What Wetsuit Material Is Used For Making A Wetsuit?

As mentioned in the origins of the wetsuit post, since its invention, the wetsuit had taken many different designs and changes of wetsuit materials, which have impacted its durability and functionality.

After neoprene was discovered in the 1930s, the inventors and manufacturers of the wetsuit soon found that it’s perfect for the wetsuit because of its ability to hold a little water and add buoyancy when afloat.

The rest is history. Now we have various or different types of wetsuits and wetsuit materials, but they are all made of the basic neoprene in different variables.

With that, let’s get into further detail regarding…

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Man-Wetsuit-Close-Up

What Material/Fabric Is a Wetsuit Made Of?

As I said, the neoprene in all its variables is used since it provides the perfect fit and commodity as a wetsuit material. If you’ve read the previous post on getting the right size and fit for your wetsuit, you will know that buying a wetsuit that fits well is the most important thing to make good use of all its benefits and how a wetsuit works.

Wetsuit material: Types of neoprene

With that said, here are all the different types of neoprene used as wetsuit material and how they add to the wetsuit’s functionality.

Wetsuit material: Nylon-Lined Neoprene

This type of neoprene is one of the most common types of wetsuit material because of its high functionality. Namely, this is very easy to slip on and off (almost) without the need for my 5 tips on getting in and out of a wetsuit.

Did you know that in the past, people used talcum powder to help them slide into their wetsuits? Today that’s unimaginable with all the improvements on neoprene and external help for putting your wetsuit on.

Plus, the nylon on the wetsuit adds additional protection for the wetsuit, preventing its neoprene from drying out from the sun, cracking, splitting, and general wear and tear.

Girl-Water-Wetsuit

Wetsuit material: Smooth Skin Neoprene

You can find smooth-skin neoprene on many accessories like boots, gloves, and hoods because of its rubbery finish that repels water and wind, and it absorbs warmth from the sun while trapping in extra body heat.

Also, some of the wetsuits have smooth-skin neoprene in the chest panel and the lower back, which provides more warmth than those who don’t have this type of neoprene.

The only drawback I found to this material is that it’s much less durable, and it is more prone to being torn when putting the wetsuit on or taking it off.

Wetsuit material: Air Neoprene

There’s a limit as to how thick a wetsuit can be without limiting your movement and ability to maneuver your paddle or surfboard. Everything above that point of 7+mm can be quite uncomfortable. So, to boost the warming properties of a wetsuit, designers have created a type of fabric sandwich that includes a middle layer of perforated neoprene to trap air in.

These trapped air pockets insulate the body with free space where warm air can circulate and keep a higher temperature overall.

Air neoprene is usually found in the highest-end wetsuits. You gotta pay for what’s good, right?

Surf-Action-Wetsuit

Wetsuit material: Yulex

Yulex is the latest form that acts more as an alternative to the neoprene with all its functions. It has a much smaller carbon footprint and is considered to be more environmentally friendly than the regular neoprene.

How wetsuit materials affect flexibility, warmth, durability, and fit?

It surely matters exactly what your wetsuit is made of since it dramatically affects your performance in the water.

Wetsuit Flexibility

While neoprene is only one, it is produced in many different levels of stretch. The stretchier your wetsuit neoprene is, the most flexibility in the water you’ll have. So, before buying a wetsuit, ask the manufacturer about the level of stretchiness.

Wetsuit Warmth

If you are in the northern hemisphere somewhere and you want to paddle board or surf all year round, or at least in 3 seasons out of 4, then having a wetsuit with solid wind-resistant properties is very useful. As I said before, the smooth-skin neoprene provides enough insulation to mitigate strong winds and chilly temperatures.

wetsuit-beach-fog

Wetsuit Durability

One thing that doesn’t have to be a rule, but often is the case is that the stretchier the neoprene is, the less durable it will be. This is why you’ll see some of the more expensive wetsuits to be less flexible than the cheaper ones. It’s because the former will last you longer since the manufacturer turned towards durability than flexibility.

