NPL tests materials for warmer wet suits

Watersport enthusiasts may soon benefit from a new generation of wetsuits that keep heat in for longer without compromising mobility.

Spartan, a Colchester-based wetsuit manufacturer, has teamed up with the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) to conduct tests that will help develop a more effective wetsuit design.

Mark Minter, managing director of Spartan, believes that the outdoor watersport industry is currently some way behind other sports in using the latest advances in materials technology to help improve athletic performance.

‘Perhaps because of the nature of the surf, it has never become fully technical,’ said Minter. ‘But there’s a lot of new materials and processes coming along now, such as the use of titanium linings, and manufacturers are beginning to pick this up.’

The NPL tests measured the thermal function of the new materials by using a wireless temperature sensor strapped under the right arm of participants. ‘Previously we’d go and jump in the water and stand around a bit to see if it kept us warm or didn’t. It was all fairly rudimentary, but these tests have provided us with usable, objective data,’ said Minter.

Existing wetsuits are made from a synthetic rubber called neoprene that contains small bubbles of nitrogen gas used to minimise heat transport. The inclusion of different chemicals has led to the development of more flexible versions of the material, but at the expense of reducing its thermal properties.

Minter added that the new data would allow the group to develop a new wetsuit design that could be tailored to the specific requirements of the sport. He hopes that by combining traditional neoprene with more flexible versions of the material, future wetsuits will feature both increased heat retention and flexibility.