Cold Water Wetsuits: A Buying Guide

Without wetsuits, a lot of water sports or underwater activities would be impossible to do. Water would just be too cold in the cooler regions of the world. Heck, even in some of the tropical areas, water would be too cold when you dive past a certain depth. Thus, if you want to be able to really enjoy your dive and spend enough time underwater for your dive to be worth it, you’ll need a cold water wetsuit!

These suits are literally the best way for you to keep warm when you’re enveloped by freezing aqua. But you can’t simply buy any wetsuit and wear it wherever you want – there are different kinds of suits. These things come in different kinds of styles and in different thicknesses. So how do you know which one you need and when?

Today, we’ve put together a buying guide on cold water wetsuits. In this guide, we’ll be talking about the type of gear you need for cold water. We’ll also be briefly touching on what you should be watching out for when going diving in cold temperatures. After that, we’ll help you choose from the many cold water wetsuits available. We’ll even be reviewing some of the best of the best so that you will be able to choose the right one for you.

If you want to make sure that your dive goes well, this guide is here to help you. And now, without further ado, let’s get right to it!

What Kind of Gear Do You Need in Cold Water?

cold water wetsuits

If you are going to be diving in cold water, you will certainly need the right kind of equipment for you to be able to safely enjoy yourself. Without the proper gear, it could be putting yourself in severe danger by risking hypothermia underneath the waves. There are many different things that you might need on cold water dives, but some of them are optional. Out of all of the different kinds of equipment that you could use, we will be discussing only the most essential today. We may touch on some of the more optional products, but only briefly to mention them.

Drysuits/Wetsuits

The first and probably most important thing that you will need when you go diving is your suit. You can get one of 2 different kinds: a dry suit, or a wet suit. The choice between them completely depends on the type of conditions you expect to swim in.

Wet Suits

A wet suit is exactly what you might imagine when you think of diving. It’s essentially the neoprene rubber suit that you’ve seen in most pictures and videos on television and on the internet. These wet suits come in varying styles and thicknesses for you to choose from as you wish. Some of them are made to cover your entire body from your neck all the way to your wrists and to your ankles. Others are made with short sleeves, and the legs are cut to above the knees. These suits are available in thicknesses that go all the way to 6.5 millimeters. In fact, there are a few that get even thicker than that, which are reserved for really cold dives.

Dry Suits

Dry suits on the other hand are not as well known or popular – at least not with the average Joe. Experienced divers know that dry suits are the best when it comes to really fighting off the cold underneath the waves. However, it does require a certain amount of training as well as a bunch of practice for you to be proficient at adjusting buoyancy using the suit instead of a BCD. Like what the name might suggest, you cannot get wet inside a dry suit because it is completely sealed. That’s barring, of course, any leaks that might have occurred. Furthermore, in using a dry suit you do have to use a thermal layer underneath to help keep you warm.

Rash Guards

This part isn’t exactly necessary, but yes, some people do like to wear rash guards underneath their wet or dry suits. They do this to help with adding an additional layer of warmth. Rash guards are basically what you would usually see a surfer wearing – it is usually a one or two piece set that covers the entire body. Some rash guards do come in shorter sleeves or with shorts – it all depends on your preference.

Diving Hood

Another way to add an extra layer of warmth is by using a diving hood. These are basically hooded vests let go on top of or underneath your wet suit. Their purpose is to help in keeping your torso even warmer. Furthermore, they also help to protect your neck, head comma and some parts of your face from the elements. Well they do certainly have their advantages, that’s for sure. But while this is the case to some degree, on the other hand they can mess with your mask if you don’t make sure you have a proper seal.

If you want to use a hood on top of (or underneath) your cold water wetsuit so that you can stay warmer underwater, you will need to make sure you adjust your mask properly. A secure seal must be achieved. Otherwise, you’ll be leaking into your mask underwater. This could honestly be quite a disaster when you are already down in the deep.

Gloves to Keep Your Hands Warm

Of course, you can’t fully protect your body without also protecting your extremities. This is exactly where diving gloves come in. You can choose from many different styles, thicknesses, and varieties. However, in choosing your gloves, you should make sure that they will keep your hands warm enough. Our extremities leak warmth the fastest, which is exactly why we need to make sure that they are properly insulated. You don’t want cold, freezing hands when you’re underwater and trying to adjust your gear, after all!

We’ve actually written a guide for cold water diving gloves, so if you need any help picking a pair out, check it out.

