Oh my gosh, I can't believe I'm actually opening another can of worms and asking this question, but here goes … IF I decide I want a full wetsuit for Lk. Whatcom and maybe B'ham Bay (both in the 45-50 degree range in winter) do I buy a 4/3 or a 3/2? And oh, by the way … Why do 4/3 O'Neil wetsuits at REI vary from $154-$359? IF I want a 4/3, why wouldn't I buy the cheapest.? (I can't even begin to decide if I'm an M, an MT, or an L, but that's a whole other discussion … frustrating cuz I can't just walk in to JC Penny and try a few on.)
OK, let your opinions fly!
If you want to try a few on, go to Bham kite paddle surf. Different materials = stretchyness factors, odor control fabrics, and different linings for warmth = price difference.
I would say a 3-2. You are dressing for the water and it should give someone a good hour in the water before getting uncomfortably cold. You can add time to that in a 4-3 but I find unless it's below 45-50° I would be too hot. A 3-2 is a compromise but you can add cloths to the outside like a paddle jacket or a thin fuzzy and paddle jacket to warm up or even a wet cotton shirt to cool it down a little if paddling when it's 65° or over. You can't take anything off when your in a 4-3 so you might cook at 55°. If you run cold you might want to go for the warmer. The 3-2 would also be less restrictive over all. What you pay for in a suit is the quality of the materials, how stretchy it is, how well the seams are sealed, over all fit, dryness and drying speed. I use an O'Neill Psycho one or 1. It uses there stretchiest neoprene “technobutter 2” and has large panels and a back zip. Any good company has super stretchy top of the line suits that are more or less the same. I find front zips a pain in the ass and they offer no more warmth to a paddler and no difference in flexibility when paddling. I would recommend against suits with a “skin side” on the torso. I find it sticks on my PFD and restricts movement. It's also warmer but not in a good way. If it warmish out the extra fabric over the torso can help keep the suit cool if you get it wet before hopping in your ski. If it's cold adding a paddle jack works better than the skin. At about $300 you get a long lasting, super stretchy, dry, warm and form fitting suit. Patagonia makes very warm and durable suits but the latest generation is not that stretchy. I would not buy one for that reason alone. My “technobutter 2” neoprene suit is much less restricting than my last Patagonia suit was and i hear the newest suits are maybe even a touch stiffer. It's too bad because my Patagonia R1 was very dry, warm and well made. If it was as stretchy as my O'Neill I would trade in a second.
Fit should be tight and form fitting with no loose areas or places for water to pool.
Another advantage of a neoprene suit is swimming. They are WAY faster than a drysuit. They make remounting easer as well compared to a drysuit as you're not dragging all that water with you in all the folds of fabric.
HBC has Psycho 1's for sale for $279….. just an example of one of many good suits out there.
With regards to the proper sizing of any neoprene item, I warn you now to be very careful. The very closest I've ever come to dying in a surfski related activity, by far, was when I got a too-small neoprene top stuck over my head when I was trying it on in the REI dressing room. If it weren't for the alert staff who quickly responded to my muffled screams of “GET IT OFF ME, GET IT OFF ME!!!”, I wouldn't be here today.
Didn't you knock over a number of shelves and displays in the process? I do believe i heard about this little incident from an associate who was working the floor at the time…..
You can walk into Bellingham Kite Boarding and try these clearance items on. Reasonably priced, and I'm sure they'll help you if your head gets stuck.
achk! Can we maybe do this in person? I was talking to LB this evening and seems like each of us has one small piece of the elephant. The whole thing isn't going together right in my mind.
1) I heard fit is primary. neoprene works when the film of water against your body is small. If the fit is loose, its worth nothing because you can't warm the water layer and somebody gets their eye poked out.
2) Flexible or nothing because if you can't rotate well, your form goes away and you can't work hard and make body heat.
3) two piece neoprene is trouble because as you rotate that seam pulls skin. Multiplied by - you know a few hundred strokes on a good paddle.
4) fuzzy lining inside is troublesome because it collects body sweat/oil and hassle to clean.
5) No full body wetsuit is made for person in the sitting position. All other wetsuit sports are standing up (or laying down on paddleboard). This is one reason neoprene pants are a hassle. The only shorts I know of that are built for seated person are Kieth Keillor custom made and I just discovered MEC paddle pants. This means built in tension holding the wearer in a layed out position. You guys are telling me to get the superflexible so that the tension is less - therefor more tolerable. yuk.
OK, so I'm wrong. Often. But this discussion is messing up my inner harmony.
I'll show you mine if you show me yours. Bring it on any Saturday.
Thanks to everyone for all of your input! I followed Alan's advice, went to B'ham Kiteboarding, and bought local. I know there's a ton of price ranges which I'm sure somehow reflects quality, but I went more entry price level and bought a 4/3. Can't give a report about what an awesome wetsuit I impulsively bought, cuz I haven't used it yet.
One more thing to add is shorts. A pair of loose surf shorts over the neoprene may look a 'little' odd but greatly increases the rotation.
A snug fit is important at the neck legs and arm openings to keep water from getting IN the suit. Body glide, a silicone based suit lube, will keep your neck and other parts from getting chafing when paddling.