A man swimming in the oceanA man swimming in the ocean

Images credit: Zone3

Swimming Wetsuit Buying Guide

Wild and open water swimming have seen a massive rise in popularity over recent years, and when considering the many benefits both have, it's easy to see why. Alongside the physical benefits that come with swimming, it has been proven to have a positive effect on mental health and offers a fantastic way to explore nature and your local area in a way that you may not have done before.

Thanks to years of development and research, swim-specific wetsuits are now incredibly efficient, comfortable and feature plenty of tech. They act as a second skin providing additional protection and performance when you need it.

So if you are new to the sport or are looking to upgrade your wetsuit, read on for our full guide to swimming wetsuits

Why Buy A Swimming Wetsuit?

For anyone looking to swim outdoors in the UK, it’s a good idea to invest in a wetsuit. It may be tempting to stick with a multi-purpose ‘surf’ style wetsuit, but investing in a swim specific suit will make a huge difference if you intend to take part in races, timed events or even to improve your stroke efficiency.

Using a swimming wetsuit has a number of benefits, with some of the most crucial being:

  • Warmth – Crucial for any open water swimming, and especially so through the colder months.
  • Buoyancy – Wetsuits naturally provide some extra floatation which holds your body higher in the water, helping with your swimming position. Certain suits will also provide more buoyancy in the legs than the torso, helping to lift your lower body and aiding technique.
  • Speed – Swim specific wetsuits are designed to reduce your drag in the water, helping to improve efficiency and speed
  • Protection – If swimming in the ocean, then at certain times of year the UK coast can be full of jellyfish. Having a wetsuit offers a layer of protection to prevent you getting stung!

The Difference Between Swim Specific &
Multi-Purpose Wetsuits

woman swimming underwaterwoman swimming underwater

When most people think of wetsuits, they will imagine a multi-purpose surf style wetsuit. These suits are great for recreation and playing about on surfboards and kayaks. However, there are some key differences between a standard wetsuit and a swim wetsuit that make the investment into a swim specific suit worthwhile.

Multi-Purpose Wetsuit

  • Generally use thicker neoprene
  • Prioritise durability and stretch throughout
  • Vary thickness from chest, legs and arms, with warmth capabilities as the key factor
  • Reinforcement in high wear areas such as knees
  • Primarily use double-lined neoprene which is durable, but thicker and less smooth than single-lined

Swim Wetsuit

  • Usually made from thinner neoprene offering more movement
  • Prioritise flexibility and stretch to allow an unrestrictive swim stroke
  • Strategically vary thickness in key areas to aid buoyancy and swim technique
  • Use single lined neoprene which has a smoother finish to improve speed and efficiency when swimming
  • Low neckline to prevent restriction of the neck when in a swimming position

So whilst multi-purpose wetsuits have their place, swim specific wetsuits are without a doubt the best option for open water and wild swimming. By investing in a swim wetsuit you gain the benefit of unrestrictive movement, fit that is focussed on swimming, strategically placed buoyancy to aid technique, and smooth skin neoprene to improve speed and efficiency.

Key Features


putting on a swim wetsuitputting on a swim wetsuit

As previously discussed, swim wetsuits use neoprene in a different way to surf wetsuits. They typically use single lined neoprene which is essentially a neoprene layer with a nylon lining on the inside only (rather than double lined, which has lining on the inside and outside of the neoprene layer). This construction offers excellent protection from windchill, but importantly for swimming, allows water to easily run-off the suit which keeps you lighter and improves hydrodynamics.


glue blind stitched seamsglue blind stitched seams

Glued seams

There are two main methods for constructing seams on a wetsuit: flatlock and glue blind stitched. Flatlock seams are where two panel edges are laid over each other and stitched together. This involves making a number of holes in the suit which allows some water to penetrate. Flatlock seams are usually found on cheaper wetsuits, and are best suited to summer use.

