If you're shopping for a wetsuit and want to make a wise choice, you need to know about wetsuit construction and care. Here's the lowdown:
What holds it all together: good stitching can make a suit more comfortable, more durable and even more toasty on those cold mornings. Cheap stitching, on the other hand, can allow water to intrude, chafe your skin and unravel almost as fast as that morning glass disappears on a holiday weekend. Here's a description of the most common types of wetsuit stitching.
- — The most common stitch used in wetsuit construction, flatlock draws its name from the "flat" profile of the completed stitch. The edges of the neoprene are butted together, and then stitched in a flat weave. The result is a stitch that lays flat against the skin, causing less irritation and boasting relatively good insulation.
- Blind Stitch
Considered both the most durable and most expensive stitch on the market, a blind stitch never penetrates the entire layer of neoprene. Typically pieces are glued, then bonded with a pneumatic compressor; the stitching is then typically done on both sides of the wetsuit. The result is extremely durable, completely waterproof — and expensive to produce.
Considered a "cheap" stitch, overlock is also the most bulky and least comfortable method of attachment. It's inexpensive and easy to do, however, they are key factors in producing low-end suits. If you can, avoid suits built with this method of stitching.
- Mauser Most often found on drysuits, a mauser seam is flatlock-stitched, and then followed with a waterproof-tape overlay. The result is waterproof, although slightly restrictive.
Not all rubber is alike. Not by a long-shot. Here's the skinny:
- Neoprene The basic building block of any wetsuit, neoprene is actually a closed-cell foam made up of thousands of tiny air bubbles. It's these bubbles that create a barrier of insulation, retaining your body heat from within and preventing the conduction of cold from the surrounding air and water.
- Nylon Laminated to one or both sides of the neoprene, nylon serves as a layer of protection as well as offers the ability to add color. It also reduces friction on the interior of the suit, enabling you to slide in and out and making the suit more comfortable against your skin.
- Lycra Thin and stretchy, Lycra is used in all those areas that require flexibility, such as under the arms or around the neck. It doesn't retain much warmth, however, making its placement critical in the suit.
- Metals Designed to reflect heat from within the suit, "metals" like titanium and copper are the latest rage in high-end suit design. Properly used, they can make a suit dramatically warmer ... and more expensive.
Care and Maintenance
Want your suit to last for years, smell like daisies and look almost as good as the day you bought it? Follow these simple tips:
- Rinse in fresh cold water Rinsing your suit after each use helps to wash away salt, bacteria, body oils and all the other generic glop that conspires to make your suit a smelly mess. Do it religiously are you'll dramatically extend the life of your suit.
- Hang dry Find a wide-bodied plastic hangar and hang your suit in a well-ventilated area. The bright sun? Avoid it - it will fade the colors.
- Don't warm from within Sure, a lot of people do it, but "relieving" yourself in your suit is nasty. It smells, plus it can break down the materials used in the suit's construction.
- Bathe Not you, your suit. Find some wetsuit shampoo at a surf or dive shop and scrub-a-dub-dub. Conditioners in the shampoos will also keep your suit flexible and prevent any premature drying or cracking of the neoprene.
- Store properly Putting your suit away for the season? Take it down off the hangar to avoid stretching and lay it flat (don't fold!) to avoid creases.
Tips and Tricks
Want to keep out the sand, free up that sticky zipper or even take the chill out of getting into a cold suit? Here are five tricks of the trade:
- Ready to hit that morning glass, but hate the thought of putting on that cold, damp wetsuit— before you've even had that first cup of hot java? Suit up in a warm shower, or take a jug of warm water out in the boat and pour it over yourself while gearing up. You'll expend less energy fighting off the chill, and that thin layer of water trapped between you and your neoprene will already be warmed.
- Rips and tears can be quickly repaired with a dab of wetsuit glue, available at most ski or dive shops. Just squeeze some into the tear, hold together for a few minutes, and then let the suit set overnight. By morning your suit will once again be ready to fend off the cold stuff outside.
- Zippers can get sticky and snag, especially over time. Keep them lubed up with two simple home remedies: crayons or candle wax. The wax in both will naturally lubricate the zipper and keep things tracking smoothly.
- Add several ounces of gritty sand every time you suit up on a sandy shoreline? Throw down a towel on the sand or, better yet, stand in a plastic tub. When you're done for the day, step in the tub to remove the suit, and then use the tub to wash the suit.
- For some people, just getting into a wetsuit can be more of a workout than their session on the water. End the tug-of-war by "rolling" on your suit. Just roll it from the top toward the ankles when you're ready to climb in, and then roll it back up over your body to suit up. Finished? Roll it back down to your ankles. This method will also avoid stretching the rubber or tearing a seam.
For more on wetsuits, see Alex Smith's Wetsuit Buying Guide.