Best Wetsuits For Cold Water

November 05, 2017

So, you’re ready to reap some of the benefits of cold water swimming but you know you need a wetsuit to really get the most out of it. While has a lot of wetsuits available for both men and women, it can be hard to know what kind of wetsuit will serve your needs the best. Fortunately, we’re here to help! We’ll break down the things you need to consider before buying a wetsuit for colder water so you can be confident that you made the right decision!

How Does a Wetsuit Work?

Before choosing your wetsuit, it can be helpful to understand how exactly the suit works, so you know what to expect when you choose one. Wetsuits are made out of layers of various materials, working similarly to the way wearing layers of clothing works better than a single layer on a cold day. However, there is one material used in a wetsuit that you really need to consider when making your purchase.

That material is called Neoprene, which is a rubbery, water resistant material that is designed to insulate you in water. It has nitrogen bubbles embedded in the material itself, which allows it to insulate you in cold temperatures. You can buy wetsuits without neoprene but you just won’t be as warm without it.

Neoprene works with your body’s own heat to trap a thin layer of water around your skin which your body heats up. This layer keeps your body heat in, allowing you to stay warm in even the most frigid waters! However, that water needs to seap in as you swim, and stay there, without leaking back out. If you flush water out while you swim, you lose all that water you heated up previously and will be colder quicker.

Fortunately, this can be minimized depending on the zipper you choose for your wetsuit and the seams that are used to sew it all together.


Wetsuits come in two zipper styles: back zipper and chest zipper. The back zipper is the more common of the two, and is self-explanatory. The zipper is in the back of the suit, and comes with a long cord that you can use to zip yourself in. These are popular because they tend to be easier to put on than a chest zipper, but because the zipper itself doesn’t have any flex to it, it can be hard to swim as naturally as you may want. Plus, if the zipper isn’t tight, you can end up with the “ice down the spine” feeling more often than not.

The chest zipper opens in the front, and instead of stepping into the wetsuit from behind, you pull the wetsuit over your body. You step in, pull it over your legs, up your waist, over your shoulders, and zip it around your neck. This is more difficult and time consuming than a back zipper, but it does not pull as much on the back and is better at keeping cold water out of the suit.


The type of seal a wetsuit has affects both the warmth of the suit and the price, as generally the better protection against the cold, the more expensive the wetsuit becomes. There are three different types of seals/stitches for wetsuits:

  • Flatlock Stitches--Recommended for use in water warmer than 62 degrees fahrenheit. Lies flat against your body, preventing discomfort, but may let in water.
  • Sealed--Recommend for use in water that is 55 degrees fahrenheit and higher. Consists of stitch panels that are glued and then blind stitched, meaning that the stitch does not go all the way through neoprene, and instead comes out the side it went in, making it watertight.
  • Sealed and Taped--Recommended for water that is 55 degrees fahrenheit and below. A step above sealed stitching, this takes it a step further by taping the interior seam. This adds durability, reinforces the seam, and prevents all water from seeping through.

Before going in on a cold swim, make sure you have some idea of the water’s temperature. That will help you make sure the wetsuit you choose will meet your needs.

Full Body Wetsuits

While you can get wetsuits of varying styles, if you are going for a cold swim, you will want as much coverage as possible. You may even want to invest in gloves and booties as necessary to stay warm in the frigid waters.

Wetsuit Thickness

Perhaps the most important part of your wetsuit buying decision is to determine how thick you want your suit. The thicker the material your wetsuit is made of, the warmer it will be. However, it will also be more expensive as well.. The key is finding the middle ground that will serve your needs.

Water Temperature Range Wetsuit Thickness  Seal Type
65°- 75° 0.5 mm - 2/1 mm  Flatlock
62°- 68° 2 mm - 3/2 mm Flatlock
58°- 63° 3/2 mm - 4/3 mm Sealed
52°- 58° 4/3 mm - 5/4/3 mm Sealed and Taped
43°- 52° 5/4 mm - 5/4/3 mm Sealed and Taped
42° and below 6/5 mm - 6/5/4 mm Sealed and Taped

Measuring Thickness

If you are looking at those numbers in the chart confused at what they mean, you aren't alone! Fortunately, it's fairly simple. A wetsuit that is 6/5/4 mm for example, uses different thicknesses of neoprene depending on what part of the body it's on. For example, you will want thicker neoprene around the torso both to keep you warm and because the torso does not need as much movement as, say, the arms.

So, for a 6/5/4 mm wetsuit, that means that the torso is 6 mm thick, the legs are 5 mm, and the arms are 4 mm. This order is universal. If the suit has only two values, for example, 4/3 mm, that means that the torso is 4 mm thick and both the arms and legs are 3 mm. 

Have Fun!

If you keep all this in mind, you’ll find yourself with a solid wetsuit that will keep you warm in even the coldest of waters. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and swim!

Add A Comment