Wetsuit Fit

On the other hand, the more flexible to neoprene is, the better it will fit around your body, sealing all water pockets through which you could lose heat. So, between durability and fit and warmth, I’d say it’s always good to go for balance. A little bit of everything is the best, right?

Types of wetsuit constructions

Just as there are different types of wetsuit materials or neoprene, there are various types of wetsuit seam construction and paneling that affect the performance in water and how much warmth your suit provides.

Below are some of the seams, paneling, lining, and entry systems that manufacturers have developed in search of the best wetsuit produced.

Man-Putting-On-Wetsuit

Types of Seams in Wetsuit Material

Flatlock seams are the most commonly found seams in wetsuits. They are favored by the thinner suits of 3mm and below. These seams are glued to the neoprene as well, so that the whole construction is as waterproof as possible. However, being the least expensive option, these types of seams are the least durable of all.

Glued and blind stitched seams are a level above the flatlock seams and can be found in mid-range wetsuits. Its design is made in a way that it does not completely penetrate through both sides of the neoprene. This creates a completely watertight, durable seam.

Fluid-sealed seams are usually sealed on the outside and sometimes even stitched on the inside. This provides a waterproof construction that is pretty straightforward and durable.

Taped seams come in many different forms but cannot be found just anywhere on the wetsuit. They are usually placed on the interior and are either fully taped, partially taped, or critically taped, depending on the wetsuit.

What Seam Construction in Wetsuit Material is The Right One For You?

Not every wetsuit has the same type of seams all over. Fullsuits have combinations of these seam types on different parts. As an example, I used to have a wetsuit that had glued and blind stitched seams in the arms, but fluid sealed seams in the legs and body.

This way, my wetsuit had the much-needed durability and flexibility in the arms, while the legs and the body were well protected with durable seam constructions.

I have also come across wetsuits that had a fluid seal seam on the outside, and an internal tape on the inside. While this is also a durable option, it adds weight to the suit and loses some of its flexibility.

man-wetsuit-sunset

Paneling of Wetsuit Material

Now that we’ve covered all the different types of neoprene and seams let’s go through some notes on paneling and how it affects wetsuits.

You see, a panel piece is one piece of neoprene attached to other parts with seams. The more panels you have, the more seams you have. Now, there’s one bad, and one good thing about this, and the point is to find a balance between both.

If your suit has a lot of different panels seamed together is means there are a lot of potential places for breaking, leakage, and restriction of movement. However, the more seams there is the better fit your wetsuit will have. Fewer seams, on the other hand, mean less moving parts” or areas where the suit can break down, but it also may not have such a good fit.

Luckily, technology advances on all fronts, including in the improvement of neoprene too. With stretchier neoprene, companies are now able to create better-fitted wetsuits without that many seams, which is really a win-win situation.

You get durability and a well-fitted wetsuit.

Now that you know the basics of paneling of wetsuit material let’s talk about…

wetsuits-drying

How Paneling Affects the Performance of Your Wetsuit

The warmth depends mostly on the seams with which the panels are attached to each other. So, if I have to go by experience (my own, experts’ and other people’s), then I’d say flatlock seams are at the bottom of the quality scale.

Then the glued and blind stitched seams offer somewhat better quality, but still, the fluid-sealed seams and the taped seams are at the top offering maximum durability.

When a seam starts breaking down, it’ll let water in, and it will cool you off much faster when in water.

The flexibility of a wetsuit is also affected by the panels and seams because of the material used to reinforce each seam. For instance, the more material used to stitch seams together, the more flexibility you’ll lose in your suit overall.

While there isn’t much manufactures can do about this, in order to hinder the loss of flexibility, they use stretchier materials to give you that range of motion.

The durability, as I mentioned before, depends mainly on the number of seams for each panel.

So, in order to make the seams last longer, they have to be reinforced with a good amount of material. However, that loses flexibility somewhat, so it’s best to find a good middle ground as with all things.

The fit of the wetsuit is affected by the panels and seams. Basically, if you have more panels, you will get a better shape for your wetsuit.

wetsuit-maintenance

Internal wetsuit linings

Lately, many of the wetsuit brands boast about their wetsuit’s quick dry times, which is definitely a bonus in my opinion if you are a real water sports junkie and like to enjoy multiple paddling sessions in a day.

