February 12

Wetsuit Buyers Guide

Equipment

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With winter just around the corner, now is the time to start thinking about upgrading your wetsuit to stay warm and toastie all winter long.

But, there's a whole lot of technical jargon out there - and an enormous amount of choice - so in this article I'm going to do my best to break things down super simply for you so that you can make some well informed decisions to keep you warm this winter.

In this article you'll learn:

  • What the different types of seams are - and why they're super important.
  • What wetsuit thickness is all about - and what you need for the water this winter.
  • My personal recommendations
  • And much more....

So if you want to continue surfing all winter long, and you want to be in the right equipment for it, read on...


Wetsuit Seams

The seams of the wetsuit are what binds the different parts of the wetsuit together.  Much like if you were stitching together a jumper - wetsuits too consist of multiple panels that must be stitched together also.

But not all stitching and seaming methods are created equal (more on that in a minute).

Here's a breakdown of the most common types of seams and what to expect:

  • Flat Lock Seams
  • Glued & Blind Stitched Seams
  • Taped
  • Liquid Seal

I'll do my best to elaborate a little further on each to help you out with your buying decisions.


Flat Lock Seams

Flat Lock seams are the cheapest type on the market, and as such, they don't offer too much when it comes to warmth.

These are the types of seams you'd expect from a cheapo tourist wetsuit built just for playing in the water, not for surfing hours on end.

Definitely not suitable for a winter wetsuit.


Glued and Blind-stitched Seams

A little step up from the flat lock, these glued and blind-stitched seams offer a little more insulation by limiting the amount of water that passes through them. 

But, for a winter wetsuit they aren't ideal. 

Sure if you're only planning on quick 20 - 30 minute sessions this winter they might be fine, but not if you're planning on legitimately surfing all winter long - whilst being totally comfortable and warm at the same time.


Taped seams

Now we're starting to move into the realm of a seam type that can handle the cold water, that's durable and has stood the test of time.

Taped seams offer great protection from the water trying to seep through the seams of your wetsuit.

I'd say this is the minimum entry level for an effective winter wetsuit.


Liquid Seals

Liquid seals offer by far the best warmth, but they're also the most expensive too so this is something worth keeping in mind.

But, they do a damn good job of keeping you warm.

The only downside to these liquid seals is that they tend to crack over time which isn't great.

On average I'd say that these liquid seals will be 100% effective for about one winter season (obviously depending on how much you surf), and after that you'll likely see a decent amount of degradation and drop in warmth/performance.


My thoughts for what's it worth...

Don't skimp when it comes to the quality of seams you can afford as you'll likely regret it.  Instead, it's well worth investing in quality here as there's nothing that's going to keep you out of the water more, than a wetsuit that's leaking everywhere.

In fact nowadays it's possible to get wetsuits with multiple seams types in one...

...I'm talking glued and blind-stitched, plus taped inside, plus liquid seals on the outside.  This is the type of seam construction I'd be looking for if you're in any way serious about surfing regularly all winter. 


Wetsuit Thickness

This one's pretty self explanatory.  It's purely the thickness of the wetsuit that you're about to buy.

In surfing we measure this in millimetres.

Typically, you'll have two different thicknesses of neoprene (this is the material that wetsuits are made up of) for different areas of the body.

For example you'll have increased thickness over your chest and back for extra warmth of your vital organs, and reduced thickness over your arms and legs for flexibility.

Here's a breakdown of wetsuit thickness as a guide:

6/5/4MM


8ºC - 10ºC

5/4MM


10ºC - 12ºC

4/3MM


12ºC - 14ºC

3/2MM


14ºC - 16ºC


Where's your zip at?

Front zip, back zip, or no zip at all?

There's a few to choose from so lets take a closer look at each:


Back Zip

The classic!

The old back zip has been around since the very beginning, but, things have changed a little since then.  

Sure they work well enough, and they get the job done, but there are better options out there.  

You'll find back zips on most budget/low end wetsuits on the market.

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Get's the job done

Cons

  • Can lead to rub on the neck
  • Not the best when it comes to flush
  • They don't look as cool as the other options

Chest Zip

These have been in vogue now for the past five years or so and there's a good reason why.

They're hard wearing, robust, they stop a huge amount of flush, and...

...they fricken look good too right?

The go to choice for the core surfer for sure.

Pros

  • Little to no neck rub
  • Avoids flush well
  • Strong and durable
  • Creates a better fit around the shoulders

Cons

  • A little more expensive than the back zip
  • You have to squeeze into your wetsuit a little more when putting it on

Zipperless 

That's right, it's now possible to get a wetsuit with no zip at all!

