A wetsuit is basically a second skin. It provides comfort and protection when you are out in the water. In other words, it cuddles you and gives you the feeling of being warmer in the water.
Wetsuits are a staple piece of swimming equipment, and it’s easy to see why: they provide a level of insulation that is otherwise missing from the standard swimsuit. It can be tempting to think, therefore, that you can put them on and borrow their thermal properties while you’re not in the water – but how true is this? Do wetsuits keep you warm out of the water?
No, wetsuits do not keep you warm out of the water. They are designed to keep you warm in the water and not out of it. Most surfing wetsuits are designed to keep the surfer warm in cold water (very generally, 9 degrees C and below). In warm water, a wetsuit is generally not needed.
Why wetsuit can’t keep you warm out of water
The material that wetsuits are made out of—neoprene—isn’t particularly good at keeping you warm. Neoprene is a type of synthetic rubber that is a closed cell, filled with nitrogen-bubbles. The cells don’t allow much heat to escape and the nitrogen bubbles provide insulation against convection, but neoprene doesn’t have much insulating value on its own.
The thickness of the neoprene and the tightness of the weave determine how much insulation it provides. Thin wetsuits can have a layer that is 1-3mm thick, while thicker ones can be 7-10mm thick. The thinner the neoprene is, the more flexible it is but also the less insulation it provides. Thicker neoprene is stiffer, but also provides more insulation.
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Wetsuits work because they’re so tight that only a thin layer of water is able to squish in between your body and the suit, which actually provides most of the insulation. You can take advantage of this by wearing your wetsuit under your clothes (or even just over them) to keep you warm on cold days, but it won’t work as well as you think.
How does a wetsuit keep you warm?
Wetsuits keep you warm by trapping a thin layer of water between the suit and your skin.
So you’re probably thinking, “How does getting wet keep me warm?” While this is true for most things, wetsuits are designed to not absorb water.
As you know, when you’re in water, your body loses heat more quickly than it does on land. This is because water is a better conductor of heat than air is. If you were to take a cup of hot coffee and put it on the ground next to you, that cup of coffee would cool off much more slowly than if you put it in a tub of cold water.
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A wetsuit works to keep you warm because it acts as an insulator. The neoprene traps a layer of water between the suit and your skin. Your body heats up that water, and that heated water helps to keep you warm while in the ocean. In fact, as long as this layer of heated water stays trapped between your body and the suit, you will stay relatively warm. When this layer gets washed out (or “flushed”) by colder ocean water, your body will start to lose heat rapidly again.
To prevent this from happening, surfers wear booties and gloves on their feet and hands to prevent cold water from flushing in through their extremities.
Do wetsuits keep you warm in cold water?
Wetsuits are amazing pieces of equipment, and have been around for a long time. They were first invented in the 1950s by divers looking for a way to stay warm and dry underwater.
The simple answer is yes, wetsuits do keep you warm in cold water. However, it is not quite as simple as that. There are different thicknesses of wetsuit, and they all offer different amounts of insulation. The thicker the wetsuit, the warmer you will be.
If you’re in really cold water — below about 65°F (18°C) or so — then a neoprene wetsuit may not be enough to keep you warm. That’s when you need to go to other kinds of suits, like a “dry” suit that keeps all the water out or even a hot-water suit like the ones used by scuba divers. These suits have an internal heating system that allows them to keep their wearers warm even in freezing cold water.
When you want to know whether or not a wetsuit will keep you warm, the first thing that you should look at is the thickness (in millimeters) of the neoprene. The thicker the neoprene, the warmer it will keep you.
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The second thing that is important is the way that the wetsuit fits. If it’s too loose, water can get in and out of your wetsuit, which makes it less effective as an insulator.
The third thing that’s important is air bubbles. There are materials called “cellular neoprene” that have a lot of tiny air bubbles inside them to make them float better. These materials are better insulators than normal neoprene because they trap more air against your body.
Will a wetsuit keep you warm on land?
No, it won’t. But it might keep you cold for a long time anyway.
The main reason why a wetsuit won’t keep you warm on land is because of its design. Wetsuits are made to trap a thin layer of water in between your skin and the neoprene suit. This water is heated by your body temperature, acting as an insulator. However, when out of the water, this insulation mechanism fails because your body has nothing to heat the water with anymore. As soon as you get out of the water, the layer of water becomes cold and you will start losing body heat quickly.
However, it has often been said that wetsuits can keep you warm on land for a limited amount of time after swimming in cold water due to the fact that they trap some water in them even after exiting the ocean/lake/pool/river etc. The reason behind this is because once in contact with cold water (less than 25° Celsius), your body starts producing adrenaline which causes what we call “the afterdrop”. This afterdrop can last up to 30 minutes after exiting the water and makes you lose heat quickly.
The trouble is that at normal temperatures, your skin tends to dry pretty quickly. The only thing keeping your wetsuit wet is perspiration — and if you’re not swimming or working up a sweat, perspiration doesn’t last long. Once the wetsuit dries out, it’s just like any other clothing — very little insulation value.
Wetsuits also have another problem in cooler weather. They’re designed to keep you warm when you’re active, but if you sit still for a while and don’t generate much internal heat, you can get cold pretty quickly — faster than if you were wearing normal clothes.
How do you choose the right wetsuit thickness?
Choosing the right wetsuit thickness is probably one of the most important decisions you’ll make when purchasing your suit. Not only will it help keep you warm, but it will also help improve your performance in the water by maximizing flexibility and comfort.
Choosing the right wetsuit thickness depends on a few key factors which includes:
1. Water temperature
The first thing to consider when choosing a wetsuit is the temperature of the water you will be surfing in. It is not necessary to wear a wetsuit while surfing in warm, tropical waters (or even some Mediterranean waters!) as you can easily get away with wearing just a pair of surf shorts. However, if you are planning on surfing in colder waters, then it is essential to own a good quality wetsuit to stay safe and keep yourself warm and comfortable in the water.
2. Body temperature
If you’re like most people, you probably tend to run a little bit colder than most folks. If you’re always chilly and never hot, then you’ll want to opt for a thicker wetsuit that will help warm up your core body temperature.
On the other hand, if you tend to be hot all year round, even in cold weather, then it makes sense that you won’t need as much insulation from your wetsuit. The thinner wetsuits can be good for surfers who have high body temperatures or who live in warmer climates where water temperatures are naturally higher.
3. Body type
Also, your body type matters when choosing thickness. The more body fat you have and the less muscle mass, the better insulated your body is and the easier it will stay warm.
Someone with a lot of muscle mass loses heat quicker than others because muscle tissue produces more heat and conducts it away from your body better than fat does. Bonus fact: The thicker your skin is, the easier it is to keep warm as well (so thicker skinned people have an advantage over thinner skinned people).
Conclusion – Do wetsuits keep you warm out of the water?
With the right wetsuit, you’ll be comfortable in the water. When you are in the water, the neoprene will insulate you against your body’s heat loss. But when you’re out of the water, this insulation isn’t doing you any good. It’s all about physics—like any insulation material (like a blanket), air or water needs to be trapped between your body and the neoprene for it to keep you warm. If there is no trapped air to insulate between you and your wetsuit, then your wetsuit does not act as an insulator.
That is why it’s so important that you get properly fitted by a professional. A poorly fitting wetsuit will not insulate you well at all, even if it is made of a good quality neoprene.
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