Equipment That Can Handle the Cold

In most cases, you won’t really need any special equipment on cold water dives. However, the colder the temperatures get, the more careful you have to be. You need to make sure that your equipment such as your regulator and your dive computer will be able to operate in the conditions you’re diving down to. The last thing that you want is a regulator that only lets you breathe cold air, making you severely uncomfortable 20, 30, even 40 meters down (or even deeper!). And of course, a dive computer that works properly at any temperature is ideal – otherwise you may end up having malfunctions that could end up costing you your life.

Don’t simply go with the cheapest or what the internet says is the best. Please do your research so that you can safely enjoy your dives – without risking your lives!

How Do Wetsuits Work?

cold water wetsuits

We won’t go into much, or any, detail into dry suits because that’s not what we came to write about today. Instead, we’ll be looking into cool water wetsuits instead. If you’ve always wondered how these things supposedly keep your body warm when you’re underwater, we’ve got the answer right here. Knowing this information is rather helpful and important. This is because understanding how these suits work will also allow you to better understand what kind you need and why. Hopefully, learning about all of this will help you to make a better decision or choice when you finally go to make a purchase!

How Wetsuits are Made

Wetsuits are basically made from different layers of different kinds of materials. Sometimes, only one kind of material in one layer is used, especially in thinner suits meant for temperate or warm waters. Other times like with wetsuits for cold water, you’ll see a few kinds of material in more than one layer. The reason why the materials are layered is basically for the same reason you would layer your own clothes when you are cold. It’s for the reason that wearing more than one layer of clothes keeps you warmer than just wearing a thin shirt, for example.

When it comes to choosing a wetsuit, you really need to keep your eye out for a certain kind of material. We’re talking about Neoprene – the water resistant, kind of rubbery material that many wetsuits use. Neoprene is designed to help insulate your body when you are in the water. This material contains nitrogen bubbles, which are directly embedded into it. This is greatly helpful in keeping you warm underwater. There are wetsuits made without neoprene, sure. And you can certainly purchase them. However, they simply will not be as warm as the neoprene type.

Here’s now Neoprene works; it traps your own body heat by trapping water in a very thin layer around your skin. Your body will then heat this thin layer of aqua up to help you stay warm, even when you’re down in the cold deep. Because of the way this material works, you need to find a wetsuit that is well designed with good zippers and watertight seams. If the water you warm up keeps leaking out of the suit and getting replaced by cold water, the suit simply no longer functions!

What Kind of Zipper Do I Need?

In cold water wet suits, the zipper included in the design really does matter. The reason behind this is you want to make sure that the water trapped in the suit does not leak out underwater.

Suits come with two different types of zippers. Sometimes, they’re back zippers, and other times they are chest zippers. Out of the two kinds, the one that goes on the back is the type that is more popular. The reason for this is because they’re simply much easier to use when you’re trying to put on or remove your suit. The zipper pull will come with an attached long cord, which you can use to pull the zip closed or open.

Chest zippers, on the other hand, are on the front of the suit (exactly as the name suggests). They’re harder and more time consuming to use when taking your suit on or off. However, if you really want to keep the cold water out, chest zips are usually more efficient at the job.

In choosing whether you want a front or back zipper, consider whether you will be diving on your own. If you will have somebody around to help you get your suit on and off, then a chest zip is more practical because it keeps you warmer. However, if you think that you will be alone in trying to suit up , it’s best to get a back zipper so you don’t need to struggle with anything.

Wetsuit Seals

Because of how wet suits keep you warm, they need to be absolutely watertight after the initial thin layer has already seeped in. This is why you also need to consider the kind of seal that the wet suit’s design uses. The better the seal, the warmer the suit is and the better it is for cold water diving. However, this also means that it does get more expensive, so you need to find a good balance between budget and your target.

Knowing the temperature of the water you will be swimming in can really be helpful. It will allow you to decide the type of suit and seal you need to purchase.

3 different types of stitches and seals exist in wet suit designs today. Here they are:

Stitches: Flatlock.

If you won’t be swimming in water that is cooler than about 62 degrees Fahrenheit, then you can get away with one of the wetsuits that use flatlock stitches as their seal. As an advantage, this type of design lays flat against your skin/body which can really help to prevent any discomfort. It does come at the disadvantage of possibly letting water in .

Sealed Stitches.

Every and all wet suits basically come with stitches. However, in suits that are recommended to use in temperatures that are about 55 to 62 degrees F, you do want to make sure that the stitches are also sealed. For example, stitch panels are first glued before they are blind stitched. This means that the suit is fully watertight because the stitches do not go through the material.

