What kind of wetsuit do I need for certain water temperature? This is one of the questions we get asked almost every day. What’s the deal here? On one hand you want to wear as little neoprene as possible. Less neoprene and thinner wetsuit means less strain on our muscles when we move. As soon as you put on a wetsuit you not only have to move your arms to propel yourself forward, you also have to pull and stretch the wetsuit you are wearing. Because of the extra work you get tired sooner. So, boardshorts all the way :)? Great, but on the other hand you do not want to be cold. There are limits to where you feel comfortable in cool water and there are limits when cold water becomes just plain dangerous to your health and finally to your life. Cold also makes you slower, number and drains your energy. So choosing the right wetsuit for the certain water temperature is a trade-off between these two facts. You want a wetsuit that is thick enough to keep you warm and thin enough not to put unnecessary strain to your muscles. So how to choose the right wetsuit for different water temperatures? Follow this thickness and water temperature guide to find out :)!
Wetsuit thickness and water temperature guide
You can get this info from any manufacturer. But we find these wetsuit – water temperature charts done by major companies a bit funny and not very realistic. Their temperature charts make you believe: “You only need a 3/2 millimeter wetsuit for 54F (12C) water, since our wetsuits are so advanced :).” If they are not talking about the battery heated wetsuits they are probably full of shit.
And even if their chart is OK, there are a few additional things that you need to keep in mind when choosing the right thickness for cold water.
What kind of wetsuit thickness should I get?
It is not just the water temperature that counts. There are a few factors to consider: water temperature, air temperature, wind, cold sensitivity and activity. Let’s take a look at each of them.
True. This is the most important one. And the most obvious one. Colder water – thicker wetsuit. Neoprene acts as an insulator against outer weather elements and the thicker it is the more insulation you have. How thick? Check our wetsuit water temperature chart a few inches lower. Earlier we mentioned that cold water can be hazardous to your health and life. How dangerous is ti?
How Long Can You Survive in Cold Water?
What happens when our body is exposed to cold water? Our body core temperature starts to drop and when it gets as low as 70 and 80 degrees F (21 – 27 degrees C) our heart usually stops. But even before that we of course feel various consequences of cold water – our muscles get weak, we lose coordination and strength etc… How fast all this occurs depends on the water temperature. The coldest water you can find will usually be around 39-41-degree F/ 4-5 degree C (remember the water density before it turns to ice lesson from high school?). Generally a person can survive in water at that temperatures for 10 to 20 minutes.
But it is not only the ice cold water that is dangerous. Water pulls heat out of your body about 25 times faster than air! Which means that even water with temperature as high as 75 – 80 degrees F (24 – 27 degrees C) can be dangerous.
Here is the expected survival time in correlation with water temperature:
Water Temperature And Expected Time of Survival Chart
|Water Temperature||Expected Time Before Exhaustion or Unconsciousness||Expected Time of Survival|
|32.5°||0.3°||< 15 minutes||45 minutes|
|32.5–40°||0.3–4.4°||15 – 30 minutes||30 – 90 minutes|
|40–50°||3.3–10°||30 – 60 minutes||1 – 3 hours|
|50–60°||10–15.6°||1 – 2 hours||1 – 6 hours|
|60–70°||15.6–21.1°||2 – 7 hours||2 – 40 hours|
|70–80°||21.1–26.7°||3 – 12 hours||3 hours – indefinite|
|> 80°||> 26.7°||Indefinite||Indefinite|
This one can be in sync with the water temperature. Lots of times it is. Warmer water in the summer, colder water in the winter. But there are also a lot of places on Earth where this isn’t completely true. Places where cold ocean currents flow past hot desert coastlines. Where the air is hot and the water is cold. Here warm sun and warmer air can allow you to wear a thinner wetsuit than you normally would.
This is a really big factor. It’s our guess that most wetsuit water temperature charts are written like there is absolutely no wind. If you are lucky enough for this to be true, good for you. But even your average everyday weather has some wind, not to mention windsurfers, surfers who surf wind swells etc… that are exposed to quite strong winds. What does wind do? It cools the surface of your body and increases the feeling of cold. So if you use your wetsuit in wind then it should be thicker. And this is not you “the feel”, there is actual science behind this. In the wind chill chart below you can see how different wind speeds influence the feeling of cold.
