✏️ Updated on 25th April 2021
Hola my surfing amigo’s, and welcome to my ‘Wetsuit Buying Guide 2021’. If you’re here, you must be looking for a bit of guidance for that new wetsuit purchase.
In this post I’ll be unravelling all the major mysteries that commonly pop up during wetsuit research. Here are the areas we’ll be looking into…
1. Why should I use a wetsuit?
2. How do wetsuits work?
3. How long should a wetsuit last?
4. How much should I spend?
5. Types of wetsuit
6. Temperature guidelines
7. Thickness explained
8. Types of stitching
9. Types of zips
10. What size do I need?
11. How should a wetsuit fit?
12. How do I look after my wetsuit?
13. What wetsuit accessories do I need?
1. Why Should I use a Wetsuit?
Well, believe it or not there are three solid reasons why wetsuits are absolutely necessary for any surfing wannabe (especially in the UK).
- Warmth – Wetsuits keep us warm for waaaaay longer. More time spent in the waves means you become a better surfer, sooner.
- Protection – This rubbery shield not only protects our naked bodies from all that seaweed, it also acts as our proverbial suit of armour.
- Buoyancy – Wetsuit layers come with thousands of trapped air bubbles, these give the wearer more buoyancy.
2. How Do Wetsuits Keep Us Warm?
So, how do wetsuits work? Here are three key elements that make it happen…
- Trapping Water – All wetsuits let a small amount of water in, our bodies then warm up this water and that warm water helps keep us warm.
- Trapping Air – We also warm up the thousands of air bubbles within the wetsuits layer, which again helps keep us warm.
- Colour – Most wetsuits are black, which is great at absorbing any warmth from the sun.
3. How Long Should a Wetsuit Last?
This is a frequently asked question but the only accurate answer is… it depends.
Predicting a wetsuits lifespan is difficult and is massively effected by three things… cost, usage and care. So, here is a little formula I’ve created to help estimate the number of hours a wetsuit should last.
- 1 hour of usage = for every £1 spent
Using the above, if a brand new wetsuit costs £100 – I’d expect to get around 100 hours of usage (before it showed signs of wear and tear). So in theory, I could do a 2-hour sesh every weekend for almost an entire year before it started to deteriorate.
Now, this formula has been created from my own experience and of course the math isn’t exact. All wetsuits deteriorate with time, regardless of use. But I do believe it gives an alright estimate on how long a wetsuit should last.
4. How Much Should I Spend on a Wetsuit?
Now, let’s tackle a more useful ‘Wetsuit Buying Guide 2021’ type question – how much do I spend?
Firstly, this will depend on your own personal situation – and every situation is different. But, let me paint three scenarios that might help answer this ‘How much should I spend?’ question.
1. Learning to surf
If you’re new to surfing and planning to have a few lessons, my advice would be don’t break the bank.
At this early stage you’re still finding out if surfing is something you want to do. When I was at this stage, I used a rental wetsuit – it was cheap and I didn’t have to look after it. It also allowed me to get into the waves whilst figuring out if surfing was for me.
However, I know rentals are not for everyone. If you did fancy buying your own wetsuit, I’d recommend one in the £0 – £75 bracket.
2. I’m hooked, this is my hobby
After spending a bit more time among the waves, you might decide that surfing is going to be your thing. If that sounds like you, congrats and welcome to the club!
It was at this stage I decided to buy my own wetsuit and ditch the rentals. Surfers in this category are focused on improving and will be heading to the coast a number of times throughout the year.
If the above sounds like you, I’d recommend buying a wetsuit in the £75 – £200 pricing bracket.
3. Frequent surfers
This last category is for those who live and breathe surfing. The dude and dudettes who spend most of their time thinking about surfing or actually surfing.
These frequent surfers will be looking at possibly more than one, high quality wetsuits to allow them to surf all year. With such frequent use, a premium wetsuit more often than not provides that bang for the buck.
For those in this category, I’d recommend spending £200+.
5. Types of Wetsuit
Now, let’s talk about the actual types of wetsuits.
Here are some of the most common types of wetsuit used when surfing in the UK…
Most weekend surfers will use a ‘Full Wetsuit’ for the majority of the year. This is then paired with wetsuit accessories or a ‘Hooded Wetsuit’ for Winter and a ‘Shorty’ for Summer.
6. Wetsuit Temperature Guidelines
Almost all of the time the water temperature will dictate what wetsuit type is most suitable.
The water temperature in the UK changes throughout the year, but usually stays between 8-18°C. Most UK surfers use a ‘Full Wetsuit’ for the majority of the year and accompany it with hoods, boots and gloves in the colder months.
Take a look at the images below and try and find out which wetsuit type fits your situation best.
