Best wetsuit 2020: the best wetties for surfing, diving and triathlon

Get digging the scene with some neoprene: the best wetsuits for use throughout the year

best wetsuit

Surfing, Stand-Up Paddleboarding, open water swimming and diving is far more appealing in those countries that boast temperate climates, azure waters and warm waves but that doesn't mean you can't frolic around in, say, Southend-on-Sea.

The seas around the UK are at their warmest from July to September, often reaching a balmy 19°C in late August, but now our heatwave summer is over temperatures are dropping fast. So it pays to get kitted out in the latest wetsuit technology that is designed to keep you warm and enjoying the water for longer.

Thankfully, wetsuit technology improves every year, with new materials and suit construction improving flexibility, warmth and the ease at which it can be removed with aching arms following a long session.

On top of this, many big name manufacturers are turning their backs on neoprene in favour of natural materials, such as plant-based rubber and other renewables that don't completely screw up the planet.

How to buy the best wetsuit

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.

What's the best wetsuit to buy?

The best summer suit for surfing has to be the Rip Curl Flashbomb 3/2 Chest Zip, simply because it is so damned easy to get on and off, the E5 Flash Lining is both warm and flexible, while the magnetic closure key stash pocket is a nice touch.

Oh, and Rip Curl claims it's the fastest drying wetsuit on the market, which we are sure is largely true if you live in a country that receives a decent amount of sunshine but we had to make do with drying ours in the shower.

The Finisterre Nieuwland 3E comes in a very close second, as it was most certainly one of the warmest suits tested here and seemed to fit like a glove, even if it was a little tricky to get in and out of.

Swimmers and triathlon enthusiasts will require something lighter, more hydrodynamic in its design and a suit that offers plenty of freedom of movement, so should look towards the 2XU model mentioned below. Divers can't go wrong with Xcel suits, which are arguably some of the best wetsuits on the market but come at a price and are clearly rather more niche.

The best wetsuit for winter surfing is Tiki’s Zepha2 5/4/3 Hooded. It’s impressively warm, well-constructed and at under £300, it won’t break the bank.

Highly recommended for use through autumn, early winter and spring is the Patagonia R3. It may not be cheap, but this is a seriously impressive wetsuit with excellent green credentials that’s built to last.

The best wetsuits

Rip Curl Flashbomb 3/2 Chest Zip

1. Rip Curl Flashbomb 3/2 Chest Zip

Best wetsuit overall

Material: Neoprene
Seams: Glued & blind stitched
Thickness: 3mm chest/2mm arms and legs
Entry: Front chest zip
Main use: Surfing
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight+Warm+Super stretchy
Reasons to avoid
-Could lose shape over time

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..

Finisterre Nieuwland 3E

2. Finisterre Nieuwland 3E

Best wetsuit for surfers (especially hardy eco-surfers)

Material: Yulex Pure
Seams: Taped
Thickness: 3.5mm chest/ 2.5mm arms and legs
Entry: Front zip
Main use: Surfing
Reasons to buy
+Great fit+Environmentally friendly+Warm and tough
Reasons to avoid

Designed with the hardier British surfer in mind, Finisterre gear has always been about protecting the wearer from the elements and the Nieuwland 3E is no different.

Where other summer suits mentioned here are a little sparse on the rubber, the St. Agnes-based company have thrown in some extra thickness to help take out the bitter chill of the Atlantic.

That generosity continues in the extra wide taping that covers the seams and ensures the Nieuwland 3E can withstand abuse in rough conditions, while internal pile on the chest and back adds another element of heat.

We found the fit to be excellent - although the suit was rather tough to get into at first - while the ace and eco-friendly Yulex natural rubber performs as well as its petroleum-based counterparts, even if it isn't quite as flexible.

But what you lose in the ability to shed the rubber skin quickly after a session, you gain in great fit and leak-free surfing experience and it did loosen up after two or three wears.

Tiki Zepha2 5/4/3 Hooded

(Image credit: Tiki)

3. Tiki Zepha2 5/4/3 Hooded

Best winter wetsuit

Material: Super XTEND limestone neoprene
Seams: Glued and double lock blindstitched
Thickness: 5/4/3
Entry: Front zip
Main use: Winter surfing
Reasons to buy
+Impressive warmth and flexibility+Good value for money+Impregnable seam system
Reasons to avoid
-Winter use only-Prone to flushing if hood is down

Based in Braunton, North Devon, Tiki have decades of experience making wetsuits to keep you warm all winter long. This 5/4/3mm suit is the flagship model of their well-regarded Zepha2 range and sports a few improvements over previous versions to make it their warmest yet.

Zepha2 wetsuits are constructed with limestone neoprene which is lighter, warmer, more flexible and has a lower environmental impact than traditional oil-based versions. This winter model has an insulating lining to the chest, back and legs down to the ankle, which gives an impressive level of warmth and dries quickly between sessions.

Every seam is blindstitched, glued, then taped internally to ensure water doesn’t penetrate and the seams don’t chafe against your skin. The integrated hood fits well and has a thinner, softer neoprene section that neatly covers your chin. While the hood does an excellent job of preventing ice-cream headaches while underwater and gives protection from offshore spray, like all hooded suits, when the hood is down you will get water entering through the neck.

Best wetsuit for women

O'Neill Hyperfreak 4/3

4. O'Neill Hyperfreak 4/3

Best wetsuit for women

Material: Technobutter Neoprene
Seams: Glued and Blindstitched
Thickness: 3mm to 4mm
Entry: Front zip
Main use : Surfing
Reasons to buy
+Curved seams+Warm+Easy entry
Reasons to avoid
-Maybe too thick for warmer water

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 R3 Yulex FZ Full Suit

5. Patagonia R3 Yulex FZ Full Suit

Best wetsuit with impeccable green credentials

Material: Yulex & synthetic rubber
Seams: Triple glued & taped
Thickness: 4.5mm chest/3mm arms and legs
Entry: Front zip
Main use : Surfing
Reasons to buy
+Stupidly warm+Environmentally friendly+Solid construction
Reasons to avoid
-High price-Tough to get on and off

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.

Best wetsuit for triathlon

2XU P:1 Propel

6. 2XU P:1 Propel

Best wetsuit for triathlon

Material: Sponge rubber, Nylon laminated
Seams: Glued
Thickness: 1mm to 5mm
Entry: Rear zip
Main use : Swimming & Triathlon
Reasons to buy
+Super slippery+Aids swim stroke+Easy on and off

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

Xcel Polar Thermoflex TDC Dive Fullsuit

7. Xcel Polar Thermoflex TDC Dive Fullsuit

Best divers' wetsuit

Material: Ultra-stretch Neoprene
Seams: Glued & Blindstitched
Thickness: 6mm to 9mm
Entry: Front zip
Main use : Diving
Reasons to buy
+Ridiculously warm+Smart technology
Reasons to avoid
-Really thick-Reduced movement

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.