While beach holidays and lounging around the pool may feel like a distant memory, a heatwave coupled with easing restrictions will have left many of us on the hunt for the best swimwear. (It’s also left us looking for the best paddling pools)
Unlike men’s swimwear – which largely comes in either shorts or trunks – swimwear for boys comes in a wider range of options; all-in-one full-length swimsuits, long shorts, short shorts, trunks, “happy nappies”, vests and two-pieces. Not to mention the huge selection of designs.
This choice is great, but it can be overwhelming, so we’ve spent the past month putting the best swimwear for our two- and nine-year-old boys to the test to help you make a more informed decision.
The swimwear we’ve listed below offer either SPF or UPF protection.
You’re likely familiar with SPF, which stands for sun protection factor and refers to how long it would take the sun’s harmful UVB rays to redden the skin.
UPF, instead, stands for ultraviolet protection factor and refers specifically to fabrics. It measures the amount of UV radiation – both UVA and UVB – that passes through the clothes and reaches the skin.
This means swimwear rated UPF typically offers a broader, higher range of protection, compared to SPF swimwear. Although the latter still offers adequate protection.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation’s seal of recommendation any fabric that claims to protect you from the sun must have a minimum UPF of 30. A UPF of 30 to 49 is rated as “good” and UPF50+ is “excellent”.
Any swimwear, particularly all-in-one suits and vests, that offer a high UPF should only require sunscreen on the areas that are exposed to the sun.
However, we recommend applying sunscreen all over, regardless of the type of swimwear being worn, as it gives greater peace of mind and protection. Even the highest rated UPF swimwear only blocks 98 per cent of harmful rays.
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Reima anguilla toddler all-in-one swimsuit
All-in-one swimsuits offer an extra layer of protection, and peace of mind, when it comes to knowing your little one is safe from UV rays. Yet trying to get a wriggly toddler, covered in sunscreen, into them can be like wrestling a fish into a sock. As a result, we tend to err on the side of two-piece suits. That was until we used Reima’s anguilla swimsuit.
Its long, front-facing zipper makes it easy to get both on and off. Having arms and legs that extend to the elbows and knees, rather than full length, are a benefit because you don’t have to force damp limbs through small holes, and we can imagine we’ll get much longer use out of it as our two-year-old grows.
This also helps the general fit of the suit. At no point did our child tester look restricted in his movements, which has been the case with other all-in-ones we’ve tried.
Protection wise, the material has UPF 50+ coating all the way to the elbows and knees – some suits only provide it in the main body of the suit – and despite this coating, the material is surprisingly thin and lightweight. Consequently, it dries incredibly fast.
As an added extra, the fibre content of the suit comes from used plastic bottles, so this is an eco-friendly choice as well as a fantastic all-rounder. It’s completely changed our view of all-in-ones forever.
Luke 1977 little Luke holiday game kids swim shorts
Swimwear for boys tends to lack the subtle style found in older age groups and adult ranges. This is largely deliberate – a toddler in a pair of shorts covered in a pug pattern is adorable – but as your baby becomes a boy, this is less cute. If you’re looking for something more grown up, we highly recommend the little Luke range from Luke1977.
They come up slightly larger than other shorts in the same age group but are well tailored and look great. Our 10-year-old tester looked like a much older teenager in these shorts, and he loved wearing them with a T-shirt even when he wasn’t going in the paddling pool.
The larger waistband was also better for our two-year-old tester and his classic toddler pot belly. The material isn’t as lightweight and soft as others in this list, but the stitching and design are great.
JoJo Maman Bebe boys' swim shorts with nappy
The idea behind these shorts is so simple, we’re surprised they’re not commonplace. Instead of trying to get your child into a swimming nappy followed by swimwear – which means they’ll have to sit still for at least 30 seconds – these shorts have a nappy built in.
In place of a standard mesh lining, the shorts feature an inconspicuous cotton and elastane swim nappy, almost akin to a pair of Speedos stitched inside. The elastane forms the nappy barrier, while the cotton sits close to your little one’s delicate skin. This built-in nappy provides the same level of support as regular, disposable swim nappies without the bulk and waste. As a result, they’re more eco-friendly and can be washed like normal.
We should mention that most swimming pools will accept these shorts in place of using an additional disposable swim nappy but check before you go. Or simply take disposable nappies in the bag, just in case.
Splash About happy nappy
An option for babies and a popular choice among anyone taking their little ones to swimming lessons are neoprene nappies. Higher waistbands, and legs that hug the skin, create a more secure, sealed area designed to catch any unfortunate accidents. And neoprene nappies provide extra protection, especially in shared pools.
This is the best range we’ve tried from Splash About. Available in a range of designs with many being gender neutral, our favourites include the under the sea version covered in stingrays, and Nina’s ark, depicting zebras, flamingos and giraffes.
Each version is ergonomically designed to move with your baby and cup their bottom to give them freedom of movement. The 1mm thick neoprene helps keep them warm, is long-lasting and offers UPF 50+.
You don’t need to wear a swimming nappy underneath them, but we’ve always put one on our youngest tester. If your baby is on the beautifully chunky side, we recommend sizing up to improve the fit.
Polarn O. Pyret kids rash vest
If all-in-one suits aren’t convenient enough, especially if your child is still in nappies and needs regular changes, but shorts don’t offer enough protection, we recommend swimming vests.
Polarn O. Pyret’s kids rash vest not only protects your child’s skin from the sun but keeps them warmer while in the water. Its chlorine resistant, machine washable material with soft seams, and has a UPF rating of 50+. It’s also lightweight, meaning it dries quickly; not as quickly as Reima’s suit but a close second.
