There are essentially three reasons why someone would need a wetsuit when engaging in an aquatic activity like surfing, sailing, or scuba diving: warmth, hydrodynamics, and buoyancy. The best wetsuits are designed to keep you comfortable and safe—with the added bonus of looking cool. Here’s everything you need to know to find the right wetsuit for you.
- Best men’s shorty suit: O’Neill Reactor-2 Short-sleeve Spring Suit
- Best women’s shorty suit: SeaSkin 3mm Shorty
- Best kid’s wetsuit: Cressi Kids Wetsuit
- Best scuba suit: Aqua Lung HydroFlex 3mm Wetsuit
- Best budget suit: Hevto Wetsuits 3mm
Here’s the 411 on wetsuits
The first thing you should know is that wetsuits don’t work by keeping the wearer dry. Instead, they are designed to let a thin layer of water in, and this water is then trapped and warmed by body heat (which is why a tight fit is important). Early wetsuit designs from the 1950s didn’t include an inner lining, so they tore easily. The next generation of wetsuits was lined with nylon, reducing their sticky texture, although this made the suit less flexible. By the 1970s, new stitching techniques were developed for joining the seams, such as seam taping, gluing, or binding.
The modern technique of blind stitching used a curved needle that didn’t go all the way through the suits’ neoprene material, which meant no puncture holes and a flat seam, making the wetsuit more comfortable. In 1989, Body Glove created the non-zip wetsuit and started experimenting with new materials, including spandex and other thermoplastics, for use in warm water. In the 1990s, titanium was added to some wetsuits and today it’s a regular addition to high-end wetsuits, helping to retain body heat and creating maximum thermal insulation.
In addition to size and style—from the “shorty” or spring suit, which has short sleeves and knee-length legs, to full-body suits—divers need to consider thickness as it pertains to conditions and usage. You’ll see terms like 4/3 suit or 3/2 suit—this refers to the suit’s thickness. It’s fairly simple: The thicker the wetsuit, the warmer you’ll be. A 4/3 wetsuit will be warmer than a 3/2 wetsuit, and thicker suits are less prone to tears.
How to find the best men’s shorty suits
A spring suit is another name for a shorty suit, and they are a great option if you are planning activities in warm waters or during hot weather. A shorty wetsuit is easier and quicker to put on, not to mention you might find you get too warm in a full suit. A shorty suit also allows for a greater range of motion, especially when you are using them for watersports.
Spring suits are great when water temperatures are around 68 degrees or higher when you are participating in surface sports like surfing, or around 72 degrees and higher when you are scuba diving. You can use spring suits in all types of watersports, including kayaking, paddling, diving, surfing, triathlons, swimming, windsurfing, and waterskiing.
Best men’s shorty suit: O’Neill Reactor-2 Short-sleeve Spring Suit
Very Versatile Fit
This O’Neill wetsuit is perfect for warm-water comfort. O’Neill Wetsuits
Built for warmer waters, this is a great shorty wetsuit for the hobbyist—someone more likely to engage in water activities when it’s nicer out, as opposed to the hardcore enthusiasts who are happy to submerge themselves in all weather conditions. Flexible, comfortable, and easy to get in and out of, the O’Neill men’s wetsuit is an all-around solid option.
Top features to look for in the best women’s wetsuits
Shopping for women’s wetsuits isn’t much different from shopping for a men’s wetsuit, as you’re still looking at the same basic factors when narrowing down your choice. First, consider the wetsuit’s thickness: the thicker it is in millimeters, the warmer you’ll stay in cold weather. If you’re going to be in cold water, you’ll need a thicker wetsuit. However, keep in mind that thicker also means more restrictive and cumbersome.
Next, consider style. If you aren’t comfortable showing off your upper arms, a short sleeve instead of a tank top style is an option. The style won’t hurt your performance in whatever watersport you plan to participate in. If you aren’t comfortable with a swimsuit-like bottom, then pick a shorty suit, which has slightly longer leg-sleeves. You should also factor in sun protection, as a shorty suit exposes more skin. Finally, think about how the wetsuit zips. The zipper may be on the chest or on the back; you might have a preference based on your own comfort levels.
Best women’s shorty suit: SeaSkin 3mm Shorty
Designed to Move
The SeaSkin Shorty allows for a comfortable, durable fit for all watersports. Seaskin
Featuring a unique front-zip design (which may be more comfortable and easier than suits that make you reach back and pull up a back zipper), the SeaSkin shorty wetsuit provides UV protection and defense against sea lice, jellies, and other biological irritants in addition to providing warmth. This women’s wetsuit is also known for being durable and comfy.
Factors to consider when shopping for kids
First things first: Kids get cold when they spend a lot of time in the ocean. This is due to the simple biological fact that children have poorer thermoregulation than adults, so they can overheat easily—they also get cold easily, which occurs through exposure to ocean water when surfing or other watersports. Heat loss in children is particularly apparent in aquatic activities and the smaller the child, the faster their cooling rate.
