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How Tight Should a Wetsuit Be? (The Complete Guide)

how tight should a wetsuit be

When it comes to comfort, knowing how tight a wetsuit should be is essential.

I remember back when I was a kid, about 10 years old. I had this bright yellow and black wetsuit. At first, all seemed pretty casual, that was until I actually tried putting the wetsuit on.

Let’s just say, it was a tight, unpleasant experience. For some time, that moment actually ruined the whole “air of excitement” surrounding the novelty that comes with wearing a wetsuit, I dreaded putting the thing on.

Fast forward 9 years and I’m working at a surf center getting asked all the time: “How tight should my wetsuit be?”

A good rule of thumb is you shouldn’t spend more than 5 minutes putting your wetsuit on. Once it’s on, you should be able to bend your legs and arms and rotate them freely. Even if the size is correct, it may feel somewhat tight at first, that is normal. Once you get into the water and move around, the wetsuit will loosen up.

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How do you know if a wetsuit fits?

The first tell tale sign that a wetsuit fits properly, is if your range of movement is not restricted in any way.

What that means, is you should be able to rotate your arms, bend your knees and do some light jogging while wearing your wetsuit.

These are the steps I follow when purchasing a new wetsuit to see if it fits:

  • Time check – If the wetsuit takes me longer than 5 minutes to put on, then I know somethings not quite right.
  • Feet & hands – If I really struggle to get that wetsuit over my feet and hands, chances are the wetsuit is too small.
  • Rotation – Once my wetsuit is on, I like to rotate my arms and see how big of a circle I can make, if my circle has the same diameter as a basketball, the wetsuit is way too tight (you should be able to rotate your arms near the same as when you aren’t wearing the wetsuit).
  • Squat – I also like to do a few squats, bend those knees, nice a deep. If you are able to do this without feeling like the whole wetsuit will rip in half, you have got a good fitting wetsuit.
  • Folds – Common areas a wetsuit will fold are by the crotch (if you are female, make sure you are not fitting a male wetsuit) and under the arms. Folds are indicators your wetsuit is too big for you, a big wetsuit will allow heat to escape quicker than usual, thus defeating the whole point of wearing one.
Read also: Drysuit For Paddle Boarding (Buyers Guide)

How do you know if your wetsuit is too big?

The most common sign a wetsuit may be too big for you are the folds.

Common areas a wetsuit will fold when too big for you are the groin areas, and under your arms.

The picture I’ve added is an example of a good fitting wetsuit, see where those creases are under the arms?

If you put your arms down, side by side and notice large folds, chances are your wetsuit is too big for you.

Another way to know if your wetsuit is too big for you is checking the knee patches.

how tight should a wetsuit be

Pretty much every single wetsuit I’ve owned has knee patches (a rough area designed to reinforce your wetsuit over the knees).

If you pull that area over your knees and there is still a large amount of excess wetsuit by your ankles, you’ve just found out that your wetsuit is too big for you.

Read also: Best Wetsuits for Swimming in Cold Water (2022 Expert Guide)

What happens if your wetsuit is too big?

Wetsuits work their magic by trapping a thin layer of water between your skin and the suit. This layer of water is then slowly heated by your body and used to insulate you from the cold water outside.

If your wetsuit is too big, this thin warm layer will not form, instead it will be flushed out of your wetsuit whenever there’s a wave or movement. This will result in you getting colder much faster.

Is it easier to put on a wetsuit wet or dry?

I find that it doesn’t matter whether a wetsuit is dry or wet, rather what changes is the comfort.

Putting on a dry wetsuit is ideal because depending on your location (for example if you are in the car or home) you are able to sit down onto an object to help get it on, and not worry about wetting the surface.

Another factor is the cold, putting on a wet wetsuit in low temperatures is unpleasant. I did this countless times in the Netherlands in 10°C (50°F).

So, to answer the question, putting on a wetsuit both wet and dry is the same difficulty. However, putting on a dry wetsuit is usually much more comfortable.

Read also: Do Dogs Enjoy Paddle Boarding? – SUP With Your Pup

Is it better to have a tight or loose wetsuit?

By no means do you ever want to wear a loose wetsuit. First and foremost because it just won’t keep you warm (after all, this is the main reason why we purchase a wetsuit in the first place right?). And secondly, loose wetsuits are quite an embarrassing sight.

Do wetsuits stretch out over time?

Most wetsuits are made out of made of a type of rubber called neoprene.

Neoprene exhibits a very stable chemical balance and maintains flexibility over a broad range of temperatures. Will it stretch out like leather shoes? No.

However, once you and your wetsuit are submerged in water, a thin layer of water will form between your skin and the wetsuit, this slight gap will make it feel as if your wetsuit is slightly more stretched.

Read also: SUP Boarding – Get Rid Of Shaky Legs (Tips For Beginners)

How do I know my wetsuit size?

Just like clothes, wetsuits come in various sizes. I have created a wetsuit size chart which you can use to figure out what size you should wear according to your weight and height. Please use this website to convert kilograms into pounds and this website to convert cm into inches.

Also, please note: MT stands for medium tall and ML stands for medium large. Basically indiviudals who have the same height but one just weighs more than the other.

Mens wetsuit size chart
ladies wetsuit size chart
kids wetsuit size chart

Do you wear anything under a wetsuit?

Wearing board shorts, or any type of swimwear underneath your wetsuit is entirely up to you, it’s personal preference.

Three reasons why some people wear something under their wetsuit are:

  1. Personal hygiene: If you are on holiday and you end up renting a wetsuit for the day, it may make sense to wear swimwear underneath your wetsuit. Most professional watersports schools do wash their wetsuits, but you just never know.
  2. Avoid rashes: Places you may happen to get a rash from wearing a wetsuit are, the nipples, groin area, and behind the knees. However, keep in mind this only happens to people who aren’t used to wearing a wetsuit, and then end up wearing one for like 5 hours straight.
  3. Extra warmth: Some people in colder areas like to wear a thin fleece lining under their wetsuit to keep them extra toasty during a cold session out in the water.


Knowing how tight a wetsuit should be will add to your confidence when deciding on which wetsuit is best for you.

Three important take away points are:

  1. If a wetsuit takes you more than 5 minutes to put on, it’s too small.
  2. You should have good range of motion once your wetsuit is.
  3. There should not be any folds under your arms or groin area.

I hope this article taught you some valuable information and I hope it’ll make your wetsuit experience better than my first one at 1o years old.

If you have any questions for me, please reach out in the comments section below, I will always try to answer your questions as fast as possible.

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