Swimming in a wetsuit can open up a world of opportunity where and when you can swim, and is a great bit of safety kit protecting against hypothermia and and jellyfish stings amongst other things.
The first thing to say is make sure you choose a swimming or triathlon specific suit, these have several key difference from your typical surfing wetsuit to make them more comfortable and faster for swimming.
Firstly they are single lined (which means that the outside of the suit is raw neoprene without a fabric covering on it). Being single lined means they are really fast through the water with low drag, but this comes at the expense of durability. You have to be really careful putting on these suits as even well trimmed fingernails can easily tear the fabric.
Secondly good suits have super stretch panels in areas like the shoulders to give a more natural feeling whilst swimming. This has a huge affect on how comfortable and long you can swim for so if you try on a suit in a shop its worth stretching your arms up to see how loose the shoulders feel.
Lastly the devil is in the details: Look for glued and blindstiched seams (This is when you cant see the stitches as they are hidden in the neoprene fabric, it means the seams are completely flat so more comfortable against your skin.). Taped seams are also beneficial as they reinforce, and also improve waterproofing so you’ll get less cold water flushing though the suit.
Swimming wetsuits come in all shapes and sizes from trousers to long johns and 2 piece suits, to full suits. Thicker neoprene will generally be warmer at the expense of flexibility, but a well fitted suit with glued and taped seams will always be warmer than a thicker suit that doesn’t fit as well.
In a more crowded marketplace many manufacturers are coming up with more exotic marketing to sell their suits. Some brands will claim to have strategic neoprene flotation panels to improve body position and technique, others may claim they use neoprene made with real Irish butter. I think claims like this are best ignored and certainly don’t justify the cost some of the ‘top end’ suits are sold for. Its much better to get a well fitted, well made, and stretchy suit for less money and spend the difference on a couple of 1-1 swim lessons. I promise you will be quicker in the long term.
If you’ve had your heart broken before by trying on a suit to find you weren’t graced with the ‘average’ body shape you can get custom suits made to measure. They’ll cost a bit more, but just like a tailored suit they will feel amazing! Check out snug if you are ever in Cornwall.