What type of wetsuit do I need?

Wetsuits are designed to keep the surfer warm in cold water.  Wetsuits are made of neoprene material and last around 2 years with intense use, however, can last much longer if they are cared for properly and/or not used often.  There are several different types of wetsuits, each designed for different water temperatures.  Wetsuits are classified by their thickness in millimeters though how its interpreted is different for each manufacturer.  For example, a wetsuit that is labeled 5/3 mm would be 5 millimeters thick in the torso and 3 millimeters thick in the arms and legs, however, each brand may different slightly so its best to check the label of each suit before purchasing.  Below are descriptions of several types of wetsuits and a table that shows which type of suit you would wear based on the water temperature. Keep in mind there are many variations of wetsuits and the ones described here tend to be the most common:


Full Suit – A full wetsuit covers your whole body but not your head, hands, or feet.  When you need to be more protected a hood, boots, and gloves are added.  These suits range in the following thicknesses: 3/2 mm, 4/3 mm, 5/3 mm, and 6/4 mm.


Spring Suit or Shorty – A spring suit is generally 3/2 mm and covers the top half of your arms and legs similar to the way a t-shirt and shorts do.


Rash Guard – A rash guard is a tight shirt surfers wear when the water is too warm for a wetsuit.  These are worn to protect the surfer’s body.  The wax on the surfboard is very sticky and will tear the skin if a rash guard is not worn.  The rash guard also protects against the sun.


The following table provides a rough idea when to wear each suit but keep in mind there are many variables at play here. First is your tolerance to cold water. Then what is the air temp, are you wearing a high or low end suit, etc. More or less these numbers about vary by 5-7 degrees depending on those variables.

Type of Suit


6/4 or 5/3 with Boots, Gloves, and Hood

Below 50 degrees Fahrenheit

4/3 full suit (might need gloves, boots, hood)

50-60 degrees Fahrenheit

3/2 full suit

60-70 degrees Fahrenheit (Glue and bind stitched seams and a warm day allow me to wear my 3/2 in 57 degrees)

Spring Suit

68-73 degrees Fahrenheit

Rash guard

70+ degrees Fahrenheit

Choosing a wetsuit can be a daunting task as there are many types, materials, features, and sizes. I recommend going to a store and trying them on. The suit should feel nice and snug (tight) against your body but should not be tight enough to cut off circulation. Suits vary in price based on features usually around the seams such as glued and bind stitched, sealed seams, etc.

The lower end models are just sewn around the seams. I personally like a suit that is glue and bind stitched and this is usually a medium priced model. There are other features such as the place of the zippers and stretch of material that are selling points. My advice to most surfers is to make sure the seams are glued and do not focus too much on other features unless you do not mind spending more on a suit. The glued seams will make the most difference, other features are just nice to have but not necessary. Just to prove my point here, there actually was a research study that compared wetsuits seams and found glue and bind stitched were all you need – https://fashionandtextiles.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40691-019-0181-5. Another feature that I do like is a fleece lining. Suits with this lining tend to cost significantly more. To avoid paying high prices you can purchase a fleece rash guard and then wear that rash guard under your wetsuit when I need the extra warmth.