At MSW we have a warehouse full of the latest neoprene and we’ve gone and got ‘hands on’ with it to pick our selection of this season's most flexible summer wetsuits. This is a choice based upon our experience and knowledge, it’s not a comprehensive review conducted in a science lab, but it is honest and independent.
After years of focusing on flexibility (as we moved from the stiff old neoprenes of the past) the wetsuit industry has moved much more regularly to talking about warmth again. With better linings and thicker (but more flexible) neoprene increasingly present in the top end 3mm wetsuits. The suits tested here represent something of a new category carved out within that trend - dropping linings and taped seams and offering often understated product that focuses on flexibility first. These pared down suits can offer fantastic value as well as performance and it’s these we’re concentrating on here. You won’t see top-of-the-line offerings like the Rip Curl Flash Bomb, Xcel Drylock Powerseam or O'Neill Psycho in this test - we’ll come to those in a later review.
We’ve picked a range of suits for this guide representing something for a range of budgets, but how should you make your choice? It’s something of an open secret that many of the major brands produce their wetsuits in the same factories; this would imply that only the color and logos change, which is actually quite a way from the truth. In fact both key design differences, innovations and technology licensing arrangements with the factory means there are meaningful variations between products and a real range and choice. This is complicated by the bullshit bingo of some of the marketing. Super-mega-flex panels from one brand could well be cut from the same sheet of neoprene as hyper-stretch panels from another. It’s frustrating for the customer because this doesn’t mean that there aren’t different types of neoprene, different types of seam, and other critical differences which are genuinely worth investing the extra spend. It’s probably equally frustrating for the companies investing in producing new and innovative features and technologies.
How do you cut through the noise? There are three key factors to bear in mind:
The fact that these suits are often produced in the same small selection of factories, imported in similar shipping containers and distributed and sold in the same shops and online retail means the market is fiercely competitive. Each brand is keenly aware of its competition and this means that, whilst there are some brands offering different levels of value, the general rule is: the more you spend, the more you get, and price is a good guide to the quality of materials and level of features you can expect. Pick a price you can afford to pay. If you’re in the water regularly spending a little more will make a difference and if you can afford it a top-end suit is a luxury that probably won’t break the bank for most of us. However all the wetsuits shown here do their job and all of them will whip what you could buy a decade ago no matter what you spent, so don’t be afraid to compromise if times are tight.
We used to be told wetsuits kept us warm by trapping water against our skin. In
Fit is more important than ANY other feature or factor. You’d be better wearing the cheapest suit in this guide if it fitted, rather than the most expensive if it didn’t. fact the objective of the modern wetsuit is to ingress as little water as possible. If water is entering and moving around the suit then warmth is leaking out and cold getting in. For this reason fit is more important than ANY other feature or factor. You’d be better wearing the cheapest suit in this guide if it fitted, rather than the most expensive if it didn’t. (Although pricier suits have stretchier neoprene, meaning that a well chosen top-end suit is more likely to offer a perfect fit than one at the budget end).
A poorly fitting suit can leak in a number of critical areas: for example wrist and ankle cuffs are fairly obvious. But often overlooked is body length, crucially a wetsuit too short in the body will pull open at the front of the neck; whereas too long in the body can open up the back of the neck and cause the wetsuit to flush. All the manufacturers here have taller and shorter variants of their suits. It’s absolutely key that you check the manufacturer’s size chart carefully. Sizing isn’t consistent across brands and you’d be amazed how many surfers we talk to who have been in the wrong sized suit for years - only realising it when they finally get one that fits right.
Warmth vs Flexibility
This is the fundamental battleground. Even within the 3mm summer wetsuit market your key choice, once you’ve nailed fit and price, is how to balance these elements. If you’re in cooler waters and looking to get into that summer suit as soon as possible, key features to look out for are a thicker lining and tape sealed seams. The lining adds insulation and the tape reduces any water entry - both make the suit thicker, less flexible and typically more expensive. On the flip side you have suits absolutely aimed for flexibility and performance which only offer glued and stitched seams with no tape and completely unlined panels. These will better suit warmer waters, surfers who aren’t looking to surf extended lengthy sessions or for whom performance is key and of course, anyone on a mid-range budget.