Woman stretching in a tight wetsuit before going open water swimming

Open water wetsuit fitting guide

Posted on: BY: Saga Svensson
Tags: measuring | sizing | wetsuits

This wetsuit fitting guide explains the five important measurements you need to properly fit a wetsuit,  how to measure yourself accurately, how to determine the correct wetsuit size, and how to read a sizing chart to get the perfect fit for your freakish-i-mean-beautiful body.

Measuring yourself for an open water swimming wetsuit

It’s crucial for your wetsuit to fit snugly or you’ll get cold and your movement could be impeded. For that reason it’s important to know your precise statistics.

There are five crucial measurements you need to take in order to correctly measure for a wetsuit. The chest or bust, the waist, the hips, your height, and your weight.

Measure your chest or bust

The most important aspect to consider is the size of your chest or bust. Get hold of one of those basic sewing measuring tapes you find in sewing kits. You might already have one in your house, but if not, you can easily find one at the dollar store.

Get a friend to help you, if you have one handy. Lift your arms up to the side and have your friend measure the circumference of your chest or bust by wrapping the tape around the widest and fullest part of your chest. 

If you are measuring by yourself, start the measurement from the nipples – yes i said ‘nipples’- and put your arms down once the tape is wrapped around your chest to obtain the most accurate measurement. 

If you are a woman, you should always measure in a swimming costume or something that supports you similarly so your boobs are in a similar position to the position they they will be in when you swim. 

A lady measuring her bust with a tailor's measuring tape, crossing the measurement in front so as to easily ready the measurement
The most important measurement for wetsuit sizing is the bust or chest measurement. If you’re alone, cross the tape in front so you can read it easily.
Measure your waist

A good method for measuring your waist is to put your hands on your hips and give a squeeze between your thumb and index finger. The part that you have hold of, and where your hands normally rest, just above your hips, is your waist. That’s where you want to measure.

Another rule of thumb is to dig in with your fingers and find your last rib and then do the same to find the top of your hip bone. The mid-way point between the two is your waist. If both these methods align, you’ll know you have the right spot.

A woman measuring her waist by crossing a tailor's tape in front of her.
Your waist is found between your last rib and the top of your hip.
Measure your hips

Next, measure around the widest part of your hips. That should be pretty straightforward.

A woman measuring her hips for a swimming wetsuit by crossing a tailor's tape in front of her at the hip mark.
Some swimming wetsuit brands require that you measure your hips to get a more precise fit.
Measure your height

The best way to measure your height is to take your shoes off and stand up with your back flat against a wall, then have a friend mark the wall, making sure that the mark is in line with the top of your head.

If, just like on moving day, your friend is nowhere to be seen, you can place a book [I highly recommend Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain, by Roger Deakin] on your head and, keeping it as level as you can imagine it might be, draw a mark on the wall in pencil.

Now step away and measure your mark from the floor. If you drew your line on top of the book, which is easier, don’t forget to subtract the thickness of the book, or put the book on the floor and measure from the mark to the book. No cheating. That extra eighth of an inch isn’t impressing anyone.  

If the suit is too tight in a vertical direction it will exert force down on your shoulders, restricting your movement in the arms and chest. You could also feel this force pulling up into your crotch area, making movement uncomfortable and limiting the freedom of movement in your lower back, too.

Depending on your body size and wetsuit fit, you might also find that the crotch hangs down and sags, which is less than optimal since any space will fill with water once you are submerged for any length of time.

Weigh yourself

Next, weigh yourself on the scale or if you don’t feel like it you can note down your approximate weight.

How to read a wetsuit size chart

Now you have your piece of paper with your statistics jotted down, you can use these numbers to properly choose the wetsuit for your body type. Some wetsuit size charts might only specify height and weight, most will include at least the chest measurement, others might be very specific in their detail. 

You should find something like a list of the available wetsuit sizes, with the height/weight/chest ranges for each size. 

The Orca wetsuit sizing chart - Orca have specific charts for specific models
This Orca one-piece wetsuit for female open water swimmers is pretty straightforward. Orca have specific charts for specific models.
The Blue Seventy wetsuit sizing chart
Blue Seventy Athena open water swimming wetsuits have a bit more consideration for womanly curves.

What if I don’t fall in the ranges specified in the sizing chart?

If you are finding that you fall in different ranges for different statistics, for example, suppose you are very tall but skinny as a rake, you might find that all the suits for your height are made for a heavier weight and a larger chest, 

Should I size up or down when measuring for an open water swimming wetsuit?

If you are in-between two wetsuit sizes then the recommended approach is to use your weight as a guide. Weigh yourself identify your position on the BMI scale.  If you are on the higher end of the BMI scale, then you are advised to size up – ie to choose the next size up. If you are on the lower end of the BMI scale, you should size down. 

Sizing by body type

These days many brands include suit designs for specific, for example the Huub ‘short and stocky’ designed for short, stocky swimmers, or the Blue-seventy Athena, which ”offers a larger size for a shorter frame, allowing women with more curves to comfortably find a good size.” 

If you are not one of those lucky people who fit easily into a standard size, it is worth researching the companies that offer non standard options. 

If you are willing to pay a little more, consider a custom made swimming wetsuit or having your nearly-wetsuit altered to fit.

Disclaimer: Our swimming adventure content is not intended to take the place of specific, current, local advice from qualified experts. We strongly recommend that you consult with professional safety experts and take all necessary precautions should you undertake any adventure activity, especially in open water. Swimming is a HAZARDOUS activity. Never swim alone or beyond your ability. There is the possibility of physical injury, emotional distress and/or death, and you assume the risk and responsibility for any such results.

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