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Old 09-16-2013, 12:05 AM   #1
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An Intro to Buying Wetsuits

Cali Spearos: In the hunt for a better wetsuit, thanks to a lot of your comments over the last few years, and as a tribute to OutdoorCatholic who set an example with his Intro to Safety thread, I wrote this up as a reference guide for the generations to come. What follows is a compilation of wisdom for those getting deeper into the sport…

Buying a Wetsuit

The question many may have when preparing to invest $200-500 on a new wetsuit is What is the best brand? The reality is many brands use similar materials these days and there are many more specific factors that should be considered when choosing your next wetsuit. To begin with, it’s important to know some basics about wetsuits:

Wetsuits have been used for decades for warmth and protection against abrasions, jellyfish, etc. The core material used today is Neoprene, a highly durable synthetic rubber invented in 1930. To make the rubber even warmer, manufacturers now “foam” the Neoprene with nitrogen gas to create tiny, enclosed gas cells which act as insulators. These foam cells have drawbacks, however. They create buoyancy, hence the need for weight belts; they are susceptible to compression at greater depths, which erodes their warming powers; and they make the rubber more fragile -- side effects that are more or less important depending on your activity.

So us humans have gotten crafty. Manufacturers vary the density of the Neoprene by adjusting how much they expand the foam cells. The most expanded foam is warmer, but becomes more fragile and susceptible to compression. The least expanded foam, or denser foam, is less warm but more durable and less likely to compress. Manufacturers also add linings or coatings to either or both sides of the Neoprene to affect its flexibility, resistance to tears, smoothness in the water, ease of dressing, and thermal insulation, among other qualities.

The result of all this innovation is a multitude of options when it comes to material, which begs the first question you must ask yourself:

1) What is your intended activity?

Are you lobster diving near shore and constantly scraping against rocks? Are you making deep, quick descents in open water and need a suit that will have minimal drag? Are you twisting your limbs a lot to get into tight spaces? Are you diving in cold or warm water? Are you spending a lot of time at deeper depths which will compress those cells over time? Do you mind having to lube up every time you put your suit on? Can you afford two suits for summer and winter or can you only afford one to use all year?

Know these answers before you move on to the next series of questions –

2) What type and quality of Neoprene is best for you?

This topic deserves its own thread and deals with a wide range of constantly changing products so I suggest you use your search function to get the most recent and specific information possible. For the purposes of this thread, it suffices to say that the major manufacturers are Yamamoto, Heiwa, Daiwabo, Nam Liong and Sheico and most have products that meet your intended activity and budget. Yamamoto is considered more flexible than Heiwa, for example, but Heiwa is considered more durable.

3) What density of Neoprene is best for you – light, medium or high density?

The denser the Neoprene, the more durable it will be, but the less flexible. The least dense, the opposite is true. So, if you are doing a lot of open water hunting, durability is less an issue and you can afford to gain flexibility. If you are grabbing bugs in holes or swimming over reef structure, you need durability or your suit will shred. If you are going to spend a lot of time at deep depths, you need HD to ward off the compression of those gas cells, which will decrease the warmth of the suit. So again, ask yourself what activity you intend to engage in first.

4) What thickness is best for you?

This is obvious. Neoprene runs between 1mm and 10mm. Winter hunting in California requires 7mm Neoprene, with a minimum of 5mm. Some people get a 5mm suit and a 2mm vest. Others double up on thinner surf suits when the budget is tight. Again, it’s a question of whether you can afford suits for every season or not, but it’s also a question of how hot or cold you run.

5) What outside lining is best for you?

Certain linings, usually nylon, lycra or superelastic, give Neoprene elasticity and durability, allowing the suit to snap back to its original cut and protecting it against abrasion. Since these materials are not comfortable against the skin, nor do they necessarily enhance warmth like open cell/porous Neoprene, they are usually laid on the exterior of the wetsuit. Your choice will lie in the degree of durability/tear-resistance or elasticity/stretchiness of your lining.

Smoothcell means open cells on the exterior have been made smoother (reducing drag in the water) and the lining has been put on the interior of the suit. It is the fastest exterior, often used for deep competition dives, but is delicate and you could tear it putting it on or taking it off.

6) What inside lining is best for you?

If you have an exterior lining, you have a choice of interior surfaces. A common one is called open cell. So what the hell is open cell, you may be wondering? Open cell basically means the Neoprene’s gas cells have been sheathed in half creating a surface that suctions to your body and keeps you warmer. Really warm in fact. The drawback is it really sucks to your body and is hard to put on or remove. Many people use a mix of water and conditioner, or products like Suit Juice, to ease in dressing, but this can cause dermatitis and/or create small bubbles/distance between the skin and the suit, which can reduce warmth.