- Hooded Wetsuit – For water temperatures below 8°C, should be accompanied by boots and gloves
- Full Wetsuit – Often used throughout the year, hoods, boots and gloves are recommended for the colder months
- Short Sleeve Full Wetsuit – Perfect for Spring and Autumn, boots are optional
- Spring Wetsuit – Perfect for Spring and Autumn, boots are optional
- Summer Wetsuit – Designed for the Summer and perfect for any water temperatures over 20°C
7. Wetsuit Thickness Explained
Now, if you’ve ever seen wetsuits online they show thickness measurements as 5/4mm, 4/3mm or even 2/2mm.
But what do these measurements mean?
Well, the numbers from left to right dictate the wetsuit thickness – from thickest to thinnest. Take the example below, this 5/4mm wetsuit is 5mm in the core areas (torso) and 4mm in the other areas (arms and legs).
8. Types of Wetsuit Stitching
Now for the most boring aspect of any wetsuit – the types of wetsuit stitching, but wait…
Knowing the difference between the types of stitching can tell you a lot about how good a wetsuit is. To make this area more digestible, I’ve outlined the differences between the four methods below.
In short, the ‘Overlock‘ technique is the worst and the ‘Blindstitch‘ technique is the best. This ranking relates to both the flexibility and durability of the seams.
Here’s a quick breakdown of likely wetsuit costs when each type of stitching is used:
- Overlock Stitching – Beginner wetsuits between £0 – £75
- Flatlock Stitching – Intermediate wetsuits between £75 – £200
- Welded & Blindstitch – Advanced wetsuits from £200+
9. Types of Wetsuit Zips
So team, we’re now onto the last bit of wetsuit anatomy left to discuss – the wetsuit zip.
There are the three types of wetsuit zip, and each has it’s own advantages and disadvantages.
The above image says it all, but let’s go into each zip type in a bit more detail…
The Back Zip – Perfect for beginners (£0 – £75)
- Easiest to get on – The hole to fit your body through is as big as it gets, so yeah
- Cheapest – Costs the least to produce which naturally makes it the cheapest option
- Least flexible – Zip’s don’t stretch, so a big one on the back makes paddling difficult
- Most stitch holes – A long zip creates plenty of holes so cold water can get into the wetsuit
- Most flushing – Extra holes mean new water will get into the suit more often AKA flushing
The Chest Zip – For improving intermediates (£75 – £200)
- Good flexibility – A zip free back panel makes paddling much easier
- Fewer stitch holes – Any reduction in the number of holes in a wetsuit is a good thing
- Flushing reduced – Fewer holes makes it harder for new water to flush out the water already in the wetsuit
- Difficult to get on – With a smaller opening, it’s harder to get on
- More expensive – The better the wetsuit zip tech, the more the wetsuit costs
Zipperless – Ideal for seasoned pro’s (£200+)
- Most flexible – With only wetsuit panels, this zip type is by far the most flexible
- No stitch holes – Without a zip to stitch in, there’s no stitch holes
- Least flushing – Without any zip stitching holes, a zipperless wetsuit almost completely reduces flushing
- Hardest to get on – With the smallest entrance, zipperless wetsuits are the hardest to get on
- Most expensive – The best zip type normally features on the most expensive wetsuits
10. What Wetsuit Size Do I Need?
Now all the wetsuit elements are covered, onto an important part of this ‘Wetsuit Buying Guide 2021’ – SIZE…
Unfortunately, every wetsuit brand has different sizing brackets. This makes it annoyingly difficult to know your wetsuit size. Just because you’re an MS (Medium Short) in a Billabong wetsuit, doesn’t mean you’ll be an MS in an O’Neill wetsuit.
Luckily, my ‘What Wetsuit Size Do I Need – Quiz’ solves this exact problem.
It takes 30-seconds to complete and all you need are the things below;
- Wetsuit Brand
If the quiz doesn’t feature your wetsuit brand, I’ve also created wetsuit size charts for the biggest brands so you won’t miss out.
11. How Should a Wetsuit Fit?
Now, it can be quite difficult to tell if a wetsuit fits you correctly – especially if you’ve not worn one before.
In this section, I outline a few tricks to help you guys figure out if everything is fitting how it should be.
1. Top Section – Arms & Shoulders
- Put your arms in the air, there should be some resistance but not too much.
- There shouldn’t be any excessive folding under the armpit when your arms are down.
- Pinch the wetsuit material on your arm outwards, it should ping back when letting go.
- Wrists and ankle cuffs should to be tight, test if they ping back when letting go as well.
2. Middle Section – Back & Bum
- You should be able to breathe easily, if that’s not happening – it’s probably too tight.
- Pull the stomach material away from your body, if it fits well you should feel a suction sensation.
- If there’s trampoline like area above your bum, your wetsuit is not long enough.
3. Bottom Section – Legs
- Lift a knee up towards your chest, there shouldn’t be too much restriction.
