(The Gear Loop) - If you’ve not had one before, buying your own wetsuit is a game-changer, especially if you plan to surf regularly in the UK or much of northern Europe for that matter. Aside from high summer, the Atlantic never really gets warm enough to surf, SUP or swim in just a bikini or swim suit.
Rental wetsuits, which can be full of sand and passed from person to person, are nothing like the excellent kit available to buy now, either. Many suits are now so lightweight, warm and comfortable, that you’ll wonder why you didn’t ever invest in one before.
Granted, they’re not cheap, but wetsuits last if you look after them, and the benefits far outweigh the negative of the spend. Not least that you know exactly who has (or hasn’t) peed in it.
Getting a wetsuit purchase right is important for comfort and safety, so while you can buy online, it’s also a good idea to hop into a shop that boasts a decent range - particularly of the different entry mechanisms - to get a feel for what you like, whether that’s a front-zip, rear entry or completely zipless. Just be careful taking them off and on and don’t rip them on earrings or watches!
We’ve collated some of our favourite spring/summer suits, most of which boast neoprene rubber that varies in thickness from 3mm to 2mm in those areas that don’t quite need the same amount of warmth.
These suits are classic, do-it-all numbers that will be fine for surfers or water sports fans climbing in the water from May/June to around September/October, when the water starts to get chillier and thicker rubber is required.
The best women’s wetsuits for spring/summer surfing
Xcel 3/2 Women’s Comp Wetsuit Tinfoil Flower
- Flattering (yes, a wetsuit, flattering) ergonomic fit
- Lightweight and flexible
- Watertight zipper
- Getting it on requires commitment
- Pricier than some rivals
This was hands-down our favourite suit we tested. We’ve never considered that a wetsuit could be flattering, but this one is, even though the colours on some models aren’t all that rad.
The internal infrared fibre-infused lining is stretchy, light and quick-to-dry and it’s warm against the skin. In the water, it holds the heat generated by the body, while we could hardly feel the water when wearing this.
Said ergonomic design, particularly around the knees, helps beat fatigue on the board. The wetsuit is dope-dyed to minimise water usage during the dyeing process and Japanese limestone replaces petrochemicals in the neoprene. No wonder it’s Xcel’s best-selling wetsuit.
Find out more from Xcel Wetsuits
O'Neill Hyperfreak 3/2+ Chest Zip Full Suit
- Minimal seams
- 360 drain holes
- Great colour selection (we loved the Capri breeze/abyss)
- Like all chest-entry wetsuits, tricky to get on
- Thicker and weightier than other 3/2 suits
The Hyperfreak features 3.5mm /2.5mm neoprene (hence the +) on torso and arms, so extra warmth in the water but still incredibly flexible.
The fabric is soft to the touch to the point it feels like a piece of clothing. However, it is a little tricky to get on but it’s pre-stretch neoprene means it won’t lose its shape over time.
It has a double seal neck for comfort, warmth and flexibility, and the (minimal) seams are all fully taped, stretching when you move so even easier when paddling out.
As with most wetsuits, don’t be tempted to squeeze into a size down - be honest and realistic when working out the exact size with O’Neill’s height and weight tables, so you get a proper fit, often one up from your standard dress size.
Rip Curl E-Bomb 3/2mm Zip-Free
- A proper surfer’s wetsuit
- Zip-free and super flexible
- Stand-out feminine designs/colours
- Seamless arms
- Only available to UK size 14
- You pay for the tech in this one
The E-Bomb is the result of a three-year development project with world champion surfers and designers at Rip Curl, resulting in a seamless suit from wrist-to-wrist with no zip, but all the warmth you’d expect from this atypical surf brand.
The high-stretch E7 neoprene has been used in the upper body and E6 for the legs, with super-soft Thermo lining for warmth and comfort on the inside.
It’s a high-performance wetsuit that Rip Curl says its warm enough for surfing year round if you bung on some accessories in the winter. Surely that’s enough to justify the additional cost?
