"Your arms look so strong!" exclaimed the guest diver I was guiding one day. "I bet they get like that from lifting all those tanks." We were chatting as we attempted to don our wetsuits in suffocating 95° degree weather. I was struggling to yank my wetsuit over my posterior, an effort which apparently accentuated my arm muscles.
"I'm not sure," I gasped between tugs. My arms were already tired. "I don't really lift tanks with my arms that much. I usually carry them on my back. Maybe I build arm muscles by wrestling with this wetsuit twice a day?"
The sad part is, that this is probably true, as putting on a wetsuit is sometimes the most exhausting part of the dive. But squeezing into a wetsuit doesn't have to be so difficult. Here are tricks for putting a wetsuit on more easily.
Some Wetsuits Are Simply Too Tight
Before reviewing these tricks to make donning a snug wetsuit easier, keep in mind that sometimes a wetsuit is simply too tight. Indications that a wetsuit is too tight include:
7 Tips for Squeezing into Snug Wetsuit
1. The Plastic Bag Trick
Place a plastic grocery bag around your foot before sliding it into your wetsuit. Once your foot is through the wetsuit leg, remove the bag and repeat the process with the other foot, and then each hand. The plastic bag helps the neoprene to slide easily over your skin.
2. Blow into the Wetsuit
This trick requires a willing dive buddy. Once your hand is through the wetsuit sleeve, have your dive buddy lift the edge of the wrist seal and blow a bubble of air into the suit. This breaks the suit's contact with your skin and helps the rest of the sleeve to slide into place.
3. Start with the Wetsuit Inside Out
Turn the offending wetsuit completely inside out, and put one foot through the ankle of the reversed suit. Roll the suit up your leg slowly, and repeat with the other leg, the torso, and finally the arms.
4. Put on the Wetsuit in the Water
If convenient, jump into the water with the wetsuit and pull the suit on in the water. Whenever the suit sticks, pull it away from your body to allow water to break the seal between the suit and your body.
5. Use a Commercially Available Dive Skin (or Pantyhose and a Leotard)
A dive skin is one of the many items that divers can wear underneath a wetsuit. Most wetsuit manufacturers sell thin Lycra "dive skins." Dive skins cover a diver from ankle to wrist and provide protection from jellyfish and coral. When used under a wetsuit, dive skins help you don and remove the suit by preventing the suit from sticking to your skin.
Before dive skins were widely available, many divers used pantyhose (yes, even the men) and long-sleeved leotards to help slide on wetsuits. If you ever see a diver on a boat wearing pantyhose, don't laugh! Chances are he has been diving much longer than you and has some interesting stories to tell.
6. Use a Water-Based Lubricant
Water-based lubricants may also help a diver to put his wetsuit on more easily. The diver spreads a small amount of lubricant on his wrists and ankles to help them slide through the tightest parts of the wetsuit. KY Jelly works well as a wetsuit lubricant, but any water-based lubricant may be applied as necessary. However, take care never to use an oil-based lubricant (such as petroleum jelly)--oil-based lubricants will degrade the neoprene wetsuit material.
7. Have Custom Zippers Installed
Installing zippers in a wetsuit's ankles and wrists make donning the suit much easier. Many dive gear manufacturers already produce wetsuits with zippers at the wrists and ankles. However, if you already own a suit without zippers, a wetsuit tailor or custom wetsuit designer may be able to install zippers for you. Be warned: after-market zippers allow greater water circulation, reducing the wetsuit's thermal protection. Ankle and wrist zippers are also an extra failure point--they may wear out or break.
Two Bad Ideas
1. Soap, Detergents, Shampoos or Conditioners as Lubricants
Soap, detergents and other solutions that are not biodegradable should not be used with wetsuits, as some of the liquid will invariably leak from the wetsuit into the water. Even biodegradable detergents and soaps may irritate or dry out a diver's skin. These solutions may also affect the wetsuit's neoprene. When I started diving, I used diluted hair conditioner to aid in donning my wetsuit. The conditioner left a thin residue which made the suit extremely easy to slip on. However, over a long period of time, the neoprene became extremely stiff and began to crack.
2. Oil-Based Lubricants
Neoprene can be damaged by oil-based products, such as petroleum jelly or oil-based lubricants. Never use oil, grease or any oil-based compound to aid in sliding on a wetsuit.