In terms of fit, Polarn O. Pyret’s range comes up slightly big. We had to roll up the sleeves to stop them hanging over our toddler’s hands, but this also means it’s easier to get on and off, even when wet. We love Polarn O. Pyret’s traditional striped designs, but brighter patterns are also available. You can pair many of the vests with similar – albeit not always completely matching – shorts, too, but they are sold seperately.
Mori swim vest and shorts set
Coming in at slightly cheaper than buying the Polarn O. Pyret vest and shorts separately, the new swimwear collection from premium kids’ brand Mori allows you to buy matching vest and shorts as part of a two-piece set.
The range isn’t huge, but we love its gender-neutral design available as vests, swimming costumes, all-in-one suits, shorts, pants and swimwear sets. Each comes with a UPF rating of 50+ and the material is made from recycled nylon with elastane for stretch.
A nice touch on the all-in-one suits, but rare on vests, is a zip on the back. This makes it much easier to get this top over your child’s head and helps create a closer, more effective fit around the neck.
Rachel Riley fish swim shorts
Many shorts with elasticated waists tend to either not stretch very far or have quite a strong spring back designed deliberately to stop them falling down. This can leave them feeling a little tight and restrictive, especially for younger children.
Rachel Riley has designed shorts that offer all the support without restrictions, largely thanks to the super soft, fast drying material covering the waistband. The overall fit is roomy without being baggy, and our toddler looked great in these.
Other nice touches include a decorative herringbone cord tie, a button-down pocket on the rear and a host of fun and stylish patterns and designs. We tested the red fish swim shorts but equally love the pineapple pair.
Rachel Riley warns that wearing these shorts for prolonged periods, particularly when mixed with sand, salt and sweat, can cause chafing. This isn’t something we experienced, but worth noting.
OAS pug swim shorts
While the Rachel Riley shorts’ cord tie was purely decorative, the tie on the OAS pug shorts– when paired with its elasticated waistband – offers slightly more versatility in terms of fit. Our two-year-old tester consistently wears three- to four-year-old clothes, so the elasticated band could be expanded for him without having to get larger shorts that are too long in the leg.
If clothes come up big on your children, the cord tie also means you can personalise the fit the other way. The two front pockets to keep small items safe may benefit older children more.
Made from 100 per cent polyester, these shorts should feel less high end than others in this list but did feel soft, making them easier to wash. They also dry very fast. Plus, there are literally dozens of designs to suit your little one’s personality without being too babyish.
Kuling banana yellow whitsunday UV suit
This UV suit may not be as easy to get on and off as the Reima – due to its shorter zip and longer arms and legs – but this does mean it offers slightly more protection. Particularly without the need for sunscreen, although we still apply it just to be on the safe side.
The material is thin and lightweight, and the super stretchy mix of nylon and elastane means it will likely last a couple of seasons, even if your little one has a growth spurt. This stretch also counteracts some of the difficulties experienced when trying to wrestle your child into it.
The material promises SPF 50+ sun protection and is Oeko-Tex certified, meaning it is free from harmful substances in its stitching, zipper and material.
Joseph and Alexander Portofino dreaming
If the use of sustainable fabrics is important to you when shopping for clothes and swimwear, we highly recommend Joseph & Alexander’s range.
Made from recycled polyester and spandex, formulated using plastic from the seas, the material is strong, feels soft and dries quickly. These were one of the few shorts in this list to dry almost as quickly when sitting in the shade as it did in the sun. Instead of coming with an SPF factor, it offers UPF 45+.
Beyond its eco-friendly credentials, one of the best things about Joseph & Alexander swim shorts is that the brand offers father and son collections. This means dads can get the same trunks as their sons, so the shorts in this range are more grown up in design than others aimed purely at children.
We tested the Portofino dreaming design and they look smart and stylish – they were loved so much that we added more to our collection, including on for dad.
Both the adult and child versions of these shorts have two front pockets and a velcro fastened flap on the rear. This seems overkill for kids' shorts, but Joseph & Alexander wants the different ages to all look the same, and we appreciate the attention to detail. Elsewhere, the lining on the inside is softer and less net-like than others we’ve tried, and the shorts come with a 12-month, fade-proof guarantee.
Oii summer white stellan sailor swim shorts
If you want to shop sustainably, without paying a premium, Swedish brand Oii is a great alternative to Joseph & Alexander.
Oii specialises in kids clothing and swimwear that come in unique, quirky, designs and are made from recycled materials.
We tested the stellan sailor swim. Due to the shorter length, these swimmers fit our toddler’s legs better than some of the longer models. The adjustable, elasticated waist had enough cord to make sure these could be tied around the waist, rather than below the belly, without it feeling too tight or restrictive.
They provide SPF 50+ sun protection and are made from 100 per cent polyester, meaning they didn’t feel as soft as others in this list, yet they contain a soft lining, so this is minor.
The verdict: Boys' swimwear
You’d be forgiven for thinking all swimwear for boys is largely the same. Having tested various brands and designs for the past month, we have identified pain points we didn’t know existed when looking shorts or suits for boys, and also worked out what we need the swimwear to do.
With all of this in mind, the Reima anguilla toddler all-in-one swimsuit is the best swimwear for boys. It ticks so many boxes – extra coverage with sacrificing fit, easy to get on and off, broad protection, fast drying, sustainable fabric and a stylish design. It’s not cheap but is far from the most expensive in this round-up and we imagine it will last a long time.
While JoJo Maman Bebe’s swim shorts with its built-in nappy manages to combine style and practicality in an affordable product.
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