More Than Just Comfort — How Tight Should a Wetsuit Be?

Jörg Matzdorff
Jörg Matzdorff

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A wetsuit is the center of gear for anyone participating in water activities, from surfing and diving to open water swimming and paddleboarding. One of the most crucial aspects of a wetsuit’s effectiveness is its fit. A wetsuit that is too loose will allow water to flush through it, reducing its thermal properties, while one that is too tight can restrict movement and cause discomfort. But don’t give up, because this article will guide you smoothly to the optimal skin tight wetsuit fit, clearing the question of how tight should a wetsuit be.  

In this article, you will get answers to the following questions:

  • How tight is a wetsuit supposed to be?
  • Should wetsuits be tight around the neck?
  • What size am I in a wetsuit?
  • How do you tell if a wetsuit is a good fit?
  • And, how tight should a tri wetsuit be?

The Importance of a Properly Fitted Wetsuit

Does it really have to be a skin tight wetsuit? If the wetsuit keeps you warm by trapping a layer of water around your body, that works as an insulation layer, wouldn’t a slightly loose wetsuit be able to gather even more warm water around your skin to protect it from the cold?

Thermal Insulation

A wetsuit works by trapping a thin layer of water between your skin and the suit. Your body heat warms this layer of water, which acts as insulation against the colder external water. If the wetsuit is too loose, it allows more water to flow through, continuously replacing the warmed water with cold water, which significantly reduces its insulating properties.

Buoyancy and Performance

A well-fitted wetsuit enhances buoyancy, which can improve performance in water sports. Proper buoyancy helps swimmers and surfers stay afloat more easily, reducing fatigue and enhancing endurance.

A snug fit ensures that the neoprene, the material most wetsuits are made from, can do its job effectively.

Comfort and Flexibility

While a wetsuit should be snug, it should not be so tight that it restricts movement or causes discomfort. The right fit balances snugness with flexibility, allowing for a full range of motion without feeling constricted. This is particularly important for activities like kite surfing, where agility and freedom of movement are crucial.

Determining the Right Fit — How Should a Wetsuit fit? 

Fitting a wetsuit is not more difficult, than fitting any other piece of clothes. Finding the right fit for a wetsuit is essential for both comfort and performance in the water. A properly fitted wetsuit ensures optimal thermal insulation, buoyancy, and flexibility, allowing you to enjoy your water activities to the fullest.

Measuring for a Wetsuit

Finding the right size wetsuit involves taking accurate body measurements. If you have difficulties, measuring it yourself, your local surf gear shop of choice can surely help you out. 

Here’s how to measure for a wetsuit:

  1. Chest/Bust: Measure the widest part of your chest/bust, keeping the tape measure snug but not tight.
  1. Waist: Measure around the narrowest part of your waist.
  1. Hips: Measure around the widest part of your hips.
  1. Height: Stand straight against a wall and measure from the top of your head to the floor.
  1. Weight: Your weight is also an important factor in determining wetsuit size.

These measurements can be compared to the sizing charts provided by wetsuit manufacturers. It’s important to follow the specific brand’s sizing guidelines, as sizes can vary between brands.

Trying on a Wetsuit — How Tight Should a Wetsuit fit?

A wetsuit should fit snugly against your body, almost like a second skin. It should feel tight all over without being restrictive or causing pain. When trying on a wetsuit, pay attention to the following areas:


  • Fit: The wetsuit should hug your torso closely without any loose or baggy areas. It should feel snug around your chest, abdomen, and back.
  • Test: Try bending forward, twisting side to side, and stretching your arms overhead. The suit should move with you without feeling restrictive.

Shoulders and Arms

  • Fit: The shoulders and arms should allow full range of motion. Since swimming involves repetitive arm movements, this area needs to be particularly flexible.
  • Test: Simulate a swimming stroke to ensure the wetsuit doesn’t pinch or pull around the shoulders and underarms.


  • Fit: The legs should fit snugly without being overly tight. The wetsuit should cover your thighs and calves without bunching up.
  • Test: Perform some squats and kicks to check for flexibility and comfort.


