When pondering the world of watersports, it does help to focus on that tempting mental image of beautiful azure seas and warm, crystal-clear temperate waters, but often things don't work out quite that way – especially in the UK. In this article, we've rounded up our pick of the best wetsuits to ensure you stay warm and protected, whatever the water's doing.
Wetsuit technology is on a steep upward curve, improving every year, so you'll be able to wait for that perfect set for longer, or get a full hour underwater in warmth and comfort. As with most outdoor gear, you'll get what you pay for, and the best wetsuits today are increasingly environmentally savvy, as well as being ultra-plush and easier to don and doff – the latter vital when hopping round a National Trust car park trying to change. Indeed, comfort in a wetsuit is a valuable thing indeed, so it's worth getting the best you can afford (you'll hopefully spend many happy hours pondering that decision in relative calm and warmth).
For those planning a trip in the UK, there are a host of fantastic coastal locations for high-quality surfing action, brilliant stand-up paddle boarding (see our guide to the best paddle boards for beginners to get started), awesome diving and to suit the ever-growing wild swimming trend. The vital tool you'll need for UK watersports is a good wetsuit, as water temperatures are usually on the nippy side – maybe hitting a peak of 19°C in late August, but often more around the 16°C mark if you're lucky, especially at depth or out of peak season.
When packing for your trip, you might also want to invest in one of the best dry bags, to keep your essentials dry and free from mud and sand, and one of the best action cameras to capture your successes. If you need more advice on what to look for, head straight to the bottom of this article for our wetsuit buying advice. Now let's kick off our ranking of the best wetsuits around now.
The best wetsuits to buy now
Designed with surfers and extreme water-based lunatics in mind, this suit puts particular emphasis on stretch in the areas that require it most. That means there's plenty of give under the arms to allow for easier paddling motions, while panels in the legs make it simple to pop up on a surfboard or dig deep on a SUP. A new E5 generation of Flashlining is lighter than ever and features multiple layers that funnel water out of the suit quicker to keep the warmth locked in side, where it's needed most. Better still, the fuzzy warm stuff features throughout the Flashbomb, not just the vital chest and abdomen area, so you stay ridiculously warm in the water.
We found the suit incredibly easy to get in and out of, but even a hardy front zip closure system didn't completely negate the 'flushing' sensation occurs when cold water enters the back of suit. However, it's a super suit and the latest E4 neoprene is brilliantly stretchy and so easy to don, while the furry lining was arguably too hot for some of the sunnier days on the water in the UK, but we're not complaining...
Our pick for the best premium wetsuit is the Quiksilver Highline Pro 1MM. This wettie is a bit of a badass, designed with the surfing pro in mind rather than the casual beginner. There's a lot of innovation here, an attempt to pack the warmth of a 3mm into a 1mm, which in theory gives warmth with unparalleled comfort and freedom of movement – a 1mm suit feels like wearing Speedos in comparison to a 3 or 4mm. Hand-sculpted in Japan from only nine panels of Japanese Limestone neoprene, the Highline Pro has no stitched seams and no zipper, saving weight and removing chafing points.
What Quicksilver has done is create two entry systems to suit regular and goofy foot surfers, the idea being to reduce water flush during wipeouts by placing the entry on the non-lead side. The result is a sub-kilo weight, 1mm suit still rated for 13-18 degree waters – although there's an emphasis on high intensity, short sessions to stay warm. That said, if you want the ultimate surfer's suit just like the pros, then this is definitely the one for you, surfing the bleeding edge of technology – there's literally nothing else out there like it.
The Olaian 4/3mm wetsuit is a fantastic choice for the occasional surfer, or keen beginner looking for a warm suit. This really delivers on that promise, rated for an hour in ‘cold' water, which Decathlon defines as 12 to 17 degrees – you'll certainly be glad of a wetsuit at the lower end of this range. The 4/3mm neoprene may not have the environmental credentials of some of its peers, but it'll certainly do the job at hand. Glued and blind stitched seams, armoured knees and seamless inserts at crotch and underarms mean that comfort levels should be decent even on longer sessions too, which at this price point is more than enough.
The Nieuwland 3E has received plenty of acclaim from around the industry, but the original version had one serious shortcoming – it was in men-only fit. This unfortunate oversight has now been rectified in full, with the 2020 launch of women's sizes. Made from eco-friendly Yulex natural rubber, the Nieuwland 3E is designed for UK waters by the St Agnes-based Finisterre, keeping you toasty in 14 – 18°C water with 3.5mm chest/2.5mm arms and legs – a good balance for maneuverability and heat retention. Warmth is boosted via a series of technical tricks, such as beefy wrist bands to improve the seal, a custom neck pattern to reduce flushing, and higher internal pile on chest and back, all intended to lock heat into the suit.
The eco-credentials don't stop with the Yulex either, with recycled polyester outer face and lining reducing the burden on the planet too. Overall, it's a great performer in colder waters, especially if the sizing is perfect for you (it'll stretch a little after the first 10 or so wears), and is jolly comfortable to boot.