Some people add a coating to their interior open cell to make it easier to dress, but this will decrease your warmth vs open cell. Those coatings are usually metallic heat reflectors – gold, copper, silver, titanium. Other people use a thermic plush or thermic pile, which is sort of like little nylon hairs and is cheaper but less warm.

So, we've discussed type of Neoprene, density, thickness and linings. With all these materials readily available to all the wetsuit companies, you may be wondering – Why do brands matter? Here are two reasons why:

7) Fit

There is no doubt that a custom cut wetsuit will fit better than an off the rack wetsuit and that means better performance when maneuvering, less fatigue since the suit’s joints will be aligned with your joints, less water leakage which leads to greater warmth, and less stretching of the material which can reduce tearing. The problem is custom suits are generally more expensive ($400-$700) and only a handful of companies make custom suits. Some people say custom suits last longer due to the benefits listed above, therefore the cost is the same in the long run, but it really is a question of budget for most people. The custom suit companies include Deep Thought, Imersion, M&B, JMJ and Elite. One custom company of note is Elios, an Italian company whose $300-$400 custom suits are in some cases cheaper than the higher-end off-the-rack suits listed below.

Speaking of, there are a dozen companies that sell off-the-rack suits. If you have a normally proportioned body type, these off-the-rack suits may fit you well enough and many spearos on this board swear by them. But if the fit is off, you could be overstretching the material, which will lead to tears, or have exposed wrists/ankles or excess air pockets, etc. If you do go off-the-rack, it is highly, highly recommended you try the suit on before you buy one. Some of the most popular brands over the last few years, and more expensive ($350-$500), are Rob Allen, JBL, Spetton and Beauchat. Others receiving recent acclaim and cheaper ($200-400) are Mako, Sporasub, Riffe, Polosub, Nautilus, Cressi, Omer, Gatku and Yazbeck. Picasso has been liked as well but I’m not sure if they are still in production. Which brand is “best” is an open debate you can readily search on Spearboard (try "wetsuit") once you’ve narrowed down your choices. The answer you will probably come up with is: The best suit is the one that’s best for all of your many needs.

8) Stitching/Seams/Borders/Internal Reinforcement

The second reason brands matter is the care they take to stitch your wetsuit together, reinforce the seams and finish the seams/borders. Again, experiences differ suit to suit and company to company, so search this site once you’ve narrowed down your brands, but it suffices to say that the cheaper wetsuits mass produced in factories will have less care/advanced techniques put into them than the custom shops and you could be facing a lot of gluing in your near future. Like always, you get what you pay for. Which leads us to --

9) Budget

In case you haven’t noticed yet, money is helpful in life. Ideally you have a custom made winter suit and a custom made summer suit. Ideally you replace them every couple of years. Ideally you have a house on the ocean and a couple boats too. Not much more to be said about money other than a) go make some, and b) don't skip work to dive too much or you'll have a really hard time buying a wetsuit!

10) Some final questions to consider

If you are getting a two-piece, Longjohn vs High waist?

Longjohns are warmer because you have two layers of Neoprene over the chest but some people complain that it is harder to take deep breaths in them and a challenge to go to the bathroom. High waists are good for going to the bathroom but some people complain they are less warm and it’s easier for water to flush in. From what I’ve read, most people use high waists.

Beavertail vs Velcro?

Due to Velcro’s tendency to mat over time, the preferred crotch fastener seems to be Beavertail although you should research the brands you are interested in to see if the fasteners are susceptible to falling off, which does happen frequently.

Hood or no hood?

Hoods are a necessity in California waters and attached hoods seem to be preferable. Detached hoods have to be tucked under your wetsuit which often allows for leakage. If you do use a hood, make sure you research reverse ear squeeze and how to prevent it. It is not uncommon for people to blow their ear drums OUT, not in.

Camo or no camo?

An endless debate with no clear answer. See below.

To sum up:

At the end of the day, your success in spearfishing will depend more on how you use your equipment than the equipment itself, but if you are in the market for a new wetsuit, ask yourself these questions and you should get greater satisfaction over time. Happy hunting.

Last edited by shafe; 11-07-2013 at 05:59 PM.
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Old 09-16-2013, 12:36 AM   #2
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Re: An Intro to Buying Wetsuits

Post at the right time for me. Thanks a bunch.
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Old 09-16-2013, 09:50 AM   #3
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Re: An Intro to Buying Wetsuits

winter's coming. time for a 7mm. i'm checking out Elios.
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Old 09-16-2013, 01:45 PM   #4
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Re: An Intro to Buying Wetsuits

make this a sticky and make the "how much weight" a sticky too. These questions get asked weekly
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Old 09-19-2013, 06:37 PM   #5
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Re: An Intro to Buying Wetsuits

I got a ripped 7mm henderson at a thrift store. total cost with some aquaseal. $26. Nice and warm although I didn't have time to add weight to my jimmy-rigged weight vest. Spent most of the day doing somersaults in the kelp.