Children are also constantly growing, which makes finding the best wetsuit fit a bit of a challenge. A suit that fits in spring may no longer be the right size by the end of the summer. Thinking your kid will “grow into” a suit isn’t the best approach. But doing the work to find the right fit is important—if your child’s wetsuit is too big, the water that gets between their skin and the inside of the suit won’t properly warm up, and then it just won’t get the job done. That said, the Cressi Kids Wetsuit is one of the most trusted and highly rated kid’s wetsuits available.
Best kid’s wetsuit: Cressi Kids Wetsuit
Protect Your Waterbabies
The Cressi Kids Wetsuit is a solid, inexpensive option for young guppies. Cressi
The Cressi kid’s wetsuit has sides and sleeves made of Elastane, which is an elastic-based fabric that gives the suit some stretch while protecting against UV rays and water-borne irritants. The suit’s 1.5mm Neoprene construction also offers adequate warmth, and the front zip makes it simple for kids to take on and off.
Most important features when shopping for a scuba suit
If diving is just an occasional part of your aquatic activities, you can use a wetsuit designed for surfing and still get most of the benefits—warmth and protection being chief among them. However, if you’re looking to get serious and focus on diving, you may need to invest in a scuba-designed suit.
The difference comes down to thickness. The core density of a scuba suit is much thicker than a surfing suit, which is why scuba suits tend to feel much stiffer than other wetsuits. They simply don’t have the same amount of stretch. Also, factors such as depth and compression can come into play depending on your diving expertise. When you descend into lower depths, the wetsuit essentially gets thinner, and won’t insulate or protect as well—but that’s mostly for very deep-sea diving. For most recreational diving, a simple wetsuit, as opposed to a more sealed-off “dry suit,” should be sufficient.
Best scuba suit: Aqua Lung HydroFlex 3mm Wetsuit
For Deep Diver
The Aqua Lung HydroFlex Wetsuit is versatile and effective diving protection. Aqua Lung
This super stretchy scuba suit is made from 100-percent Quantum Stretch, nylon-2 Neoprene, which makes the Aqua Lung stretchier than standard neoprene. The velcro collar is adjustable, helping to keep out the cold, while the smooth chest and back panels dry out quickly and provide better warmth when you resurface.
What to consider when buying a budget wetsuit
As with most specialized equipment, the more advanced you are in your sport the more options and advantages you’ll be seeking which usually means more expensive gear. However, all wetsuits require a basic level of functionality—they have to at least keep you warmer in the water than just a bathing suit and T-shirt would. Still, occasional surfers, water skiers, and divers can get by with slightly less expensive options.
Unless you’re very serious about engaging in a specific sport or water-bound activity, investing in a more affordable suit will also allow you to move seamlessly from one activity to another. A basic wetsuit that can work for surfing, as well as remedial diving takes your money a lot further. Just make sure you get the right fit and a suit that will withstand a reasonable amount of usage
Best on a budget: Hevto Wetsuits 3mm
The Hevto Wetsuit is a solid suit for a reasonable price. Hevto
Designed to act as a “second skin,” the Hevto is a 3mm-thick wetsuit that reduces exposed skin and provides comfort and safety during most water-based activities. This wetsuit zips up the back and offers decent stretch and flexibility without skimping on protection from scrapes or bites.
Q: How much should you spend on a wetsuit?
Wetsuit pricing varies wildly, because there are so many different varieties. Spring suits will be more affordable than thicker, whole-body coverage full suits that are made for colder surfing temperatures. The key factors to consider are conditions and how much warmth vs. flexibility you need.
Q: Which wetsuit brand is the best?
A 2021 survey conducted by Surf Hungry named the top brand of wetsuits as O’Neill, the company founded by wetsuit pioneer Jack O’Neill. The survey cited their durability, excellent construction, and innovative designs.
Q: How do I choose the right wetsuit?
The first thing you have to consider is what activity you are looking to pursue, and where you want to do it. If you’re interested in surfing warm waters during pleasant weather, you’ll be looking at a smaller, lighter-weight spring suit. If you are a deep-sea diver or surfing in colder waters (or during the winter months), you’ll need to invest in a thicker, more protective, and likely more expensive full suit.
The final word on choosing the best wetsuits
The best wetsuits provide adequate warmth and protection, but also allow for comfort and flexibility while remaining durable enough for extended use. Since wetsuits function by being skintight, correct sizing is tremendously important. It’s also necessary to consider environmental factors—you don’t want to end up investing in a full-body suit, hood, gloves, and booties for SoCal surfing in the height of summer. Knowing what you want to get out of a wetsuit is the best way to help you hone in on the right one.