Buying Guide: Find The Best Wetsuit for Diving + Cold Water SUP, Surfing & More!

surfers in wetsuits

Like to go out and enjoy water sports but hate when the water gets too cold for ya? If so, all you need is a good wetsuit. Whether you enjoy diving, paddle boarding, surfing, or another water sport, there are plenty of great wetsuit options out there to meet your need.

In a hurry? See our #1 favorite wetsuit at Amazon

Let us help you find a great wetsuit that keeps you in the water all year long. Keep reading for our recommended wetsuits, as well as some tips on what to look for when shopping for one of these.

Our Wetsuit Ratings At-A-Glance

wetsuit ratings

Best Wetsuits For The Money (2017 - 2018)

MODELTHICKNESSEDITOR RATING
Quiksilver Mens Syncro Plus 4/3Mm Chest Zip Full Wetsuit Chest Zip Full Wetsuit4/3mm (9.8 / 10)
O'Neill Wetsuits Men's Epic 3/2 mm Full Suit3/2mm (8.9 / 10)
Cressi Morea - Mens Wetsuit Full 3mm3mm (9.5 / 10)
Roxy Womens Roxy Syncro 5/4/3Mm Back Zip Wetsuit5/4/3mm (9.7 / 10)
Hyperflex Wetsuits Men's Access 3/2mm Full Suit3/2mm (8.9 / 10)
NeoSport Wetsuits Men's XSPAN Full Jumpsuit3/2mm (9.1 / 10)
O'Neill Wetsuits Mens 3/2 mm Hammer Full Wetsuit3/2mm (8.9 / 10)
NeoSport Wetsuits Women's XSPAN Full Jumpsuit3/2mm (9.7 / 10)
NeoSport Wetsuits Men's Premium Neoprene 1mm Full Suit1mm (8.9 / 10)
O'Neill Wetsuits Men's Epic 4/3mm Full Suit4/3mm (9.1 / 10)

The Benefits of Wetsuits

If you spend a lot of time in the ocean, a wetsuit can be very useful. Maybe you’ve avoided them because they look strange and uncomfortable. But before you grab a new swimming outfit and hit the surf again, think about the ways wetsuits can help improve the experience.

  1. Wetsuits reduce the phenomenon of drag in the water.

Wetsuits are made of a slick material called neoprene. Neoprene is smoother than your skin and makes moving through the water is easier.

2. Wetsuits keep you warmer.

Wetsuits warm the body by trapping a layer of water between the skin and their neoprene material. At 24 degrees Celsius, wetsuits are optional for age group triathlons in the U.K. For the Olympics and full and half Ironman Competition, wetsuits are required.

      3. Wetsuits keep you floating easier.

Wetsuits make it easier for you to float. They help keep you on the surface and in a good swimming position.

     4. Wetsuits convert energy more efficiently

Wetsuits make swimming easier, allowing you to spend less energy than you typically would in a normal bathing suit.

How A Wetsuit Should Fit

Wetsuit fits vary between manufacturers. It’s helpful to use the manufacturer-sizing chart (sized proportionally according to height and weight) to find the right size. To work according to its design, the wetsuit must fit you snugly. Manufacturer size charts use the same sizing designations used for other garments (LT/S/XL, etc.)

But first, you have to put it on properly.

Once you are in the suit, check the fit. It should feel snug without being too tight or overstretched. Even in the lightest, well-fitted summer wetsuits, you will feel a slight restriction of movement.

Take a few minutes to move and walk in the suit. Make sure you can take deep breaths with minimal discomfort. Also, make sure circulation to your hands and feet is normal.

It’s hard to find the perfect fit with an off-the-rack wetsuit and it’s common for people to have their off-the-rack wetsuits slightly tailored to achieve the perfect fit. Wetsuits made for winter must fit perfectly because prolonged submersion in very cold water is dangerous. The good news is that customizing a wetsuit isn’t expensive.

Wetsuit Styles

Semi-dry suits (similar to wetsuits)

Semi-dry suits are only like wetsuits in the way they keep you warm when you are in water significantly colder than your body temperature. But semi-dry suits are made from impervious material (keeps water from contacting the skin) and are intended for extreme conditions, not surfing or scuba diving.

Regular wetsuits

Wetsuits have various grades of neoprene, which is thicker or thinner depending on the desired use. Suits can be made with thin-graded neoprene in the shoulder region, which makes movement easier at the cost of some warmth. Thicker-graded suits provide greater warmth at the cost of restricted movement.

Heated wetsuits

A heated suit is a wetsuit with an added heating device for warming the core throughout the immersive water activity. One popular heated suit by Rip Curl uses a 7.4V lithium-ion battery that generates heat to a spread out area in the back of the suit with four thin strips. Some heated suits come with two lithium-ion batteries for added warmth.

