Your guide to choosing the best wetsuit for you, our wetsuit guide contains sizing guides, reviews, new releases, comparisons, and other tips and information to help you make the most important purchase you will make for your open water wardrobe.

What are the benefits of using a wetsuit?

A wetsuit keeps you warm in water that would otherwise be too cold to swim in. It works by trapping a layer of water close to your skin. The water heats up and insulates your body and regulates the your body temperature.

Wetsuits can also offer protection against sharp and uncomfortable objects like sticks and rocks, as well as prevent bites and stings from aquatic life.

Many wetsuits make you more buoyant, helping your hips and legs to float higher in the water and creating less drag.

Do I really need a wetsuit?

The answer to that question depends on where you live, when you swim, how sensitive you are to the cold. If you are an open water swimmer, chances are you will need to wear a wetsuit at times, so even if you live in a warmer climate, it’s something worth purchasing and having so that you are accustomed to using it and so that it is worn in and comfortable when the need arises, such as an open water swim race in colder water. 

People who live in colder climates, or areas such as the west coast of the United States where the sea currents can be icy even in the height of summer, might wear a wetsuit for a large portion of the year. Wetsuits and other neoprene accessories designed to conserve body heat give you the advantage of entering the water and starting your open water training regimen that bit earlier in the season.

Do I have to wear a wetsuit?

Some swimmers hate wearing a wetsuit because they feel it constricts their movement or alters their swimming position and style. Others prefer the freedom of swimming in just a bathing suit. To obtain credit for some of the world’s toughest marathon swims such as the English Channel crossing, you have to swim in a bathing suit and no wetsuits are allowed. There is also a huge ‘skins swimmers’ movement promoting swimming in just a bathing suit.  

But don’t be ‘wetsuit shamed’, many more swimmers enjoy the comfort and warmth that a wetsuit provides, and the real goal is to get into the water, enjoy the experience, the environment, the moment, not to show off your bravado or worry about what others think.

Wetsuits enable you to swim outside earlier in the season and to venture into colder waters than you could normally tolerate. For those with a low BMI who tend to feel the cold more easily, wetsuits provide a synthetic layer of blubber that allows you to swim safely for longer in cold water. 

Wetsuits can give you much more buoyancy and may actually improve your body position and reduce drag significantly. Beginner open water swimmers often find that their technique and speed increases dramatically when they try a wetsuit for the first time. This can actually translate to better swimming technique out of your wetsuit as you become accustomed to a more horizontal body position. Additionally, wetsuits are more streamlined and glide through the water faster.

In most open water swim races there are strict safety rules with regards to wetsuits and water temperature. A wetsuit is often mandatory when the water temperature is below about 58 degrees and forbidden when water temperature is above 70 or so. Each race has its own specific rules so be sure to read the race website carefully, monitor the water temperature leading up to the race, prepare to swim with and without your suit, and don’t forget to drag your wetsuit long just in case the temperature takes a surprise dip on race day. 

Most races also have a wetsuit and a non-wetsuit category specifically because wearing a wetsuit is an advantage – it improves swimming speed by about 6-12% on average, depending on the source.

How should a wetsuit fit?

In a nutshell, a wetsuit should fit snugly. Remember that a wetsuit works by trapping an insulating layer of water against your skin. If a wetsuit is too loose or baggy, the layer of water won’t stay put long enough to warm up. It will recycle too often and have the opposite effect of draining the heat from your body. A baggy wetsuit will also be annoying and uncomfortable and will slow you down by causing drag.

On the other hand, when a wetsuit is too tight, you run the risk of constricting your blood flow. You could experience white, dead-looking extremities and you might feel colder than you would without a wetsuit altogether. An over-tight wetsuit can limit range of movement, making swimming difficult, and increasing the risk of injury, especially in the shoulder area.

The best way to get a good fit is to measure yourself properly. We describe how to measure for an open water swimming wetsuit in our fitting guide.

Aren’t wetsuits supposed to be really tight?

No! a wetsuit that is too tight will constrict movement and blood flow, making you colder and negatively affecting your stroke. A correctly fitting wetsuit will feel like a second skin, allowing for normal movement without having loose areas under the arms or in the crotch.

Won’t any wetsuit do?

One of the attractions about swimming is its relative frugality compared with other amateur sports. In theory you can get yourself a Walmart swimsuit and goggles for about 20 bucks all in, throw yourself in the nearest creek and congratulations you’re an open water swimmer.

