Diving, whether it’s scuba or freediving, is a window into the aquatic wonders of our planet. While the allure of vibrant marine life and mysterious underwater landscapes is undeniable, diving requires gear that offers both protection and comfort. In this realm, wetsuits are not just an accessory but a necessity.
They act as a diver’s second skin, safeguarding against the harsh aquatic environment while ensuring thermal protection. Predominantly, there are two main types of wetsuits: open-cell and closed-cell.
Each has its distinct features, but how do they differ, and which is right for you? This article dives deep into the intricacies of the open-cell wetsuit and compares it with its closed-cell counterpart.
What is an Open Cell Wetsuit?
At its core, a wetsuit’s primary job is to trap a thin layer of water between the suit and the skin, which the body then warms up, providing insulation. The ‘cell’ in open cell and closed cell refers to the structure of the neoprene—a synthetic rubber—from which wetsuits are made.
Open Cell Neoprene: This type of neoprene is essentially raw on the inside. Instead of a lining, the inner surface of an open cell wetsuit has exposed air bubbles. This creates a plush, soft texture, almost sponge-like. When pressed against the skin, these bubbles conform to the body, creating a snug fit.
Characteristics of Open Cell Wetsuits:
- Provides a tight seal against the skin, reducing water exchange and retaining warmth.
- The soft texture ensures comfort but demands careful handling as it’s more delicate than lined neoprene.
- Typically lacks an interior lining, although some higher-end models might have a thin, protective layer to enhance durability.
Manufacturing Open-Cell Neoprene: The creation process of open-cell neoprene is less intricate than its counterpart. The neoprene sheet is split into two layers, and the open cell side—the one with visible bubbles—is used as the inner surface of the wetsuit.
Closed Cell vs. Open Cell Wetsuits: A Comparative Analysis
Divers often find themselves in a quandary when deciding between open-cell and closed-cell wetsuits. Both have their merits and specific use cases.
Closed Cell Neoprene: This is what most conventional wetsuits, especially those for surfing, are made of. The inner surface of closed cell wetsuits is lined, typically with nylon or another material, which protects the neoprene bubbles, hence the term ‘closed cell’. This lining makes the suit more durable but also slightly less flexible than open-cell wetsuits.
- Material & Structure: While both wetsuits use neoprene, the primary difference lies in the internal structure. Closed cell wetsuits are lined, making them sturdier but less form-fitting. Open cell wetsuits, with their exposed bubbles, contour to the body shape more effectively.
- Thermal Insulation: Open-cell wetsuits, due to their tight seal, often provide better insulation than closed-cell wetsuits. This makes them particularly suitable for colder waters.
- Durability: Closed cell wetsuits, with their protective lining, are more resistant to wear and tear. Open-cell varieties require more careful handling.
- Ease of Donning: Open cell wetsuits can be trickier to put on because of their sticky interior. Divers often use a lubricant to ease the process, whereas closed-cell wetsuits can generally be worn without additional aids.
Benefits of Open Cell Wetsuits
While both types of wetsuits provide divers with protection and thermal insulation, open-cell variants have some specific advantages that make them particularly coveted by certain segments of the diving community.
Superior Insulation and Warmth Retention: The primary advantage of open-cell wetsuits is the snug fit they offer. By conforming closely to the body, they reduce water movement within the suit. Less water flushing means the body needs to expend less energy to warm up this layer, thereby retaining heat more efficiently.
Enhanced Flexibility and Mobility: The unlined nature of open-cell wetsuits makes the neoprene inherently more stretchable. This elasticity allows divers a greater range of motion, an essential attribute when navigating underwater environments and responding to potential hazards.
Better Fit and Reduced Water Flushing: The unique, soft texture of the open-cell design ensures a tighter seal on the body. This fit not only aids in insulation but also minimizes the risk of cold water entering the suit and ‘flushing’ out the warm layer.
Considerations when Choosing an Open Cell Wetsuit
While the benefits of open-cell wetsuits are numerous, divers should evaluate specific criteria based on their individual needs and diving environments.
Suitability Based on Dive Environment: While open cell wetsuits excel in colder conditions due to their superior insulation, they might be excessive for warmer, tropical waters where overheating can be a concern.
The Importance of Getting the Right Fit: A wetsuit’s efficacy is only as good as its fit. An overly tight suit can restrict movement and be uncomfortable, while a loose one defeats the purpose of insulation. Proper measurement and trials are crucial.
Durability and Maintenance: Open-cell neoprene is delicate. While its benefits are many, divers need to be mindful of potential wear and tear and should be prepared for more frequent maintenance checks.
Tips for Donning an Open Cell Wetsuit
One of the challenges that divers often face with open cell wetsuits is putting them on. Their sticky inner surface, while excellent for insulation, can be tricky to navigate.
Use of Lubricants: A mix of water and eco-friendly soap or conditioner can act as a lubricant. Divers should apply this mixture on the inside of the wetsuit, making it easier to slide on. It’s crucial to ensure that the lubricant is not harmful to marine life.
Careful Techniques: Open cell wetsuits require a gentle touch. It’s advised to avoid pulling too hard or using fingernails, as these can damage the delicate lining. Instead, use the palms and flat fingers to gradually ease the suit on.
Maintaining and Caring for Your Open Cell Wetsuit
Taking care of your open cell wetsuit is crucial not just for the longevity of the suit, but also for ensuring its performance dive after dive.
Proper Rinsing, Drying, and Storage: After every dive, it’s essential to rinse the wetsuit with fresh water. Salt, sand, and other elements can degrade the neoprene over time. Allow the wetsuit to dry inside out, away from direct sunlight which can cause the neoprene to become brittle. Once dried, store it flat or on a wide hanger to prevent creases.
Addressing Minor Repairs: Due to the delicate nature of open cell neoprene, small tears, and nicks might appear over time. Fortunately, many of these can be easily fixed using wetsuit glue or neoprene patches. Ensure the area is clean and dry before applying any adhesive.
Open-cell wetsuits have carved a niche for themselves in the diving world, thanks to their unique attributes that cater to specific diving conditions. Their superior insulation, flexibility, and fit make them a popular choice among many divers.
However, the delicate nature of open-cell neoprene also means they demand a higher degree of care. Like any equipment choice, the key is to balance one’s needs, the conditions in which they’ll be diving, and personal comfort considerations.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do open-cell wetsuits require lubricant for donning?
The inner surface of an open cell wetsuit is sticky and adheres closely to the skin. Using a lubricant helps the suit slide on more easily, preventing potential damage and ensuring a snug fit.
How can I repair small tears in my open cell wetsuit?
Small tears can be repaired using specialized wetsuit glue. Ensure the area is clean and dry, apply the adhesive, press the tear together, and allow it to set based on the glue’s instructions. For larger tears, you might consider consulting a professional or using neoprene patches.
Are open-cell wetsuits more expensive than closed-cell ones?
The price of a wetsuit often depends on factors like brand, design, and additional features. Generally, open-cell wetsuits can be pricier due to their specialized nature, but this isn’t a rule. It’s always best to compare products based on your specific requirements and budget.