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Recommendations on how to pick a wetsuit

Hi!  With the pools closed, I'm thinking about outdoor swimming in a lake.  I live in Portland.  I've never had a wet suit before. What should I look for?  What would you recommend that REI sells?  Thanks for your help and advice.  Tina

5 Replies

@wongch thanks for reaching out to the community for advice on wetsuits! We have moved your post to the Watersports board so hopefully you'll get advice from other community members! In addition, we will tap a few REI employees to see if they can help as well! @REI-AndyF @REI-AlyS 

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Hi there @wongch!

Thanks for reaching out to the Community!  A wetsuit can certainly be helpful when looking to extend your season in the open water!

Before you think about swimming in the lake and what wetsuit to wear, you have to nail down the water temperature. Knowing what the water temperature is in your area is going to be a big deciding factor. Wetsuits come in various styles and thicknesses. These variations will effect how warm you stay in the water. With that being said, just like any piece of clothing or temperature rated gear, the warmth is relative. You have to consider your own personal body temperature and comfortability. Take in consideration if you are the type of person who generally runs hot or cold. 

Once you’ve considered temperature of the water, you can begin your search. As far as what REI sells, I will be honest, many of our wetsuits are with watersports in mind, like paddling and surfing. Some of these are simply not acceptable for an enjoyable swim. 

The Camaro Blacktec Wetsuit is currently available and ideal for swimming. This wetsuit is at a 2mm thickness which means it is suitable for colder temperatures. Many people might feel comfortable in this suit when the water is in the area of 63-65  degrees Fahrenheit.

Another option that is slightly warmer is the Camaro Revo Wetsuit. Also, perhaps consider the Roxy Prologue Wetsuit. Another suit designed for surfing but I did read a pretty compelling review from a customer who could not stop singing its praises!

Bear in mind that swimming in a wetsuit will feel different. You want it to feel comfortable but you are likely to initially feel restricted if you are not accustomed to wearing one. 

I hope this info helps! And as a reminder, start with a reliable source for the water temperature. 

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

@wongch I recommend taking a hard look at those that zip up in the front.  IMO those that zip up the back are a pain in the rear!

REI Member Since 1979

Hi @wongch 

Like @REI-AlyS , I would recommend The Camaro Blacktec Wetsuit.  It is a suitable thickness for what you are going to do in Portland. 

From my personal experience going through many wetsuits (mainly surfing in northern California), you would want to less than 2mm on the sleeve for swimming.  Thinner like 1.5mm is better for the range of motion.  But, it can be cold, depending on the quality of the neoprene. 

The most challenging thing about choosing a wetsuit is fit.  Each manufacture fits differently, even with the same size.  So, you may need to try more than a few.  It is like picking a running shoe.  This is the reason why you will find a very expensive wetsuit with Japanese neoprene.  They are stretchy and warm.  While we don’t offer those wetsuits at REI, they are worth every penny if you like to swim outdoors regularly.  You could also consider a sleeveless if you are going to swim in summer. Once you find a right fit wetsuit, get two; that way, you will always have one that is dry!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

@wongch I will add one piece of advice, it may have been mentioned and I just overlooked it. I tell all of my scuba students this, pick one for the temp you are in, function over looks, but make sure it fits properly. Too loose and the suit cant function correctly.Too tight,especially on your neck, and you could pass out. A good dealer will tell you this.