If you are gearing up to a bit of surfing with your stand up paddle board, or if you’re going out for some cold water SUP adventures, then you’ll probably want to get yourself a good wetsuit. One of these will help to keep you warm out there, which means that you’ll be able to spend longer in the water.
If you’re new to these, then let us help you to make an informed decision on which one is the best option for your water sport needs.
- Top 10 Best SUP Wetsuits for the Money (2017 - 2018)
- Benefits of Wearing Wetsuits
- Types of Wetsuits
- Which Is Best For Your SUP Needs?
- Common Features
- Wetsuit Construction
- The Fit
- Common Accessories You Might Need
- How To Get It On
- Care and Maintenance
Top 10 Best SUP Wetsuits for the Money (2017 - 2018)
Benefits of Wearing Wetsuits
The basic intent of a wetsuit is to keep your body temperature very warm. However, they do not, nor are they intended or designed, to keep your body completely dry. Even today’s high-tech construction that capably isolates the diver or surfer from the surrounding, freezing environment allows small amounts of water to penetrate into the suit.
The wetsuit traps a thin layer of water between your body and the wetsuit. Your body heat warms this trapped layer of water to a comfortable temperature. The better the wetsuit fits and the thicker the neoprene material is, the warmer and longer you can stay in the water.
Wetsuits should provide added confidence in their ability to help keep you safe whether above or below the water’s surface. Key advantages and benefits of having a wetsuit not only include maintaining a comfortable warmth, but also aids in buoyancy, and speed and energy conservation (i.e.: triathlon participants).
A wetsuit makes swimming easier due to the added buoyancy it provides. Because wetsuit material is slicker than skin, competitors find wearing a well-fit wetsuit reduces drag, allowing them to increase their speed. As a result, the suit also helps conserve energy due to less resistance. For triathletes, a wetsuit helps them retain energy for their remaining bike and run.
Types of Wetsuits
Wetsuits are designed for warmth as well as flexibility and freedom of movement. Traditionally they are black, but a variety colors are available on the market. Some suits are zipperless. But most zip up the back. Wetsuits may be a simple vest or jacket or a full suit. Some afford more warmth while other allow more flexibility. The choice will depend on conditions you will be diving, surfing, or swimming in. Regardless of the wetsuit’s size, color, and style, the basic concept is to keep you warm and comfortable.
A wetsuit jacket is similar to a vest, although it has full length sleeves that offer additional warmth for the arms and upper body. The jacket affords you more protection against the elements. Jackets normally zip up the front and are constructed from 2mm/1mm thick material.
A short john wetsuit allows arms to be exposed for more freedom of movement. However, the rest of your body, from your torso to your thighs, is covered. A short john wetsuit protects and warms your core. It is a good wetsuit for all-day wear. For example, it takes the chill off a morning surf or swim, but does not become unbearably hot and uncomfortable as the day gets warmer.
A long john wetsuit allows arms to be exposed for more freedom of movement while providing full body coverage. It allows easy (surf) paddling. The long john suit is ideal when the air is warm but the water temperature is cold.
A springsuit provides arm and leg coverage, but not in large part. The springsuit has short legs and your choice of long or short arm sleeves. The suit’s full body and long arms totally keep the sun from direct contact with your skin. The full body also helps increase your core temperature.
A short arm steamer is a wetsuit specifically designed for warmth. It is normally made of (a combined) 3mm and 2mm neoprene that covers the body, legs, and upper arms. The forearms exposed.
A fullsuit, or long arm steamer, is a cold water wetsuit. It covers the entire body and extremities and comes in a variety of thicknesses. Your choice of thickness will depend on the degree of warmth needed, which is suitable to a particular environment. A 3mm/2mm wetsuit may be selected for cooler temperatures and cooler waters. A 6mm/5mm/4mm wetsuit should be selected for very cold weather. It will allow the individual to stay in the water longer.
Some fullsuits include attached hoods. To ensure comfort during an extended stay in the water, select a 6mm fullsuit with an attached hood and wetsuit boots, wetsuit gloves, and heated rash guard.
The drawback of the thicker fullsuit is that it is the most expensive type of wetsuit to purchase, and it allows less free movement, making it more difficult to paddle.
Which Is Best For Your SUP Needs?
The ultimate “right” wetsuit is an individual choice. Good wetsuits are expensive but typically well worth the initial investment.
First, determine what the local water environment is and how long you want or need to be in it. Water temperature may determine the style and length of the wetsuit. It may also determine the neoprene thickness. A wetsuit with generous thickness and body coverage provides warmth, but t may restrict free movement. Extremely, numbingly-cold temperatures will determine when additional wetsuit hood or cap, wetsuit booties, and/or wetsuit gloves are necessary.
