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I'd like to swim and surf in the Pacific, but the water a bit too cold for me to be comfortable. I used to rent wetsuits but due to Covid and in order to save money I am thinking of purchasing my own.

The problem is that I am apparently chunkier around the waistline than the average wetsuit model. When I look at size charts, my chest will typically be M or L, while my waist will fall into 1-2 sizes larger (L or XL). It seems like my options here are:

  • Buy one that matches my waist and accept that the chest will be a bit loose (if it lets a small amount of cold water I can accept that)
  • Buy based on my chest and accept that squeezing my belly into it will take some effort (and optimistically hope that the problem will take care of itself)
  • Try to get something in the middle, so that BOTH the chest AND the waist measurements are off, but either one is less off than if I had tried to match one measurement exactly

Which one of these is the more logical option for a 3/2 or 4/3 mm wetsuit? Does it matter (as far as fit) if I wear a vest under the wetsuit?

My recent experience with rentals has been pretty good. My belly would fit fine and my chest would have a small amount of slack, but the water in that chest slack would stay warm and I wouldn't have cold water getting in. Getting in and out of the suit was not unusually difficult. Unfortunately I didn't pay much attention to the measurements of my rental suits -- I just let the rental shop look me over and guess my size, and they've tended to be right.

I understand that the ultimate way of resolving this is to simply try some suits on and see what fits best. Unfortunately, due to Covid I am not willing/able to do this. I am willing to simulate the process by simply ordering a few sizes online and returning what doesn't fit, but of course I cannot try dozens of suits in this way. So I want to narrow things down a bit. If I end up picking one company I could of course get the 2-3 sizes that match me, but approach might not work if I want to compare the fits of different manufacturers.

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This sort of thing is a common problem with wetsuits. Different brands fit very differently. Fit is fairly important for swimming as a gap at the upper chest can end up like a scoop, adding drag and failing to keep you warm.

Squeezing in too much in any dimension will shorten the life of the wetsuit, and may restrict movement; in marginal cases it might feel acceptable on dry land briefly, but not in the water for long periods (or especially seated, as I found when I bought a tall extra large for kayaking, when an extra tall large would have been better).

Your best bet for narrowing down the selection is to ask for advice from people of similar proportions in a group sufficiently local that you can buy the same brands (same country if you're buying online). You'll still need to order a selection but you'll avoid ordering lots that don't even come close.

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