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9 best wetsuits for men and women that you’ll make waves in

Make the world your oyster in one of these second skins

Liz Dodd
Monday 24 August 2020 12:00
<p>Surf or turf: Our tester looked out for flex, fit and durability </p>

Surf or turf: Our tester looked out for flex, fit and durability

From the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland to golden evenings on the Cornish coast, there are some world-class waves within easy reach in the UK.

Surfing – or wild swimming or paddleboarding – in the Atlantic is not for the fainthearted, but a good wetsuit can keep away the worst of the water (and the wind).

Wetsuits are a nightmare to get on and off: there is very little avoiding this. Suits with long zips make the process a bit easier: a few of our other tried and tested tricks include slipping it on when you and the suit are wet if you can do that politely; starting with the suit inside out and rolling it on; and blowing air under the surface (or getting a dive buddy to) to break the seal if it’s really stuck fast. Ultimately, it should feel tight – it will loosen after a few sessions – but not restrictive. A good test is the lower back: if the suit is stretched taut here, it’s too tight. It should hug the natural curve of your spine.

How we tested

We’ve tested these suits in perfect, and not-so-perfect, British summer conditions – a number are old favourites and have travelled with us to tropical waters. With all the suits we test we look for flex and fit, durability (particularly around the seams) and comfort.

We also tried a range of suits to find a good match for every trip. Wetsuits are categorised by thickness in millimetres, either all over or at the torso and the arms, and the thicker a suit, the warmer it will feel. Most suits come with a suggested temperature range, but – a bit like the rating on a sleeping bag – this is fairly subjective. If you feel the cold, opt for a thicker suit than you think you need.

Read more:

Whether you’re a pro or venturing out for the first time, it’s absolutely crucial you check the local conditions before you go anywhere near the water. These include currents, tides and waves as well as temperature. The RNLI has good advice online but please learn to read surf reports and familiarise yourself with your beach too. It takes seconds but could save your life.

The best mens’ and womens’ wetsuits for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – O’Neill psycho tech 4/3+ chest zip full wetsuit: £339.99, Boardridersguide.com
  • Best for surfing – Quiksilver 3/2mm highline plus chest zip wetsuit: £310, Quiksilver.co.uk
  • Best for spring surfing – Patagonia women’s R1 lite yulex long jane spring suit: £150, Eu.patagonia.com
  • Best for being comfortable – Patagonia men’s R1 lite yulex front zip long sleeved spring suit: £220, Eu.patagonia.com
  • Best for staying warm – Finisterre women’s nieuwland 3mm eco wetsuit: £295, Finisterre.com
  • Best for wild swimming in warmer water – Sweaty Betty coral surf short wetsuit: £145, Sweatybetty.com
  • Best for your first season – Olaian women’s neoprene surfing wetsuit 900 3/2mm: £164.99, Decathlon.co.uk
  • Best for swimming in cold water – Olaian men’s surfing 5/4mm neoprene wetsuit with hood 900: £239.99, Decathlon.co.uk
  • Best for paddleboarding – Billabong 2/2mm launch women’s wetsuit: £70, Surfdome.com

O’Neill psycho tech 4/3+ chest zip full wetsuit

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

  • Thickness: 4.5mm torso, 3.5mm arms
  • Temperature range (water): 9-14C, but can go a degree or so lower
  • Designed: For men This is one of the warmest wetsuits we’ve ever tested, from one of the best brands on the water. The signature “psycho” range of top-end suits are made from a bespoke, thicker neoprene to give you unparalleled warmth whether you’re upright or in the water; but it’s also incredibly flexible and supple, and feels like a second skin. This new season suit packs just an extra 0.5mm of neoprene onto the standard 4/3mm, but you really notice it. The profile is really smooth – seams are flush and work with your body, and even the zip entrance (a generous chest zip) feels barely-there. The remarkable drainage system is the most effective we’ve tried and means you can keep going comfortably for longer. This is a really good investment for years of surfing, whatever the conditions, and perfect if you want something with a bit more flexibility than a very cold water suit.

Quiksilver 3/2mm highline plus chest zip wetsuit

Best: For surfing

Rating: 9/10

  • Thickness: 3mm torso, 2mm arms
  • Temperature range (water): 11-14C
  • Designed: For men – but we found it to be unisex

This is one of our all-time favourite wetsuits in an adaptable, super warm and technologically brilliant spring style. Lightweight, comfortable neoprene makes the suit flexible, fast-drying and wind-resistant, and added tech flourishes mean it can safely take you into water that’s colder than its comfy, stretchy fit would suggest. Thermal fleece lining on the lower legs and arm panels is a joy; snug stretch seals around wrists and ankles and exceptional thermal lining on the body and upper legs make this one of the best suits we’ve ever surfed in. It’s absolutely ideal for conditions in Britain.