Wetsuits however are generally an expensive piece of gear. It can be painful to cough up a few hundred dollars, especially for something you can get by without, or something you won’t use for every swim. It is tempting to try to cheap out – using a borrowed or second hand wetsuit that doesn’t fit right or has other limitations. 

Don’t do it. 

What you will discover is that when you have a suit that fits you right and meets all your specifications in terms of temperature, flexibility, and style, you will feel invincible in the water. When you have the wrong suit – it it is cold, fits badly, or looks embarrassing, it has the complete opposite effect.

Whether you are a new wild swimming adventurer, a weekend warrior, new to open water racing – whatever you are hoping to get out of your suit, if it fits you badly or fails to meet your needs, you will end up spoiling your day if your wetsuit is not up to scratch. 

By all means find an economical means to get the right wetsuit for your body type, but don’t cut corners for the sake of a few extra bucks. Once you get the right suit, as long as you treat it right, you will have it for a long time or at least for a lot of swimming time, and the cost per swim will be negligible. You will never regret spending money on the right wetsuit.

What is a natural swimming wetsuit and do i need one?

A natural swimming wetsuit is a wetsuit designed with less buoyancy, especially in the legs, with the object of reducing the amount of lift. If you are particularly technical swimmer and find that your legs feel high when you swim in a wetsuit, check out our article ‘What is a natural swimming wetsuit?’. You might also enjoy reading our interview with amateur open water swimmer Audrey Sanchez about why she made decided to change to a natural swimming wetsuit.

Is it better to have a wetsuit too big or too small?

That depends if you prefer to be cold by restricting your movement and blood flow, or because you have a ton of water sloshing around inside your suit. A tight wetsuit can constrict your breathing and make you feel panicky in the open water. A baggy wetsuit can slow you down and make you feel like you are swimming in pajamas. The answer is neither – get a well-fitted wetsuit that you can trust to give you confidence in the water.

How do i know if my wetsuit is too big?

Your wetsuit is too big if when you put it on and zip it up properly, you have any loose baggy areas. In the water, these areas are gonna fill up with water and cause drag, discomfort, slow you down, affect your stroke and cool you down instead of keeping you warm as the wetsuit is designed for. 

Look for bunching or flapping especially under your arms and in your crotch area, but also try gently pinching other areas especially if they look spacious. A good fit will hug your skin. If the fit is bad it will flap and easily leave gaps. Other areas to examine are the butt, the small and the arch of the back, the shoulders, the upper arms, and the thighs. There is a lot of variety in body type, but the elasticity of modern wetsuits cancels out some of that variety. 

How do I know if my wetsuit is too small?

If your wetsuit is too small, it will be difficult to get into. Ok, wetsuits are not always easy to get into, but if it is taking a lot more work than usual, for example after an indulgent winter season, and requiring maverick maneuvers and levering off of people and furniture, it could be time to upgrade. If your wetsuit is too small, you will feel restricted in movement and blood flow. 

Put the suit on dry and try moving your arms in wide windmill circles. The suit should hug your skin snugly. It should feel tight but not so tight that it constricts normal movement, especially in the shoulders. Try practicing air swimming with your arms – are you able to breathe deeply, filling your lungs and expanding your chest like you would do at full exertion when swimming in open water? If not, you risk constricting your breathing which could affect your ‘aquanimity’™. 

How long does a wetsuit last for?

If you are buying a second hand suit, it’s important to find out its age, how much it’s been used, and what conditions it has been exposed to. Some of this can be done by looking at the suit, googling the wetsuit model and asking the seller questions. If you can’t trust the seller and the price is still high, you might be better off sucking up the extra to buy a new suit. An old suit can be fine for just playing in, but if it is not free or close to it, or you are planning on racing or something serious, you could end up being disappointed.

The majority of wetsuits have a lifespan of between 2 and 5 years. The boring answer is that obviously how long your wetsuit lasts varies greatly depending on a bunch of factors. Obviously if you use your suit lots it will not last as long in terms of months or years, for that reason, a better metric might be number of swim hours. Again, it’s no precise science since some swims and swimmers cause more wear and tear than others, but it’s a good enough guide. 

Neoprene rubber does deteriorate over time, and it will begin to lose some of its elasticity and insulation after a few years. Depending on where you swim, you may or may not notice much difference. 

How much sunlight was the suit exposed to?

