The Top Freediving Wetsuit Basics to Know Before You Buy

A little knowledge helps a lot when shopping for your first freediving wetsuit.

Freedivers underwater with the wreck of the Douglas Dakota airplane in Turkey.
Freedivers underwater with the wreck of the Douglas Dakota airplane in Turkey. © Getty Images

Reasons That the Thickness of Your Freediving Wetsuit Matters

Freedivers use wetsuits for two reasons. The first and most obvious reason is that wetsuits keep divers warm underwater. However, wetsuits also help with a freediver's buoyancy.

• Temperature:
Concentration is essential in freediving. Being cold can break both the diver's concentration and his motivation. Selecting the appropriate wetsuit is particularly important in freediving. Basically, the colder the water, the thicker the wetsuit should be.
• Buoyancy:
Buoyancy is very important in freediving. In scuba diving a divers can make adjustments to his buoyancy using his BCD, but a freediver does not have this option.  Instead, a freediver must decide in advance the depth at which he wishes to be neutral.

A thick wetsuit is very buoyant at the surface, but is negative at the bottom because it compresses due to the increased water pressure at depth. This means that the diver can determine ahead of time the depth at which he will achieve freefall, the point at which we becomes negatively buoyancy and does not need to swim down.

A thinner wetsuit undergoes less of a buoyancy change during the dive, but makes it difficult to find the  freefall point.  Generally, deep divers and dynamic divers prefer thin suits. Thin suits make the beginning of the dive and the beginning of the ascent easier. Dynamic divers also prefer thin suits for a better hydrodynamics as the suits don't add excessive weight.

 

Choosing Your Freediving Wetsuit

Ideally, freedivers should have suits made-to-measure for a close fitting suit. If that's not possible, divers should take the time to try on suits to find the best fit. Because of the need for a perfectly fitting suit, it is better to visit a quality dive shop than to try to purchase a suit online.

A freediver should purchase a suit with an integrated hood. Freedivers need to tuck in their chins, and a suit without an integrated hood will leave an opening at the neck for cold water. Nobody likes the sensation of cold water rolling down the spine.

The most common freediving suits are made in two pieces: long johns/ high trousers and a separate jacket. This configuration gives the diver two layers on his chest and avoids the need for a zippers which can let in a small trickle of water.

Freediving suits are usually open cell neoprene, which is much more flexible than the closed cell neoprene typically used in scuba diving wetsuits and allows the diver to swim more easily.

How to Don a Freediving Wetsuit

Wetsuits are always difficult to put on, but freediving suits are particularly difficult.

• Fragility:
Open cell neoprene is very comfortable and flexible, but it is also fragile. Care must be taken when donning the suit to avoid tearing the neoprene - such as with a finger nail. To help the suit last, the diver must not pull hard on the seams of the suit.
• Water:
Water can help a freediver put on a wetsuit. Divers who have the opportunity may want to jump in the water to put on their wetsuits. If, like me, you are sensitive to the cold, put the suit on in a shower.
• Soap:
A common way to put slide into a freediving wetsuit is to use water and a little bit of soap. Fill a bottle with a mixture of soap and water (very little soap is needed). Put the mixture inside the suit and also on your skin. Easy! In winter the diver can even use warm water. However, do respect the environment. To avoid contamination, I use this technique only in swimming pools.

 

Alternatives to Freediving Suits

A freediving suit is not mandatory. Here are some alternatives:

• No Suit:
 Temperature permitting, a freediver can be wear a regular swimsuit. This will give the diver a greater sensation of freedom. However, the diver needs to be aware of his buoyancy, especially in fresh water where he will become negative quickly.
• Surfing Wetsuits
Surfing wetsuits also work well and are very flexible and comfortable for swimming. Usually the neoprene in surfing wetsuits does not last as long as the neoprene used for freediving suits because it is not designed to withstand many changes of pressure. However, surfing wetsuits are an option when budget is a consideration.
• Scuba Diving Wetsuits
Of course, scuba diving suits can also be used satisfactorily for freediving. Scuba suits are not the optimal choice, but they work just fine if cost is a concern. The disadvantage to these suits is their lack of elasticity, but they are easier to put on than freediving suits.

The Take-Home Message About Freediving Wetsuits

Freedivers have a variety of options when choosing a freediving suit -- including choosing not to use one at all! In freediving, equipment is not as important as comfort.

The a freediver should elect the option that causes the least amount of stress, and choose equipment that fits and is comfortable.

 

Keep Reading: Freediving Schools and Associations | Browse All Freediving Articles

 

About the Author: Julien Borde is a professional AIDA freediving instructor and the owner of Pranamaya Freediving and Yoga in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.