All About Wetsuits (Wetsuits 101)

It's Cold in the water so you need something to keep you warm. That is what wetsuits, swim skins and dry suits are all about. Keeping you warm in the water. We know's cold here in the water in Iowa.


Wetsuits are primarily made of closed cell neoprene rubber in a bunch of different versions, qualities, thicknesses and materials. Not all wetsuits are the same. Not all neoprene is the same. Higher qualities of neoprene keep you warmer, wear better, fit better, feel better and look better.

Wetsuits keep your body warm a couple of ways.

  • First, they trap a thin layer of water between your suit and skin to reduce heat loss. That's done by the neoprene which traps air bubbles to provide the insulation.
  • Second, by keeping cold water away from your skin, you receive further insulation
  • SO..."The warmer the water, the less protection you need; the colder the water, the more protection you want"

Most wetsuits and drysuits use neoprene, a synthetic rubber that is waterproof, insulated and flexible

  • The inside and outside of wetsuits and drysuits typically have a nylon fabric laminated to the neoprene. This helps resist tearing and abrasion.
  • Manufacturers use different stitching techniques to increase the seal at the seams. These are usually glued and blindstitched or glued and taped.

STYLES (wetsuit lingo here!)

  • Shorty - Short arms and legs
  • Full or Jump - Full arms and legs
  • Corewarmer or short john - Short legs, sleeveless arms
  • John or Jane - Sleeveless w/full legs
  • Jacket - Essentially a shorty with long arms and zipper front. Can be worn alone or over a john or jane
  • Vests - Sleeveless Top may have a attached hood or zipper.
  • Shorts - ahhh .. Shorts!
  • Dry suit - If your watersports conditions are in really cold water or deep depths, you may want to consider a drysuit Designed to keep as much water out as possible by using rubber seals around the neck, wrists and ankles. You actually wear undergarments under these. AND is all is stay dry..even under water!
  • Lycra Skin - Skintight skin made of lycra. Kinda like a nylon all over your body


  • Lycra - Lycra is just lycra. No thermal protection and is primarily for UV protection - (surf shirts, body skins, etc.)
  • Neoprene - Different types available based on qualities and costs. Normally has a nylon exterior and interior.
  • Stretch Neoprenes (ie Hyperstretch, Hydroflex, Superstretch..etc) Neoprenes that can stretch a lot more then standard neoprene..sometimes up to 2 - 3 times times their original size.
  • Skin-out or rubber-out neoprene - rubber neoprene is not covered. Typical on Triathlon suits or a what is refered to as a steamer.


  • Thickness is expressed in millimeters ( ie: 1mm + really thin and 7mm = thickest)
  • Thicker wetsuits provide greater insulation, but the quality of the material plays a part as well


There are a bunch of factors that determine what suit style and thickness you want to choose. The primary factors are:

  • What sport you are going to use them for?
  • What the water temperature is?
  • What the water conditions are?
  • How much activity you are going to have?
  • How cold you get --- (women get colder then men!)
  • How much your weight fluctuates
  • How comfortable you want the suit to be?

1)What Sport are you using it for?

Different sports make a difference on the suit you buy here are some thoughts. Lots of different suits will work for different things, these are just some tips.

  • Waterskiing, wakeboarding a watersports shorty or full suit is fine. Actually anything seems to work fine here. But remember mobility and comfort! These types of suits are not the best choice for swimming in.
  • Swimming or Triathlon you need a suit that is more flexible and allows full range of motion (Scuba suits..don't work very well) Skin out suits are the norm for speed! Skin-out suits do not make good general watersport suits as they can be damaged easily.
  • Scuba diving, due to wetsuit compression at depth, and lowere activity, you may want to stick with the higher quality neoprenes and most coverage you can get. See water temp and depth below. Avoid skin out suits for diving.
  • Paddling...a paddle john with a jacket is the most comfortable. If you are going to get wet alot, then the addition of a Jacket may be in order
  • Windsufing as skin out suit or steamer is the most popular to allow for wind blockage
  • Sailing, skin out suits work well, johns with a jacket also.
  • Snorkeling...shorties, full suits skins and microprene 1mm suits rule!

Water temperatures and depths - you remember your atmospheres of water pressure from scuba school....??? 66 feet you are at 3 ATM. So that is three times as much pressure at the surface. Your wetsuit can loose as much as half it's insulation at that depth! ( plan for it!)

OTHER STUFF - Accessories and such

Hoods and Beanies

  • You lose nearly 40 percent of your body heat through your head
  • A hood is a must for extremely cold diving
  • A beanie is awesome for even warm water. (great to keep the hair in too!)

Booties & Gloves

  • Provide insulation for your extremities
  • These also increase your protection from abrasion
  • Booties and boots are needed in open heel fins
  • Gloves help alot in keeping you warm also!


A good fitting wetsuit will be comfortable, and not too loose or tight
They should fit snuggly and comforatble.. but shouldn't restrict your movement or breathing. We advise folks to try them on and if you can stand around and chat with someone for 10 min and feel probably have a good fit.
If a suit is too loose, you allow water to enter, defeating its purpose.

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