If there were things that didn’t quite match up with the above, don’t worry – wetsuits loosen up in the water. This basically means if it felt a bit tight or a bit restrictive, this should be reduced when you’re actually in the water.
12. How Do I look After My Wetsuit?
Believe it or not, proper wetsuit care will add years of life to your wetsuit.
In this section I’ll be explaining how to wash and dry your wetsuit.
1. Washing Your Wetsuit
To save you some reading, watch my mega helpful ‘How To Wash a Wetsuit’ video.
It covers the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ when washing a wetsuit as well as some tips when drying. If you find it useful, don’t forget to subscribe to the YouTube channel as well!
- Use freshwater to get the salt and sand off.
- Use proper wetsuit shampoo to help wash the material and remove any dodgy odours.
- Let it soak for around 10-minutes.
- Never use a washing machine, the heat will kill the wetsuits performance.
- Don’t use strong detergents, the chemicals are too harsh for wetsuits to handle.
- Don’t scrub off any wax, it will only come back and the scrubbing does damage.
2. Drying Your Wetsuit
This is also covered in my ‘How To Wash a Wetsuit’ video above, scroll up if you haven’t watched it.
But, let’s take a look at the correct way to dry your wetsuit…
- Dry it inside out, this maintains flexibility and will also help dry the inside first.
- Fold it at the waist, this is mainly for heavier winter wetsuits but also helps wetsuits dry faster.
- Never use a tumble dryer, the heat will f*** your wetsuit up.
- Don’t iron your wetsuit, I don’t even know why I put this one… but just no.
- Don’t dry in direct sunlight, UV rays are no fun and will age your wetsuit much quicker.
13. What Wetsuit Accessories Do I Need?
Now, the final area my ‘Wetsuit Buying Guide 2021’ looks into is wetsuit accessories.
If you’re planning on surfing in the UK, these things can become very important additions to your surfing kit. Let’s take a quick look at the different types of wetsuit accessory.
1. Wetsuit Boots vs Wetsuit Socks
The first wetsuit accessory most people invest in, is a good pair of wetsuit boots or socks. I’d usually recommend these for when water temperatures are below 15°C / 59°F.
But what is the difference between wetsuit boots and wetsuit socks?
Wetsuit boots are normally thicker (between 3-8mm) so are great for the coldest months of Winter. They’re also built with sturdier protection around the foot making them very durable.
Wetsuit socks are thinner in comparison (between 2-5mm) making them perfect for the slightly cold months. The reduced thickness makes them much more flexible and gives you a much better feel of what’s going on down there.
2. Wetsuit Gloves
Wetsuit gloves are the next level of warmth surfers look for during the colder months. They’re often accompanied by a wetsuit hood or cap when surfing in water temperatures below 8°C / 46°F.
There are three types of wetsuit hand garments… gloves, mittens and lobster claws.
Mittens and lobster claws are the thickest options (between 5-7mm), so they’re ideal for the coldest months. The mittens keep all four fingers together so are the warmest wetsuit hand option. While, the lobster claw has a separated index finger which helps improve flexibility.
Wetsuit gloves are thinner in comparison to the other two options (between 2-5mm). The reduced thickness and separation of each finger makes them the most flexible option.
3. Wetsuit Hoods vs Wetsuit Caps
The final wetsuit warming accessory is the wetsuit hood or wetsuit cap. These are commonly used in water temperatures below 8°C or when air temperatures below 12°C with high wind speeds.
There are two types; hoods and caps.
Wetsuit hoods are the thickest and warmest option (between 3-5mm). The neck coverage also helps reduce the amount of new cold water getting into the wetsuit. But, they’re more difficult to get on as the neck area needs to be underneath the wetsuit – which is a faff.
Wetsuit caps are much more accessible in comparison, as easy as clipping it on and you’re done. But, the 2-3mm thickness does mean they’re not as warm as a hood.
Worth mentioning that both options reduce wind-chill, which is very important when surfing in the cold.
4. Wetsuit Shampoo
The final wetsuit accessory to add to your surfing kit is a proper wetsuit shampoo.
I’ve been using O’Neill’s Wetsuit Cleaner & Conditioner forever, which in my view, is the best overall wetsuit shampoo on the market.
I’ve also done a few reviews on other wetsuit shampoos, which can be found below.
- O’Neill Wetsuit Shampoo & Conditioner Review – Best overall
- Dirtbusters Coco Loco Cleaner & Deodoriser Review – Great at removing smells
- Rip Curl’s ‘Piss Off’ Wetsuit Shampoo – Offers the best wetsuit protection
Well guys that completes my ‘Wetsuit Buying Guide 2021’ – I hope you found it useful!
Buying a wetsuit can be a complicated process, especially when most of us don’t try them on beforehand. If any of my wetsuit buying guide has helped you, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
As always, be sure to follow on the usual socials below to keep up to date with the latest surfing content!
Next read: ‘Brand New vs Second Hand Wetsuit’