Brrrr! So you think you need something between you and the water around you - something that could protect you from the temperature? Okay, you need a wetsuit. But how to find the perfect one?
Wet suits offer protection from heat loss in two ways: first, by adding both a layer of insulation next to your skin, and second, by trapping a layer of water between your skin and that insulating layer.
The suit is usually made of a material called Neoprene. Neoprene is a foam that is known for its excellent insulating properties. It is a low-density material and relies on air bubbles trapped inside.
The trapped water between your skin and the Neoprene is warmed by your body heat. When the two temperatures are the same, this is called thermal equilibrium. The insulating quality of your suit depends on its thickness and how far you are submerged in the water. The deeper you are, the more compressed the bubbles are, and the more the suit's ability to insulate is diminished.
Wet suits come in many varieties. They are available in various thicknesses. A few of the more popular thicknesses and their approximate minimum temperature are:
3 mil. (1/8 in) 2 0C (750F) and above
5 mil. (3/16 in) 180C (64 0F) to 29 0C (840F)
7 mil. (1/4 in) 100C (50 0F) to 26 0C (790F)
Wet suit styles can be found in the one-piece jumpsuit, the two-piece jumpsuit, and the shorty.
The one piece is good for head to toe protection.
The shorty, having either short or long sleeves, generally has a thigh length leg, or simply leg openings. It is primarily used for thermal protection for the chest area, which is the most important area to keep warm. The shorty may be worn alone or over a one piece.
By far the most popular style, however, is the two-piece. It can be found with a waist high bottom or with a "farmer john"where the bottom comes up and over the shoulders like a pair of overalls. The top portion of a two-piece suit is essentially a long sleeved shorty.
If using the waist high bottom style, make sure the fit is correct, or the suit may allow too much water in and leave you cold and wet.
When shopping for your new wet suit, check the quality closely. Neoprene can vary greatly in quality. A good Neoprene will stretch well in every direction. A good suit's seams will be glued as well as sewn. Glued seams restrict the amount of cool water entering the suit, thus keeping you warmer.
Proper care for your wet suit will help it last longer. If a wet suit sits in a closet, it can lose between 5% and 10% of its insulating capacity in a single year. After your ride, rinse your suit well in fresh water and/or use wetsuit soap. Never wash the suit in an upright washer. Let it dry thoroughly, then hang it on a wide hanger and store in a cool, dry place.
A wetsuit should never be folded, since this can crush the air bubbles inside.
- Kimberly Y. Wright<< Back