Patagonia women’s R1 lite yulex long jane spring suit

Best: For spring surfing

Rating: 9/10

  • Thickness: 2mm
  • Temperature range (water): 18-23C
  • Designed: For women

A brilliant, flexible, lightweight suit that’s mindful of the environment and ideal for anyone who’s allergic to – or just doesn’t like the feel of – neoprene. Yulex rubber (certified by the Rainforest Alliance) and solvent-free glue, plus loads of recycled fabrics, mean it’s eco-friendly – but still performs beautifully. The tough, durable kneepads felt comfortable against our board, and the sleeveless design is brilliant for paddling out. The suit is thick-ish, but better for moderate and warmer water.

Patagonia men’s R1 lite yulex front zip long sleeved spring suit

Best: For being comfortable

Rating: 9/10

  • Thickness: 2mm
  • Temperature range (water): 18-23C
  • Designed: For men

This is our favourite non-neoprene men’s suit. Light and very flexible, this long-sleeved number – made from the same eco-friendly materials as the women’s spring suit – is absolutely brilliant at keeping you warm in cooler water. The seals feel incredibly durable and we found it to be effective while still feeling comfortable. The generous front zip made it feel about as easy to slip on and off as a wetsuit can ever feel.

Finisterre women’s nieuwland 3mm eco wetsuit

Best: For staying warm

Rating: 9/10

  • Thickness: 3mm
  • Temperature range (water): 14-18C
  • Designed: For women

New on the scene but already making waves, beautiful and environmentally-conscious brand Finisterre has turned its expertise to cool weather wetsuits. Made from natural rubber and recycled materials, it’s thicker where you need it – around the chest and back – and has a lower profile where you don’t – around the arms, for exceptional flexibility. Seams are taped, but also double needle blind stitched throughout, this should mean that the suit will last much longer than seams locked with sealant. And it’s elegant – a treat if you like a bit of stand up paddleboarding in the mix.

Sweaty Betty coral surf short wetsuit

Best: For wild swimming in warmer water

Rating: 8/10

  • Thickness: 2mm
  • Temperature range (water): None specified, but we recommend warmer water, 18-23C
  • Designed: For women

This is an absolutely stunning suit that performs perfectly in warmer water. A super-shorty, it’s close enough to a swimsuit for you not to look over-prepared on holiday but delivers brilliant warmth and sun protection thanks to its 2mm thick neoprene. The long back zip is a smooth and easy way to get in and out, the slip pocket (with a key elastic) is a brilliant little detail, and the pattern – we fell for the outrageously lovely pink coral fish print, but a simple navy is available – will make it a firm favourite in your summer rotation. It’s also chlorine-resistant, making it handy for packing light on summer holidays where you might spend some time in the pool.

Olaian women’s neoprene surfing wetsuit 900 3/2mm

Best: For your first season

Rating: 7.5/10

  • Thickness: 3mm torso, 2mm arms
  • Temperature range (water): 17-22C
  • Designed: For women

If it’s your first season and you’re not quite ready to splash out on a high spec suit, Decathlon’s trusty wetsuits are a brilliant option for warmer conditions. We swam and surfed in an Olaian suit for years; it’s comfortable, adds enough protection to take away the sting of cooler water, and is tough enough to withstand mild abrasion from board and sand. It’s zipless, which is great for withstanding water ingress but will make you curse us the first few times you roll it on. It relaxes with wear, but if you’re really struggling, try putting it on in the water, or start it inside out.

Olaian men’s surfing 5/4mm neoprene wetsuit with hood 900

Best: For swimming in cold water

Rating: 8/10

  • Thickness: 5mm torso, 4mm arms
  • Temperature range (water): 7-12C
  • Designed: For men

You’ll struggle to find a cold water suit at this price anywhere else. Technical, budget-friendly and robust, this durable neoprene suit is our male tester’s go-to for spring and late summer trips in cool water – it was ideal for the Wild Atlantic Way. Super stretchy and easy-ish to get on thanks to the generous cuffs and the back zip, it’s a dependable layer of protection against the wind. The hood takes a bit of getting used to if you haven’t worn a suit with one before, but it isn’t restrictive and does make a huge difference to how you feel the cold.

Billabong 2/2mm launch women’s wetsuit

Best: For paddleboarding

Rating: 7.5/10

  • Thickness: 2mm
  • Temperature range (water): 17-22C
  • Designed: For women

Sleek, sporty and perfect for summer, this elegant and lightweight suit will keep you warm on the board and on short sessions in warm water. It’s one of the easiest suits we’ve ever slipped on, with a super long back zip with a long pull that we had no issue reaching on our own. It feels comfortable and flexible, with tough, flat-locked seams, and the neoprene is surprisingly effective at keeping even biting winds out. A great price for a smart suit from one of surfing’s biggest names.

The verdict: Wetsuits for men and women

We were blown away by O’Neill’s balance of tech and comfort – it’s hard to make a wetsuit this warm this comfortable, but the leading brand has succeeded. Sweaty Betty’s gorgeous tropical shorty is our new summer favourite, too.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on wetsuits and other outdoor offers, try the links below:

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IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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