Women's Wetsuit Guide: Brands, Fitting, Style & More
Ah, the wetsuit: leaving nothing to the imagination since 1951.
Originally developed alongside the US Navy and with surfing wetsuit godfatherhood generally placed firmly on Jack O’Neill’s shoulders, the one thing everyone inherently knows about wetsuits is that when the waves you’re after are in a veritable ice bath of ocean, they somehow keep you warm enough to survive your sesh.
But how do these neoprene miracle suits work?
How are they supposed to fit?
Which thicknesses are best for cold water winter surfing vs warm region surfing during a colder or windier part of the day?
In this women’s wetsuit guide, we’ll answer some of the most pressing questions surrounding fit, function, and the difference between men’s and women’s wetsuits, and drop some useful suggestions on styles by the top brands in wetsuit technology.
Women’s Wetsuit Guide — FAQs
What is the difference between men’s and women’s wetsuits?
Though there is no one body size or type for men and women, the general rule is that men’s body’s tend to follow a more rectangular shape with broad shoulders and square hips on a long, linear torso that requires a bit more room in the crotch.
Women tend to be gifted with curves of all sizes and slimmer shoulders, and the neoprene patterning and stitching on women’s wetsuit design allows for it.
The most important part about buying a wetsuit is to try it on — for your particular body shape, different sizes in women’s offerings across different brands could leave you with excess fabric bunching on some where others don’t.
If you’re a woman with more petite or athletic features and none of the women’s suits are fitting right, you may just be a unicorn of a size that best fits in a wetsuit marked men’s.
The only wrong wetsuit for you is the one that fails to keep you warm and comfortable out there.
How do you measure yourself for a wetsuit?
Going into the shop with the below measurements is the best way to make your wetsuit hunt faster and more accurate, so grab that soft tape measure:
Measure around the fullest part of your chest.
Measure the natural waistline just below your rib cage.
Measure the fullest part of your booty where it meets the top of your legs.
Height and Weight
It's always helpful when choosing surf equipment so you can give a shop employee the most info to help you get what you need.
How should the wetsuit fit, and is your wetsuit size similar to your clothing size?
Wetsuits are known for their second-skin nature, so squeezing in and out of them isn’t a particularly glamorous task and every inch of your silhouette will be on display, but the result of that tight fit is that the wetsuit will take on the tiniest amount of water once you’re out there, which warms to align with your body temperature and create a sealed insulation against the cold.
If you try on a wetsuit that leaves a pocket for air and excess water to gather under your arms or around your torso, you won’t be as warm as you should be.
At the other extreme, avoid a size that restricts your natural surf motion, and incorporate movement like practice pop-ups, standing arm paddling, and the twists, compressions, and extensions that mimic your surfing.
The long sleeves should end at the wrist and the full leg styles should go to the ankle. As for the similarity to clothing size, it could (and likely will) be completely different because this is a completely different garment meant to fit your whole body in one go.
Look up or ask a shop employee what size would be closest to your measurements and then start trying on across brands and sizing up and down as needed to find that snug, effective fit.
What should you wear under your wetsuit?
To go commando or not to go commando, that is the question — and the choice is yours. Particularly in warm-water regions, feeling like you’re a whisper away from surf streaking could be exhilarating, grounding, and empowering, but it may help to have a changing towel to avoid accidental actual streaking if this is your jam.
However, a common truth to keep in mind about wetsuits is that wet neoprene can be a breeding ground of yeast, and given the sensitive pH balance of a woman’s nether-regions it is generally a smart move to at least wear a bathing suit bottom under your wetty.
Non-tying is best for both the bottom and top of bikinis, or a secure one-piece could help you feel fully secure and comfy in your armor against icy waters.
Back zip vs chest zip, hood vs no hood, which style and thickness?
Now that you’ve determined your approximate size and fit, it’s time to iron out the details to zero in on the best wetsuit for your specific needs. Wetsuits that zip vertically up the spine are without question easier and more elegant to get on and off, but that ease also leaves room for water to get in.
