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Keeping warm when freediving – wetsuits and other tips

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Keeping warm when you freedive really is just as important as all the other ‘important’ bits of this sport of ours. As your core body temperature drops , you will use more energy (and oxygen) to keep warm, thereby reducing your overall performance.

Living in the UK we probably know more than most about cold water diving. I for one have picked up a few hints and tips that help me keep warm at least.

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The most important thing to get right is a well fitting wetsuit. This may seem obvious, but so many people buy wetsuit’s that simply dont fit them, and it makes a HUGE difference.  When trying on suits, you must know how they work. Wetsuits keep you warm because of the insulating property’s of the nitrogen infused rubber. The thicker, the warmer. They do NOT keep you warm by ‘trapping a thin layer of water’ in the suit. In fact a suit which lets in almost no water will be the warmest suit. Remember any water that enters the suit, is likely able to leave the suit too, thereby removing body heat. So a skin tight suit will give you the best performance. This is one of the reasons we use zipperless unlined wetsuits, zipperless to stop water ingress, and unlined so they stick really close to the skin.

Things to look out for;

1: Ensure that the suit follows the contours of your body and doesnt leave large pickets of empty space, such as the small of your back.

2: Dont get a suit that is too short or too tall. A short suit will stretch the neoprene so that it forms thinner layers against your body (so it wont insulate so well) and it will be kinda uncomfortable. Chances are the hood wont fit either. A tall suit will bunch up and bag out in various places, which will allow water to flush through the suit.

3: Pay attention to the seam construction, you are looking for a glued seam with a blind stitch (this is a stitch that is only visible on one side of the seam).

Sneaky tips and tricks:

1: OIL….. yup… oil. If you oil yourself up before you get your suit on the oil does three things. One it helps you get your suit on, two it keeps you warmer than water(when trapped in the suit), and finally when you take your suit off in the driving wind you will be kinda dry and you will get less windchill as the oil wont evaporate in the breeze. Dont use mineral based oil as this will degrade your suit… use organic baby oil or vegetable/fruit oil.

2: Vaseline. mmmmmm… more oil! I know this is getting kinda ‘oil based’, but this helps too. Vaseline for the face, not anywhere else! This stops the initial burn of cold if you are getting in to really cold water (we used this when diving in Iceland and it helped), and it also has the added benefit of giving you the best mask seal you have ever had!

3: Changing robes. Better than a towel and a far more private way of getting changed when in public.

4: Warm water in a flask. Not for drinking (well… have another one for drinking perhaps), but for flushing through your suit before you put it on. Its just a luxury really, but getting in to a warm suit is a lot nicer than a cold one!

5: Tighten your weight belt just right. Too tight and it may bunch the neoprene, too loose and it wont hold a seal (and will slide around). I like to wear mine slightly asymmetrically, so the buckle contours near my hip. This gives me a better seal for my body shape.

Keep warm out there!!!!!


6 responses

  1. Hi there, an informative post 🙂 Is oil better than diluted hair conditioner? This what I use at the moment with no problems.

    safe diving,


    1. Hi Mike. I have found that oil has a few benefits over conditioner.
      1: Vegetable oil has less odour in the water, which may make a fish less wary.
      2: It hangs about for longer, so when you get out of your suit it is still there, giving you more warmth on windy days and it makes it easier to get the suit off.
      3: It holds body temperature better than water so keeps you warmer in your suit.

  2. I read a pretty old book as a child, it was mostly about (or written by?) Jacques Cousteau…
    Anyway, the book claimed that putting oil or grease on your skin before going in did stop the initial burn of the cold water, but also increased heat loss after it had been (very slowly) washed away by the water. The book said that overall, greasing up made a diver colder.

    I think that some kind of oil under the wetsuit is a great idea, but are you sure that using vaseline on your face is? It may be very different for a freediver doing one short dive than a SCUBA diver staying down for a long time.

    1. Hi There,
      The oils primary job is to aid wetsuit application, the warmth factor is a side effect really. I have found that as it washes away slower than water, it holds the heat for longer. After all, the alternative is cold water, which will pull heat away just as efficiently (approximately). One of the bonuses to the oil is really post dive, as you will have some still on your skin, it helps with windchill when you get changed on a breezy headland!
      The book that you read will have been using ‘current’ wetsuit technology as a benchmark. Thats back in the day when they though that you needed to have quite a bit of water in your suit to keep you warm, as opposed to now where zero water is the goal, so flushing is kept to a minimum anyway.
      The Vaseline is really to fight the initial chill on your face… that first intense burn that you get from ice cold water. This really helped in Iceland when the water was -1 to 1 deg c. It did get washed off throughout the dive, but by then your face had acclimatised somewhat 😉

  3. FarSide wrote, “it may be very different for a freediver doing one short dive than a SCUBA diver staying down for a long time.”

    SCUBA divers are, typically, in the water for a shorter period of time than free diver, being limited by the number of air tanks they can port.

  4. Thankyou..I found this most informative..just need to find a local school/group so I can get out and start freediving..thanks again Phil.

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