Growing up 5 minutes away from the cold Atlantic Ocean, I’ve tested the best wetsuits for cold water swimming, out of necessity.
Getting cold whilst out in the water, is not fun. It reduces the amount of time you get to spend in the water and can completely drain your body of energy and in severe cases, become life threatening.
But you came here to find out what the best wetsuit for cold water swimming is, so the purpose of this article, is to help you discover just that!
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Understanding wetsuit thickness
Wetsuits are measured in size and in thickness, the thicker your wetsuit the colder the water you’ll be able to swim in.
Wetsuits are made out of a rubber type material called neoprene. The reason you’re able to withstand cold water swimming while wearing a wetsuit is thanks to the neoprene material it is made out of.
Neoprene has thousands and thousands of tiny air pockets which traps and holds water inside of it when you submerge yourself under water. Thanks to oxidation, our bodies natural warm temperature of 37°C (98,6°F) heats up these little pockets of air to keep our body warm.
The thicker the wetsuit material, the more heat your wetsuit is able to retain, thus keeping you warmer for longer.
Wetsuits usually have a small millimeter reading on a label inside the wrist or by the back where the wetsuit zips up.
For example, your wetsuit will read 4/3mm. This means the area surrounding the chest is 4mm thick and the rest of the wetsuit is 3mm thick. The first number always implies chest thickness.
The reason manufacturers make chest/back thicker than the rest of the wetsuit is to insulate your internal organs. The rest of the wetsuit is thinner to allow for better mobility.
Water temperature and wetsuit thickness
Before you decide on the best wetsuit for cold water swimming, you need to have an idea of just how cold the water will actually be.
For example, there is no point buying a 3/2mm wetsuit to swim in water that’s 43°-52℉ (6°-11℃) you will freeze and ultimately waste your money.
You can use this website to figure out what the temperature of your closest ocean is.
Once you’ve figured out what your ocean temperature is, you can use the chart below to make sure you buy the correct wetsuit thickness.
(At the bottom of this article I’ll advise on the best wetsuits for swimming in cold water.)
|Water Temperature||Wetsuit Thickness||Recommended Wetsuit Type||Seal Type|
|65°-75℉ / 18°-23℃||0.5mm – 2/1mm||Sleeveless||Flatlock|
|62°-68℉ / 16°-20℃||2mm – 3/2mm||Shorty||Flatlock|
|58°-63℉ / 14°-17℃||3/2mm – 4/3mm||Fullsuit||Sealed|
|52°-58℉ / 11°-14℃||4/3mm – 5/3mm||Fullsuit||Sealed and taped|
|43°-52℉ / 6°-11℃||5/4mm – 5/4mm||Fullsuit||Sealed and taped|
|42℉ / 5℃ or less||6/5mm – 6/4mm||Fullsuit/Drysuit||Sealed and taped|
How do wetsuits keep you warm in cold water?
Wetsuits are able to keep you warm while you swim in cold water by trapping a thin layer of water between your skin and the wetsuit.
Your bodies natural temperature of 37°C (98,6°F) heats up this thin layer of water which then floats around your body, effectively insulating it from the colder water outside.
It’s important that you choose the right thickness wetsuit depending on how cold the water outside is. You can use the table above to figure that out.
Best wetsuits for swimming in cold water
I personally always use a 4/3mm wetsuit when I surf or kitesurf here in Cape Town, South Africa. However, when I was teaching up in the Netherlands some days got so super cold that I’d have to wear a 5/4mm suit or sometimes even a dry suit!
I’ve tried on so many wetsuits over the years, I thought it best to give you my top 10 wetsuits for swimming in cold water.
1. Scubapro Everflex Steamer
The Scubapro Everflex steamer features neoprene that is thicker around the body’s core but thinner around the body’s extremities, allowing for better mobility/flexibility.
The Everflex Steamer has a Class B dive suit rating making it best for water temperatures ranging between 50 to 64.5 degrees F (10 to 18 degrees C).
The wetsuit design uses fewer seams and panels allowing for maximum range of motion and lovely slip on fit. Like all Everflew steamers, this one has been assembled using solvent-free, water-based Aqua glue making it incredibly durable.
The openings surrounding both the wrists and ankles feature fuse-cut finished cuffs that are super-stretchy, making it much easier to put on. (Important when you are dealing with a thick wetsuit). The rear of the wetsuits supports a YKK zipper with KA brass slider, this offers increased durability making your wetsuit last much longer.
- Temperature Range: 50 to 64.5°F (10 to 18°C)
- Range of motion: Unrestricted
- Zipper: Backzip
2. XCEL Drylock
One of my personal favourite wetsuit brands is Xcel, they make high quality suits that will keep you as warm as a pig in pyjamas.
This particular model from Xcel is made from a special 100% stretch Nanoprene Lite Japanese as well as Channel Flex neoprene. With its weightless super flexible design this 5/4mm hooded wetsuit is perfect for swimming in cold water.