How often you dive or surf may depend on how much you can afford, or are willing to pay, for a wetsuit and/or accessories. Or, where you use the wetsuit and how much use it will get may determine how much you can afford or are willing to invest in the suit and/or accessories.
The most popular wetsuit options on the market are springsuits and fullsuits. If only afford one wetsuit can be afforded, a fullsuit is a better choice. It is more practical to be too warm than too cold.
Cold water tends to penetrate through the wetsuit openings for head, hands and feet, stitches that bind the wetsuit, and through the zipper. Therefore, how efficient the wetsuit is will depend on the thickness of the wetsuit as well as the type of suit, the type and location of the wetsuit zipper, and how well the wetsuit fits.
Thickness And Warmth
The wetsuit you select will generally depend on the water temperature environment in which it will be worn. In the store, wetsuit tags include one, two or three numbers in the wetsuit description that represent the neoprene thickness of the wetsuit (in millimeters). Material thickness varies according to what part of the body it is covering. This is why there may be one or more numbers on the wetsuit description tag. For example, the neoprene wetsuit material is typically thinner on the arms and legs to allow freer, unrestricted movement of the limbs than it is on the core section. Each (thickness) number is separated with a “/” or “0”. The larger number (usually the first number) refers to the thickness of the core or torso material. The second and/or third refers to the thickness of the neoprene material that covers the limbs.
Neoprene is inserted inside the outside rubber garment for maximum warmth, quicker drying, and body heat retention. Some suits incorporate air chambers on the outside of the wetsuit to trap heat. Flushing is further prevented when the suit is fused with a lock zip that blocks out water.
A 6/5/4mm hooded fullsuit wetsuit is one that may be used in very cold water (43F. and below). The core/torso section of this wetsuit has a thickness of 6 mm. It has a 5 mm thickness on the arms. Neoprene material for the legs is a thickness of 4 mm.
A 5/3mm wetsuit is a cold water (50F. to 44F.) wetsuit that is suited for a surfer through the winter. The neoprene core/torso material is 5 mm thick. The arms and legs are 3 mm thick.
A 302 fullback wetsuit tag indicates the wetsuit thickness with numbers separated by a “0”. This particular wetsuit is a spring/summer wetsuit that is suited to 59F. to 56F. Neoprene material is significantly thinner than winter and cold water wetsuits. The core/torso material is 3 mm thick. The arms and legs are 2 mm thick.
A 2mm S/S full back wetsuit tag indicates this springsuit (74F. to 64F.) is entirely made from 2 mm thick neoprene.
Rashguard is designed for water temperatures exceeding 75F.
A poor neck seal becomes a water scoop and fills with water. Others feel a snug neck seal restricts their breathing. Wetsuits now offer softer neck material lining without compromising the water seal.
Catch panels are wetsuit forearm panels designed to increase propulsion and feel during the catch phase of a swim.
Neoprene insulation is a very stretchy, synthetic, elastic rubber material first used in wetsuit construction in the early 1970s. Today wetsuit flexibility and strength is enhanced by combining lycra and spandex into the neoprene.
Several pieces of neoprene are stitched together to construct the wetsuit. The main types of neoprene are Super Stretch and Water-Repellent Super Stretch. The more Super Stretch the wetsuit contains, the more expensive the wetsuit tends to be. The most cost effective wetsuits are made of 30% Super Stretch. Super Stretch typically material covers the back, shoulders, and arms where the most flexibility is needed (the torso and bottom half of the suit is made from standard neoprene). The most expensive, but snug-fitting and lighter-weight suits are entirely made of 100% Super Stretch material.
Different grades of neoprene are used in wetsuits to provide degrees of thickness and flexibility.
Single-Lined Neoprene has a nylon layer on the side of the material that lies next to skin. It makes a wetsuit more elastic. It is mainly used around the neck, hands, and feet openings. Single-lined neoprene makes a wetsuit warmer by allowing water to rapidly run off the mesh neoprene. Sharkskin, Meshskin, Smooth Skin, and Glide Skin are types of single-lined neoprene placed to reduce flushing. Single-lined neoprene is also used on the upper body of the wetsuit. The drawback of single-lined neoprene is its inability to resist being damaged by sharp objects.
Double-Lined Neoprene sandwiches the neoprene material on both sides with a layer of nylon. Nylon on the outer side makes the neoprene more durable and resistant to sharp objects and other damage. Nylon on the inner side prevents the neoprene material from sticking to skin.
Titanium placed between the neoprene and the nylon helps retain body heat. Statistically, the titanium layer makes the wetsuit approximately 24% warmer. Second generation titanium is reportedly twice as effective as the standard titanium is purported to be.
Super Elastic, Stretchy, and X-Stretch Neoprene is more elastic that traditional neoprene. Stretchy neoprene wetsuits are more flexible and requires less expended energy. Neoprene wetsuits are less resistant, fit better, are warmer, and more comfortable.
