How to Choose a Wetsuit for Open Water Swimming

Choosing the perfect wetsuit is crucial for any open water swimmer as it not only provides buoyancy and warmth but also helps to improve your swimming performance. With so many options available in the market, it can be overwhelming to make the right choice, so here’s what you should know:

The first thing to consider when choosing a wetsuit is the thickness. The thickness of the wetsuit depends on the water temperature and your comfort level. For most open water swimmers, a wetsuit between 3mm and 5mm thick is ideal. A well-fitting wetsuit should be snug but not too tight, allowing you to move freely and comfortably.

How to Choose a Wetsuit for Open Water Swimming

It’s always a good idea to try on a few different wetsuits before making a purchase. Some shops offer sessions where you can try on a range of wetsuits at a local pool and work out which one suits you best. Keep reading to learn more about how to choose the perfect wetsuit for open water swimming.

Do You Need a Wetsuit for Open Water Swimming?

If you’re planning on swimming in open water, you might be wondering if you need a wetsuit. The answer is, it depends on a few factors:

  • Firstly, the temperature of the water you’re swimming in is an important consideration . If the water is too cold, a wetsuit can help keep you warm and comfortable. Wetsuits are designed to trap a thin layer of water between your body and the suit, which is then warmed by your body heat. This layer of water acts as insulation, helping to keep you warm in colder water.
  • Secondly, a wetsuit can help with buoyancy and body position . The added buoyancy from a wetsuit can help keep you afloat and in a more streamlined position, which can make swimming easier and more efficient. This can be especially helpful for beginner swimmers who may struggle with body position in open water.
  • Thirdly, a wetsuit can provide an added layer of safety. In addition to keeping you warm and buoyant, a wetsuit can also make you more visible to other swimmers and boats in the water. This can be especially important in crowded open water swim events.

Lastly, a wetsuit can also provide a boost in confidence for some swimmers. If you’re nervous about swimming in open water, a wetsuit can provide a sense of security and comfort, which can help you relax and enjoy your swim.

How to Size a Wetsuit for Swimming?

Choosing the right size for your wetsuit is essential for a comfortable and effective open water swim. Here are some tips to help you find the perfect fit:

  1. Know Your Measurements: Before you start shopping, take your measurements. You’ll need your chest, waist, and hip measurements to accurately compare with the wetsuit sizing chart. Use a soft measuring tape and measure yourself while wearing only your underwear.
  2. Check the Sizing Chart: Each wetsuit brand has its own sizing chart, so be sure to check it before making a purchase. Don’t assume that your size in one brand will be the same in another. Check the manufacturer’s website or ask the retailer for advice, or even better, try it on in person at a local store.
  3. Consider Your Personal Preference: Some swimmers prefer a snug fit, while others like a bit more room. Think about how you want your wetsuit to feel and look. Keep in mind that a tight suit will be more restrictive, while a loose one will allow water flushing.
  4. Try Before You Buy: If possible, try on a wetsuit before purchasing it. Most retailers will allow you to try on a wetsuit in-store or offer a good return policy. This way, you can ensure that the wetsuit fits well and feels comfortable.
  5. Understand Wetsuit Thickness: Wetsuits are made from neoprene, a synthetic rubber material. The thickness of the neoprene affects the warmth and flexibility of the wetsuit. A thicker neoprene will provide more insulation but may be less flexible. That said, if the water is too cold, you will simply need a thicker wetsuit for better insulation, no ifs and buts about it.
  6. Don’t Forget About the Fit: A wetsuit should fit snugly but not be too tight. You don’t want any folds or wrinkles in the material, but you also need to have enough room to move your arms and legs freely.

How Tight Should a Wetsuit Be for Swimming?

When it comes to open water swimming, choosing the right wetsuit is crucial. A wetsuit that is too loose will cause water to flush in and out, making it difficult to maintain body temperature. On the other hand, a wetsuit that is too tight will restrict movement and cause fatigue. So, how tight should a wetsuit be for swimming?

First and foremost, a wetsuit should fit snugly like a second skin. It should not be too loose or too tight. A well-fitting wetsuit will feel like a compression garment and provide the necessary thermal insulation. It should also allow for a full range of motion without restricting movement.

Furthermore, a wetsuit should fit you comfortably the day you buy it. Yes, wetsuits can stretch, but that doesn’t mean you should buy an uncomfortably tight one in the hopes that it will eventually stretch out as you break it in.

When trying on a wetsuit, pay attention to the fit around the neck, wrists, and ankles. These areas should fit snugly but not too tight. A wetsuit with a tight neck will cause discomfort and restrict breathing, while a loose neck will cause water to flush in and out.

