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Wetsuits

Guide to Wetsuits

Wetsuits, as the name implies, are not intended to keep you dry, they are designed to keep you warmer than if exposed bare-skinned to the water. The principle of the wetsuit is that the layer of water it traps next to your body will be warmed by your body, thereby providing a little more comfort and life-saving warmth than your naked or un-insulated skin. There are many cuts of wetsuits but all must insulate your groin and torso to be effective against cold.

Constructed of neoprene material, the thicker the layer, the warmer the wetsuit will be (and directly dependent upon the temperature of the water). It’s thickness is measured in millimeters: most wetsuits are in the 2 - 3mm (about 1/8”) thickness range. Thinner material will make the suit more flexible and provide more range of motion while thicker suits are chosen for colder waters at the expense of less freedom of movement.

While wetsuits are designed to be worn against the skin, you might want to consider a fit that allows you to add socks to a wetsuit bootie or shorts and/or t-shirt type of under liner to reduce chafing in a particular area of your body.

Several wetsuit fabrics/materials are hybrid neoprene with proprietary enhancements by the manufacturer.  There’s a full array of accessory clothing made from neoprene: caps, hoods, poggies, gloves, booties, short, long/short-cut ‘Farmer Johns” and vests.  All are designed to provide a bit more warmth to your extremities and core and optimum freedom of movement across - or in - cold waters.

Tips for Buying a Wetsuit

A few tips to remember when buying a wetsuit:

  • Seam construction can be stitched (some water seepage), stitched (little water seepage) and glued or stitched and taped (no water seepage)
  • Front/chest zippers offer easiest entry/exit/venting
  • “Farmer-John” styles offer core body insulation while also providing cool ventilation and movement throughout shoulders and arms
  • Almost every cut/design option is available, match the fashion with the type of paddling and water conditions you expect to encounter
  • Look for reinforced knee, seat and elbow areas
  • Good fit is essential (snug against body, no opportunities for water to collect/pool, no chafing, especially in the armpit area, etc.)

The Final Word

Before you decide that you really don’t need a wetsuit or a drysuit, remember these temperature thresholds for water:

  • Breathing becomes more difficult at 77℉
  • Onset of hypothermia can begin at 70℉
  • Wetsuit/drysuit required at 60℉ and lower.

These are water temperatures and their affects on the human body are not diminished by higher air temperatures - remember the kayaker’s adage: “Dress for the water, not for the air!

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