Second Skin: The 8 Best Wetsuits

Ah, is there anything better than the sweet aroma of neoprene first thing in the morning? When that slick, sultry scent wafts into your nostrils it bears with it the promise of big waves and victory over the frigid might of the sea. Whether you are new to wetsuits or your current suit is stiff, reeks of sweat and dead fish, and is full of holes, it’s time to find a replacement that is kind to your wallet and your body. Perhaps it is just time to upgrade to one of the new experimental materials that have recently deluged the market.

Choosing a wetsuit generally comes down to just two factors: form and function. It must fit you snugly without blousing or bagging at any point and it is imperative that it keep you warm enough when your surfboard comes out to play or you’re blowing the dust off that scuba gear. While the fit is on you, finding a suit that offers warmth, flexibility, and durability is one of our specialties. From the thick-skinned for frigid waters to the lighter weights made for evening rides in balmy waters, one of the 8 best wetsuits will let you heed the call of the breakers.

Zoot Z-Force 1 0

Zoot Z-Force 1.0

Pro: Additional buoyancy for surface swimming
Con: Not very warm

Budget Triathlete: Triathlons are made to be grueling and the last thing you need as you change from one event to another is a wetsuit that is going to slow you up or drag you down while in the water. The Z-Force 1.0 has special buoyancy built right in to help keep you afloat and the skin is easy to shed even when you’re in an endorphin daze. Supple neoprene around each joint facilitates full movement for every pull, making it just as good for paddling out on a longboard as for swimming along. Kicking and body roll both feel natural, which is best for swimmers over boarders. Just don’t expect a lot in the way of warmth. [Purchase: $190+]

ONeill Mutant

O’Neill Mutant

Pro: Interchangeable hood and standard neck
Con: Short life span

Switch & Swap: The Mutant gets its name from its ability to transition from a standard fullsuit to an adept hooded suit that lets you move from cold waters to utterly freezing waters without needing a whole new rig. It’s made from the same 100% Ultraflex DS neoprene that goes into the O’Neill Psycho and is flexible in all the right places. Interchangeable seals reduce the need for flushing and fit snugly. In both 4/3mm and 5/4mm options, anyone with severe seasonal changes, or travelers looking to change their routine will soon learn that single seam system is ready for any environment. [Purchase: $289+]

Xcel Drylock

Xcel Drylock

Pro: Unbelievable waterproofing
Con: Parts are stiff

Royal Flush: Xcel’s reputation as one of the best wettie manufacturers is proven yet again with the Drylock. It’s like strapping yourself into a full-bore waterproof backpack given the impenetrable quality and bombproof durability. Expect to get two long, hard seasons out of this wetsuit, even with constant use. The front entry is practically an airlock with a waterproof zipper, pull-cord barrel lock, and snap for holding the zipper fast. Air chambered neoprene locks in body heat to keep you plenty warm in the winter months. Extra gear on the chest can make it feel heavy and some parts are a little stiff when you don this for the first time. Dries quickly. [Purchase: $300]

Rip Curl Flash Bomb

Rip Curl Flash Bomb

Pro: Fast drying and light
Con: Zip-free models can be tricky to get into

Motion Capture: Able to stand out in Rip Curl’s long and storied history, the newest Flash Bomb is a revelation when it comes to true motion flexibility due to the E4 neoprene. It would be easy to forget you’re even wearing it if it weren’t for the plush insulation which keeps you warm and nearly bone dry. We preferred the zip-free model, but even with a zipper, you’re still getting a full range of motion without weird binding or strain. Great for the intense stand up paddleboard rider and pleasant for surfers who need something that can bend. [Purchase: $361+]

Billabong Xero Furnace

Billabong Xero Furnace

Pro: Handles very cold conditions
Con: Can actually get too hot

Best Balance: Probably one of the best wetsuits for just about any purpose, this begins with a dry max furnace lining that will keep you toasty on the worst of days. The xero foam is infused with oxygen which is one of the best insulators out there, but it also keeps weight low and allows for more stretch as you move. An external enveloping membrane reduces water invasion from every angle, but the zipper isn’t flawless so you’ll get the tiniest of leaks, which is to be expected. Overall, you’ll easily find this to be a best buy for year-round use. [Purchase: $368+]

Radiator Diverter Dive

Radiator Diverter Dive

Pro: Expensive if you don’t live near dangerous waters
Con: Back zip

Shark Repellent: This piece from the Australian manufacturer is intended to not only be a good wetsuit with 4 layers of coverage that keeps you warm, but also meant to keep you safer from waterborne predators. The striped design isn’t just meant to make you a hit on the beach, it’s built to deter sharks from attacking you. You’ll look like another apex predator which will buy you precious time to get out of the water when the Jaws music cues up. Blind stitched, glued, and sealed seams keep water out. Tack on a closed cell neoprene core and titanium lining and this ratchets up durability as well as comfort and safety. [Purchase: $378]

ONeill Pyrotech

O’Neill Pyrotech

Pro: Includes external key pocket
Con: Needs bonded seams

Under the Hood: You can just get the hooded version of most wetsuits, but for one that is a dedicated hooded wonder, the Pyrotech is going to be your best buy. Made from Technobutter neoprene this cuts down on weight and water retention while giving you plenty of movement at the joints. You’ll be amazed at how well it retains warmth as you head into deeper, colder waters. Not for the faint of heart or the summer surfing crowd, this is easy to use, comfortable, and truly a revolution in hooded wetsuits. You’ll never feel that the hood is choking or binding like many of this ilk. [Purchase: $387+]

Quiksilver FUSEFLEX

Quiksilver FUSEFLEX

Pro: Tight water seals
Con: Internal issues beneath the arms

Ultimate Insulation: Thermal air chambers and neoprene plus Bio-Fleece give the newest Fuseflex warmth that will astound the surfer who wants to catch a wave between the antarctic ice floes. Fused seams keep the whole body from being able to leak. There’s not a pinhole to be had anywhere on this sleek wetsuit. Smoothie neoprene on the chest and back pick up sunlight to help absorb even more warmth and let you recharge and reheat as you paddle out. The warmth is slightly offset by a tightness in the shoulders and a tendency for glue underneath the arms to sometimes crack, causing irritation at a precious pressure point. [Purchase: $435]