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Are Scuba Wetsuits Supposed to Be Tight? 4 Practical Tips to Find the Optimal Fit

Finding the dream-fit wetsuit is something novice scuba divers struggle with all the time. This is mainly because they conflate the terms “snug-fit” and “tight-fit” while looking for wetsuits. The advice to buy a snug-fitting wetsuit right off the bat is simply wrong.

Although the terms snug-fit and tight-fit are used interchangeably often they aren’t quite the same thing. Snug-fit generally implies a comfortably close or secure fit, it is indeed a tight fit but not something you’re uncomfortable with.

Tight-fit, on the other hand simply means something is fitted closely and securely, possibly to the point of being restrictive or uncomfortable.

Wetsuits need to be slightly tight-fitting at the time of purchase and will gradually acquire a snug fit after 2-3 dives due to the stretching of the neoprene fabric.

Why snug-fitting wetsuits Are Better?

Offers Increased Insulation

As I mentioned earlier, wetsuits work by trapping a thin film of water close to the skin, which your body will warm up quickly. This forms an insulating layer between your body and the cold ocean waters. But if excess water keeps flushing through the suit, this erodes body heat much faster through convection. That’s why a tighter fit leads to better heat retention overall.

Better Buoyancy

Along with insulation, suit squeeze also improves your underwater buoyancy. The more tightly your gear clings to your body contours, the less volume of water gets displaced. This lessens the upward push needed to keep you afloat. Less effort treading water means using less air. And that means more bottom time before needing to surface.

Prevents Flushing & Entanglement

And finally, a properly fitted wetsuit improves your general safety in the water. First, it prevents that rapid flushing of water through the suit we discussed earlier, which saps away body heat. Tight seals around wrists, ankles, and the neck collar also prevent excess water entry.

Second, a form-fitting suit won’t catch on reefs, wrecks, kelp, or other hazards as you swim past. Imagine needing to stop mid-dive to untangle yourself from a shipwreck! Not fun. Choose streamlined wetsuits over baggy ones to enhance your underwater safety.

How Should a Snug Fit Wetsuit Feel Like?

While donning a brand new wetsuit it IS supposed to feel tight and uncomfortable, especially around your limbs and neck. You might even feel like getting choked by your wetsuit but it’s completely normal and needs some practice getting used to.

Having slight problems performing the full range of motion with your new wetsuit? Do a few sets of dynamic stretching exercises like jumping jacks and squats, your wetsuit will ease up pretty quickly.

Your wetsuit should stretch and mold into your body shape within the first 5 dives as the neoprene slowly adjusts its elasticity. Do not ever forcefully stretch your wetsuit to make it fit better, let it stretch naturally.

You’re supposed to feel a slight and uniform pressure all over your body exerted by the wetsuit, this pressure is essential to trap a thin layer of water which acts as insulation while underwater. An optimally fit wetsuit should feel like a stretched but jagged rubbery balloon texture on touch and uniformly stretched all over your body with no creases or folds.

By that time, performing a full range of motion during dynamic stretching will not feel restrictive at all and your wetsuit will start to feel more like a second set of skin on you.

Should you Size Up or Down While Buying A New Wetsuit?

Neoprene wetsuits shrink when wet by breathing in water. So, a wetsuit that feels tighter on land should feel more relaxed in the water. In addition, wetsuits continue to lose elasticity with each cycle of stretching.

So, if you’re confused between two sizes while buying a black neoprene wetsuit always size down and go for the one smaller in size.

4 Tips to Determine the Optimal Fit for Your Wetsuit

While looking for a wetsuit keep these tips in mind to ensure that you come home with a wetsuit of perfect fit and one that will serve you for the next 5-10 years.

1. Try Before You Buy

Most dive shops allow you to try on the wetsuit, and some might even allow you to take a quick dip in their backyard pool, but most won’t allow you to try out the suit in an actual dive. And buying a wetsuit without trying it out first-hand in a dive isn’t too assuring, is it?