It takes a bit of wiggling to get in, but it's sure as hell comfy once you do.

One of the things I like most about surfing in a zipperless suit is the flexibility - pure freedom right there.  But, it comes at a cost:

Not just financially (although they do come with a hefty price tag), but more importantly with durability, and flush.

Great for a summer wetsuit, or a shorty.  Not so great for a winter wetsuit.

Pros

  • No zip - obviously
  • Usually super flexible
  • They look damn cool

Cons

  • Not the best with flush
  • Often expensive
  • Not very durable

My thoughts for what's it worth...

For a winter wetsuit that's actually going to keep you warm and allow you to surf all winter, I'd shoot for the chest zip every time.

It'll cost you a little extra up front to begin with, but imho it's money well spent.

Get the chest zip, ditch the rest.


Wetsuit Materials

All wetsuits are made with neoprene.  This has been the material of choice for as long as I can remember.

But it's now possible to get extra thermal lining inside the wetsuit too, and boy does this make a difference.

Thermal wetsuit material.

Different brands will use different materials to achieve this thermal layer, but it's this which usually separates the budget from the premium options.

Generally speaking the more thermal layering on your wetsuit the warmer it'll be, and the more expensive it'll be too.  So this is something you'll have to weight up yourself.


My Wetsuit Recommendations

Ok, with all of that being said, what wetsuit should you buy to keep warm this winter?

Good question, and I'll do my best to give you a few good options to get you started.

*Quick Tip: Don't be afraid to go shopping in the guys section... Why?  Well, quite frankly there's little to no difference in shape and sizing (at least not in any of the male suits I'v ever tried), but also because the range and quality tend to be just so much better.


Need Essentials

Probably the best bang for your buck on the market right now. 

No frills, no branding.  Just frickin good wetsuits that'll keep you warm.

They keep their costs low by only selling direct on their website & reducing margins wherever possible.  


Patagonia

Eco friendly, and regarded as being some of the best wetsuits on the market.

Patagonia is not only making new ground in the sustainability side of things, but they're also pushing the industry to change it's ways.

Famous for their lifetime guarantee on ALL products, they are expensive, but hey you get what you pay for right?


XCEL

Some of the best winter suits each year come from the guys at XCEL.  These guys focus heavily on durability and warmth, not on gimmicks and fads.

Always worth a check, and a trustworthy brand that's stood the test of time.


Rip Curl

A household name and one with a long track record of producing some of the best wetsuits on the market.

Their durability is questionable at times with the seams on a lot of the wetsuits getting trashed after just a few months, but hey, they look nice right?


O'neill

Literally the pioneer of wetsuit design, Jack O'neill was the dude that made the very first wetsuit!

Coming from the cold water of Santa Cruz in California, they always deliver when it comes to top class wetsuits specifically designed for cold water.


What I use personally:

Because I'm in and out of the water literally all day with coaching etc, my wetsuits get a hammering! So at the moment my wetsuit of choice has been the Need Essentials range. 

I have to say they're super high quality, keep me very warm, and are very well priced.

I can vouch for the fact that they'll keep you toastie warm all winter long.

The only downside I've found is that the seams tend to degrade considerably after about six months (although six months of usage in my world might look like two years usage to someone else due to the amount of time I've spent in the water).  But, this isn't necessarily isolated to just these guys, this is across the board.

I'm still yet to find a wetsuit that has that longevity to it too.

Although I have heard that the Patagonia suits are particularly good, they also come with a particularly premium price tag too, so make of that what you will.

I'm yet to give them a go.


Wrapping it up...

So there we have it.  

The official/ultimate women's wetsuit guide!

You should by now be well informed to make some good buying decisions when you hit the shops.

But a quick word of wisdom before you do...

Sure, I get it, we all want to look hot when we hit the water.  But don't be one of those suckers that chooses looking hot (and actually being freezing cold, or worse still not even going in the water) over something that's a little more practical that's going to keep you toastie warm all winter long.

Trust me, there's nothing that's going to reduce your water time more, than a wetsuit that doesn't keep you warm - and with todays technology, there's no need for you ever to be cold - regardless of how freezing the water is.

Stay warm this winter ladies!

Loz x

About the author 

Lauren Ringer

Hey, I'm Loz and I'm a former ex-professional surfer from Noosa Australia. I'm a qualified and certified Surf Instructor and Life Coach. My goal is too to help you to learn to surf and propel your surfing to the next level with confidence and with less fear. To share my knowledge to as many women as I can so everybody can experience the love of the ocean and the joy of surfing.

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