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Few things ruin a beach day faster than getting too cold. Whether you’re surfing, swimming, or paddleboarding, a low body temperature means discomfort, lowered athletic performance, and even real danger from hypothermia. In other words, investing in one of the best wetsuits is a must. Even if you only venture into cold water occasionally, it’s still worthwhile to have a capable wetsuit handy.
If you’re looking to get your first wetsuit — or you need an upgrade — read on. We’ve rounded up some of the best wetsuits to buy right now, plus some basic pointers for choosing and taking care of your new wetsuit.
How to Choose the Best Wetsuit
Wetsuits come in a range of thicknesses, lengths, and designs, and sizing is much more important than it is with clothing. Here are all the specifics you’ll need to look at when choosing the best wetsuit for your needs.
Thickness: Most wetsuits come in one of five thicknesses: 2/2, 3/2, 4/3, or 5/4. The first of the two numbers denotes millimeter thickness in the torso area, and the second number references thickness in the extremities. So, a 3/2 wetsuit will be three millimeters thick in the torso and two millimeters in the arms and legs.
Generally, 2/2 wetsuits are used in warm water around 70 degrees or warmer. 3/2 wetsuits are very versatile, working well in water temperatures of around 60 to 70 degrees, and 4/3 wetsuits are good for water around 50 to 60 degrees. Anything colder, and you might need a 5/4 wetsuit (preferably with a built-in hood).
Flexibility: On the flip-side of the thickness/warmth coin is flexibility. The thinner the wetsuit, the more mobility you’ll get. High-quality brands (like the ones listed further down) balance flexibility and warmth better than cheaper brands by using premium neoprene, well-fitting cuts, and well-designed neck closures.
Length: full-length wetsuits (long-leg, long sleeve) are usually best, but some people like a short-sleeve or short-leg wetsuit in the warm months. These short wetsuits are especially good for surfing in warm water, as you won’t get wax or a rash on your legs and torso.
Size: The best wetsuit should fit like a glove for optimal warmth. Wetsuits use normal S-M-L sizing, but also have tall and short size options (for example, size MT means medium-tall, which might be good for a tall, lanky person). Measure your chest circumference and weight before consulting size charts, and maybe order a couple of sizes to try on if you’ve never bought a wetsuit.
How to Care for a Wetsuit
The best wetsuits can last years — if cared for properly — so you’ll likely get your money’s worth no matter how much you use it. To extend a wetsuit’s lifespan, rinse it with fresh water when you get home, store it in a dry, shaded area, and hang it at the waist instead of the shoulders. Do this, and your wetsuit can keep you warm for years.
The Best Wetsuits to Buy Right Now
Below are some of the best wetsuits from top brands, including options for surfing, swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding in all water temperatures.
1. Rip Curl E-Bomb 3/2 Zip-Free
With more than 50 years of wetsuit-making experience, Australian brand Rip Curl is a go-to brand for many. They’re especially good for high-performance surfing, bringing some cutting-edge technology and design choices that translate to a full range of motion and plenty of warmth.
Rip Curl’s 3/2-millimeter E-Bomb is one of the best offerings from the brand. With high-quality neoprene, a thermal lining, and water-tight sealed seams, the wetsuit should keep you toasty in water above 60 degrees.
The E-Bomb also boasts a zip-free closure (just pull the collar over your head and tighten a drawcord), which lends exceptional upper-body mobility compared to zip-up wetsuits. If you’re looking to stay warm and comfortable during long sessions, the E-Bomb is fantastic.
2. O’Neill Hyperfreak Comp 4/3 Zipless
Many surfing locals require a 4/3-millimeter wetsuit for year-round comfort. To stay warm in water as cold as 50 degrees, check out this 4/3 Hyperfreak Comp from O’Neill.
Born in Santa Cruz, California in 1952, founder Jack O’Neill is credited with inventing the wetsuit. The brand is still pumping out some of the best wetsuits on the market, showcasing top-tier neoprene and advanced features. This Hyperfreak uses O’Neill’s ultra-soft, ultra-flexible TechnoButter neoprene, which is barely noticeable despite its thickness. Plus, the zipless entry makes the wetsuit easy to get in and out of while improving mobility.
3. Vissla 7 Seas Comp 3/2
Wetsuits can get expensive, but you can get a solid suit without spending too much. Vissla’s 7 Seas 3/2, priced a hair over $200, delivers great value for a less expensive wetsuit. The 7 Seas’ lightweight limestone neoprene is plenty flexible, and it’s taped up with extra care given to stress points. It also has a chest zip, which we always prefer over a back zip, as you’ll get more range of motion in the shoulders and back.
4. O’Neill Hyperfreak 5/4+mm Hooded
For seriously cold water, we trust this 5/4 O’Neill Hyperfreak to keep us warm. Thanks to O’Neill’s high-quality TechnoButter 3 neoprene and a built-in hood, you can head out in water as cold as the low 40s. The hood has a drawcord around the face, meaning you can adjust it to keep out as much icy water as possible.
5. Patagonia R1 Lite Yulex Full-Zip
Though you can paddleboard and kayak in your clothes, even experts take a spill occasionally. That’s why most paddleboarders and kayakers like to wear a good wetsuit, such as this one from Patagonia. Dubbed the R1 Lite Yulex, the wetsuit has a 2-millimeter thickness that’s noticeably lighter and more flexible than thicker wetsuits. It’s enough to keep you warm if you fall in, but not so thick as to be suffocating while you’re paddling. Better still, the Yulex neoprene is exceptionally fast-drying, so you won’t be sopping wet for hours after a dip.
6. ORCA Openwater Core Wetsuit
Openwater swimmers need slightly different wetsuits than surfers and other water people. The best wetsuits for swimming, such as this one from Orca, feature a super-streamlined fit, thinner neoprene, and often brightly-colored elements for safety. Orca uses Yamamoto neoprene throughout its lineup, which is considered one of the most durable, lightweight, and flexible neoprenes around. At 2.5/2-millimeters thick, it’s also a good amount of warmth for hard swims in a range of water temperatures.
7. Rip Curl E-Bomb Zip Free 2/2mm
For water that’s around 70 degrees or warmer, we like to go thinner and chop off the sleeves. This will lend more flexibility and a good temperature, whereas 3/2 or 3/4 wetsuits can make you overheat in warmer water. This 2/2 Rip Curl E-Bomb is great for those warm days, bringing the high-end features we expect from Rip Curl in a thinner package.