Sunlight is a big factor in neoprene wetsuit deterioration, so if your suit is exposed to harsh sunlight and heat while you swim, you will see a corresponding decrease in lifespan. Make sure you store your suit in a cool, dark place to reduce sun exposure outside of the water.

Obviously environmental factors such as rocks and coral can damage a suit. If you are careful about the places you swim, and the way you treat the suit in between swims you could squeeze a bit more life out of it. If you are really anal, you might even want to use those special cotton gloves to pull it on and off. 

How thick is the neoprene?

In general, higher grade wetsuits while way more comfortable and maneuverable, have thinner material and, tend to have a shorter lifespan. More general beginner suits tend to last forever because they are thicker and more buoyant.

Can I repair my wetsuit?

A bad tear or leaky seam does not necessarily spell doom. Many companies offer repairs to their wetsuits when still under warranty. These days it is cooler to get every last drop of life out of your gear instead of throwing it in the landfill at the first frayed hem, there are more and more options for repairing your suit. What do we care about looking the part as long as we are in the water and alive?

My expectations for how long a wetsuit will last

I have average use of about 150 swimming hours per year. I don’t do anything particularly out of the ordinary with my suit. I avoid carving it up where possible by avoiding rocky beaches and I avoiding running aground in my suit.

I swim in salt water quite often, in fact my go-to beach is a secluded salt-water bay. I rinse my suit WELL after saltwater swims. I have heard differing opinions on how much salt water affects longevity – some people say not at all – but i do it anyway.

I hang my suit back in the cool, dark between swims, but that’s all the care i take. I swim in the sun, but i try to swim as much as possible out of my suit once the summer arrives just because i enjoy it, so my suit is usually rested for a couple of months in which it again stays in the cool, dark, basement closet. 

With all this in mind, I will be mad if I don’t get at least 2 years out of a mid-range wetsuit. In reality i get much more out of it because i have generally tended to buy different suits to experiment and learn, and i have relegated aging suits to my training/ back up suits pile. There are a couple of suits which just seem to fit my body great and which i still use from time to time even though they are starting to deteriorate. I’m a pack rat, OK? 

How much do i need to spend on an open water swimming wetsuit?

To make this question easier to answer, let’s assume you are, or are planning to be, an average amateur open water swimmer. You are a good pool swimmer. You’ve done summer open water swimming and you love it. You even raced a couple of times, but in a borrowed wetsuit. You want your own suit so you can swim earlier in the season and so you can explore races and destinations that are a bit chillier. If you have a wetsuit, you can train in a nearby lake as early as May on a good year, which you way prefer to the crowded, chlorinated swimming pool. You intend to train 2-4 times a week, with the goal of taking part in this year’s Fat Salmon open water swim. 

You are not too fussy about how you look because you don’t think many people look very glamorous in a wetsuit anyway. Your body type is pretty generic, so you don’t have to pay through the roof for customization. You need a full suit though – it’s pretty cold in May – so you can’t shave off any dollars by opting for a Farmer John or a shorty. 

You are willing to shell out a bit, considering how much you’ve realized you love open water swimming, but you plan to get your money’s worth, and you are not so rich you can afford an investment like this every year. You are hoping to get at least three seasons out of this purchase.

So how much do you need to budget for? I would aim to spend 200 or 300 bucks to get started. That should get you a solid all-round beginner open water swimming wetsuit like the Aquasphere Aquaskin Full Suit V3 or the Orca Vitalis Hi-Vis Openwater

If you consider yourself an expert pool swimmer, be advised that wetsuits in the range tend to be more buoyant which can make you feel out of position. Depending on your body type and how much fat you have, you might prefer to choose a more costly high performance ‘natural swimming’ wetsuit with less buoyancy, something like the Huub Lurz Open Water Wetsuit for example.

It’s a good idea to try out as many different brands and types as possible before you bite the bullet and buy a wetsuit. Borrow from similar-shaped friends if they’ll let you; try on suits in the store; and test drive where possible. Many cities with open water swimming opportunities also have rental shops. The better you can understand the needs of your particular stroke, technique, the temperatures you swim in, and the brands and models that seem to work best for you, the better chance you have of getting a suit you are happy with. 

The good news is that once you find a brand and model that suits you, the hunt for a good open water swimming wetsuit becomes a lot easier second time around.

Have an open water swimming product or accessory you’d like to tell us about? Send us a message!

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