How Does a Wetsuit Work?

When it comes to standup paddling gear, wetsuits are a big deal. First, if you have too many questions in your head and don’t know where to start, I suggest you read all the essential info on what a wetsuit is here.

Go ahead, I’ll wait a minute… Done? Now let’s go into some specifics on why a wetsuit is made the way it is and how its design works when in water.

Man-Wetsuit-Close-Up how does a wetsuit work

How Does a Wetsuit Work?

A wetsuit is made of a specific neoprene material that traps a thin layer of water on the inside. This small amount of water is then warmed by your body temperature, and it stays there to keep you from losing your body heat when in water.

While there are many different constructions and designs for a wetsuit, their baseline is providing insulation against cold water temperatures while keeping the heat inside so that you do not go into hypothermia.

How Does a Wetsuit Work: The 4 main parts of a wetsuit

Not all wetsuits are created equal. There is quite a big range from $70 to $600 and more, so you would expect some difference in construction and quality of materials. However, whatever your budget allows, you should pay attention to the following 4 attributes of your wetsuit.

  • The warmth
  • The flexibility
  • The durability
  • The fit

All four should be provided for and well balanced so that your wetsuit works well in any water activity you do.

Man-Wetsuit-Snow-Cold

The reason why I’m saying ‘well balanced’ is that if one part prevails over another, you will be sacrificing functionality. For instance, if your wetsuit has more seam tape, then it will be more durable. And that’s great, right? There’s nothing bad about my wetsuit being durable, you may say. Well, yes, but then you are getting durability at the expense of losing flexibility.

If you are surfing or standup paddling, flexibility is very important so that you gain speed and maneuvers in water. And your wetsuit will only hold you back.

No way, José. That’s not how your wetsuit should work.

With that said, here are the four main attributes to look for in a wetsuit, explained.

Man-Wetsuit-Board-Rocks

How Does a Wetsuit Work: Wetsuit warmth
Warmth is one of the most important reasons why you are buying a wetsuit. I mean, if your wetsuit does not do a great job at warming you up, why spend money on it, right?

Logically, the warmth of a wetsuit is directly related to the thickness of the materials used to construct it. More specifically, to the neoprene used for it. The most often found wetsuits are those of 5mm and 3mm thickness depending on the materials. However, for this, we will talk more in depth here in the article about wetsuit temperatures. Other factors apart from the thickness of the material that contribute to the warmth are the seam construction, internal linings, entry systems, and the specific type of neoprene.

How Does a Wetsuit Work: Wetsuit flexibility
The warmth or the thickness brings us to the flexibility of the wetsuit. As I mentioned before, these two are closely related because the thicker the wetsuit is, the less flexible it will be and vice versa.

Basically, how flexible a wetsuit is means how stretchy it is. When your wetsuit provides more flexibility, you can smoothly perform more advanced maneuvers, you gain speed, and you can get in and out of the wetsuit quickly. As I said before, the thicker the neoprene is, the more resistance you will feel when paddle boarding.

Surf-Action-Wetsuit

How Does a Wetsuit Work: Wetsuit durability
The durability is also determined by the thickness of the wetsuit, but this time in the same manner as warmth. Meaning, the thicker the wetsuit is, the warmer and more durable it will be.

I don’t want you paying vast amounts of money for a wetsuit that won’t last. This is why when eyeballing the durability, one other factor (except the price range) that will tell you how durable your wetsuit will be are the seams. Read more about this in the article about what wetsuits are made of.

How Does a Wetsuit Work: Wetsuit fit
Another thing past the thickness that allows for excellent flexibility when wearing the wetsuit is the fit. In my opinion, having tried hundreds of suits in my life, I would say how your wetsuit fits you is how warm it will keep you and how much room for movement you will have when in water. If it’s too big, you won’t be warm, but if it’s too small, it may limit your arm and leg movements. Click the link to find out all about wetsuit materials and fitting guidelines.

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Review written by: Tom

Hi! My name is Tom. During the year I try to be on a paddle board as much as possible. By reading this blog you'll stay updated on everything I test on the water :)