Glue blind-stitched seams are found in more expensive suits and offer higher quality. For each seam, two panels are glued together and then secured with a stitch that does not penetrate to the outer side of the neoprene. This offers a fully watertight, flexible and stong seam. To further reinforce comfort, durability and watertightness, these seams are also sometimes taped/sealed. GBS seams are therefore the best option for cold water use.


swim wetsuit thickness of panelsswim wetsuit thickness of panels

Example of varying thickness from one of Zone3's wetsuits

The thickness of neoprene has a number of important effects on a wetsuit. For multi-purpose wetsuits, thickness is usually used to increase warmth and durability. 2/3mm suits are generally advised for summer use, and 5mm for winter use.

However, swim wetsuits work slightly differently as due to the high energy output of swimming, you generally require less warmth and instead want to focus on the use of thickness to manipulate other features such as flexibility and buoyancy.

In order to optimise buoyancy, flexibility and warmth, swim wetsuits use a range of thicknesses throughout different panels in a suit. Generally, swim wetsuits will use thinner sections of neoprene through the arm, shoulder and underarm, allowing for maximum movement and rotation. Certain suits will then use slightly thicker neoprene at the hips which helps your body sit higher in the water when in a swimming position.

If you are prone to dragging your feet, then investing in a wetsuit with plenty of thickness (and subsequently buoyancy) through the legs can be a great way to help lift your feet and improve your technique.

Swimrun Wetsuits

man and women competing in swimrunman and women competing in swimrun

Swimrun wetsuits have a number of features that differ from a standard swimming or multipurpose wetsuit. Importantly, this is because of the fact that for swimrun events you have to carry all of your equipment from the start to finish line, meaning you need to be able to both swim and run in your wetsuit.

To accommodate performing across two disciplines, the main differences you may notice compared to a normal wetsuit are:

  • Increased stretch – To ensure that your running movement is not impeded, swimrun suits typically have higher stretch and thinner material in the legs
  • Front zip - Allows for lung expansion, breathability and heat regulation when running
  • Typically Short Sleeves/Legs – Offers more comfort for running and helps to prevent overheating
  • Pockets – Both external and internal, allowing you to carry the required equipment for swimrun events

Many people also swim with neoprene calf sleeves when wearing Swimrun wetsuits. This is due to the fact that short-sleeved suits have less buoyancy than a standard suit, and swimming whilst wearing trail shoes on adds weight. The calf sleeves help to add bouyancy and lift your lower legs/feet in the water.

How Should Your Wetsuit Fit?

fitting a swim wetsuitfitting a swim wetsuit

Ensuring that your wetsuit fits correctly is crucial to getting maximum performance and comfort from your suit. Wetsuits should essentially act as a second skin, but offer no restriction or rubbing.

When choosing your wetsuit size, it’s important to consider that the most important factor is weight rather than height. For this reason, it is quite common to fall into two appropriate sizes. This is purposeful; brands like Zone3 will expect each swimmer to fit into two size brackets: comfort fit and performance fit.

Comfort fit sizing is usually preferred by those who might not have worn a swim wetsuit before. The suit will feel slightly bigger, less restrictive and is usually easier to get on and off.

Performance fit sizing will mean that the suit fits as closely to your skin as possible, offer compression in some areas and provide maximum drag reduction and efficiency when swimming.

You should expect a correctly fitting wetsuit to usually sit around 1 – 15cm above your ankle when fully on. When you try your suit on for the first time, ensure that you go through the swimming motion on land. It should feel relatively easily, but also remember that once wet, the suit will fit better, feel more comfortable and ultimately mould to your shape over time.

Fitting Tips

Here are some more key tips you can use for the first time you try a wetsuit on. They should give you a good idea as to whether the fit is correct.

  • Feel around your lower back and make sure that the suit pulls in. There shouldn’t be a big gap here. If you find a gap, then try to bring the suit higher into the crotch and neckline. Once adjusted there shouldn’t be any excess fabric across the suit, if there is then that’s a sign that the suit is too big and will likely let water in.
  • With your arms parallel to the ground, the wetsuit should be close to your armpits with some small bumps/folds on top of the shoulder.
  • Extend your arms in front of your chest and cross them at the wrists. Check for a gap at the neckline. Although a small gap is to be expected, it should be kept to a minimum.

It is also worth noting that a correctly fitted wetsuit may not feel particularly comfortable when standing on dry land, but with the above guidance, once you are in the water the suit should work perfectly with your body through the swimming stroke.

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