Selecting the best wetsuit for your aquatic adventures is essential if you plan to spend any time in the water. Even in the warmest months of summer, the sea can chill you fast (especially in the UK), but with a good wettie, you'll be able to hang on for that perfect wave, keep swimming for a little bit longer, or stay submerged for more time while snorkelling or freediving without getting cold and uncomfortable.
The brilliant thing about wetsuit technology is that it keeps improving at pace. Today's best wetsuits are increasingly eco-friendly, not to mention fabulously plush and much easier to don and doff than older models – something you'll appreciate when you're hopping around, trying to change in a windswept car park. Here we've compiled a selection of the best wetsuits available now, so you'll be warm and protected whatever the weather.
If you're heading to the coast, there are plenty of amazing British locations for serious surf action, whether you're hitting the waves on a surfboard, bodyboard, or stand-up paddleboard (check our guide to the best paddle boards for beginners to get started) – or even getting into wild swimming. When packing for your trip, one of the best dry bags to stash your valuables in can be a wise investment, and don't forget to take one of the best action cameras to capture your aquatic exploits.
The best wetsuits to buy right now
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When they launched in 2014, O'Neill's Hyperfreak wetsuits quickly gained a reputation for unparalleled levels of flexibility and warmth, but a life-span that was much shorter than conventional wetsuits. Fast forward to 2021 and the Hyperfreak range has evolved to become more flexible than ever, but is now much more resilient than earlier iterations. For that reason, this high-performing suit is our pick for best wetsuit overall right now.
While a super-snug fit is vital if your wetsuit is to do its job correctly, it can feel restrictive if the neoprene prevents natural movements. O'Neill's Technobutter 3X branded neoprene has an amazing amount of four-way stretch that even in the thickest varieties enables free body movement and does not hamper paddling, pop-ups or any movements you make on the wave. It's also relatively soft to the touch and far easiest to get on and off than most front-zip wetsuits. Despite being much more robust than it used to be, Technobutter is still easier to damage that conventional neoprene, so take extra care when putting on and removing the wetsuit.
Read our full O'Neill Hyperfreak review
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. The E5 version 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.
If you're after a women's wetsuit that'll keep out the chill in winter and which has solid eco credentials, Finisterre's Women’s Nieuwland 5mm hooded wetsuit ticks all the boxes. It's made from sustainable yulex rubber rather than environmentally-unfriendly neoprene, and it's flexible and durable with great heat-holding properties.
It'll cost you more than a similarly-specced neoprene winter suit, and it's not the easiest wetsuit to get into or out of. However, it feels good against the skin, and Finisterre says its suits become more flexible after 10-15 wears, so the more you take it out, the easier it'll be to put it on. The quality's great, and it's good and warm, complete with a hood that'll stave off brain freeze.
All in all, it's an innovative and beautifully made wetsuit that will be ideal for seasoned cold-water surfers looking to put their money where their mouth is and make a more eco-friendly purchase.
Read our full Finisterre Women’s Nieuwland 5mm Hooded Wetsuit review
With ‘try before you buy' being a common mantra when shopping for a new wetsuit, this must have presented direct sales wetsuit manufacturer SRFACE with a fairly big headache when putting together its business proposal together. Fortunately for them and us, they were obviously aware of the issue before launch because they came up with a bullet-proof returns strategy allowing surfers to return incorrectly fitting wetsuits, even after use, provided it was within 30 days of purchase.
As well as having a no-quibble guarantee, SRFACE's Heat range of wetsuits is excellent value for money and can compete with higher-priced wetsuits on performance. While they're not quite as stretchy as O'Neill's Hyperfreak range, there's still a lot of give in SRFACE's Japanese limestone-derived neoprene and at no point were paddling, or other body movements felt impeded by the 4/3 wetsuit tested. Unsurprisingly, given its name, the Heat wetsuit did a great job of maintaining warmth – aided by hollow fibre insulated panels to the chest and back, with neck, arm and ankle seals to help keep flushes of cold water at bay.
Read our full SRFACE Heat wetsuit review
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.
If you're looking for a new summer wetsuit, the Picture Organic Equation 3/2 FZ utilises flexible materials that feel good and won't hamper your surfing with production methods that are far less damaging than the ones used on most rival wetsuits out there. The Equation is constructed using neoprene made from 30 per cent recycled tyres and 70 per cent limestone (extracted using sustainable energy sources) and a lining that contains recycled fishing nets which is bonded in place using solvent-free glues.
Lighter and stretchier than other wetsuits with eco-credentials from the likes of Patagonia and Finisterre, the Equation's branded neoprene (EicoPrene) feels very similar to O'Neill's Technobutter. Like the O'Neill neoprene, EicoPrene is superbly flexible too and allows for a totally unrestricted feel. A lightly fleeced, quick-drying lining covers the inside of the wetsuit to provide extra comfort and warmth. The only downside is that Equation is not as hardwearing as the other eco-friendly wetsuits, and given how much flex there is in the neoprene, it's worth trying a smaller size than your usual wetsuit.
Read our full Picture Organic Equation 3/2 FZ review
Next up in our best wetsuits guide is an eco-friendly option from Patagonia. This brand prides itself on its green credentials and its yulex line of wetsuits ditch the toxic neoprene of yesteryear and instead use 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.
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.
How to buy the best wetsuit for you
Surfing and swimming right through a British winter used to be the kind of thing only serious diehards would contemplate, but improved wetsuit technologies now make it more than possible for everyone to enjoy aquatic adventures all year round. However, you need to select the best wetsuit for the pursuits you enjoy most often. Following are some important factors to consider.
Style You might hear varying terminology used when it comes to wetsuit types, but the ones we've focused on in this guide are 'steamers', which trap a small amount of water between your body and the suit, and then use your body heat to warm up the liquid layer so it acts as a thermal jacket. In summer you might be most comfortable in a 'shortie' (a wetsuit with half-length arms and legs), while winter will demand a full length suit.
Size and fit 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.
Choose the suit for your activity Wetsuits are typically designed with a specific sport or activity in mind, so your best summer surfing wetsuit isn't going to be ideal for going snorkelling in spring or taking on a SwimRun event, for example. For this reason, in the guide above we have ranked suits based on their intended use, and pointed out any additional features that we think are worthy of your attention.
Features A wetsuit with an integrated hood is a good idea for deepest winter, but it makes the suit less suitable for autumn or spring sessions, when you’ll likely be surfing with the hood down, making the wettie more prone to flushing. As well as an integrated or separate hood, wetsuit boots and gloves are both essential winter equipment too.
Materials and environmental concerns Neoprene is wonderful for keeping you warm in the water, but it is terrible for the environment. (It’s a petrochemical-derived fabric, is non-biodegradable and tons of it gets thrown away every year – Finisterre estimates around 419 tons of neoprene is dumped annually in the UK alone.) More recently, innovative and eco-conscious brands such as Finisterre, Patagonia and Picture Organic have been developing and using new technology and fabrics like plant-based yulex rubber and EicoPrene, which is made mostly from organic materials mixed with recycled neoprene.
Thickness The best wetsuits come in all shapes and sizes...literally. But by far the most important factor is the thickness of the rubber used, as this not only determines the thermal protection offered but also affects the flexibility and buoyancy of the suit.
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.
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.