  • Fit: The neck area should be snug enough to prevent water from entering, but not so tight that it feels like it’s choking you.
  • Test: Move your head up and down, and side to side to ensure the neck area is comfortable and doesn’t restrict your movement or breathing.

Ankles and Wrists

  • Fit: These areas should be tight enough to minimize water entry, but comfortable enough to avoid cutting off circulation.
  • Test: Check for any discomfort or excessive tightness that might cause irritation during prolonged use.

Wetsuit Fitting Tips

  1. Dry vs. Wet Fit: Wetsuits feel tighter when dry and will loosen slightly when wet. Keep this in mind when trying on a wetsuit; it should feel snug on dry land but will become more comfortable in the water.
  1. Use a Plastic Bag: To make putting on a wetsuit easier, use a plastic bag over your feet and hands. This reduces friction and helps slide the suit on more smoothly.
  1. Check the Zipper: Ensure the zipper (usually located at the back) works smoothly and doesn’t cause any discomfort. Some wetsuits have chest zippers, which can offer more flexibility.

Common Fit Issues and Solutions

Finding the perfect wetsuit fit can be challenging, as various factors such as body shape, size, and the type of water activity all play a role in how a wetsuit should fit. Here are some common fit-issues and their solutions to help you achieve the best possible comfort and performance in your wetsuit.

Too Tight: How do you know if a wetsuit is too small?

If a wetsuit is too tight, you might experience difficulty breathing, excessive restriction of movement, and discomfort. Due to certain conditions, it even might be, that your wetsuit shrinks.

Solutions might be:

  • Sizing Up: Consider trying the next size up.
  • Brand Variations: Different brands have different fits. Some brands are known for being narrower or broader, so trying a different brand might help.
  • Stretching the Suit: While it’s usually not welcomed to see your wetsuit stretch out, in this case, it might be welcome. Wear the suit in a warm shower to help the neoprene stretch slightly. This can make it more comfortable without losing its snugness.

Too Loose: How do you know if a wetsuit is too big? 

A wetsuit that is too loose will have folds, gaps, or air pockets. This reduces its thermal efficiency and can cause a wetsuit rash

Solutions might be:

  • Sizing Down: Try the next size down.
  • Custom Fit: Some companies offer custom-fit wetsuits, which can be tailored to your exact measurements.
  • Different Cut: Look for a wetsuit with a different cut or style. Some wetsuits are designed to fit certain body types better, so finding the right style can make a big difference.

Uncomfortable Neck Area: How Tight should a Wetsuit be Around the Neck?

The neck area feels like it’s choking you or, conversely, allows water to enter easily? That’s not how it is supposed to be! Unlike boulder shoes, a wetsuit is the embodiment of usefulness AND comfort. 

Solutions might be:

  • Adjustable Neck: Some wetsuits come with adjustable neck closures. Look for these options to customize the fit around your neck.
  • Different Brand: Different brands have varying neck designs. Trying a different brand may provide a better fit for your neck.
  • Alterations: In some cases, minor alterations can be made to the neck area to improve fit without compromising the suit’s integrity.

Restrictive Shoulders and Arms: How Tight should a Wetsuit be?

Difficulty in raising your arms or performing overhead movements, which is unfortunately quite common, but particularly problematic for surfing and swimming.

Solutions might be:

  • Flexible Materials: Look for wetsuits made with more flexible neoprene in the shoulder and arm areas. Some suits have panels designed to enhance flexibility.
  • Proper Sizing: Ensure you have the correct size. A suit that is too small will restrict movement. Consider trying a larger size or a different brand, known for better flexibility.
  • Break It In: Wear the wetsuit during less intense activities to help break it in and increase its flexibility.

Baggy or Loose Lower Legs and Ankles: How Loose can a Wetsuit be?

Excess material around the lower legs and ankles can lead to water flushing and reduced thermal efficiency. If you ever experienced trying to stand up on your surfboard with water-filled wobble wetsuit-legs… well, it is not exactly the cool image of the sexy surfer god, you would want to embody!

Solutions might be:

  • Tighter Fit: Ensure you have the right size. A smaller size or a different brand might provide a better fit around the legs.
  • Cuffs and Seals: Some wetsuits come with tighter seals or cuffs around the ankles. Look for these features to prevent water from entering.
  • Alterations: Minor alterations can be made to the lower leg area to tighten the fit without compromising the wetsuit’s performance.

