How To Choose a Wetsuit For Open Water Swimming

The benefits of cold water swimming are ten-fold, ranging from your physical health to your mental wellbeing. If you’ve decided to take your sea dipping to the next level, you may be considering open water swimming, whether this is through triathlons, longer swims or organised swim races.

To take part in longer swimming activities, you’ll need a wetsuit. Open water swimming wetsuits are a bit different than the normal wetsuits you’d use for surfing, kiteboarding and windsurfing.

In this article, we will take a look at the following characteristics of open water swimming wetsuits such as the different thicknesses and uses. We'll also provide information on different cuts and fits to suit open water swimming temperatures and activities. 


Where Wild Swimming May Take You

Open water swimming can take you to any place where there is a large body of water. Whether for competitions or pleasure, you will find people all over the world swimming in: 

  • Seas
  • Lakes
  • Rivers
  • Bays
  • Dams or reservoirs
  • Canals
  • Fjords

Types of Wild Swimming

Open water swimming is incredibly versatile and can be enjoyed on so many varied levels. From beginner and casual to advanced and competitive swimmers, open water swimming is an incredible way to be outdoors, enjoy mother nature, and pursue an activity that is good for the mind,body, and soul.

Here are a few ways people enjoy open water swimming:

  • Cold water swimming
  • Casual or social swims
  • Long distance swimming
  • Marathon swimming
  • Triathlons
  • Competitions
  • Surf Life Saving events
  • Aquathlon  
  • Aquabike
  • Charity events

What to Consider When Buying a Wild Swimming Wetsuit

When choosing the right open water swimming wetsuit for you, you’ll need to consider the following: 

  • The water temperature
  • What you’re using it for: ie. triathlons or casual swimming
  • The versatility: will you use it for different sports or purely swimming?
  • The environment: river, sea, lakes etc.
  • The thickness eg. how much body heat do you need to retain and do you value warmth over movement?

Open Water Wetsuits Thickness & Temperature Chart

Take a look at the chart below to get an idea of what level of thickness you may prefer your wetsuit to be. You may decide on a middle ground if you find you vary your water temperature, or you may go for the warmest option to suit your needs. 





















Temperature & Neoprene Thickness

Thicker open water wetsuits

Winter cold water swimming will require, depending on your region, a 4mm or thicker suit. 4mm refers to the thickness of the neoprene, which in turn keeps you warmer and more buoyant.

Wearing the right swimming technology allows you to enter the water more slowly, helping you to acclimatise to cold shock response and avoid hypothermia.

Swimmers who are not used to cold water may opt for thicker neoprene as their entry-level wetsuit. Thicker wetsuits can also provide better buoyancy

However, the thicker the material, the more restricted your movement. You’ll also require the suit to have long arms and legs, for optimal warmth.

Full suits not only keep you warmer, but offer protection from rocks, sticks and abrasive obstacles. This is an important factor to consider when choosing your wetsuit for open water swimming, as the environment will determine the terrain, ie. when river swimming you’re more likely to encounter debris from trees, whilst sea swimming will have more rocky obstacles. 

Thinner neoprene wetsuits for open water

Most competition and triathlon open water swimming wetsuits have a range of neoprene thicknesses across the suit.

For example, the shoulder and upper body panels of the suit will be less thick, around 1.5mm, to allow for optimal movement and a better body position for swimming. The hips could be at least double that, as a raised lower body help you to swim more efficiently.

These types of wetsuits for open water retain good balance and should feel like a second skin.

All competitive open water swimming wetsuits differ, especially depending on where you are planning to use them (river, lake or sea), so it’s important to be specific about where, when and why you’ll be wearing it.

Triathlon wetsuits are the best wetsuits to reduce friction between skin and the body of water.

This is achieved through a special type of ‘slippery’ neoprene coating on the outer layer of the suit. 

Getting a Proper Fit

Fit is always an important factor, as a poorly fitting wetsuit will slow you down and won’t keep you warm as effectively.

If it is too big around the shoulders and chest, it’ll cause the wetsuit to flush (when water goes down the neck of the suit) and make you cold, whilst also creating drag and slowing you down.

Wetsuits that are too small will restrict movement, whilst also not allowing a thin layer of water to form between your skin and the neoprene, which, in a correctly fitting suit, will warm up with your body temperature and keep you toasty when in the water. 

Long Versus Short Wetsuits

Open water swimming has become extremely popular amongst a diverse range of people. For those swimming at entry level, wetsuits for open water can provide a layer of protection from the elements.

Some of us have even switched our morning jog for a lap around the buoy, enjoying the benefits of being in the ocean, or a few lengths in the local lake or lido.

Short-legged wetsuits are perfect for summer months or for those who don’t feel the cold so much, are more seasoned swimmers or don’t want to feel restricted when they’re swimming. 

This will provide you with maximum freedom of movement, plus being more easy to get on and off.

A shorty wetsuit can also be the most diverse, ranging from quick dips to long swims, through to paddle-boarding, kitesurfing and summer surfing. In fact, here’s a great article that discusses the ways that wetsuits can increase buoyancy and help you swim faster. 

The Vivida Linda Reversible Wetsuit

Perfect for beginners, social swimmers or sea dippers, the Vivida Linda Reversible Wetsuit is fully reversible, eco-friendly and versatile.

Made from Eco CarbonBlack neoprene, the Linda is created from scrap rubber tyres, earth-mined limestone neoprene and recycled plastic bottle lining with a solvent-free glue, making it planet positive.

Flexible yet supportive, every last aspect of design and detail has been meticulously chosen, providing ideal insulation with a flattering fit that feels as good as it performs. It has no underarm seams for easy movement, plus durable and soft FlatLock seams equalling no chaff or rubbing when swimming and exercising. 

We hope this guide has provided you with some useful insight into purchasing your first, or next, open water swimming wetsuit. For a few helpful tips on overcoming barriers to swimming outdoors, check out this article by our friends at Outdoor Swimming Magazine.

If you need any more advice or have any questions about the Vivida Linda Reversible Wetsuit please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Happy swimming!


Linda Reversible Wetsuit - Graphite/ Map of Dreams


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Indie Bornhoft is a personal trainer and watersports coach, who encourages her clients to make movement their mantra. She has coached every ability in wakeboarding, paddleboarding, SUP fitness, and windsurfing for over ten years, and is highly qualified in all disciplines. Discover more about her drive to just keep moving and be inspired to connect to the raw power of body & spirit through fitness.