O'Neill's latest Hyperfreak offering features curved seams in all the right places, ensuring a snug fit that allows of plenty of movement when in the water.Its patented Technobutter neoprene is some of the most flexible around and makes it stupidly easy to get in and out of, while the clever double 'superseal' neck locks out any unwanted water. The 4/3mm rubber might be slightly too thick for warmer waters and sunnier days but this is a suit that's designed to span over a longer season, making it a solid investment for those on tighter budgets.
Patagonia prides itself on its green credentials and its latest line of wetsuits ditches the toxic neoprene of yesteryear and instead uses a plant-based derivative for most elements. The suit itself is very well constructed and with 4.5mm of neoprene around your chest and back to keep you warm, this suit is ideal for use in the autumn and spring, and will do the job over winter if you avoid seriously cold days – check out the R4 for use on them.
This is the second iteration of Yulex neoprene which Patagonia claim is 20 per cent more flexible than the original. While the R3 is definitely stretchy enough to allow you to move relatively unhindered, it’s not quite as flexible as some on the market. However, unlike their more elastic rivals, Patagonia’s greener ethos means their wetsuits are designed to last as long as possible so the R3 will still be going strong when others have overstretched and started to leak.
The front entry zip is very robust and protects the wearer from any horrible 'flushing' moments, while all the seams are triple glued and then taped inside, as well as sealed on the outside for unrivalled water tightness. The hardwearing Supratex kneepads and ankle cuffs guard against damage from your board and anything else you might come across on land or water.
At £390, the R3 is definitely not cheap, but you’ll undoubtedly get more years out of it than most comparative wetsuits on the market. Patagonia’s wetties also come with an impressive lifetime warranty which also helps makes the price easier to swallow.
Where some wetsuits are fashioned for surfing and other relaxed aquatic pursuits, this 2XU number has been designed specifically with the athlete in mind, meaning it majors on the technical stuff. Not only does it have a plethora of rubber throughout the body, with thickness varying on almost every panel, it is also coated in a Super Composite Skin. In real talk, that essentially means the micelle structure sprayed onto the surface repels water when in contact with air and reduces the surface resistance for faster swimming times. There's loads of movement throughout the body, which helps mitigate fatigue, while the 520% stretch lining makes it much easier to rapidly get out of when transferring from water to bike, for example.
Best wetsuit for diving
Diving to the deep, dark depths of this planet's vast oceans requires a suit that is up to the challenging task, but simply using tons of rubber to increase warmth isn't going to cut it with the chaps at Xcel. Nope, they've added their signature Glideskin material to the access areas that require increased slipperiness for ease of entry and exit. That means ankles, cuffs and the face seal hood feature the slippery stuff, while Xcel's clever Polar Protection System zip entry makes it easy to get in and out of this ridiculously thick suit. The Polar TDC also packs smart Thermo Dry Celliant low and high pile hydrophobic linings throughout the key areas, specifically the chest and core, to increase warmth in really chilly conditions.
The best wetsuit: Buying advice
A wetsuit comes in all shapes and sizes... quite literally. But by far the most important factor is the thickness of the rubber it uses, as this determines the warmth but also affects flexibility. You might also hear varying terminology when it comes to suit types but the ones we've focused on here are 'steamers' - those that trap a small amount of water between the body and rubber, then use your body heat to warm up the liquid layer and act as a thermal jacket.
Surfing right through a typical British winter used to be the pursuit of serious diehards only. Dedicated souls for whom early stage hypothermia was a price worth paying in pursuit of snagging a few uncrowded waves. Fortunately, improved wetsuit technologies now make the possibility of you losing the odd frostbitten extremity from a winter surf session unlikely outside of the Arctic Circle.
A 5/4mm wetsuit will be thick enough to keep the cold away during the worst of the winter. However, if you feel the cold more than most, there are several surf brands offering 6/4mm suits these days. A wetsuit with an integrated hood is a good idea for deepest winter, but it makes the suit less suitable for cold autumn or spring sessions, when you’ll likely be surfing with the hood down, making the wettie more prone to flushing. As well an integrated or separate hood, wetsuit boots and gloves are both essential winter equipment too.
For British summer water temperatures, a 3/2mm makes the best choice, or perhaps a 4/3mm if you feel the cold or want a wetsuit that will also do the job in spring or autumn. Alas, it's important to remember that a wetsuit allows a small amount of water to enter the garment (unlike a dry suit, which locks all water out), so there will typically be a few moments when the sharp bite of the sea is tangible. But a good suit will stop 'flushing', or the scenario when new (and bloody cold) water enters the suit on a regular basis, which is the thing you really want to avoid. So, although appealing for their increased cosiness, once the thin layer of water has warmed via body heat, thicker suits will be cumbersome to wear and can drastically restrict movements when surfing, swimming and partaking in other cardio-intensive activities.
Size and fit is also extremely important, which is why most manufacturers will offer variations on the standard sizes. Long and short alternatives help cater for a variety of body shapes but every manufacturer is different. The best way to get a snug fit (that allows for plenty of movement) is to physically try on a range of suits, so we recommend going in-store or at least ordering a few and sending a bunch back.
Finally, suits are designed specially for numerous disciplines, meaning the latest surfing offering from O'Neill probably isn't suitable for a triathlon, which is why we've ranked a load based on their intended use and pointed out any additional features that we think are worthy of your attention.