This is why manufacturers add internal linings made of synthetic fleece-like materials that add extra insulation and a layer of comfort, plus the much faster drying time.

However, as with everything, this comes at the cost of adding more weight to your suit plus a somewhat reduced flexibility. 

So, what to choose? If all this confuses you, the easiest way to decide whether you want internal lining or not is to think whether you want a suit for flexibility or one that offers more warmth. If you’re paddling in the northern hemisphere and you enjoy being in water throughout the year, then I suggest opting for a wetsuit lined with extra material that dries quickly, and that will keep you warm. Otherwise, if you are in a warmer climate, go for flexibility without the linings.

With that said, let’s see…

What Internal Lining Does to Warmth, Flexibility, Durability, and Fit

As I mentioned before, the warmth of the wetsuit is primarily affected by these extra layers of liners. They won’t only dry your wetsuit faster, but they’ll also give you a better temperature control when the weather and water are colder.

The flexibility if somewhat hindered by the extra linings, but the good thing is that these extra liners aren’t placed on the arms but rather on the torso only.

The durability of the wetsuit isn’t affected by the internal linings. They may give you extra protection from the cold and the sun, but they don’t do much for the neoprene in the wetsuit.

If your wetsuit has a heavy-duty lining, then the fit will be affected along with the flexibility of the suit. Go for a mid-range lining that won’t make the fit that much tighter, and you will be good to go.

man-water-board

The entry systems of a wetsuit

Last but not least, here we’ll talk about all the entry systems a wetsuit can have and how they affect your performance and the overall feel of the suit.

In the search for flexibility, ease of entry, and watertight seal, there have been many entry systems developed over the years. With this, the chest zip wetsuits are usually the most preferred, and then back zippers are at the second spot.

I believe, so long as it’s done well, it’s all a matter a habit of getting in and out of a suit.

Whatever you go for from the list below, it’s advised to have a thin layer of neoprene between the zipper and your skin so that no excess water is coming in direct contact with your skin. Also, make sure all zippers have draining holes so that excess water can exit your wetsuit instead of staying there and cooling you off unnecessarily.

The Chest Zip

As I said, the chest zip on wetsuits is the most popular entry system for paddlers and surfers. It can be straight down your chest or slightly angled. This zipper is usually locked with a snap button and a cinch cord, so the entry is tighter and less prone to flushing.

The Back Zip

Wetsuits that have a back zip have a more extended zipper that starts from the lower back and zips up to the back of the neck. There’s a unique mechanism on zippers that are on the back of the wetsuit so you can reach them easily. So even if you are paddling alone, you will be able to get into and out of your wetsuit quickly.

The No-Zip System

The zip-free wetsuits have ultra-stretchy neoprene and are usually on the higher end of the price range. What is great about them is that you won’t have to worry about a zipper breaking or leaking water.

group-people-surfboards-wetsuits

How a Wetsuit Zipper Affects Warmth, Flexibility, Durability, and Fit

Chest zip and zip-free systems are generally considered warmer than back zippers because they are less likely to flush excess water in and out.

It is logical to say that zippers don’t stretch, which is why zip-free wetsuits will always be more flexible than any with a zipper on. Of course, manufacturers try to compensate with stretchy neoprene to mitigate the lack of flexibility of a zipper.

Also, usually, chest zip systems are better than back zippers because they tend to be shorter, so they don’t hinder flexibility as much as back zippers do.

The durability is somewhat affected by the zippers only because it depends on the zipper how much it lasts and how you take care of it. If the zipper breaks, it’s easy to change it while the rest of the wetsuit stays intact.

The fit isn’t as affected by the zipper as is by other factors. However, one thing that is is how comfortable the suit is to get in and out of. For instance, if you have a broad chest, you might find it impossible to get into certain chest zip or zip free wetsuits, which might lead you to think the suit doesn’t fit. If you could get into the suit, it would probably fit pretty well, though.

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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 :)