Let’s face it. It can’t always be sunny and warm if you are looking for the best waves out there. Most of the time you won’t be completely rash free either. That’s why we’ve made this surf wetsuit and rash guard buyer’s guide to make sure that you can spend as much time in the water without worrying about the elements. From 7mm neoprene full body wetsuits to short sleeve rash guards – we’ve got you covered!

”Choosing the right wetsuit depends on the conditions you are facing.”

Difference between surf wetsuits and rash guards

Rash guards come in many styles and thicknesses and are mostly used in water sports such as surfing. They are made from Lycra and protect your stomach and chest from board rash and sunburns. Some surfers also use neoprene tops with their wetsuit to increase warmth around your vital organs. 

Wetsuits, on the other hand, are made of Neoprene. it offers an elastic, rubber-like feel and provides more warmth. Therefore it is better suited for colder conditions where your skin needs both insulation and protection. Perfect for those Fall days when the water is still warm but the air is getting chilly. Let’s also not forget that surf wetsuits also offer great UV-protection while you are out on the sea. 

Zipping up your wetsuit

Wetsuit have four different zip styles; back zip, front zip, chest zip or no zip at all. They all have their pros and cons and can make a huge difference to your performance. So, let’s take a closer look at them.

Back zips open up from your neck to your lower back. This makes it easier to put on or off, which is a great option for beginners. Keep in mind that most zipper technologies are not waterproof, so back zip models should be used in milder temperatures.

Front zips on the other hand open from your neck down towards your belly. Just like with back zips, the large opening makes it easier to put on of take off. These designs are also mostly made for milder climates. Front zips are more common for women’s springsuits, but there are some options for men as well. One thing to keep in mind is that sometimes a front zipper can put unwanted pressure on your chest.

Chest zips run diagonally across your chest right under the neck. While they can be more difficult to put on, it’ll pay you back with significantly increased insulation. Having one big piece of neoprene hugging your back and shoulders really makes a difference. That’s why chest zip wetsuits are best used in colder conditions.

No zip wetsuits don’t have a zip at all. And yes, they are the hardest designs to put on. However, you will have the most comfort and mobility when there are no zippers producing unwanted pressure on your skin. No zip wetsuits are also the crème de la crème of surf wetsuits and manufacturers usually offer these designs with their premium neoprene. As a downside, you need to be prepared to spend a pretty penny on them.

Cheap neoprene wetsuits can rip easier than others. A quality wetsuit will last you a long time. 

Wetsuit seams and other tech

Wetsuit manufacturers use different technologies and seam designs to create a more waterproof, flexible and durable models. Most high-end surf wetsuits have an anatomical fit that moves with your body. The seams are stitched together in areas that do not require flexibility. Therefore enhancing the durability and reducing chafing. 

Flatlock seams

Flatlock seams are used to stitch neoprene panels to each other. This seam is very strong and flexible but not waterproof. That is why this style is good for warmer climates where you need some of that colder water to cool you off. 

Taped seams

Taped seams are used to glue together two panels from the inside of the wetsuit. The tapes are very light and elastic and provide added durability, water-resistance and comfort. Sometimes you can also tape together a ripped seam or use it as an added layer in areas with a lot of wear-and-tear. 

Glued and blind stitched seams

Glued and blind stitched, or GBS, seams are created by first gluing two neoprene panels together and then blind stitching them through the glued area. This creates a more waterproof seam compared to flatlock or taped seams. Some brands use this stitching method multiple times for added water-resistance, strength and durability. 

Liquid seal seams

Now we’re cooking! Liquid seals are the best option for water proof seams and therefore a great fit for colder temperatures. However, the can also be more expensive.

Surf wetsuit linings

Sometimes neoprene alone is not enough to keep you warm. That’s why some manufacturers use thermal linings on some of their models. They are light, stretchy and water-resistant. They even dry fast after using them. Thermal liners are getting more and more advanced which means that you can use thinner wetsuits in colder temperatures. This, on the other hand, results in better mobility in the water. 

Reinforced knees

Reinforced knees provide a second layer of neoprene for added protection. It also makes the wetsuit last longer, which makes it a good choice for beginners and experienced surfers alike. 

Thicker wetsuits offer more insulation but they are also stiffer to move in.

Dress for the weather

Choosing the right wetsuit depends on the conditions you are facing. The colder it gets, the thicker your wetsuit should be. Wetsuits can be used in a variety of different conditions depending on the lining, water & wind repellency and construction. Colder weather models have long legs and arms to keep you warm. The most harsh conditions require a full suit with a hood as well as booties. Surf wetsuits should offer a snug fit. If it is too tight, it’ll restrict your movement. Too loose and you’ll get more drag on the water as well having a bunch of cold water inside your suit. 

Springsuits and shorties

Springsuits and shorties are the thinnest wetsuits with varying leg and sleeve lengths. Thus, making them best suited for warmer conditions. Another great thing about springsuits and shorties is that they rarely move on your skin. You’ll surely be comfortable all day with these wetsuits.

3/2mm wetsuits

The 3/2mm wetsuits are the most versatile surf wetsuits on the market today. That is also why they are the most commonly sold models that you can find. 3/2mm wetsuits are great for medium to warm water temperatures. They will not overheat too much but can still offer enough insulation for surfing in colder regions as well. A full body wetsuit, or a steamer, covers your full body with the exception of your head and hands. You can also find steamers with reinforced knees and elbows as well as flexible neck, ankle and wrist seals. For really cold temperatures you can also look at some hoodies, gloves and booties. 

