Wetsuits from different manufacturers will have different features for improved performance and as selling points. Some of these innovations are purely gimmicks and do nothing for either comfort or performance but some are useful and we’ve put together information on the more useful features that you should be aware of before you buy a wetsuit.
This is a rubber foam material that is lined for stretch and warmth with a jersey fabric. Stretch is important for fit and comfort but the stretchier the fabric the less durability it has. In areas such as knees which receive the most wear a more durable fabric which does not need to stretch so much can be used.
In order to fit well a wetsuit is made from a number of panels. A better fit is obtained by the use of more panels but this also increases the number of seams which reduces the flexibility. Seams should be placed away from areas where they may cause rubbing, such as at the neck or behind the knees and also away from areas that will reduce the ability to move, such as across the shoulders or under the arms.
Two types of stitching are used in wetsuits, flatlocking or blindstitching. In more expensive wetsuits blindstitching is usually used. The seam is first glued then stitched with the needle not passing completely through the material. With no needle hole all the way through the material the seam is watertight. This process is more expensive as it is labour intensive. In flatlocking a flerxible and strong seam is produced but the needle passes right through the material so it is not watertight. It is usually used in summer wetsuits and is not suitable for winter wetsuits.
Liquid Sealed Seams
A rubber compound can be used to seal the seam and make it watertight. This is very effective but the use of the rubber compound reduces the flexibilty so is not suitable for areas where flexibility is important.
There are two types of neoprene coating currently in use WRC (water repellant coating) and Pu printing. A chemical that repels water is used in WPC, usually on the top half of the wetsuit. Less water is absorbed by the fabric and the wetsuit is therefore lighter and warmer. PU printing is used to make the fabric more resistant to damage by abrasion as it increases the durability of the neoprene material.
Used in most expensive wetsuits, batwings are thin pieces of neoprene that are sewn inside the zipper to prevent the entry of cold water, thus making the wetsuit warmer and more comfortable.
Wrist, Neck and Ankle Seals
Seals at neck, wrist and ankle must be tight enough to prevent water from entering the wetsuit but not so tight that they restrict movement and cause rubbing. A good fit with soft neoprene and fewer seams are some points to look for.
In the more expensive wetsuits features such as superstretch material, blindstitching etc will enhance performance and comfort. Some of these features however lead to lower durability and a shorter life for the wetsuit. So it comes down to a balance between what you can afford, how long your wetsuit will last and how you are prepared to sacrifice durability for a higher performance. For those who will be spending a lot of time in their wetsuits it makes sense to buy the most comfortable one you can afford.