Wetsuit thickness explained
The thickness of a wetsuit is measured in millimetres and is usually represented by two (or sometimes three) numbers. The first number refers to the thickness of the core and torso area, the second to the thickness of the extremities. A wetsuit with a thickness of 3/2 for example, has a 3 millimetre core and 2 millimetre arms and legs. The core is usually thicker, because it plays a key role in keeping your body warm. The arms and legs are thinner, in order to give you more freedom to move. A wetsuit with short arms and legs, also known as a shorty, usually has one thickness.
Wetsuit thickness chart
Wetsuits are often categorised by season, because the seasons are directly related to the temperature of the water. But of course, you can also choose the right wetsuit thickness by looking at the water temperature alone. Have a look at the chart below to get an idea of what thickness wetsuit you need at which water temperatures. Please note that this is just a guideline and other factors also play a role.
What wetsuit thickness do i need?
|Wetsuit thickness women||Wetsuit thickness men||Wetsuit thickness kids||Temperature (℃)|
|UV shirt or Lycra||UV shirt or Lycra||UV shirt or Lycra||26+ ℃|
|1 mm wetsuits||1 mm wetsuits||1 mm wetsuits||21℃ - 25℃|
|2mm wetsuits or shorty||2mm wetsuits or shorty||2mm wetsuits or shorty||18℃ - 20℃|
|3/2mm wetsuits or 4/3mm wetsuits||3/2mm wetsuits or 4/3mm wetsuits||3/2mm wetsuits||12℃ - 17℃|
|4/3mm wetsuits or 5/4mm wetsuits||4/3mm wetsuits or 5/4mm wetsuits||4/3mm wetsuits||8℃ - 11℃|
|5/4mm wetsuits or 6/5mm wetsuits||5/4mm wetsuits or 6/5mm wetsuits||5/4mm wetsuits or 6/5mm wetsuits||4℃ - 7℃|
|7+ mm wetsuits||7+ mm wetsuits||7+ mm wetsuits||Below 3℃|
|All women wetsuits||All men wetsuits||All kids wetsuits|
Wetsuit thickness by water temperature
As you can see in the above chart, the thickness of wetsuits ranges from 1 mm to 6 or even 7 millimetres. Probably, you will be mostly using suits from the middle of the spectrum. A 2 mm shorty is suited for water temperatures between 18° and 20 Celsius (65° - 70° Fahrenheit), and is a great summer suit for the UK and the rest of Europe. In fall, when temperatures often range from 12° to 17° Celsius (55° - 64° Fahrenheit), you can choose a wetsuit with a thickness of 3 mm around the core and 2 mm at the extremities, or a wetsuit with 4 mm around the core and 3 mm at the arms and legs – depending on how quickly you get cold and what kind of activity you perform. A 4/3 suit is also a good choice for temperatures ranging from 8° to 11° Celsius (48° - 54° Fahrenheit), but in those conditions, you can also go for the added warmth of a 5/4 mm suit. In cold winter water, a hooded 5/4 mm suit is a must, along with surf gloves and surf boots to keep your hands and feet warm.
Other factors you should consider
Water temperature is an important factor in choosing a wetsuit, but not the only one. Wind chill and the activity of your choice are also important. The longer your body is above water and the more of your body that’s exposed, the more wind and air temperature affect your body heat. In surfing, swimming and bodyboarding, your body will be in the water most of the time, while in sports like windsurfing, kitesurfing and paddleboarding you'll be mostly out of the water. This means a surfer might prefer a thicker wetsuit in cold water temperatures and warmer air temperatures, while a windsurfer chooses a thinner wetsuit in the same conditions. At the same time, a surfer might choose a thinner suit for conditions with warm water and cooler air temperatures, while a windsurfer might prefer a thicker suit in those conditions.
So the bottomline is, that guidelines are useful, but you should find your own preferences and invest in a wetsuit quiver that allows you to go out in the water all year long!
Frequetly Asked Questions:
how does wetsuit thickness work?
Wetsuits are neoprene suits that are designed to insulate your body while you’re in the water. The suits keep a thin layer of water between your body and the neoprene. This layer is then warmed by your body. Because the neoprene consists of small cells that are filled with air, the material insulates your body and keeps warmth trapped in. A thicker suit means a higher insulating capacity and thus more warmth.
Can a wetsuit be too thick?
Having read the above, you might think the thicker a wetsuit, the better. Unfortunately, a wetsuit that is too thick does have a few downsides. It doesn’t allow you to lose excess heat and can make you feel too hot. Additionally, the thick neoprene fabric on the arms and legs can limit your range of movement, which is not what you want when surfing, swimming, windsurfing or kitesurfing.