6'1" 180 lbs. in a 3/2 suit 8 lbs is nice. Might hafta double it with the 7mm.
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Old 09-20-2013, 12:18 AM   #6
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Re: An Intro to Buying Wetsuits

I save a lot of $$$ by buying a custom suit from Aqualandwetsuits.com in Greece.

Damn hard to beat the tailoring or the price! Quick delivery too!
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Old 09-20-2013, 10:38 AM   #7
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Re: An Intro to Buying Wetsuits

As a beginner I'd like to suggest buying a really cheap suit for your first open cell. That way when you forget it out in the sun all day or forget to flip it inside out so it can dry on the other side or when you find out that even short fingernails can tear it you won't mind because it's your beater suit.

It's different & there's a learning curve. Point is any new open cell will feel great & keep u warm but learn on a Pinto rather than a Ferrari.
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Last edited by Carlsbad; 09-20-2013 at 04:26 PM. Reason: I said I would
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Old 09-21-2013, 03:50 PM   #8
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What about adding a heated vest or rashguard?

Hiya Spearboard,
Regarding wetsuits,
why don't more people go thinner and just wear a heated vest or rashguard under their wetsuit?

Like a Quiksilver Cypher Vest or Thermalution Undersuit or RipCurl H-Bomb Vest?

Here's a link to some dude testing all 3:

I know a few crew who surf who do wear these,
these things do work indeed.

I'm just wonderin' why more West Coast divers don't use the latest technology to stay warm instead of wearing a thick-arsed wetsuit.
As any surfer knows, thinner means much more flexibility!
Same goes for free-diving, right?

Question: Are you guys and gals worried it might spook the fish or something? Or is the price too high? Just wondering.
Happy huntin'...
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Old 11-07-2013, 11:14 AM   #9
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Re: An Intro to Buying Wetsuits

Regarding wetsuits,
why don't more people go thinner and just wear a heated vest or rashguard under their wetsuit?
Perhaps, among other reasons, because the vests have rated depths to which they are waterproof. Of the ones listed in the linked article, the shallowest depth is only 16 ft. I think alot of the people who spear tend to gravitate to simple solutions, as you can only have so many electronic devices destroyed by water before you give up on high tech.

There are alot of people that wear unheated neoprene vests or even synthetic fiber vests under their suits for added insulation, and it'd be interesting if anyone had any reviews or experience to add about those products...

I'll be getting into some cold water soon, so this topic caught my eye, despite being a little old.

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Old 11-07-2013, 12:57 PM   #10
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Re: An Intro to Buying Wetsuits

My wife has an old 10mil suit (farmer john with leotard over it), I think it's a dry suit. When she first moved here from phx she used it to surf in summer lol but she was 98 lbs back then & as you can see from her pic she's a fatty now & can't fit in that suit, I mean she's in the triple digits! She didn't need conditioner or water to put it on, it was last-forever durable, not overly buoyant like an open cell, hard to move around/surf in but not impossible.

She'd like a suit like that again. Anybody know anything about freediving winters in a suit like that or even what kind of suit it was? She wants something way too warm for most of us & doesn't want to have to wear a ton of weights if possible or deal with conditioner etc.
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Last edited by Carlsbad; 11-07-2013 at 02:30 PM. Reason: clarity
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Old 02-08-2014, 12:07 PM   #11
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Re: An Intro to Buying Wetsuits

Note to anyone buying an open cell:
Don't believe it when people say these are hard to put on.
Without lube, yes. Nearly impossible.
But with lube, they slip on in a matter of seconds.
I personally use Suit Slip which is sold by Mako.
Turn it inside out, spray the lube on, turn it inside in and slip it on. Literally takes 2 minutes.
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Old 02-08-2014, 01:13 PM   #12
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Re: An Intro to Buying Wetsuits

Or you just get a water bottle mix in some non-scented conditioner. I will maybe fill an inch or so of conditioner and the rest with water and shake it up. Also you don't need lube for all open cell suits, like the riffe cryptic camo.
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Old 02-08-2014, 02:35 PM   #13
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Re: An Intro to Buying Wetsuits

Where do you get your non scented conditioner?
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Old 02-08-2014, 07:03 PM   #14
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Re: An Intro to Buying Wetsuits

Just one quick question.... What you guys think about the xdive camo wetsuits??? Right now i have a jbl camo reversible wetsuit its a 3mm but i wear a 2mm vest.... But since the water its getting colder i am thinking of getting a 5mm from xdive...
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Old 02-08-2014, 08:50 PM   #15
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Re: An Intro to Buying Wetsuits

Good info Shafe. This really needs to be sticky no doubt.
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