So for cold water and winter surfing, the more challenging (at first) chest zip will ensure that you won’t get surprise ice baths on your duck dives and stay warm throughout your surf.
As for hooded wetsuits for cold water and winter surfs, the hood can make a world of difference in water under 60 F (having your hair is braided or in a low bun will offer the most hood comfort for long-haired ladies), but if you lower the hood it could cause a rash as its bunched behind your neck.
Adding a hooded rash shirt to a thicker wetsuit can offer the best of both worlds. Finally, there’s the style (spring suit vs full suit) and thickness, which should be selected based on where you plan to surf and its conditions (water and air temperature, wind and weather patterns), how long you like to be out, and your personal tolerance for cold.
Spring suits vary widely in looks, but are generally 1 to 2 mm thick and either lack coverage on the arms, legs, or both, making them ideal for colder days in tropical locales or hotter days in places with colder water.
Full suits that cover all appendages and the chest come in varying thicknesses to match different levels of cold.
If the millimeter measurement has two numbers, like a 3/2, 4/3, or 5/4, it’s because the thickness of the neoprene over the chest and torso is slightly thicker than the neoprene over the arms and legs.
The easy 3/2 will support you from water temps in the 60s, and then increase the level of thickness with each ten-degree drop (or less, if your comfort level calls for it), and add a hood, gloves, and booties as needed.
Women’s Wetsuits Guide — Big Brands
Patagonia is named for the icy region in Chile and leads the game in cold weather apparel, so you know you can trust them to make wetsuits that work.
The other great thing about Patagonia is that many of their wetsuits feature Yulex, a proprietary natural rubber that’s more sustainable than neoprene and is used for everything from rash shirts to booties to spring suits of all sorts and right up to full suits, even hooded ones.
This brand is at the top end of the price scale, but if you have the budget for it quality really counts when it comes to getting wetsuits that will last.
Remember that tiny bit of wetness that warms to your body and creates insulation?
Some wetsuits, especially ones with older neoprene, can take on a bit too much and end you session prematurely by failing to protect and insulate.
Not O’Neill’s Hyperfreak wetsuit series: this line of full suits combines hydrophobic TechnoButter 3x neoprene with a lightweight foam core and sneaky drainage holes to keep you properly insulated throughout your surf.
All of that along with a seamless design in the areas that move during paddling have earned this series from the most classic brand the title of Wetsuit of the Year.
Trusted by pros like Stephanie Gilmore, Kelia Moniz, and Vahine Fierro, Roxy is known to offer effective, comfortable, and supremely stylish wetsuits for all seasons and regions.
Their Synchro Series is available in many cold water and spring suit options, and offers lightweight, flexible warmth with their StretchFlight 2 neoprene, an eco-friendly limestone derivate that’s made from scrap tires and decreases this wetsuit’s CO2 emissions by 24%.
While Billabong’s Salty Dayz springsuit line will keep you comfy while also supporting the use of recycled materials, it’s their Furnace Comp and Synergy lines that will keep you toasty in frigid waters while still utilizing recycled materials (including Yulex).
Lined with Graphene, a Nobel Prize-winning material that’s used in everything from batteries to medicine to, yes, wetsuits, these suits are proven to warm up faster and stay warm longer (even after you’re out of the water!).
The Bottom Line: Choosing the Right Wetsuit
This women’s wetsuit guide is just the nitty-gritty basics to get you started.
Once you’re actually on the hunt for your wetty armed with this new knowledge (and prepared to for sure try on before you buy), you’ll notice there are swaths of high-quality brands beyond the ones mentioned here, and you may even luck into a never-worn or like-new option with a price to write home about on Facebook Marketplace.
Your measurements are your map, your knowledge of fit and thickness your compass, and like Goldielocks you’ll know when you find it which wetsuit feels just right.