Blocked ears, poor visibility, leg cramps. Just a few things that can potentially spoil a great dive. But learn how to buy a wetsuit and not only will you learn about one of the most important pieces of scuba gear, but also you’ll solve one of the most common and frustrating issues for scuba divers: Getting cold!
Being cold whilst diving is absolutely no fun. You try to focus on the beauty of your surroundings, but as your body loses its heat 20 times faster under water than in the air, it’s hard not to be distracted.
So what’s the solution? Well, a decent neoprene wetsuit is a good place to start as it insulates your body, helping to seal it in a cosy foam layer.
But how to buy a wetsuit suited to scuba diving and get exactly what you need? Here are some tips to help.
Size it up
To do its job – keep you warm – it’s essential your wetsuit is the right size. Too big and it can bag and rub, and doesn’t actually insulate you properly – water that should stay inside and warm up just flows out. Too small and it hurts, constricts and is highly uncomfortable.
Taking your sport more seriously probably means taking more scuba diving holidays, and when you do you’ll soon tire of the hired scuba gear and look for equipment that suits you. Most scuba enthusiasts know what it’s like trying to pull on a suit that isn’t quite big enough: Hello plastic bags and scuffed knuckles and goodbye dignity – not the pre-dive Zen any of you are seeking.
Note: When trying suits on, they may feel tighter than you would like in the changing room. This is to be expected and a snug fit is important as they do ‘give’ over time. Just be sure you know the difference between close fitting and restrictive!
Wetsuits are like many clothes – sizes vary from brand to brand. Make sure you consider the height, chest and waist measurement carefully when choosing.
Most companies will provide a sizing chart you can reference. Don’t expect to be the same size in every make. Women especially may take comfort in this. I do (in all clothes, not just rubber suits). The thickness of the suit will also affect how it feels and, potentially, what size you should choose.
Style and scope
The thickness and style of a wetsuit is also important. I personally dislike full length wetsuits (often referred to as ‘steamers’) and would always choose a ‘shorty’ (cut above the elbow and knees). But that’s because I am, in most instances, a fair weather diver and have been lucky enough to live and work in places where the water temperature was often around 28 degrees – so , I often dive just in shorts.
If you dive fairly regularly and in different places, buy a full-length steamer suit of average thickness as a good all rounder. If you know you’re going to be diving in a wide range of climates and temperatures then it’s time to get more serious and consider having at least two different suits.
Generally, you’ll find 3 main thicknesses of wet suit: 3mm, 5mm and 7mm. The warmer the water, the thinner the suit needed. If you’re diving in 10 degrees or less, research ‘dry suits’, which are not covered in this post.
Keep it real
Avoid fake neoprene suits, as they are usually big on buoyancy and low on thermal protection, neither of which is desirable. Bargain suits are a false economy. Remember, no one ever willed a dive to end because they felt too comfortable. But I’m sure we’ve all had that sinking feeling (‘scuse the pun) on dives when we’ve just not been warm enough.
Readers please note, that I’m talking scuba here. Scuba suits differ from wetsuits made for surfing etc.
Keep on moving
Size and thickness are related to the final consideration: Range of movement.
Any good dive shop or school will always make you circle your arms, raise them up and get you to stretch about when trying on a wetsuit.
Suits that are too small are the usual culprits.
Imagine being underwater scuba diving in Greece and not being able to reach your octopus or adjust your fins because your suit was just too tight. Not just uncomfortable, but possibly dangerous.
Check the details
Finally, when choosing your suit, it’s good to look at the details. This is where you may see the difference in price on more expensive suits, so it’s always good to compare and ask lots of questions about such features.
Things to consider include: seals, valves, pockets and zips, and relatively new technology, such as layer systems and titanium lining. Last of all, there are always accessories available to complete your look and keep you toasty while you scuba, so check out rash and thermal vests, hoods, gloves and booties.
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