They say in whatever water sports you are, dress for a swim and not for the activity. This means whether you are in kite surfing, kayaking, rafting, sailing or paddle boarding, you should preferably dress up in a swimsuit.
The type of swimsuit you wear depends on a number of variables. However, one major factor is the weather or water temperature. Wetsuits and drysuits provide two options for your winter water activity. They work differently but in the end, they keep you warm in cold water.
When it comes to wetsuits, they work by trapping a thin layer of water between your body and the suit. Thus, they essentially work by allowing some water to come in contact with your skin.
They keep you warm, comfortable and toasty in the water, but they actually achieve this by making you wet. They are called wetsuits for a reason.
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How Wetsuits Work – A Simple Explanation
As said, wetsuits do not keep your dry but they keep you warm. We know if our regular clothes get drenched, we end up cold and shivering. So, how do these skin-tight sopping-wet ones keep us warm? It has to do with the material wetsuits are made up of and physics.
The second law of thermodynamics states that heat flows from hot to cold. Thus, if you are in cold water, your body emits heat as it is at toasty 37 degrees or 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This is hotter than the water you are in. Wetsuits use this heat emission to good effect. They trap this heat from your body in a thin layer of water which they allow through different layers of material.
The outer layer is tough and somewhat water-resistant and it keeps most of the water out. Then, there is a layer made up of neoprene, a rubber foam with lots of tiny nitrogen bubbles trapped inside. The heat conduction properties of these gas pockets aren’t good and this layer is vital to keep your body warm.
After that, some wetsuits may have a layer of heat-reflecting metal like titanium or copper. And closest to our skin is actually a thin layer of water. As said, wetsuits are designed to let in some water and trap it with all those insulating layers.
So, if wetsuits keep you warm by trapping a layer of water, do wetsuits keep you warm out of the water? The short answer is yes and this is because wetsuits are made up of insulating material, so depending on their thickness and material wetsuits can keep you warm out of the water to varying degrees.
Types of Wetsuits – How We Can Classify Wetsuits
There are different ways to classify wetsuits. However, the two major criteria are the thickness of the suits and how much area they cover on your body.
In general, thicker wetsuits are suitable for colder conditions. Therefore, water conditions determine the thickness of swimsuits and this, in turn, gives way for classifying wetsuits on the bases of different weather seasons. Thus, you can find swimsuits like spring/summer and falls/winter models.
Depending on the area wetsuits cover on your body there are:
- A sleeveless vest covers only the torso. As you can guess, this provides minimal coverage. However, we do not recommend these to be worn alone. You can probably use them as an extra layer for extra protection.
- A hooded tunic covers your torso and head. They have short legs but short or no sleeves. They generally a zip closure.
- You can also go for a jacket, which covers the torso and arms. There is little to no coverage for the legs.
- A spring wetsuit is meant to cover your torso. It can have short or long sleeves and short legs.
- A short John/Jane or shorty covers the torso and legs, but to the knees only. However, it does not have sleeves and is essentially a short-legged version of the long John/Jane.
- A long John/Jane covers your torso and legs only.
- A full suit or steamer is essentially the best protection you can have with wetsuits. It covers the torso and the whole length of arms and legs. However, you can find some versions which come with sleeves just like the length of your standard T-shirt and we call them short-sleeved steamers.
When we consider the thickness of the suit, you can find them in a range of 1mm to 7mm. As said earlier, thicker suits mean a higher ability to deal with much lower temperatures. Thus, you can wear a 6 mm in very cold temperatures as opposed to 1 mm wetsuits which are suitable for warmish temperatures of 18-25 degrees Celcius.
How Effective are Wetsuits
If made up of good quality and you have chosen the right thickness and size for you, wetsuits are generally very effective in keeping you warm. In fact, you are at risk of getting too warm because warming up continues gradually. Therefore, it is important to consider water temperature before going with or without a wetsuit.
We generally do not recommend going for open water swims when the water surface temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit or 7 degrees Celcius. This is because despite wearing a wetsuit, your head and neck areas are still exposed to cold water and this prohibits cold water swims. However, you can still go for other activities like kayaking, fishing, surfing, etc.
On the other side of the spectrum, you need to avoid being overheated. If you are planning to swim, avoid wearing wetsuits when the water temperature is above 78 degrees Fahrenheit or 25 degrees Celcius. This is where your normal swimwear will do.
Another factor that determines the effectiveness of the wetsuits is their size and fit. Any loosely fitting wetsuits will allow too much water and basically lose their functionality. On the other hand, any wetsuit which is too tight can restrict your movement and flexibility. Thus, the perfect option will be one that fits you snuggly.
Therefore, to ensure effectiveness, consider your water conditions and come up with a wetsuit that is a good fit for you and is made up of quality material.
Wetsuit VS Drysuit Kayaking
Drysuits have a different working mechanism than wetsuits. They basically work by trapping a layer of air between its user and the water. This keeps the water away from and keeps the user dry. However, the air is not that good at insulating heat, therefore, wetsuits can’t necessarily keep you warm for too long on their own.
Thus, drysuits necessitate using warm and insulating undergarments to keep you warm. Wetsuits as we know, get you wet, but they keep you warm. However, both have their pros and cons.
Wetsuits are generally difficult to get on and off especially if they are wet. However, they are flexible and do not restrict movement. Drysuits, on the other hand, are bulky and restrict movement.
Do Wetsuits Shrink
With time neoprene degrades and yes wetsuits do shrink. Nonetheless, this is at a slow pace and you can at least get a season out of your wetsuits.
Please be aware that in water drysuits do get stretched. Therefore, if you have a slightly shrunk wetsuit which is quite difficult to get into will open up in the water and serve you the purpose.
Wetsuits are another of man’s great inventions. They utilize different insulating materials to ensure that you keep warm in cold water. However, they achieve this by trapping a thin layer of water between your skin and the wetsuit itself.
Therefore, wetsuits keep you warm but they do not necessarily keep you dry. This is opposite to drysuits which keep you dry but are not that efficient at keeping you warm unless helped by insulating undergarments.
Wetsuits are often named depending on the area they cover on your body. For example, a vest only covers your torso as opposed to a full-body suit that covers the torso and whole of your legs and arms.
Among many other factors, the thickness of a wetsuit determines its effectiveness. Higher the thickness, better the ability of wetsuit to insulate the heat and keep you warm. They normally come in sizes ranging from 1 mm to 7 mm where 1 mm is least protective and 7 mm is your most protective wetsuit.
Wetsuits can keep you warm but they have limited utility in extremely cold conditions. However, this is mostly to do with areas that are not covered because that alone can lead to hypothermia. Therefore, depending on your exposure to water, wetsuits are not that effective below 45 degrees Fahrenheit or 7 degrees Celcius. This is where drysuits come but you need better insulating undergarments for them to be effective at these zero-ish temperatures.
The above can be said for many water sports when it comes to wetsuit utility including kayaking. Use wetsuits when temperatures are above 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below 75 degrees because wetsuits can also over-warm you in higher water temperatures.
This is it from us on this piece. Keep posting your queries related to outdoor water sports for straight-to-point answers and up-to-date information.