Wetsuit Seams

Wetsuits are made up of individual panels which are stitched together along seams. High-quality wetsuits do not have seams in areas (like the shoulder and hip areas) where flexibility is the priority. In high-quality suits, the seams are insoluble — they don’t let water through. Wetsuits are sewn together using three types of stitching. The stitch holes in the neoprene allow water through but can be sealed with glue.

Overlock Stitching

Overlock stitching is the simplest type, and is also the least effective stitching method for keeping water out. Inexpensive summer wetsuits are made with this type of stitching. Overlock stitching involves rolling two panels together then stitching them. Unfortunately, this causes a restrictive fit and swimming, as a result, is more difficult. The rolled panels form a bulge under the wetsuit which can lead to itching and chafing.

Advantages of Overlock Stitching:

  • Inexpensive
  • Simple to manufacture

Disadvantages of Overlock Stitching:

  • Very leaky
  • Only for warm water
  • Not flexible
  • Chafes the skin

Flatlock Stitching

Flatlock stitching is used on wetsuits 3mm or less thick. The seams made by flatlock stitching are much more flexible and strong than those made by overlock stitching. With flatlock stitching, one panel edge is laid over the other and the thread is stitched through. But like overlock stitching, many needle holes are made through the neoprene, and water seeps through. So, flatlock-stitched wetsuits are only suitable for warm water.

Advantages of Flatlock Stitching:

  • Highly flexible
  • Durable
  • Inexpensive

Disadvantages of Flatlock Stitching:

  • Very leaky
  • Only for warm water

Blindstitching

In blindstitching, both panel edges are placed together so they are touching and then glued. After the glue dries, they are stitched together, but the needle holes only go halfway through the neoprene (hence the “blind” in blind stitching). The seams are very flexible and watertight and tend to be used on thick wetsuits (3mm and thicker) made for cold water temperatures. Blindstitching is used on high-quality wetsuits. Whatever your extended cold water activity, a blindstitched wetsuit keeps you much warmer than wetsuits with overlock and flatlock-stitching.

Blindstitching Advantages:

  • Very flexible
  • Watertight
  • For cold water

Blindstitching Disadvantages:

  • Not strong enough for extreme cold

Double-Blind Stitching

Double-blind stitching is where a seam is stitched on the inside of one side of a panel, then again on the reverse side. This stitching is done on extra-thick wetsuits made for very cold water temperatures.

Double-Blind Stitching Advantages:

  • Very flexible
  • Watertight
  • For very cold water (extra-thick wetsuits)

Double-Blind Stitching Disadvantages:

  • None

‘Glued and Blindstitched’ or ‘Fluid Seam Weld’ Seams

The highest-priced wetsuits have an added advantage: Manufacturers reinforce the blind stitching with a line of liquid, silicone-based urethane (rubber) on the side opposite the blind stitching. The liquid urethane welds the seam, making it ultra-durable because instead of bonding at individual stitch points, it bonds to the entire seam. This bond allows the seam to stretch with along with the wetsuit. Winter wetsuits are all made with the ‘Glued and Blindstitched’ (GBS) seam or a ‘Fluid Seam Weld’ (FSW).

Feature on most wetsuits:

Taped Seams : Nearly all wetsuits have taped seams on the wrist and ankle zones which makes them easier to take off.

Types of Zippers

The zipper teeth area is another entry point for water on wetsuits. A high-quality, watertight zipper is important in cold water.

Back-Zipper Wetsuits

Wetsuits are skin-tight, which means they take some time to get into. Most wetsuits have long zippers running down the back that open the suit up wide, making them easier to get in and out of. The standard, back zipper isn’t without its disadvantages. Zipper tracks are soluble and the longer they are, the more water seeps through. In addition, they slightly restrict flexibility.

Chest/Neck Zipper Wetsuits

Putting yourself in a wetsuit with a chest or neck zipper means getting in through the neck area. Though not as simple as getting into a traditional back-zip, because advanced neoprene material is highly flexible, putting on a suit with a neck or chest zipper isn’t as difficult as it seems. Neck and chest zippers are:

  • watertight
  • comfortable (thanks to no long zipper track down the back)
  • More flexible

Zippers for Cold-Water

Zippers on wetsuits made for cold water have shorter tracks and specially-designed teeth.

Wetsuit Thickness and Warmth Explained

Wetsuit material, neoprene, has tens of thousands of tiny air bubbles, insulates the body when it is submerged in cold water. As the neoprone gets thicker, the insulation increases.