So, the better choice would be to put on a rental wetsuit with proper lubing and take a dive with it. Note the manufacturer, make, and size of the one you felt the most comfortable in. Since rental wetsuits are stretched from frequent use, buy one size smaller than the noted size of the rental suit.

2. Zipping Your Wetsuit Up And Down Should Be Smooth

The zipper should be easy to pull up and down regardless of the recommended slightly tight fitting of the wetsuit. Check the zipper closure and make sure the zips contact each other naturally without having to pull them together. The pulled-up zip should lie flat against your back without buckling.

3. Keep Your Abdominal Region Relaxed

Do not tense up or engage your core. After putting on the wetsuit keep your abdominal muscles as relaxed as possible. Do a few sets of diaphragm breathing to make sure the fabric is not severely restricting your abdominal stretching.

4. Expect Suits to Loosen Over Time

Ah yes, my favorite excuse for recent weight gain! But really, wetsuit neoprene does lose elasticity after repeated use. Friction from sandy entries, and exposure to salt, chlorine, and sunlight all gradually degrade the stretch. So expect to size down every couple of years if you log frequent dives.

5. Keep the Warmth Factor in Mind

While buying thicker wetsuits don’t get overwhelmed if the wetsuit makes you feel warmer than usual on land. The same suit will offer the right amount of warmth once you are in the water.

Still confused? Our scuba wetsuit temperature and thickness guide will cover it for you.

How to Avoid Your Wetsuit Rubbing Against Your Skin?

While snug fit wetsuit has its triumphs, it comes with its fair share of downsides too, chafing being one of the prominent ones. But the neoprene chafing issue can be mitigated if you take some additional measures:

  • Apply wetsuit lubricants like baby oil, and skin lotions generously over common problem zones before donning your suit. Areas like the neck, armpits, and groin get hit hard with friction, so protect them proactively. DO NOT use petroleum-based products on neoprene suits.
  • Search for a wetsuit featuring smooth skin lining around the torso and limbs. This soft interior cushioning prevents the coarse exterior material from contacting bare skin directly.
  • Soak in a hot tub or warm shower right before suiting up. This temporarily softens and expands the neoprene, allowing you to pull it on with less drag and effort.
  • Stretch out the tightest spots manually while suiting up, then point your toes and raise your arms overhead to ease into position. Avoid wrestling or forcing stubborn spots.
  • Try wearing thin rashguard shirts and shorts as a protective base layer if your skin is highly sensitive. Just ensure garments fit snugly as well.

Dealing With A Loose Fit Wetsuit

As the neoprene goes through a cycle of stretching and relaxing, wetsuits become less elastic over time and in turn lose their insulating ability. It’s inevitable. You cannot stop that, what you CAN do instead is prolong its usability.

If your wetsuit feels loose and big, wear an undersuit like bicycle shorts or thermal wear to compensate for the stretched neoprene and maintain the snug fit of your wetsuit. It might feel sweltering hot on land but the heat will balance itself out on land.

At one point your wetsuit will stretch so much that the neoprene material will simply tear from thinning out. By that time, you have no option but to shed your neoprene scale and buy a new one. Don’t worry, your old tattered wetsuit is still usable, just not as your scuba exposure suit.

There’s a Perfect Wetsuit Fit for All

Wetsuits are available in every size you can imagine. So, don’t be discouraged if you don’t find your dream-fit wetsuit at one dive shop, just into the next one. Being picky while buying a wetsuit is natural and in fact, I recommend being picky while choosing each piece of scuba gear.

Scott Braxton

Scott Braxton

Growing up in Florida I have always regarded cave diving as not just some adventure sport but as a medium between me and nature. Cave diving requires an unwavering respect for the delicate balance of overhead environment ecosystems. I cannot resist the call of the caverns. I also indulge in spearfishing (much to the disdain of my buddy William), mountain hiking and occasional wind-surfing.

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