When you search for wetsuits on Google you'll get about 100 different companies that offer a wide range of wetsuits. There are thousands of different wetsuits and materials offered and it can get tiring to learn what the difference is between the materials. Marketing jargon and fluffy words can confuse a shopper, but we'll explain everything you'll need to know about wetsuit material and neoprene in an easy and cheerful way.
This will not be a scientific breakdown of wetsuit material, but rather an explanation from an experienced wetsuit builder to a fellow surfer or diver.
Let's break this down quick and easy. What is neoprene?
Neoprene is the actual sponge rubber-like material that is typically sandwiched between two fabrics. Check out the photo below for a visual. Warning: Don't eat it! We just added some flare to the description =P
Neoprene is produced in what they call buns. Imagine a large loaf of uncut bread. Neoprene first comes in a large bread loaf type of mass and precise machinery will slice and dice these bad boys up to get various thicknesses of rubber sheets. That is where the numerical symbol on styles of wetsuits, 2/2mm, 3/2mm, 4/3m, and so on, are referencing. This is the actual thickness of the wetsuit neoprene that the numbers are representing. The first number represents the thickness around the core and midsection of the wetsuit, which is from the chest down, and the second number represents the thickness in the extremities, usually the shoulders, arms, and lower legs.
Check out these sexy buns below!
Now, what the heck is that fabric lining on the neoprene all about?
Thanks for asking, I'd love to explain. Neoprene is extremely delicate. You can take a fingernail and rip a huge hole through raw neoprene. Manufacturers will line neoprene material with protective fabric to give neoprene protection and also a nice cover to help with wetsuit construction. Wetsuit thread can only bind onto fabric, threads will instantly tear through neoprene rubber when any pressure is put on the seams unless fabric material is lined. Fabrics also create a soft lining allowing wetsuits to slip and slide right onto your body. Oh yeah, and that layer of fabric, it protects neoprene from sun damage as well as sharp and rough surfaces.
But you ask, hey I've seen wetsuits without that jersey lining! Yes, there are specialty wetsuits that have exposed neoprene, typically in triathlon and skin diving wetsuits. You need to handle these wetsuits with extreme care because they are very delicate. Raw neoprene on wetsuits are commonly referred to as smoothy or skin material. Smoothy or skin material is extremely warm because it does not hold water and it also stretches much more than jersey lined neoprene material because the lack of fabric material creating resistance. Smoothy wetsuits are nice and warm and super stretchy but shelf life for these delicate creatures are about half that of your jersey lined wetsuits.
Now that we understand what neoprene is. How do we tell the difference between brands and the neoprene they offer?
Very little is known about what exactly is in neoprene. There is a lot of red tape and secrets that manufacturers won't share. I've traveled and met with numerous manufacturers, and getting data on neoprene composition is extremely difficult. Just like most industries, the wetsuit industry has 1 huge ass company that manufacturers the majority of the world's wetsuits and materials. You can bet they manufacture just about all surf and dive brands hanging on the racks in your surf or dive shop. The small percentage of boutique specialized brands, yes we're one of them, are using alternative materials. It does require work to find companies like us that are specialized. We're slowly growing, and awesome surfers and divers like you are giving us the ability to provide an alternative to your typical Walmart like brands. You'll also know if smaller brands carry unique materials because they will explicitly say they carry the non-conventional neoprene, it's that special! For 7TILL8 Custom Wetsuits, our custom line of wetsuits feature Yamamoto materials and from our experience, it's the best damn material we ever worked with. We're taking a trip out to the factory soon, check out this article for Yamamoto Part 1 to learn more about what we have planned for Japan.
Did we mislead you?
You might be thinking, what the heck! I just read all of this and didn't get my question answered. How can I tell the difference in materials between brands? Your chances of finding different material choices between brands are slim. The majority of brands are manufactured from the same stuff and same factory. You'll have to do some research to find brands like us that have control over the materials they use and also build their own wetsuits. You can start here with us, and we're always happy to help! Email firstname.lastname@example.org or let us know your comments below and we'll get back to you to help answer your questions.
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