Special Considerations for Different Activities

Each water activity has unique demands that influence the choice and fit of a wetsuit. Whether you are surfing, diving, swimming, paddleboarding, or windsurfing, understanding the specific requirements of your sport makes fitting a wetsuit correctly much easier.

How Tight should a Wetsuit be for Surfing?

For surfing, flexibility and comfort are paramount. A wetsuit should be tight enough to prevent water flushing, but flexible enough to allow for paddling and maneuvering on the board.

  • Importance: Surfing requires a high degree of flexibility, especially in the shoulders and arms for paddling and in the knees and hips for maneuvering on the board.
  • Fit: The wetsuit should be snug but allow for maximum range of motion. Look for suits with added flexibility in the shoulder and arm areas.
  • Thickness: Depending on the water temperature, surfers typically use wetsuits ranging from 3/2 mm (warmer water) to 5/4 mm (colder water).

How Tight should a Wetsuit be for Diving?

Divers need a wetsuit that provides thermal protection and buoyancy. The suit should be snug to prevent water from entering, but not so tight that it restricts breathing or movement.

  • Importance: Divers are often submerged for extended periods, making thermal protection crucial.
  • Thickness: Depending on the water temperature, diving wetsuits range from 5 mm to 7 mm or more for colder waters.
  • Fit: A snug fit is essential to prevent water from entering the suit and compromising thermal insulation. 

How Tight should a Wetsuit be for Triathlon?

Triathletes and swimmers require a balance between buoyancy and flexibility. A snug fit enhances hydrodynamics, allowing for smoother and faster swimming.

Triathletes and swimmers need a wetsuit that reduces drag and enhances speed in the water.  You might want to look for smooth-skin neoprene, which is designed to be more hydrodynamic.

Triathlon wetsuits typically have varying thicknesses (e.g., thicker in the core for buoyancy, thinner in the arms and shoulders for flexibility). Freedom of movement in the shoulders and arms is critical for an efficient swimming stroke.

That means, the wetsuit should be snug but allow for unrestricted shoulder and arm movement.

How tight should a Swimming Wetsuit be?

A swimming wetsuit should be snug, almost like a second skin, but not so tight that it restricts movement or causes discomfort. 

You should be able to swim comfortably, with full mobility in your shoulders, arms, and legs. If you try on a wetsuit, check especially for the section underneath your arms, when raising your arms. 

Perform swimming motions like the freestyle stroke. Your arms should move freely, without feeling restricted by the wetsuit.

How Tight should a Wetsuit be in Cold Water?

When it comes to cold water activities, the fit of your wetsuit becomes even more crucial. When you want to find the best wetsuit for cold water swimming, the right fit ensures not only your comfort and performance, but also your safety by maintaining body temperature.

Wetsuits for cold water are typically thicker, ranging from 5 mm to 7 mm, which provides better insulation but can also affect flexibility

Here’s how to balance thickness and fit:

  • Thicker Wetsuits: A thicker wetsuit (5 mm to 7 mm) provides more insulation, but might feel tighter due to the increased material. Ensure that the wetsuit fits snugly but still allows for comfortable movement.
  • Layering: In freezing conditions, you might wear additional layers, such as a thermal rash guard or a hooded vest, under or over your wetsuit. Make sure these layers do not compromise the snug fit of your main wetsuit.

Conclusion — How Tight does a Wetsuit need to be?

Finding the perfect fit for your wetsuit is essential for comfort, performance, and safety in the water. A wetsuit should be snug but not overly tight, allowing for a full range of motion while preventing excess water from entering.

By understanding how to measure for a wetsuit, recognizing the signs of an improper fit, and knowing how to care for your wetsuit, you can ensure that your wetsuit performs optimally and lasts for many seasons. And by sticking to a simple, yet crucial wetsuit maintenance program, you can help your wetsuit keep its perfect fit. Whether you’re surfing adventurously, diving as deep as humanly possible, or swimming in icy conditions. 

FAQ – Most asked questions

Jörg Matzdorff
Jörg Matzdorff

Outdoor and surfing enthusiast.