4/3mm wetsuits

4/3mm wetsuits are a step further in terms of thickness and insulation. These versions are best suited for water temperatures of 12 – 17°C (54°F – 63°F). You can also find optional hoods, gloves and booties with similar thicknesses to keep you warm in any temperature. More on those below.

5 and 6mm wetsuits

Okay, it’s starting to get really chilly out there! Full wetsuits with 5/3 – 6/4mm are made for the most extreme temperatures that you can face. Keep in mind that with steamers as thick as these, you really need to wear a hood, gloves and booties as well. Additionally, the thicker the neoprene is, the harder it is to move in them. 

”Thermal liners are getting more and more advanced which means that you can use thinner wetsuits in colder temperatures.”

Wetsuit thickness chart

We’ve made a nice wetsuit chart to make your life easier. The thickness is measured in millimeters (mm). If you look at surf wetsuits online, you might be confused by measurements such as 3/2. The first number shows the thickness of the torso and the second one describes the thickness of the limbs. Some full wetsuits may even have a third number, which describes the thickness of the leg section.


The same 3/2 wetsuit is 3mm thick on the torso, 2mm thick on the limbs.

The material on the torso is usually thicker for enhanced warmth to your vital organs. Thinner material on the limbs also enhances maneuverability.

Water temperature (C) Water temperature (F) Wetsuit style
Over 23°C Over 73° Boardshorts and a rash guard (if needed)
19 – 23°C 66°F – 73°F Shorty or springsuit
15 – 20°C 59°F – 68°F 3/2 wetsuit
12 – 17°C 54°F – 63°F 4/3 wetsuit and booties
9 – 12°C 48°F – 54°F 5/3 or 5/4 wetsuit, booties and hood
Under 9°C Under 48°F 6/4 wetsuit, booties and hood

Hoods, gloves ’n booties

Gloves are a crucial part of your setup in colder climates. They come in three different versions; 5-finger, 3-finger and mitten versions. While 5-finger models are the most handy in the water, they will not be as warm as mittens. 

Hoods protect your head against the cold water and howling winds. They vary in both design and thickness so be sure you check out different brands and models before buying. 

Booties are handy for cold water as well as reef spots. Booties are often made from rubber, which keeps your feet safe from sharp corals among other things. The durable rubber bottom is usually paired with a thin neoprene mesh to keep things comfy and cool. The rubber will also provide added traction with your surfboard. For the coldest temperatures you might want to opt for a thicker 3-5mm bootie. 

Rashies also provide UV-protection but little insulation.

Rash guards help prevent chafing and sunburns

Rash guards, also known as ”rashies” or ”UV tops”, are usually made of Lycra or spandex which is a mixture of polyester, and polyurethane. They aim to provide warmth, sun protection and, of course, rash protection. Nowadays, almost all quality rash guards are stitched together with flat-locked seams. This sits closer to the skin and significantly reduces chafing. In short, say goodbye to rashy nips caused by the waxy surface of your surfboard.

If you are feeling frisky, you might even wear one under a wetsuit for really cold weather. This will also reduce skin irritation of your wetsuit. On the other hand, for warmer climates you could make do with just wearing a rash guard. Whereas sunscreen can wash off in the water, rash guards also offer some UV-protection. Most rashies offer 50+ UPF sun protection which makes them ideal for kids and adults alike. However, we suggest you check the specs of the exact product you are looking for before buying. This way you can save yourself from some nasty sunburns. 

Thermal rash guards

As you might expect, thermal rash guards offer the added benefit of warmth for those chilly morning sessions. They are the perfect choice for in-between weather, when it is too cold for bare skin and too warm for a full wetsuit. Usually these thermal or ”thermo” rash guards are made from neoprene and they vary in thickness. The thicker the fabric, the more insulation they offer. 

Stay protected from the sun

Nothing is worse than staying indoors when the waves are pumping. That’s why we urge you to do some research before buying. The better the UV-protection, the safer you are from the sun. This also directly affects how much time you can spend on the water. So, check out the manufacturer for more information about the UV-protection. 

Find the right fit and style 

Whether going for a long sleeve, t-shirt or a vest model, is completely up to you. Some surfers enjoy a more snug close-fit while others are used to rocking loose-fit rash guards. If you are one of the latter, feel free to go up a size. Short-sleeve versions offer better mobility whereas long-sleeved ones provide more rash protection. All of these different factors have their pros and cons, so be sure to test out what suits you the best! Another good thing to remember is that sizing often varies from brand to brand. So make sure you get the right size. 

Surf tees

Loose-fit rash vests are also known as surf tees. Which are especially good if you have the chance to ride waves in the tropics. The benefits of surf tees are that they reduce board rash and provide UV-protection even when wet – something that normal t-shirts don’t do. However, loose-fit surf tees shouldn’t be worn under your wetsuit. 

Should I buy a rash guard or a wetsuit?

While this is obviously up to personal taste, the most used rashies are the short sleeve close fit ones. You can use it both on warmer temperatures as well as under a wetsuit. If you have money to spend, you can even get a loose fit for warmer climates and a close fit one to put under your wetsuit. 

Which one do you think suits you the best, a rash guard or a wetsuit?

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