In fact, the material is a hydrophobic channeled textile, which basically means it can repel water. It even has special heat-retaining minerals in the chest lining which maintains warmth and is fast-drying.
The wetsuit features a 100% ultraflex neoprene in the lower body and a glide skin collar, along with an easy entry front zip design with a magnetic closure. The seams have been sealed with FusionX taping which makes them waterproof.
- Temperature Range: 38°F (3°C) and above
- Range of motion: Unrestricted
- Zipper: Front zip
3. Synergy Endorphin
This wetsuit is a no brainer if you are looking to get into triathlons. The wetsuit is suitable for all levels and is Ironman & USAT approved.
It is a 5mm thick wetsuit, which is the maximum buoyancy allowed for triathlon wetsuits. This mode creates nearly double the buoyancy than a 3mm wetsuit, which I don’t recommend for swimming in cold water.
The motto is, float higher, move faster, save energy.
The wetsuit is made from hydrodynamicneoprene made from Yamamoto #39 and #40 with SCS silicone coated SyPrene. The core is 5mm while the lower legs and back are 3mm and the arms and shoulders 2mm.
The wetsuit features a high-grade anti corrode internal zipper from YKK which greatly reduces drag as you swim through the water. The neck covering is very low with a soft cushioning material making it feel like nothing is even there.
- Temperature Range: 52°-58℉ / 11°-14℃
- Range of motion: Unrestricted
- Zipper: Internal back zipper
What to know when choosing a wetsuit for swimming in cold water
Now that I’ve covered some of the best wetsuits for swimming in cold water, let’s take a look at some of the different functionalities you should consider before purchasing your new wetsuit.
Perhaps one of the most important points to consider before buying a wetsuit. How cold is the average temperature of your water?
Usually wetsuits covering the 50°-80°F (10°-26°C) range will be suitable for most swimming/sporting activities. However if you plan on getting into colder water, it is very important that you choose a wetsuit made for such low temperatures, generally the 6mm – 7mm range covers this.
Next you’ll have to consider what you’ll actually use the wetsuit for, is it simply for swimming in cold water, or will you also do sports like triathlon, kitesurfing, or surfing?
For example, lot’s of kitesurfing wetsuits come with an added layer of rubber around the waist. This material prevents the harness from slipping up. Same goes for surfing wetsuits, they have this material on the chest (generally kitesurfing and surfing wetsuits are the same).
Triathlon requires that you use a wetsuit with a maximum buoyancy of 5mm, any more and you could be disqualified. Knowing what you’ll use the wetsuit for is pretty important.
If you just want to use the wetsuit for cold water swimming, then any low range wetsuit will do.
Wetsuits come in various styles. Full body suits (best for cold water swimming), “shorties” these wetsuits either have short arms and long legs, or both short arms and short legs.
If you plan on swimming in temperatures above 68°F (20°C) then a shorty wetsuit might just be the wetsuit for you (think of those tan lines).
However, if you aim to swim in water below below 60°F (16°C) I would recommend you to get a full body suit. You won’t have as much range of motion, however you will be 10x more insulated than if you wore a shorty.
In my opinion, large wetsuit manufacturers really make a habit out of OVER SELLING the wetsuit material they use. When reading the specs it’s like deciphering a code from the year 2100.
Most high end wetsuits use different materials, that in all honesty, you probably wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference between.
While all wetsuits are made out of neoprene, there are subtle differences that may make all the difference to you, if say you plan to compete in triathlons. Yamamoto neoprene for example, is the highest-quality neoprene fabric and is ideal for competing triathletes.
Some wetsuits have back zippers and some have front zippers, pretty much all modern wetsuits feature a sealed zipper design to let in as little water as possible.
However, if you plan to swim in the coldest of water let’s say below 50°F (10°C), you are going to want to look for wetsuits that feature a sealed and taped zipper design as this provides more insulation.
Sometimes the best wetsuit for swimming in cold water is the one stored in your dusty garage. 9 times out of 10 though, if you plan to swim in water colder than 50°F (10°C), you will need a specialized suit capable of insulating you to the fullest.
Below I’ve left you with a chart which will show you your expected time of survival depending on how cold the water is. Keep these numbers in mind when deciding on the best wetsuit for cold water.
|(°F)||(°C)||Until Exhausted||Until Unconscious|
|32.5°||0.3°||< 15 minutes||45 minutes|
|32.5–40°||0.3–4.4°||15 – 30 minutes||30 – 90 minutes|
|40–50°||3.3–10°||30 – 60 minutes||1 – 3 hours|
|50–60°||10–15.6°||1 – 2 hours||1 – 6 hours|
|60–70°||15.6–21.1°||2 – 7 hours||2 – 40 hours|
|70–80°||21.1–26.7°||3 – 12 hours||3 hours – indefinite|
|> 80°||> 26.7°||Indefinite||Indefinite|