Aero Core, Fire Skin, etc. is stretchy hollow polyester fiber fabric that covers the neoprene on the inside of the wetsuit. The fibers contain s significant amounts of trapped air and are light, repel water, and dry quickly.
Some wetsuits have Kevlar-reinforced knees for added protection. Others have anti-skid print or neoprene sewn onto the knees.
It is important not to be distracted by expensive, fancy features that only add a minor wetsuit enhancement (i.e.: a single-lined neoprene neck seal). Well-constructed winter wetsuits have
blind stitch/liquid seal and stretchy neoprene. The wetsuit’s fit is also paramount. An expensive wetsuit bought for warmth is not a good investment if it lacks some type of liquid seal.
Good stitching makes the wetsuit warmer and more comfortable and durable. Cheap stitching allows water in, which can chafe skin or unravel the suit.
The warmest stitching method of wetsuit construction is the sealed and taped seam. Generally this method is needed in water below 54F. Panels are blind stitched and glued. Tape is then applied over the sealed panel on the inside of the wetsuit. Sealed and taped seams keep water from seeping in. They also trap warm air inside.
Overlock stitching is found on the least expensive wetsuits. It is strong but tends to extrude from the neoprene, which can be uncomfortable. The stitching may also have left small needle holes that allow water or wind to enter.
Flat lock stitching is a flat stitch that passes through both inner and outer side of the neoprene shell and suit. It does not provide a water tight seal. Stitched seams are clearly visible from the outside of the wetsuit.
Glued and blind stitches are initially glued together and then threaded with a needle on the same side. Stitches do not pass all the way through the material. Small holes may appear over time due to constant stretching and use.
Sealed seams are panels that have first been blind stitched and then glued to prevent water from entering through the seam. Sealed seams are necessary if the wetsuit will be subjected to waters below 60F.
Taped seams on wrist and ankle areas are standard on most wetsuits. They allow the selected wetsuit length to be cut off, making the suit easier to take off.
Liquid tape is rubber used to seal the inside and outside of the stitching. The result is a 100% waterproof seam.
Neoprene tape is used on the inside of the seams. It results in the most flexible 100% waterproof seal.
Zipperless wetsuits avoid incidents of flushing through the zipper. Zipperless suits also fit better and have enhanced flexibility and free range of motion. The neoprene on back, shoulders, and chest is more elastic due the the absence of a zipper. The downside, in addition to getting into and out of the suit, is stress the neoprene endures in the area where the suit gets pulled on. Every vendor has their system for getting into their zipperless wetsuit. In general, the neck opens wide to allow the individual to step into the suit. It is then pulled up, one leg at a time (like pants). Repeat this exercise to get your arms into the suit. Although getting into and out of this suit can be tedious, it offers the warmest, most watertight construction.
Suits with zippers zip from bottom to top, or top to bottom (a reverse zip). A reverse zip helps prevent it from being pulled down during the swim as well as make suit removal easier and faster.
A full zipper runs the full length of the spine and offers the least amount of flexibility. It begins at the lower back and runs up to the back of the neck.
A half zipper runs half the length down the back of the suit and offers increased flexibility and range of motion. It begins in the middle of the back and closes at the back of the neck.
A back zip opens vertically down the back. Although it offers the easiest wetsuit on/off method, it can be stiff and significantly reduces flexibility.
A chest zip opens horizontally across the upper chest. These are popular because they offer more back flexibility as well as keep water flushing through the suit during a swim.
Ideally, a wetsuit should fit like a “second skin.” The suit should be snug enough to retain a warm layer of water between the body and the suit without cutting off your circulation. It must also be flexible without restricting leg, arm, or body movements. The sign of a good fit is when you can easily squat down and freely move arms, legs, and body without pull, resistance, or restriction.
The wetsuit should be snug around the neck. Rashguards worn under wetsuits help prevent neck rash.
Often the wetsuit can fit just fine, but it still does not feel comfortable or provide free movement and flexibility. The wetsuit should only be slightly restricting. To test the suits flexibility, raise your arms over your head and stretch your shoulders. The wetsuit should not create any resistance or pressure when your arms are raised. The wetsuit is too small if you feel too much pressure when your arms are raised.
Each manufactured brand cuts their wetsuits a bit differently. As a result, standard sizes will differ with each brand. However, all manufacturers use the same letter key for their sizing charts (XXS, MT / XL, XXL etc.) Know your height and hip, chest/bust, and waist measurements and try on different suits from the various brands before you buy.
Common Accessories You Might Need
- Wetsuit Booties – Wetsuit boots vary in style, thickness, and size, They are intended to keep feet warm, provide extra traction, and help protect them.
- Wetsuit Gloves – Wearing wetsuit neoprene gloves keep hands warm, prevents rash, and provide protection. There are a wide range of styles, thicknesses, and inner linings for them on the market. They are ideal for scuba diving, surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, waterskiing,, etc.
