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How to choose a wetsuit for open water swimming

At Stockholm International Swimming Club, we just love swimming in open water! This is why we offer open water lessons for our students. Every summer, we organize open water safety camps where we teach our students how to swim in the open water safely. We also have individual sessions in the open water.

Since we teach in Sweden where the water isn’t always warm (some would say it’s freezing), it’s a good idea to have a wetsuit. Just with so many wetsuits out there, it can be difficult to navigate. Read our handy guide below to understand what to consider when buying a wetsuit.

What’s the difference between the various types of wetsuits?

It’s important to choose the right wetsuit for open water swimming. Different wetsuits have different levels of buoyancy, stretch and compression, so the most important question to consider is what swimming stroke do you do?

Wetsuits for crawl

A wetsuit for swimming crawl offers maximum buoyancy. Usually, this kind of wetsuit has panels with different levels of thicknesses. For example, the panels can be up to 5mm thick on the front of the suit which provides high buoyancy. The wetsuit can be 1mm thin around the shoulders and arms to provide maximum mobility. Often, crawl wetsuits are more expensive since they’re made of more flexible neoprene, which is necessary to allow optimum shoulder mobility or shoulder/arm reach.

Wetsuits for breaststroke

If you plan to swim breaststroke, you don’t need the same buoyancy as for crawl. A wetsuit for breaststroke is often around 2-3 mm thick over the entire suit and is covered in nylon both inside and outside. This makes it durable. This type of wetsuit is also excellent for water sports other than swimming.

Wetsuits for swimrun

This type of wetsuit is adapted for both swimming and running. The suit often has pockets to carry the accessories needed for swimrun. There is also a zipper on the front of the suit that can be easily opened for ventilation during runs. The flow panels are designed and positioned differently to minimize the impact while running and the entire suit is reinforced in various ways to counteract the wear and tear caused by running in a wetsuit.

Choosing the right size

It’s important to choose a wetsuit that fits right. The suit should sit tight so that not too much water gets in during swimming. It is common to feel cramped or squished when “dry testing” a wetsuit on land. This feeling disappears when you try the wetsuit in the water, when everything “sits in place”.

Be careful when putting on your wetsuit and make sure to pull the neoprene tightly into the crotch and under the arms. Use the cloth gloves normally provided and take your time – neoprene is delicate!

How much should I spend on a wetsuit?

If you’re an advanced swimmer, want to become an advanced swimmer or planning to do a triathlon, it’s best to invest in a more expensive wetsuit from the start. It will hopefully last for many years and be suitable for different kinds of water sports.

If you are a beginner and just starting open water swimming or if you’re not planning to engage in water sports, you can choose a simpler wetsuit. Below are some options for beginners that cost under 1,500 SEK.

Wetsuits for beginners

Wetsuits for open water swimming (Nabaji, Speedo, etc). These neoprene wetsuits are available in different thicknesses (up to 5 mm), with or without sleeves.

What thickness is best for me?

Here are some recommended thicknesses for different water temperatures.

  • 25С or higher – you don’t need a wetsuit.
  • 22-25C – if the weather is warm, you probably don’t need a wetsuit. If it feels cold outside (morning, evening or windy weather), a shorty wetsuit is an option.
  • 20-22Cshorty wetsuit for warm weather, 3/2 mm full wetsuit for days without sun or if it gets windy.
  • 18-20Cfull wetsuit 3/2 mm is enough, but if you feel cold easily, 4/3 mm wetsuit would be better.
  • 15-18Cfull 4/3 mm wetsuit

See you at our open water lessons!

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