Sealed then Taped.

Finally, in water that is much cooler than 55 Fahrenheit, wetsuits need to be sealed. On top of that, they also need to be taped. Taping is essentially done to the seams in the interior. In doing so, the suits become more durable because of the reinforced seams. As a result, all of the water is kept out.

How Thick do Wetsuits Need to Be?

Now that we have talked about the different kinds of seals and the different types or cuts or styles of wet suits, it’s time to discuss their thicknesses. The thickness of the wet suit basically determines up to what temperature you can wear them in. This is in combination, of course, with the type of seal used by the suit. Generally and logically, the thicker your wet suit, the warmer it will keep you. Thicker wet suits do get more expensive so please keep that in mind. Furthermore, the thicker the material, the harder it may be for you to move.

To give you a quick guide on thicknesses, seals, and temperatures, here is a table. Hopefully, it will help you to narrow down your choices when it comes to your purchases.

Thickness of the Wet SuitType of SealRange of Temperature in the Water (in Fahrenheit)
0.5 mm to 2/1 mmRegular Flatlock65 degrees to 75 degrees
2 mm to 3/2 mmRegular Fltlock62 degrees to 68 degrees
3/2 mm to 4/3 mmSealed Stitches58 degrees to 63 degrees
4/3 mm to 5/4/3 mmSealed Stitches + Taped52 degrees to 58 degrees
5/4 mm to 5/4/3 mmSealed Stitches + Taped43 degrees to 52 degrees
6/5 mm to 6/5/4 mmSealed Stitches + Taped42 degrees or lower

Understanding This Table

It may seem daunting or confusing to look at the numbers and measurements listed above. However, it’s actually fairly simple – the different numbers denote varying thicknesses of the material (neoprene) on different parts of the suit. The first number is basically the thickness for the torso. The second number denotes the thickness of the material for the leg portion of the suit. And the 3rd number denotes the thickness of the material for the arms.

If you’re wondering what the numbers mean when there are only 2, it basically means that the first number is the thickness for the torso. Then comma the second number denotes the thickness of both the arms and the legs.

Here is a quick example to help you understand better:

5/4/3 means that the torso portion is 5 millimeters thick, the leg portion is 4 millimeters thick, and the arm portion is 3 millimeters thick.

5/4 means that the torso part is 5 millimeters thick, and both the leg and arms are only 4 millimeters thick (the number is shared).

With that explained, hopefully you will be able to more easily understand how to shop for wet suits. We know that there is a huge wealth of information in this guide, but it’s all to help you more easily decide!

How Do I Choose a Wetsuit?

Quite honestly, with better understanding of how wet suits work, choosing the right one becomes much easier. There are truly a few options to consider. You need to make sure that the wet suit contains or uses the material neoprene, which is what really helps to keep your body warm. After that, you need to look at the thickness of the material to know which one is the right choice. With the table that we have shared above of the various thicknesses of wet suits and the temperatures they are designed to withstand, this should become much easier for you.

You will also need to look at the types of seals used in the designs for these suits. The reason for this is because even the correct thickness won’t help if your suit is not properly sealed to keep the warm water in and the cold water out. Therefore, it is incredibly important for you to look at the thickness in combination with the type of seal the wet suit has before you purchase it for your dive.

Beyond that, the rest of it comes down to personal preference. You can choose between a wet suit that has its zipper on the front, or a suit that keeps the zipper on the back. The rest of the details such as the style or aesthetic design of the wet suit you really comes down to your own taste as well.

Recommended Cold Water Wetsuits

Now that we have discussed everything there is for you to know about cold water wetsuits, we now want to talk about the products that we can recommend. These suits are well loved by many experienced divers. Furthermore, they are also well reviewed comma and have a reputation of being rather effective at keeping you warm in the cold depths of the ocean. Of course, there are so many different suits available on the market today. For this reason, we are only able to discuss a few. However, that does not mean that there are no other suits available out there that can perform similarly.

If you are interested in a suit and it is not listed in the reviews below, just remember that you already understand what makes a good suit. With that in mind, you should be able to make a decision on whether you want to purchase something or if something else is better. With that said, here are the best cold water wetsuits we highly recommend! For this particular set of reviews, we do want to mention that we will be talking about hooded suits because they offer the most protection against the elements.

Our Favorite

Product Name: Psycho Tech 5.5mm/4mm by O’Neill

Product Description: In terms of cold water wetsuits, the Psycho Tech suit by O'Neill is arguably one of the absolute best. This suit is hooded in order to offer you even more protection against the cold temperatures. It’s not exactly cheap, coming in at a several hundred dollars. However, you certainly will get what you pay for with this suit. Let’s get into the details so that you can see just why it is worth it.