- Wetsuit Caps and Hoods – There is approximately 10% faster heat loss through one’s head than through other areas of the body. Neoprene hoods insulate the head and help prevent heat loss and the “ice cream headache” effect experienced due to rapid changes in temperature (when they occur). A long-necked hood that can be tucked into the wetsuit helps prevent this heat loss. However, if it is too large, water will seep in and not keep you warm. And if it is too small, it might cause breathing difficulties. An elastic cord that goes around the face can help adjust the fit.
How To Get It On
There is no right or wrong way to get into or out of a wetsuit. However, you should always peel off wetsuit inside out.
There are other tips to make getting into and out of your suit:
- Put a plastic bag around the feet can help slide your legs through the suit legs.
- Do not put on/remove your wetsuit near rocks or on a rough surface, if changing in a parking lot or equivalent place.
- Before attempting to put it on, be certain the wetsuit is turned right-side-out and is completely unzipped.
- Use your fingertips (not your fingernails) to put on the wetsuit.
- If you are getting into a WET wetsuit, wear plastic bags or socks over hands and feet to help them slide more easily into the suit.
- Remove watches and jewelry to avoid rips or tears in the wetsuit material.
- Have a partner zip/unzip your wetsuit to avoid snagging and putting stress on the zipper and neoprene.
- Tugging and yanking can easily damage the neoprene or the rubber seams on the suit.
Putting On Wetsuit Booties
Wear booties under the wetsuit so the water will be able to flush out and not into the booties. Roll up the bottoms of the wetsuit; put on the booties; roll down the wetsuit ankles so they are over the tops of the booties.
Putting On Wetsuit Gloves
Put wetsuit gloves on last.
Care and Maintenance
After each use, rinse the inside and outside of the wetsuit in cool, fresh water. Cold fresh water removes sand, grime, and seawater.
Never wash the wetsuit in a washing machine. Wash the wetsuit by hand in fresh water. Never use bleach, laundry detergent, stain remover, fabric softener, olive oil, etc. to clean the wetsuit. Use soap made especially for the purpose of cleaning a wetsuit. Or, use a mild liquid soap, such as baby shampoo, to clean the wetsuit. There are wetsuit care products available on the market.
Do not leave the wetsuit wet following the rinse. Air dry the wetsuit. Never dry the wetsuit in a gas or electric dryer. Hang the wetsuit on a suitable hanger, such as a SlideHanger™ (never use a conventional hanger), and dry it inside-out in the shade to dry. Sunlight and heat can damage neoprene. After the inside of the suit is dry, turn the right side out to finish the drying.
Store the wetsuit on a SlideHanger™, or equivalent hanger, to reduce fabric stress. Wetsuits may successfully be laid flat for storage. Never store the wetsuit on a conventional shoulder hanger. Never fold the wetsuit for storage, If the neoprene is creased, it will never recover.
Heat is no friend of wetsuit fabric. Heat breaks down the wetsuit material. Rinsing or washing the wetsuit in hot water will also break down the wetsuit material. Cold or lukewarm water is preferable. Never leave the wetsuit in the (direct or indirect) sun. The wetsuit fabric will deteriorate rapidly if it is exposed to UV rays. Dry the wetsuit in the cool of the sun’s shade. Do not leave the wetsuit in the car, on the hood of the car, or in the trunk of the car for any extended period of on a very warm/hot day. Avoid storing the wetsuit in a hot place or place that can become hot. Never iron the wetsuit. Never dry the wetsuit in a gas or electric dryer.
Wetsuit care is critical to keeping it watertight and making it last. Keep the wetsuit as clean as possible. Keep it free of dirt or salt as well as surf wax that easily sticks to the fabric. There is no easy way to remove surf wax without harming the wetsuit. It is best to avoid getting wax on the suit in the first place. However, an ice cube can be used to harden the wax, and then peel it off. Do not rub the fabric. Do not attempt to use a brush or your fingers to remove the wax. The fabric will delaminate where it has been rubbed. Never use alcohol, solvents, wax remover, or petroleum-based products.
Occasionally your wetsuit will smell. For example, peeing in the wetsuit does not damage the neoprene. But it will make the suit smell. Generally, rinsing the suit in cold, fresh water and drying it thoroughly will alleviate the odor, and keep the wetsuit odor free. If rinsing does not get the smell out of the wetsuit, wash it in fresh, lukewarm (not hot) water. Use one of the wetsuit soaps available on the market specifically for the purpose of cleaning a wetsuit, or use a small amount of baby shampoo. Hand wash the suit gently and with care. Thoroughly rinse the wetsuit, making sure it is free of all detergent. Hand the wetsuit on a suitable hanger (see above) and air dry.