This changes from person to person. How quickly do you feel cold? For some people it is anything under 75F, some are comfortable in 60F… partly this might be conditioned with your body and blood circulation and partly this is just how used you are to cold. For instance – mountain climber spend weeks at high altitudes and low temperatures and when they come back home, they say that they constantly feel hot. Normal apartment temperature is just to hot for them, so they keep opening the windows :).. well if it’s colder outside. So if you want to surf, windsurf etc..whatever in cold weather and cold water there is some amount of could that you have to get used to.
This is also a major factor. If you are active you burn energy and produce heat while you do it. If we take surfing for instance. You can paddle up and down, try to catch every wave you can and you will be smoking hot. Or you can sit and wait for your wave to come or there might be a lack of swell and you need to wait 10 minutes for every wave and sure, you will be cold. Or another example – diving. Divers are not supposed to be very active, they must try to keep their heart rate down, breathing slowly to conserve oxygen. Slowly gliding through cold water depths requires much thicker wetsuit than doing something more aerobic and active does.
With so many factors that influence your choice you can understand that no chart can be 100% right. The problem with wetsuit temperature charts is that they don’t tell you that. Well – now you know!
Our water temperature and wetsuit thickness chart is therefore just for your orientation and is a bit on the safe side. Also – just choosing the right wetsuit thickness is not enough. When the water gets colder you also need to wear booties and later also gloves and a hood.
Now – we were complaining how wetsuit manufacturers thickness charts suck and only want to make an impression but – quality IS a big factor. A good winter wetsuit will not easily let water penetrate to the inside. Things like double blindstitch, liquid sealing, taped seams, batflap etc… will stop cold water entering your wetsuit so a good one is a must in cold weather and water and this is also the reason that a good winter wetsuit is not cheap.
WATER TEMPERATURE WETSUIT CHART
|> 77 F
> 25 C
|You don’t need a wetsuit, unless you usually wear a wetsuit to jacuzzi, sauna, to the beach…|
|Shorty when it gets colder outside, like in the morning, evening and if it is windy. If the weather is warm, you still don’t need a wetsuit.|
|68F–72F 20C–22C||This is the comfortable bottom limit for surfing in shorty. Spring suit or 3/2 full suit is better when it gets cold and windy.|
|Spring suit or full suit 3/2. If you only have one wetsuit and it is 4/3 you no worries, you can also use it.|
|A good 3/2 full suit is still OK, if you get cold, wear booties. Otherwise wear a 4/3 wetsuit and you will be comfortable in any weather.|
|At this water temperature booties become necessary, at least if you like to feel you feet. 4/3 wetsuit is OK, but if you will do a lot of surfing in water at the bottom of this temperature range, you should probably get a 5/3.|
|5/3 or 5/4/3 wetsuit with booties and gloves. Hood depends on other conditions like wind etc.|
|< 48 F
< 9 C
|5/3 can work, 6/5/4 is better, depends on how extreme do you want to get. Often it is not the thickness of the wetsuit, but bad booties, gloves etc that are the source of cold. So not only the wetsuit, also the booties, gloves and hood must be thick (5mm).|
So what kind of wetsuit should you get? In our experience – if you will only own one wetsuit, then buy a 4/3. It is the most versatile and useful in widest range of temperatures.
Cold water, cold weather and wearing a wetsuit tips
If cold water and low temperatures are not enough, there comes a time when you need to put on a cold and WET wetsuit. To speed this process and get it over with as soon as possible try this:
- put a PVC bag on you leg or arm when you are putting on your wetsuit and it will slide through the sleeves like a hot knife through butter.
- For the upper part of your body, where a wet wetsuit feels the most uncomfortable try this – have a dry rash guard in store and wear it before you start dressing.
We hope we helped you with your wetsuit thickness choice. Have fun in winter!