Wetsuit for lake swimming in Spring?
June 7, 2009 1:53 PM   Subscribe

I am thinking about getting a wetsuit to swim in the lake during the spring.

I have never purchased or worn a wetsuit before. I don't know what features to look for, and I don't even really know how much of a difference it will make. I would hate to spend a bunch of money only to find out the lake is still too damn cold.
Bonus points for a website that shows lake temperatures for Ontario (Nottawasaga bay).
posted by who else to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (5 answers total)
That's on Georgian Bay in Lake Huron, right? A wetsuit does make a huge difference in comfort, in my experience (whitewater paddling) but they're kind of weird to swim in. Perhaps a lightweight one designed specifically for swimming (triathlons etc) is what you need.
Or, for now just enjoy the lake from a boat or canoe. By late summer the shallow bays warm up enough for proper swimming - by August even Lake Superior is swimmable.
posted by Flashman at 2:26 PM on June 7, 2009

I wear a wetsuit for water sports in the UK, as it's hardly ever warm enough not to. However, I never used one exclusively for swimming (been immersed plenty of times though).

Wetsuits work by trapping a layer of water next to your skin, and your body warms this layer of water to your temperature. The rest of the wetsuit (neoprene) keeps the colder away away from you.

Wetsuits being almost skin tight means that some flexibility is lost, and it's somewhat uncomfortable to swim in although YMMV. Also, this means chafing. Chafing can be prevented by wearing an even skin-tighter layer, usually just on the torso, called a rash-vest. (Also keeps you warmer)

Wetsuits are measured by thickness, from as little as 2mm up to much thicker. There are full body wetsuits, or one for just legs, or just legs and torsos but no arms. You can also get wetsuit boots/socks (recommended) and gloves and balaclavas.

You can also wear clothes such as board shorts or underwear under wetsuits, but although this has a semblance of keeping you warm, it disrupts the layer of water that's trying to be warmed by your skin. The best way is just to wear rash vests etc.

Also you could wear one wetsuit on top of another, ie a full wetsuit above wetsuit leggings, but again this could affect the water layer, and will definitely impede movement.

Again, with all this advice, YMMV. But I hope this has given you a start. Have fun, and stay warm!
posted by Petrot at 2:34 PM on June 7, 2009

Paragraph 2 is meant to say "... keeps the colder water away from you"
posted by Petrot at 2:35 PM on June 7, 2009

Lots of variables, thickness, sleeves or not, legs or not. Mobility is the key point, otherwise you'll just hate it. Seconding get one designed for triathlons/swimming specifically. My mom got one for exactly what you describe in Ontario/Quebec cold lakes, and it was warm enough but she didn't like the way it felt once she was in the water, so it didn't increase her swimming pleasure.
posted by kch at 2:37 PM on June 7, 2009

A wetsuit will indeed make a huge difference. The type of wetsuit you buy will make an equally huge difference; a big thick surfing wetsuit will be warmer, but will greatly restrict your mobility compared to a lighter triathlon wetsuit that's specifically designed for swimming. Your particular swimming plans will determine which is appropriate for you. If you're planning on doing significant distance, definitely opt for the more expensive triathlon suit; if you're only going to be dipping in for a few hundred yards at a time, there's no need for the fancier equipment, but do make sure to wear a rash guard underneath if you end up going for the cheaper, thicker wetsuit.
posted by saladin at 3:45 PM on June 7, 2009

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