Finisterre Nieuwland 2e Yulex Long Sleeve Swimsuit
- Great for SUP/swim
- Super easy on and off
- Good value
- Made with Yulex natural rubber
- Front zip can be uncomfortable
- Not as warm as full suits
- Figure-hugging fit
Despite being leg-less, Cornwall-based Finisterre designed this wetsuit for cold water and hotter days, and it’s a good choice for SUP, surf and swimming in UK waters during the high summer.
The suit is easy to get on and off, so you can wear a bikini or swimming costume beneath it without fear of doing an involuntary strip at the beach.
The front zip has a zip guard, but we wouldn’t want to spend all day surfing in it when laying prone for longer periods, however free and movement-enhancing the design.
However flexible neoprene is now, it can be restrictive, so the panelling has been designed for maximum movement and comfort in the water and this long-sleeved version offers a little extra coverage to stay warm. Although those who feel the cold will want to opt for a full suit.
£125 | Buy from Finisterre
- Tough Supratex kneepads and cuffs
- Very buoyant
- 100 per cent externally seam sealed
- Limited colours
- Very expensive
- Stock issues
If you get cold in the water, this is your suit. We tested it in 14°C seas and it was almost too warm.. and ridiculously buoyant. This makes it an amazing, supportive suit for surfers and kite-surfers who might get dunked more often than they’d like.
Despite the fact that this is 3mm thick all over, it’s relatively stretchy and easy to swim in. Patagonia makes the world’s only Fair Trade certified suits, using 85 per cent Yulex natural rubber (certified by the Rainforest Alliance) and 15 per cent synthetic rubber.
The R3 has a thermal microgrid lining that dries super-fast and keeps the wearer warmer, and the seam-sealed exterior helps shut out water. Not a dry suit, but almost.
£420 | Buy from Patagonia
What to look for in a womans wetsuit
How do wetsuits work?
A wetsuit keeps you warm and protected in the water - and in many cases add buoyancy, too. They are not designed to keep you dry. The neoprene (and other materials) work by trapping a thin layer of water between your body and the suit, which is then warmed by your body heat. Technology has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, making wetsuits lighter, more flexible and comfortable than ever before. If the temperature gets really cold you can buy wetsuit/neoprene gloves, boots and hoods, too.
Which thickness to choose?
While technology has made material lighter and more flexible, the thicker the suit, the harder it is to move in it. We’ve concentrated here on shoulder season suits (3/2mm), which means they’re good for spring/summer/early autumn sessions in UK waters or in hotter climes where the water is cool - on the Atlantic coast of Portugal, France and Morocco, for example.
The first number (3) stands for the thickness in mm of the neoprene rubber on the torso, the second (2) stands for the thickness on the arms, legs and other extremities that don’t require the same warmth.
The below is a general guide to temperatures and wetsuit thickness:
0-3°C - 6/7mm
4-7°C - 4/5/6mm
8-11°C - 3/4mm
12-17°C - 2/3mm
18°C+ - shorties, board shorts, bikinis, rash vests etc.
Chest zip: probably the most popular entry system now, especially among surfers. No cold water seeps into the back zip area and no painful zips to lay on, but chest-entry suits can be tricky to get into and out of.
Back zip: like it says on the tin. Easy on and off, with a long pull tab and Velcro at the neck. When you get in the water the long zip enclosure is more likely to let cold water in.
Zip-free: the same as getting on a chest suit but without the zip. Usually found in higher-end, lighter suits. These tend to be the most comfortable and flexible but in thicker suits, difficult to get on and off.
Always rinse off your wetsuit with fresh water every time you use it, whether that’s dunking it in the bath or a good bucket of cold water. Turn it inside out and dunk/rinse again, then hang it up to drip-dry in the shade, never in full sun.
You can use the rinse function on your washing machine but don’t spin it and don’t ever use laundry soap. If it needs a clean, use a specialist wetsuit shampoo or detergent occasionally. To avoid any deterioration of the material or build-up of nasty smells, never leave it in a wet heap for longer than absolutely necessary.