The fit and feel of a wetsuit is super important – if a wetsuit doesn’t fit, it doesn’t work.
Wetsuits work by trapping a very thin layer of water between your skin and the neoprene, and then using the heat from your body to warm it up. It’s very important, therefore, that the layer isn’t constantly being replaced by new, colder water.
How effective a wetsuit is at performing this task is largely a function of how well it fits the wearer.
How should a wetsuit fit?
A wetsuit should be as tight as you can comfortably be to get into. What you need to avoid are slack areas where water can pool, or loose seals around the ankles, wrists, and neck.
If your wetsuit is too loose, cold water will enter the suit freely or “flush through”. Water sloshing around in your wetsuit isn’t conducive to you being the best you. You’ll feel cold, weighed down, and sad.
If your suit fits properly, that single thin layer of water becomes securely trapped, and because it’s trapped it will heat up. You’ll feel warm, lightweight, and happy.
So a wetsuit is supposed to feel tight. Sometimes people think their wetsuit is too small because it’s a bit of a struggle to get into, but wetsuits do generally require a bit of effort to put on, especially if you haven’t had much practice.
It does get easier the more you do it, and that slightly restricted sensation you experience at first will soon become second nature.
How to tell if wetsuit is too big
Some things to look out for and avoid are excess material behind your knees, at the lumber panel around your back, and around your armpits.
The lower back, because of the way the human back curves, is a good way to test the size. Making sure the wetsuit is on properly, and getting rid of bunching around the arms and legs by distributing the material more evenly, push your stomach out slightly, arch your back.
Now pinch the suit at your lower back, and have a feel of how much excess neoprene is there. If you can grab a handful of loose material without having to really force it, your wetsuit is probably too big.
Excess material around the forearms or lower legs isn’t ideal but a little bit of bunching won’t affect your suit’s performance to the same extent.
Generally speaking, the tighter the suit the better. Obviously, it is also possible to have a wetsuit that’s too tight. If it constricts your breathing, if moving your arms up and down feels like you’re lifting deadweights, if you need to call the fire brigade to get it on or off, there is a chance your wetsuit is too small for you.
Do wetsuits stretch?
Wetsuits do stretch, and if they didn’t they wouldn’t be much use – you wouldn’t be able to get them on, for a start. Being elasticated, however, they they should always resume their normal shape. (If you’re wondering whether your wetsuit will “stretch out” over time, like the waistband of a pair of trousers, it won’t.)
Not all wetsuits stretch equally, however. There are a few factors to bear in mind.
Firstly, the thinner the neoprene is in a wetsuit, the stretchier it will be, but there’s a trade-off here between warmth and flex. Thicker neoprene makes for a warmer but generally slightly stiffer wetsuit.
It tends also to be the case that more expensive neoprene is more flexible. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, as sometimes you’re paying for extra warmth, not extra performance or flex. Generally, though, a 3/2mm wetsuit (i.e. composed of 3mm and 2mm panels) worth, say, £100 won’t be as stretchy as a 3/2mm wetsuit worth £300.
The more your wetsuit stretches, the freer and less restrained you’ll feel inside it, and you’ll also find it’s easier to get in and out of.
Wetsuit fitting guide
A men’s wetsuit is cut differently from a women’s wetsuit due to the differences in body shape between the sexes. Simply put, women’s suits are slightly wider at the hips and chest. Of course it’s possible for a woman to wear a men’s wetsuit – when borrowing a friend’s, let’s say – but it won’t fit nearly as snugly.
Men’s wetsuits are generally sized in the Small / Medium / Large format, though often there’ll be a second letter, either S or T for short or tall. So for example, if you’re tall and slim you may find that a Medium Tall fits better than a standard Medium. Brands generally supply a size chart which will help you work out what size you need.
As for female wetsuits, these tend to be created to be in line with women’s dress sizes. However, bear in mind that sizing often varies slightly from brand to brand, and you may need to size up or down.
Can you wear a wetsuit when pregnant?
Until you’re heavily pregnant you can generally wear your normal wetsuit. Later on, you may need to go for a bigger size to get it over your bump. Again, the thickness (or flexibility) of the neoprene will affect how easy it is to accommodate the bump.
We’d always recommend seeking your doctor’s advice before surfing when pregnant.