There's nothing that ruins a dive quite like being cold or getting chafe from a poorly fitted wetsuit.
So before you go running out to spend your hard earned cash have a listern to Kahlee from Adreno give her thoughts on the best wetsuit for various dive situations. Then read below to get the run down from Roy at Agro Dive Imports on what to look for in a quality wetsuit.
So Roy, what should we look for in a quality wetsuit?
Many people will buy a wetsuit purely on price but there are extra features available in some suits that make a real difference to a diver's comfort and performance. When buying a wetsuit, keep the following in mind:
Tailoring and pre-forming are important key features in wet suit design. Rather than a series of tubes for arms, legs and body, the most comfortable wetsuits are tailored to a body shape and pre-formed to an advanced position so you are not stretching the neoprene unduly when relaxed. You should avoid seams under the armpits and behind the knees as this can cause irritation and skin rash. Quality suits have integrated knee pads and in some cases elbow pads to extend the life of the suit. Quality tailoring adds cost to a suit and therefore many of these features are sadly lacking in many suits available today.
Neoprene should be supple and stretchy. This ensures comfort for those with irregular body shapes as the suit will conform better around curves and bumps without making you feel uncomfortable.
Neoprene thickness - 3mm ain't always 3mm. 5mm is sometimes actually 4mm. Some suits are measured including the nylon layer so on a 3mm suit you actually get about 2.5mm of neoprene (almost 20% less). Others quote the actual neoprene thickness so you get what you pay for. Thinner neoprene suits have less body and can crush and stretch out of shape more easily and quickly.
Metallic lining is slippery, reduces the requirement for lube, and provides a heat retention barrier "BUT" it increases the flow of water through the suit which reduces body heat and in some cases it dramatically stiffens the neoprene which reduces comfort.
Open Cell interior with nylon exterior is purely raw neoprene without any treatment. The neoprene comes in direct contact with the skin and literally clings to the body. Open cell requires lubrication to get into the suit and care must be taken as sharp fingernails can tear the neoprene. Any inconvenience is by far outweighed by the additional comfort and performance obtained from such suits. Tears are easily and permanently fixed with a good quality neoprene adhesive.
Slick Exterior suits with Nylon interior reduce friction whilst swimming and diving, reduce wind chill when on a boat, and look pretty sexy too. The nylon interior reduces comfort, and increases the flow of water through the suit which reduces body heat. The exterior of these suits are easily damaged from UV exposure, and when foraging around reef, and certainly not recommended for hunting crays.
Slick Exterior suits with open cell interior are the most comfortable, most expensive, but have the shortest life of all suits. They are mainly used by competition freedivers and also preferred by some spearfishers with deep pockets. These suits are also the most fragile so you will have to expect to be continually mending cuts and tears.
Water Barrier Seals at face, wrist, and ankles are a feature commonly left out of suits these days because of the added cost to the suit. These seals restrict the movement of water through the suit and keep the diver warmer. Suits with seals make it possible for more divers to use shorts during summer and many divers can forgo purchasing a thicker suit for winter. This is an excellent feature that should be available on all suits. Because these seals work so well they also reduce the flow of urine out of the suit which is a frustration for some divers however, this is easily fixed by wearing waist high lycra pants or heavy weight pantyhose to increase the flow down the legs.
Long Johns v's Pants. Many divers prefer pants because they are less buoyant and are "aqua grogan friendly" as one diver has put it. If nature calls it is possible to drop your dacks and do your business in the water - something not possible with long johns. Long Johns are preferred because they provide extra warmth but can also be cut to just below the chest to provide the same benefits as pants.
Many BFWA divers have custom suits made by companies such as Seaquel, others use open cell suits from popular brands like Spetton, OMER and Cressi. Expect to pay $400 to $500 for a good suit, with a bit of TLC it will be worth every cent.