasing a Men’s Rip Curl Springsuit and you are 6’2” tall and weigh 210 pounds, select an XL as opposed to an XXL. Here’s an example of what you’ll see on a product page:
A wetsuit that is too large will fold in material gaps which thus leads to poor insulation. When that happens, the wetsuit fails to snug to your skin. Unless a wetsuit is tight, the gaps reduce the effectiveness of the micro-layer of water between the wetsuit and your skin that is necessary to maximize the insulating qualities of a wetsuit. On the flip side, a wetsuit that is too tight pulls away from your skin around the concave curves of your skin, around the small of your back, under your arms, in your crotch area, etc.
While measuring parts of your body will allow you to make an educated decision with respect to wetsuit size, ultimately, the feel of a wetsuit will determine the size appropriateness. Wetsuits should fit like a second skin. When you get into a wetsuit, there should be no folds, gaps, or bunching. And certainly, the neck should not be loose. However, a wetsuit should NOT restrict your breathing or impair your ability to stretch.
When to Wear Neoprene Booties?
Neoprene boots insulate and protect your feet from the cold and terrain. Unlike tennis and running shoes, however, neoprene booties are available with non-slip soles that allow a person to walk on slick rocks and over terrain that would damage bare feet.
Boots for Surfers
Surfers and windsurfers who keep to shoal breaks in warm water don’t always wear booties. But, those who surf coral reef, rock, and/or headland breaks are wise to use booties as well as those who surf in the cold and need to wear cold water wetsuit boots.
Boots for Kayakers and Rafters
River-running kayakers and ocean kayakers almost always have booties. At the very least, kayakers put their booties in the back of the stern of their kayak and wear them for walking around on shore and to scout. Kayakers who believe there is even a remote chance they will swim wear typically their booties while paddling. Creek boaters, for example, almost always wear booties when paddling in case of a swim. Sea kayakers typically wear booties both in and out of the boat as well.
Boots for Canyoneers and Spelunkers
People who walk in water — canyoneers and spelunkers, for example — wear their booties almost non-stop.
Boots for Snorkelers and SCUBA Divers
Snorkelers and SCUBA divers typically don’t wear booties, they tend to wear fins instead. Wetsuit socks — which don’t have soles — allow snorkelers and scuba divers to slip their feet into fins and provide additional warmth.
Boots are a personal preference but can be a crucial when it comes to cold water or for protecting feet.
When Is It Time to Replace a Wetsuit?
While it is possible to use a wetsuit that is beyond the prime of its life, old wetsuits usually do not serve their intended purpose of insulating you from the cold. A wetsuit qualifies as old when:
- The wetsuit is no longer black, but brown and discolored.
- The wetsuit no longer flexes and stretches, but instead, is brittle and stiff.
- The wetsuit no longer fits snugly against your body when worn, but maintains its own form as opposed to adopting that of the shape of your body.
- The wetsuit must be dipped in the water before it loosens up and stretches or it rips.
- The stitching begins to fail.
- The zipper hangs up and snags because of the stiffness of the suit.
What Type of Wetsuit to Wear for 50 Degree Water?
If you tend to be more sensitive to the cold, your best option is a thicker fullsuit or a drysuit for water that’s around 50 degrees. A 5/4mm full wetsuit has gaskets similar to that of a drysuit, but is made of breathable neoprene. So, like a wetsuit, a cold water wetsuit allows for a layer of water to form between your skin and the neoprene that helps insulate your body against the cold. Most cold water suits also feature a poly fleece lining for additional warmth. Remember that you should keep a minimum of your body exposed to the elements by using booties, neoprene gloves and a hood.
What Type of Wetsuit to Wear for 70 Degree Water?
A full wetsuit is usually not necessary in 70 degree water. In water at or above 70, a springsuit, jacket or vest and bottoms will usually do the job. If you are prone to the cold, consider wearing a long sleeve springsuit or a shorty springsuit, wetsuit jacket or vest and board shorts with a thickness that’s between 3mm and 5mm.
Keep in mind that air temperature and the wind chill play almost as big a role in body-heat loss as water temperature. If it is overcast or raining and the wind is blowing, being in the water may still require a fullsuit, booties, gloves and maybe even a hood.
What Type of Wetsuit to Wear in San Diego’s Pacific Waters?
While Southern California is known for warm weather and sunny days, even during the fall, winter, and spring, the coastal waters are far less constant. Even in the middle of the summer, the water off San Diego can dip from 70 to 50 degrees in less than a day.
A 20 degree difference in water temperature can mean choosing between using a full wetsuit or a neoprene vest and shorts. Between July and August, it is a pretty safe bet that you will be just fine will less than a full or three-quarters suit — as long as a north wind doesn’t cause an up-welling that drives the waters at the bottom of the ocean up to the top.
But, from August through June, you’re better off being prepared for cold days. At a minimum, you should take a springsuit with you to the beach in the fall and the spring. In the winter months, unless you are an extremely hardy surfer with very hot blood, you will need a full wetsuit on cold days.