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Whether you are hobbyist freediver or professional one, you need a proper freediving wetsuit. In this guide, we explain everything that you need to know about freedive suits and give you advice on how to choose the right one, discuss the differences between closed cell, open cell wetsuits, smoothskin and suggest what thickness to buy when diving in warm and cold water.
Why do you need a freediving wetsuit?
You wear wetsuit for protection. Thermal protection is evident, in cold water you have to wear suit to keep yourself warm. But there are other factors you have to take into account: protect yourself against sun and other environmental hazards like jellyfish or accidentally coral cuts.
Wetsuits are made of neoprene. Technically neoprene is a piece of rubber that insulates the body, keeps you warm in the water. You might start your freediving adventures in a standard wetsuit or surfsuit, which is completely OK, but as you get more into this sport, you will need a proper freediving suit at some point. Not just because it looks much more cool and professional, but also because of its technical advantages.
Freedive wetsuit vs scuba wetsuit
Freedive suits have two key features that make them different from scuba suits:
- Thermal properties
Professional freedive suits are more flexible than normal scuba suits (see clarification below) providing you free movement underwater. Having a stretchy suit almost feels like wearing nothing, so you can concentrate on your dives instead of struggling with a rigid fabric caused discomfort.
Looking at the thermal properties aspect, it is good to know that freedivers tend to spend longer time in the water than scuba divers. A good freediving wetsuit keeps you warm during longer sessions too. Feeling comfortable temperature-wise is crucial: if you feel cold and start shivering, you cannot control your heart rate, and it will affect your breathing too.
Freediving wetsuit types
Freedive neoprene suits are available in a wide range – depending on your skills, body type and budget, you can choose between closed cell, open cell and smoothskin suits. Find below the pros and cons of the different type of wetsuits so you can easily decide which one meets your needs and diving style the most.
Closed cell suit
Closed cell suits are the conventional wetsuits that are usually used for scuba diving but one can find closed cell freediving wetsuits as well. Closed cell neoprene wetsuits made of neoprene with nylon or lycra layers on both sides.
- outside lining makes the wetsuit strong and durable – this is important for scuba divers who put a lot of gear on that can damage the suit. This factor is not really important for freedivers who normally use only a rubber weight belt as equipment.
- to put the suit on, you don’t need to lube it. It can be dry or wet while putting on, does not really matter, you can dress up like normally.
- lower price
- water will flush through the suit while diving, therefore it won’t keep you warm in the long run
- the outside nylon/lycra layer restricts the stretch and makes movements limited
Open cell wetsuit
Open cell suits are the commonly used freediving wetsuits because of great elasticity and better insulation. There is no nylon neither lycra layer on the inner side of the suit, so the neoprene rubber makes direct contact with your skin. The suit forms a seal with your skin not letting water flush through it, making you feel significantly warmer.
- elasticity, you can move freely
- good thermal properties, keeps you warm longer while training or diving
- most commonly used 2-piece freedive suits can be ordered with different sized top and bottom parts – easier to match with your body type
- you need to lube it when putting it on
- the inner side is fragile, you can tear or cut it accidentally with sharp objects or even with nails. To fix the mall cuts, you need a neoprene glue.
- less durable than standard suits
- higher price
These neoprene suits come without covering material or with special „smoothskin” coating on the outside. They are much warmer than nylon coating suits, and the smooth outside layer provides wind-chill protection too which is very useful when diving from boat or in windy environment. They are used mainly by professional freedivers and on competitions. Usually smoothskin suits have 1-piece design with separate hood.
- excellent elasticity
- high thermal properties
- increased hydrodynamics
- high price
How to put on the open cell wetsuit?
Since the inner side material of an open cell freediving wetsuit is the rubber itself, it is kind of sticky so you won’t be able to put it on without lubrication. You might heard about many different techniques what to use as lubricant from dish soap to shampoo. The experience is that these cause itching and rashes. You can buy special wetsuit lubricants but there is a simple solution too: hair conditioner! It can be any brand, even the cheapest, but most freedivers agree that hair conditioner works the best!
Open cell wetsuit lube
To prepare your own open cell suit lube, follow these steps:
- Take a bottle of hair conditioner, an empty bottle and water
- Pour conditioner into the empty bottle about ¼ of the way
- Fill up with water but not fully, leave room because you need to shake it
- One the conditioner and water mixed together, you can fill it water to the top
- Ready! Now you can pour your lube into your pants and jacket!
If you forget your lube at home, you still can use clear water or even salt water for donning. Still much better than suffering with a dry, sticky suit!
Tips to find the perfect freediving suit
Freedive wetsuits should fit perfectly. Always try to wear the thinnest possible depending on water temperature. Thinner freediving wetsuit give you more flexibility. Second important advantage is that you wear less weight with a thin suit. The thicker your freediving wetsuit the more buoyant you are and the more weight you need. For easy, safe dives, try to get as thin as possible according to the water temperature. It is also important to learn the correct weighting for freediving!
Most freedivers prefer to choose a 2-piece wetsuit when they can just mix&match the sizes for the perfect fit. 2-piece wetsuits come with high-waisted freedive pants, so you get double layer on body core for the best thermal protection.
It was difficult to find lady suits in the past, but luckily more and more women’s open cell wetsuit models are available on the market. Professional freedive suits are never unisex!
Since you lose a lot of heat through the head, hooded suits offer great advantages! That’s why freedive jackets always come with built-in hood. 1-piece suits generally comes without hood, but you can add a detachable hood to it.
What thickness of wetsuit do you need?
As mentioned, for the best fit and easy dives it is recommended to wear the thinnest possible wetsuits, but it does not mean you need to neglect thermal protection. To find the right thickness, make a note on what minimum and maximum water temperature you will experience. Most freedivers have „Summer” and „Winter” wetsuits for different sea temperatures.
Your preferred wetsuit thickness mainly depends on your personal preferences, body type, how but here is a rough guide how thick your freedive suit needs to be depending on the sea temperature:
- Tropical water over 25 degrees Celsius (77 F and above) : 1-2 mm
- 20-25 degrees Celsius (68-77 F): 3 mm
- 15-20 degrees Celsius (59-68 F): 5 mm
- Cold water below 15 degrees (59 F and under): 7 mm or thicker
More freediving gear buying guides:
- Which snorkel to buy for freediving?
- Why use rubber weight belt?
- Best freedive watches
- Freediving mask guide
- How to buy freedive fins
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