Full-Cut Summer Wetsuit Thickness

Full-cut (covers the whole body except for hands and feet) summer wetsuits are commonly referred to as three-two’s (3/2’s), which refers to their thickness in two areas — three millimeters in the core body area, and two millimeters in the arm and leg areas. Summer wetsuits can be worn in water temperatures of at least 62 degrees.

Short-Cut Wetsuit Thickness

With the neoprene material cut off at the arms and legs, shortie wetsuits provide high flexibility and warmth in the core area and are easier to put on and take off. Most short-cut wetsuits are around 2mm thick in the torso and chest panels, and 1 to 1.5mm thick around the leg and shoulder panels. This thickness is ideal in the summertime when water temperature stays above 70 degrees.

Winter Wetsuits Thickness

Wetsuits made for the cold waters of winter insulate the body against temperatures as low as 39 degrees, allowing you to hit the surf, swim, or scuba dive year-round. Winter wetsuits fall in the 5/3mm (5 millimeters in the core area, 3mm in the arm and leg area) to 6/4mm thickness range. Some winter suits are made with three thickness levels, for example, 5/4/3mm and 6/5/4mm. The first number refers to the core area, the middle number to the thigh area, and the last number to the leg and arm area.

Winter wetsuits typically have a shiny rubber chest panel made from single-lined neoprene, which provides your core area with extra protection from wind. The leg and arm areas are made with double-lined neoprene. Extra thick, this added layer protects the person and the suit from sharp objects.

Because they are thicker, winter suits weigh more, which force you to spend more energy. A heavier suit keeps you warmer but also tires you faster. It’s important to compensate for this by being closer to your lifeline (shore, safety boat, the dock, etc.).

 

How To Easily Get Your Wetsuit On

Getting Into A Two-Piece Wetsuit

Follow these steps:

  1. Pull the pants up to their full height, then lock the velcro strap on your shoulder.
  2. Pull down the jacket zipper then step through and pull on the jacket.
  3. Reach behind with both arms, push them into the arm openings and pull up the whole suit.
  4. Zip up the suit.

Getting Into a One-Piece Wetsuit

  1. Pull the whole suit up to your waist.
  2. Reach one arm down through the arm opening and work it up. Do the same with the other arm.
  3. For back-zip suits, have another person zip the suit up from behind. This decreases suit and zipper wear and damage, as pulling the zipper up yourself with one arm tends to cause snagging on the suit and long hair.

Other Considerations Before Buying

  • Comfort comes first: The wetsuit should be very comfortable from the crotch area to the shoulder area. Shoulder mobility (shoulder and arm reach) should be unrestricted.
  • Price: Wetsuits have wide quality variance. Before buying, ask yourself these questions: Am I a novice at the activity I want the suit for (surfing, scuba diving, Jetski racing, etc.)? Am I a strong swimmer? What’s my budget? Do I know anyone with some expertise on wetsuits I could ask for advice?
  • Big brands: Big brands sell because they do what they are designed for. Look for brands like: McNett, Aqua Sphere, Sailfish, Blueseventy, 2XU, Orca, and Speedo, among others.

Common Accessories

Boots, Gloves and Hoods

Like the wetsuit itself, wetsuit boots keep your feet warm during any seafaring activity, not just surfing and diving. Like land shoes and boots, wetsuit boots protect your feet from sharp objects. They have rubber soles and are made from neoprene. They vary in thickness (3mm, 5mm, 6mm, etc.), and like wetsuits, thicker boots provide more thermal protection. Like neoprene wetsuit boots, neoprene wetsuit hoods provide further thermal protection by insulating your head. Make sure to get a properly fitting hood, or like an ill-fitting wetsuit, it will leak and not do its job. Like boots and hoods, wetsuit gloves are made from neoprene and protect your fingers from the cold.

Knee Reinforcement

Most wetsuits come equipped with some type of knee reinforcement. As the knee area is the most heavily worked area of a wetsuit, these increase your suit’s longevity.

Barrier System or ‘Batwing’

The barrier or batwing is an extra flap of neoprene designed to reduce cold water flashes on wetsuits with back zippers. The name of the system varies by the wetsuit brand (‘Barrier 1 system’ and ‘Batwing system’). There are two types of barriers or batwings:

  1. A large piece of neoprene with a hole in the center to fit your head. It pulls down over the head and rests around the neck, similar to football or hockey shoulder pads.
  2. A small piece of neoprene that fits under the back zipper from the zipper base to the top of your neck.

Heat Packs

Made from chemicals, heat packs fit conveniently in a belt worn under the wetsuit. Similar to heat packs made for home use, they emit warmth for around one hour and are reusable.

Firecore/ Fireskin / Firewall Insulated Panels

These are extra back and chest panels inside the wetsuit designed for added warmth, and made from hollow fibers that wick moisture away from the skin. These are found in high-end wetsuits.

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