Sian Lewis shares her top picks of the best cold water swimming wetsuits that will keep you cosy all year-round…
Ready for a season of open water swimming? Swimming outdoors for fitness has rocketed in popularity in the UK, and a Sport England survey reveals that over four million of us now swim for health in lakes, rivers and the ocean. Whether you’re starting to take wild swimming more seriously or are progressing to entering events or even triathlons, you’ll need one key bit of kit to keep you comfortable in the water – a great swimming wetsuit designed with cold water in mind.
A good swimming-specific wetsuit will keep your core and body warm while making sure your arms and legs have enough freedom and flexibility to keep you moving, and will ensure that your new hobby can be a year-round activity, whatever the weather.
Swimming wetsuits can be roughly divided into two categories – full-length wetsuits, suitable for year-round use, and ‘shortie’ suits without arms, legs or both, best worn for a bit of added warmth in summer. Swimming wetsuits are usually made from thick materials like neoprene and yulex rubber, which trap in heat and warm water around your body, keeping you at a comfortable temperature for longer. They have slimmer neoprene around the arms and legs, to reduce drag in the water and keep you feeling flexible as you move.
Our top six picks of the best swimming wetsuits will suit different budgets, seasons and levels of experience, but they’re all reliably cosy in the cold without stopping you from swimming freely.
6 of the best swimming wetsuits
Zone 3 Thermal Aspire Wetsuit
Best swimming wetsuit for cold water
Reasons to buy: Warm fleece lining, flexible neoprene, cosy core
Reasons to avoid: Too warm for spring-autumn swims
If you feel no fear in the face of winter and love to swim outdoors in any season, you need a great wetsuit that can handle the colder months. Our pick of the pack is Zone 3’s excellent Thermal Aspire suit.
Lined with warm heat-trapping fleece, it’s impressively warm but still flexible enough that you won’t feel restricted. 5mm of neoprene keeps your core warm while 3mm on arms and legs keeps you moving powerfully through the water.
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Orca Openwater Core wetsuit
Best swimming wetsuit for training
Sizes: 4-11, XS-XL
Reasons to buy: Bright orange panels, flexible neoprene, good price point
Reasons to avoid: Not warm enough for winter weather
If you’re taking your open water swimming up a notch and are regularly training outdoors, or even considering entering your first triathlon, you’ll definitely be in the market for your first decent swimming wetsuit.
There are a myriad of styles out there – but we reckon the perfect all-rounder is Orca’s Openwater Core. Warm enough for wear from spring through to autumn thanks to 2.5mm of neoprene, wit bright orange panels for extra visibility and with great freedom of movement to help you up your game, this is the suit to improve with.
Sola Open Water Unisex Wetsuit
Best budget swimming wetsuit
Reasons to buy: Varied sizes, portable, good value for money
Reasons to avoid: Limited warmth and flexibility
Keep it simple with this entry level suit, which gives a lot of bang for your buck at its £100 price point – the Sola suit is swimming-specific, easy to pop and off and flexible enough not to impede your strokes (but not as flexible as most premium suits).
The sizing is unisex, and plus-size women may find that the men’s Large or Medium Tall fit them better than some women’s suits, which don’t always come in varied sizes. The Sola suit is lightweight and easy to pop in a backpack, so it’s good for travel.
Decathlon Nabaiji Combi Wetsuit
Most comfortable swimming wetsuit
Reasons to Buy: bright neon panels, good comfort and warmth
Reasons to Avoid: hard to get on and off
A lot of more affordable swimming suits seem to compromise on comfort – not so Decathlon’s Combi suit, which fits so nicely you won’t notice you’ve got it on.
The downside is that it’s a bit of a struggle to actually pull this suit on and off, so it’s more suitable for swimming for fitness than competing in fast-paced triathlons.
We like the bright shoulders (orange for men, fluoro pink for women), and the Combi is warm enough to wear outdoors in three seasons. All in all, good quality for a modest price.
Dhb Aeron Lab 3.0 Wetsuit
Best swimming wetsuit for racing
Reasons to buy: top quality, easy to put on and off, great comfort
Reasons to avoid: expensive
If you’re a serious swimmer looking for excellent protection that’ll never drag you down in the water, Dhb’s premium Aeron suit will be your new second skin.
The Aeron is pricy, but it does feel fantastic to wear, and is warm enough but breathable enough that you can train in it year-round.
It’s easy to pop on and off if you’re into racing, too – you can tell it was designed with input from pro triathletes. With sizes ranging from XS to XXL it’ll also fit a winder range of swimmers than some suits.
Finisterre Nieuwland Long John/Long Jane Yulex wetsuit
Best sustainable swimming wetsuit
Material: Yulex rubber
Reasons to buy: Made from sustainable yulex, comfortable sleeveless cut, bright colour available
Reasons to avoid: Only suitable for warm weather
If you’re looking to swap your neoprene suit collection for something more sustainable, invest in yulex, a more planet-friendly option derived from rubber and with great heat-trapping properties.
Finisterre do a great range of both surfing and swimming wetsuits for men and women – our favourites for spring and summer are the Long John and Long Jane, sleeveless suits that keep your body and legs warm with 2mm of yulex and leave arms and shoulders free to glide through the water. A bright orange version is available for low light.
What we look for in the best swimming wetsuits
-Thickness: Swimming wetsuits are designed using different thicknesses of neoprene, which you’ll see rated in millimetres. Swimming wetsuits have thinner neoprene around the arms and armpits than surf suits for ease of movement, and are cut in order to reduce drag in the water. If you’re only buying one suit for casual swimming a 2mm is probably your most versatile pick. If you swim year-round, owning a full-length thermal winter wetsuit with 3 or 4mm of neoprene on the torso and a short-sleeved ‘shortie’ wetsuit of 1.5 or 2mm thickness will keep you comfortable in every season. Winter wetsuits are sometimes also lined with thermal fleece, which adds welcome extra warmth in cold conditions.
-Length: Swim wetsuits come in more designs than you might think, to suit different seasons. ‘Full’ wetsuits with long arms and legs are suitable for all seasons, while from late spring to early autumn you can swap to a ‘shortie’ wetsuit with short arms and legs, or a sleeveless or a legless wetsuit. These offer warmth around the torso with more freedom to move your arms and legs.
-Material: Most wetsuits are made of neoprene, a warm wetsuit material that’s ideal for swimmers heading out in cold conditions. This petroleum-based fabric may be good at trapping heat, but its production is not kind on the planet. If you’d like to make a more ethical purchase, there’s a new material that wetsuit makers are now using to create wetsuits – yulex rubber. This renewable, plant-based rubber is more sustainable than neoprene, but it’s still flexible, durable and has heat-holding properties, so it’s ideal for winter waters. Yulex suits are often more expensive than neoprene, however. Whatever material you go for, look after your new wetsuit by rinsing in fresh water after each wear, and leaving to dry in a shady place.
-Fit & Design: Swimming wetsuits are designed to be quick and easy to pull on and off, to suit the needs of triathletes, who need to change as fast as possible. Try your suit on in person if you can – sizes can vary greatly between brands. Some suits allow you to trim the legs and arms to fit, which is a good choice if you’re short. While most wetsuits are black (neoprene’s base colour, which offers good UV resistance), some swim wetsuits also feature bright pops of colour such as acid orange, which have the added benefit of making you easier to spot in open water, especially when used along with a tow float.
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