Wetsuits get better and more expensive every year. It can be confusing trying to stretch your brain around what's new, what these tech terms mean, and if they matter? Here are 5 technological developments in wetsuit technology to look out for in 2014. We've had many of these features available in last season's cold water suits, giving us a few months to check their efficacy.
1. New Lighter Foam
This immediately sounds better than old heavy foam, but what exactly does it mean? This new foam is lighter and theoretically warmer because it has air blown into it during the manufacturing process which ups the thermal level to 11. This is a good thing. O'Neill pioneered it a couple of years back and now Xcel and Rip Curl have introduced it into their high end suits. This 'more-for-less' route to your wallet might sound like government efficiency drive but it makes a huge amount of sense, albeit with the immediate idea that more air and less rubber may reduce the longevity of your product. However, in our experience, the primary place wetsuits fail after a few years hard use is in the seams rather than the rubber wearing out and we haven't had any reports in of this being an issue.
2. Narrow Flexible Liquid Seams
Seams are a major restriction on the flexibility of your wetsuit and converting a previously thick seam into a narrower strip should only be good news. Imagine stretching a skinny elastic band verses a thick industrial number. These narrow seams are reputedly more durable than their predecessors, and as we said above seams are often where wetsuits often fail. Anecdotally we've had them going for two seasons without a failure and they really do make a huge difference to overall flex of a suit. The constriction is easily coloured meaning that you could become one of the first generations of Tron surfers, which might, or might not appeal.
3. Quick Dry Linings
A generally thicker lining with a looser weave that allows water to drain faster when drying than conventionally. This can only be a bonus to those of us who try and dry our suits in a bucket in the back of the van.
All of the top end suits in our store have a variation on a quick dry lining bar Quiksilver. As it says on the tin, a fast drying suit means exactly that. This is a major battleground in wetsuit technology and something we are all frothing over as struggling into sodden, frozen, suits is a major dampener on a cold winter morning. These come in all sorts of names, Billabong call it the Drymax Furnace, C-Skins the QuickDri Polypro etc. The plus side is both a quicker dry but also a warmer suit as these linings are almost always thicker than those of other wetsuits in the range. The downside, as you've probably guessed, is the thicker lining is a little less flexible. So these suits tend to put you towards the warmth side of the warmth / performance divide.
4. Zipperless Wetsuits
Seen it all before with 90s suit-tearing velcro? Not quite like this summer offering from Rip Curl and Quiksilver. These suits prioritise performance and flex over outright warmth making this the ideal suit for this tech. Is it is bridge too far? Trying to solve an issue which doesn't really exist? Suits have moved from Medieval corsets of years past to the today's flexible friends, making current gains relatively incremental verses the giant leaps of the past. Remember backzip suits? Ultimately this will make your suit more flexible by cutting out a flex deadzone located around static zip.
Rumour has it that more zipperless suits are on test at other manufacturers, specially Billabong, but some have been waiting on the level of returns of these first suits. Again, anecdotally we can report that to not be a problem with us.
5. Mind Boggling Value in the Mid-Range
Mid-range suits are where you get the best bang for your buck. If you haven't had a new suit for a couple of years then these will be better than the top-of-the-range suits from when you parted with your pennies back in 1901. More expensive suits have the full host of features, and things like super flexible narrow seams make your suit sing and are worth the spend. But failing that you will not be sad with a middle of the road offering. £150 / €180 will buy you a whole lot of suit.
*Disclaimer: We're not paid to say any of this and we only talk about product we've held, worn, stretched and sniffed. This is a choice based upon our experience and knowledge, it’s not a comprehensive review conducted in a science lab, but it is honest and independent. Unlike the marketing based wetsuit guides you see in mags, we are not cut and pasting a manufacturer's description attached to an advertising spend. Meaning we mainly talk about what is available in our warehouse here.