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Love surfing or open water swimming all year round? A great wetsuit will help you stay warm and happy while exercising in your favourite element for longer.
Not all wetsuits are created equal – most are designed specifically with either surfers or open water swimmers in mind. If you exclusively surf or swim, make sure you choose a suit designed specifically for your favourite sport.
What thickness of wetsuit do I need?
All wetsuits have panels of varying thicknesses of neoprene in different areas – surf wetsuits usually have thicker neoprene around the torso and thinner neoprene on the arms and legs, and you’ll see a suit’s neoprene thickness given in millimetres.
A 4/3mm wetsuit, for example, has 4mm of neoprene on the torso and 3mm on arms and legs, and a 5/4/3mm wetsuit has 5mm of neoprene on the torso, 4mm on the legs and 3mm on the arms. Swimming wetsuits have thinner neoprene around the arms and armpits for ease of movement, and are cut differently to surf suits in order to reduce drag.
I want to surf – what suit do I need?
If you’re a surfer, you’ll need to pick a wetsuit according to the season you plan to use it in. As a rough guide, you should choose a 6mm wetsuit for the coldest months of the year, 5mm and 4mm for the rest of winter, 4mm and 3mm for autumn and spring and a 2mm suit just for keeping the chill off in the summer, or for wear on tropical surf trips.
Open water swimmer here – what do I look for?
Swimming wetsuits are designed to be quick and easy to pull on and off, to suit the needs of triathletes, who need to change on the fly. Surfing wetsuits either have a zip on the back or a chest zip (we prefer a chest zip, which we find keeps you warmer and offers better flexibility) or are even zip-free, and are cut to allow a wide stance on a board.
Swimming wetsuits are also less buoyant than surfing suits. If you like some protection in warmer months, you can pick a short-sleeve ‘shortie’ wetsuit for surfing or a sleeveless, full-leg suit for swimming, which allows the arms free movement.
Don’t forget to consider looks and fit. We found fit varied greatly from brand to brand, and one medium wetsuit might fit you perfectly while another is too long or too loose. While most wetsuits are fully black (neoprene’s base colour, which offers good UV resistance), some women’s wetsuits also feature bright pops of colour.
Wetsuits aren’t cheap – except to pay between £100-£200 for a decent full-length design. That said, if you can afford it, it’s worth owning a few different wetsuits for different seasons and disciplines. If you’re only buying one suit for casual swimming and surfing, a 4/3mm is probably your most versatile pick. Look after your new wetsuit by rinsing in fresh water after wearing in the sea, and dry in a shady place.
Decathlon Surfing 900 Wetsuit
Key specs – Sport: surfing; Thickness: 3/2mm; Size range: XS-XL; Colour options: Marine blue
Decathlon is a great port of call if you need a decent wetsuit but don’t want to spend much more than £100. The 900 wetsuit is a nice choice for anyone who surfs in the summer months, offering decent warmth from spring to autumn.
This was one of the top-performing wetsuits we tested for fit, hugging the body nicely without being restrictive and offering good flexibility. This is a zipless wetsuit, which does take some getting used to, and it isn’t the quickest to pull on and off.
Roxy 4/3mm Performance
Key specs – Sport: surfing; Thickness: 4/3mm; Size range: 2-14; Colour options: Black
If you’re buying your first surf wetsuit for use in the UK a 4/3mm isn’t a bad place to start – it’s warm enough to work for surf sessions during most of the year.
Roxy’s minimalist-looking Performance delivers exactly that – good performance – complete with a fleece-lined inner thermal layer to trap body heat, good cuffs, a comfortable neck and a chest zip.
It also offers a snug and flattering fit that is still flexible enough to pull shapes on your longboard.
Patagonia Women’s R1® Lite Yulex™ Front-Zip Long-Sleeved Spring Suit
Key specs – Sport: any; Thickness: 2mm; Size range: 6-14; Colour options: Black or patterned
This stylish short wetsuit is the perfect blend of swimsuit and wetsuit. 2mm of neoprene and long sleeves add warmth and also give good protection from strong sunlight – ideal if you’re on a water sports holiday.
The shorts don’t restrict movement but also don’t ride up, even if you’re popping up on your board. The chest-zip version of the R1 Lite is ideal for surfing, the front-zip version is better suited to wild swimming, snorkelling and diving in warm waters.
Zoot Kona Sleeveless Wetsuit
Key specs – Sport: swimming; Thickness: 5/4/2mm; Size range: XS-L; Colour options: Black/pink
This sleeveless wonder is ideal for open water swimmers and triathletes who want some protection from the cold but need their arms free for speed and range of movement.
This suit is streamlined and has a slick finish for added hydrodynamics but isn’t restrictive, and feels comfy even when you clock up hours in the water. You can trim the legs for the perfect fit,
Zone 3 Aspire Wetsuit
Key specs – Sport: swimming; Thickness: 5/1.5mm; Size range: XS-XL; Colour options: Black
Dedicated swimmers need look no further – the Aspire is your new second skin. Zone 3 have designed this slick and speedy suit to have as little drag as possible, and there’s great attention to detail in this female fit, which hugs curves and is designed to offer women’s bodies the perfect level of buoyancy.
There really is no restriction when swimming at all, unlike the other wetsuits we rested out. This may be an expensive suit (and it’s overkill for casual swimmers) but if you’re a regular triathlete or open water swimmer it’ll do you proud.
Billabong Synergy Customisable Wetsuit
Key specs – Sport: surfing; Thickness: 3/2mm or 4/3mm; Size range: 4-12; Colour options: Infinite!
Stand out in the sea of boring black wetsuits with Billabong’s totally customisable Synergy. This is a great surf suit its own right, with a comfortable zipped neck and a soft brushed inner lining that feels lovely against the skin.
A 4/3mm and a 3/2mm version are available, so you’re covered for spring, summer and autumn in the waves. The twist is that you can completely customise the design of all the different panels of your Synergy with a rainbow of colours and bright patterns.
It does take up to eight weeks to create and deliver, and it’s a pity the sizes only go up to 12.
C-Skins Steamer Wetsuit
Key specs – Sport: surfing; Thickness: 6/5mm; Size range: 4-14; Colour options: Black
Take on the coldest of oceans in this warm winter wetsuit. 6mm of neoprene and an integrated hood are ideal for surfing Britain’s coldest waters (did you know the sea is actually at its coldest in March?) or even for taking abroad on surf trips to cold water destinations such as Iceland and Norway.
Despite being the thickest wetsuit on our list the Steamer still offers decent flexibility when you’re moving on your board, and the snug-fitting peaked hood is great for keeping your head warm.