What are the most important features of a wetsuit?
There are some features of a wetsuit that are more important than others. First and foremost, I am going to assume we are talking about surfing wetsuits only. I have already discussed here why you should have a wetsuit designed for surfing. So having said that, lets talk features that matter:
Seams – The type of seams you have on your wetsuit can help to determine both warmth, flexibility, and durability. Overall, on a surfing top, shortie, or cheap 3/2, flatlock seams are just fine. They are durable but provide the least warmth – but since these are generally worn in warmer water that doesn’t matter. Any mid range 3/2 or thicker suit should have glue and bind-sticthed seams (GBS). GBS seams have been shown to be nearly as warm as any others and last longer than sealed seams. While liquid sealed seams are slightly warmer they just don’t last as long. In fact, you should check out this research study here which tested seams. What does this mean for me? It means when if you are looking for a winter/fall suit, then make sure it at least has GBS seams!
Interior – The interior tech in a suit has changed so much in the last few years. Different types and combinations of fleece and other materials have changed suit warmness, skin irritation, and how fast they dry. It’s really nice when you want to use a suit later in the day or next day and its dry. I personally like a suit with at least the chest and back covered in a fleece material. Some people prefer the whole suit but I find its the chest and back that matter most, the rest is just bonus.
Fit – How it fits is probably most important. A wetsuit should be pretty tight but not tight enough to cut off circulation. If there is space, that is bad. You will find some brands might fit you better than others. I personally find all brands more or less have a size suit that fits me, that size might just vary a bit based on the brand. Always look at the manufacturer specs. In general, weight is the most important factor. For example, you would probably be best off getting a suit for your weight but a few inches taller than than you are than a suit for your height but not weight. But again, check with each manufacturer.
Flex – Flex is extremely important BUT the tech has changed so much that even the lower end surfing suits have amazing flex now. The lowest end
suit I can buy from a surf company has much better flex than the highest end models from 5-7 years ago. So while important, I feel that even the lower end suits have enough. Having said that, if you are a competitor, get a suit designed for competitions with max flex but probably less warmth.
Entry/Exit System – This is all preference but it can be very important. I personally will no longer buy a suit with a back zip. I find I don’t like how they flush and am not a fan of the back zipper. That means I only look for chest zip or no zip suits. However some people hate chest/no zip suits. But this is a quick way to narrow down what suit you get. If you aren’t sure, you aren’t going to go wrong with any of them. Chest zip/no zip will generally be warmer but this depends on a few things.
Brand – It seems that all of the major surfing brands have a good low end, mid range, and high end range suit. Brand seems to matter much less. I know people that love and/or hate each brand so don’t look to opinions. Try them and see what you prefer.
Warranty – Since wetsuits are really only designed to last 1-2 seasons I find the warranty not that important. Many brands used to insure the seams for life but many now only do for 1-2 years. I have seen suits fall apart and companies fix them but I find all of the companies seem to take pride in this and do a good job.
So what suit do I personally recommend? Well it depends on your use. For warm water, a cheap 3/2 is going to be fine. But for those of us who surf in the east coast winters where the water can get cold and need a good 3/2, 4/3, or 5/4, I highly recommend the mid range suits from most manufacturers. The low end usually just don’t have GPS seams and high end are usually a bit more gimmicky with things like arm/leg fleece that might not really impact you much. The best bang for your buck is mid range.