Similarly, a wetsuit with tight wrists and ankles will prevent water from entering the suit, while a loose fit will cause water to flush in and out.

It’s best if you can try on a wetsuit in person instead of buying online so you can more accurately determine if the fit is right for you.

How Thick Should a Wetsuit Be for Swimming?

Wetsuits come in varying thicknesses, and in this section, we will go over how to decide the thickness of your wetsuit.

First off, the thickness of a wetsuit is measured in millimeters and usually ranges from 1mm to 7mm. The thicker the wetsuit, the more insulation it provides. But keep in mind that a thicker wetsuit also means less flexibility and mobility.

Below is a table you can use for a general reference.

Wetsuit Thickness (mm) Water Temperature (°C) Water Temperature (°F)
1-2 mm 22-24 °C 72-75 °F
2-3 mm 19-22 °C 66-72 °F
3-4 mm 15-19 °C 59-66 °F
4-5 mm 12-15 °C 54-59 °F
5-6 mm 9-12 °C 48-54 °F
6-7 mm 7-11 °C 45-52 °F
7+ mm Below 7 °C Below 45 °F

For swimming in cold water, a wetsuit with a thickness of 3mm to 5mm is recommended. This will provide enough insulation to keep you warm without sacrificing too much mobility. If the water is exceptionally cold, you may want to consider an even thicker wetsuit or layering up with neoprene accessories like gloves, booties, and hoods.

On the other hand, if you’re swimming in warmer water, a thinner wetsuit with a thickness of 1mm to 3mm is suitable. This will provide enough insulation to take the edge off the cold water while allowing for maximum mobility and flexibility.

Keep in mind that water temperature is not the only factor to consider when choosing a wetsuit thickness. Your own body type, tolerance to cold, and the duration of your swim should also be taken into account. A thicker wetsuit may be necessary for someone who gets cold easily or plans to swim for an extended period.

Alternatively, you may even decide to wear undergarments beneath your wetsuit to stay warm. We discuss that in more detail in the next section.

What to Wear Under a Wetsuit for Open Water Swimming?

You may wish to wear something under your wetsuit for extra warmth or for modesty reasons. But the question is, what are some appropriate undergarments that can be worn under a wetsuit/

The answer is surprisingly simple: just wear your regular swimsuit. Wear a one-piece or two-piece swimsuit, jammers, briefs, rash guard, or even a tri-suit if you have one.

As long as what you’re wearing also fits snug and is designed to be worn in the water, then it is a good option to wear under a wetsuit.

Conversely, do not wear something like sportswear because they will absorb more water than wetsuits and may potentially get waterlogged.

One last tip is to apply some anti-chafing balm on common chafing areas such as your underarm, neck, and inner thighs in case your undergarments start rubbing uncomfortably on your skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some specific features to look for in a wetsuit for open water swimming?

Make sure you are specifically wearing a swimming wetsuit. Not all wetsuits are made equal, and a wetsuit specifically designed for swimming will have the neoprene panels arranged in a way that you get more flexibility in your shoulders so you can perform the swimming strokes, while also keeping you horizontally buoyant and well-insulated.

Can you use a surfing wetsuit for open water swimming?

While it is possible to use a surfing wetsuit for open water swimming, it is not recommended. Surfing wetsuits are designed for a different purpose than open water swimming wetsuits, which is to keep you warm while you are sitting on a surfboard, not while you are swimming. Open water swimming wetsuits are designed to provide warmth and buoyancy while allowing for a full range of motion.

What is the best wetsuit for a beginner in open water swimming?

The best wetsuit for a beginner in open water swimming is one that fits well, provides adequate warmth and buoyancy, and is comfortable to wear. Look for a wetsuit that is specifically designed for open water swimming and has a thickness appropriate for the water temperature you will be swimming in. Additionally, consider a wetsuit that has good flexibility and range of motion so that it doesn’t restrict your movements.

What water temperature can I swim in without a wetsuit?

The water temperature at which you can swim comfortably without a wetsuit varies from person to person. However, in general, most people can swim comfortably without a wetsuit in water temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If the water temperature is below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, it is recommended that you wear a wetsuit to stay warm.

What can I wear instead of a wetsuit?

If you cannot wear a wetsuit for any reason, there are a few alternatives you can consider. Some people choose to wear a neoprene vest or shorts to provide some warmth while swimming. Others may opt for a rash guard or swim shirt to protect their skin from the sun and provide some insulation. Keep in mind that these alternatives may not provide as much warmth or buoyancy as a wetsuit.