  • Quality
  • Warmth
  • Flexibility
Overall
5

Features of Psycho Tech 5.5mm/4mm by O’Neill

Thickness: 5.5mm torso, 4mm arms and legs – suitable for temperatures as low as 43 degrees Fahrenheit
Seal: Sealed and also taped
Material: Techno Butter 3 – O’Neill’s proprietary neoprene
Zipper: Zips at the chest to prevent water leakage

A Quick Look at the Psycho Tech 5.5mm/4mm by O’Neill

This suit was recently refreshed in 2019. The new release includes a lot of big changes that really helped to make this wet suit shine. For example, the company recently updated the liner as well as the internal tape that seals the suit. Now, all the seams you find inside of this Psycho Tech suit are sealed using O’Neill’s TBX3 – their specialty tape. The TBX3 is incredibly lightweight. Furthermore, it is rather flexible, and as a result it can more capably protect and reinforce seams without making the suit all stiff.

The liner of the suit, known and well loved by many as the “firewall” now also covers much more parts of the body then it ever has in the past. The firewall is essentially the internal Jersey you find in the suit. It is red in color and is incredibly comfortable and super warm as well. The liner goes from your core all the way down to your legs. Unfortunately, the arms of the suit do not have any lining. O’Neill made this decision consciously to allow better range of motion and freedom of movement.

This suit uses Techno Butter 3 (proprietary O’Neill neoprene), which makes it amazingly flexible and comfortable to wear even in the deep ocean. It is for this reason that the Psycho Tech has earned the title most flexible out of all of the cold water wet suits on the market today. The material used on this suit feels incredibly durable and can last you through many years of use. Truly, you get what you pay for when it comes to the Psycho Tech.

Pros

✔️Keeps you fully warm

✔️Sealed + taped

✔️Super durable

✔️Loved by many

✔️Extra flexible and comfortable

Cons

❌Rather pricey

❌Chest zipper makes it somewhat more difficult to put on and take off

Runner Up

Flash Bomb 5mm/4mm by Rip Curl

Features of Flash Bomb 5mm/4mm Rip Curl

Thickness: 5mm torso, 4mm arms and legs – suitable for temperatures as low as 43 degrees Fahrenheit
Seal: Sealed and also taped
Material: Neoprene
Zipper: Zips at the chest to prevent water leakage

A Quick Look at the Flash Bomb 5mm/4mm Rip Curl

Just like the Psycho Tech, Rip Curl’s Flash Bomb 5mm/4mm suit is one of the best wetsuits for cold water on the market today. It’s also been recently updated this year to include new features and improved upgrades. This suit is award-winning, and now it’s even more improved after it’s been upgraded and re-tuned.

After the update, the E5 Flash liner of the Flash Bomb now goes all throughout the entirety of the suit. The lining in this suit is the orange, fuzzy liner that you would normally find on any of Rip Curl’s wetsuits. One of the best things to remember about this suit is the fact that it dries off really incredibly quickly. In fact, it can become dry in as few as fifteen minutes. This is a fantastic reason for getting this suit when you need to be really mobile.

Like the other suits on this list, this product also comes stitched, sealed, and also taped. The tape does make the suit heavier, and somewhat tougher to move in. However, the tape used in this lining is lightweight, allowing it to be more flexible than many other suits out on the market (barring the Psycho Tech by O’Neill, of course).

<strong>PROS</strong>
✔️ Warm and comfortable ✔️ Dries really fast ✔️ Sealed + taped ✔️ Award winning ✔️ Comfortable but not as flexible as the O’Neill
<strong>CONS</strong>
❌ Chest zipper makes it somewhat more difficult to put on and take off ❌ Also rather pricey

Choosing from Cold Water Wetsuits

Looking at all the options can most certainly be daunting. There are many different features to look at that can really change how you choose which one you want or need. This is exactly why we put together this buying guide to make sure that you have as much information as you need to in order to make a more informed decision. All you need to do is remember a few things:

  • Look at thickness of the neoprene
  • Take a look at the way the suit is sealed
  • Look at where the zipper is

Once you’ve taken a look at these three things, you should be able to narrow down your list. It can then become much less daunting to choose from one of the many good wetsuits available on the market today. We hope that you were able to glean a lot of useful information from this guide. Good luck with your shopping, and we hope you have amazing dives!