If you're taking part in winter wind-powered watersports such as dinghy sailing, wind surfing, and kite surfing, getting the best cold water wetsuit is vital as it is inevitable you will get wet writes Sue Pelling
For watersports activities, the correct heat retaining, technical clothing is imperative, particularly in the winter when the water temperature can drop to as low as 7°C. If you want to stay out on the water through the colder months then you will need to buy a winter-specific cold water wetsuit.
Being exposed to cold and wet without the correct clothing is not only extremely uncomfortable, but could also lead to serious health issues such as hypothermia.
Types of cold water wetsuit
Neoprene wetsuits (longjohns) or steamers (generally full length with long sleeves and high fitting collar) that fit like a second skin are among the most popular options not least because of their heat retaining properties.
The soft, rubberised technical fabric, designed to retain body heat by trapping a thin layer of water between your skin and the fabric, also provides a bit of ‘armoured’ protection to help guard against bumps and bruises.
Not only is important to choose the correct neoprene thickness, depending on the water temperature, it is also important to choose a wetsuit that’s fit for purpose.
Generally speaking for a cold water wetsuit you need between 3.2–5.3mm neoprene thickness and, although most wetsuits/steamers are fairly versatile, it is wise to choose one designed specifically for the sport intended.
For dinghy sailing, choose one that has reinforcements in the seat and knees, the areas that are exposed to friction. Also you’ll find dinghy sailing wetsuits are generally constructed using slightly thinner neoprene under the arms and high stress areas to aid flexibility and to help avoid pinching.
Finally if you are likely to be taking part in a particularly active sport where spending long periods of time submerged is unlikely (dinghy, windsurfing and kite racing would all fall broadly into this category) you’ll probably want a longjohn cold water wetsuit which will keep your arms free for movement.
However, if you are a beginner and are likely to spend more time in the water or you also participate in a sport like surfing or cold water swimming, you’ll be better served by a steamer of other full wetsuit option that provides full body coverage at the expense of some upper body movement.
Best cold water wetsuits
Decathlon Dinghy 500 Women’s Sailing GBS 3/2 mm Neoprene Wetsuit
The Tribord DG500 neoprene steamer-style wetsuit, designed specifically for women, is made of 3mm neoprene, which Decathlon say is ‘an ideal option for winter racing’. Like all Tribord products, the DG500 offers good value, and has been developed and tested by the company’s design teams at 47°Nautik sailing school, France.
For ease of access, there is a zip down the back of the suit, with a flap of neoprene underneath to help reduce the shock effects of water ingress. All seams are constructed using the blind stitch and glue method. And to improve flexibility, the suit has been cut using lighter fabric in the arms and chest area, a feature that is particularly important for when sailing high-performance race boats.
Reinforcement below the knees, seat and thighs not only helps with wear and tear in friction-prone areas, but also aids comfort.
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Gul Mens Code Zero 4/3mm Chest Zip Dinghy Wetsuit
Gul is one of the first companies to come to mind when choosing a wetsuit, so it’s not surprising there is a good option for the dinghy sailor. The Code Zero wetsuit is designed and developed using Revo Fit 3D pattern technology. Manufactured using a combination of Fx:Lite Thermal and Fx:Lite neoprene, Gul says it has produced one of its most durable and warmest suits ever.
As well as the usual glued and blind stitched seams it has the addition of a high stretch G-Tape neoprene tape for improved durability and waterproofness. Specifically for the dinghy sailor, Gul uses Flextex – an abrasion resistant fibre fabric – on the seat, as well as Powertex S-Shield on the knees and shin area to offer increased protection and flexibility. Other features include a chest zip for easy entry, and a discreet P-Eazy fly relief system for convenience during a long day on the racecourse.
Osprey Men’s Zero Wetsuit
The Osprey men’s Zero Wetsuit is a great option as an entry level cold water wetsuit for those who are just starting out on their winter watersports journey.
The Zero range has been specifically created with beginner and intermediate surfers in mind, but it will do the job whatever watersport you are taking up – or will be good for the budget conscious sailor, windsurfer, kitesurfer or paddleboarder who is not looking to be too active.
The Osprey Zero features 5mm thick neoprene insulation across the chest, 4mm super stretch zones surrounding the sleeves, and shoulders and lower legs providing plenty of thermal insulation and flexibility that make it ideal for the colder months of the year.
The 4mm Supratex knee pads offer further protection and improve comfort during long sessions in the water. It’s packed with many of the features you would expect for a more expensive suit, such as: super stretch collar; anti-rub openings and durable zip closure for improved convenience and comfort.
It may not have all the bells and whistles of some of the highest end suits and it may not be quite as flexible, but if you’re looking for a wetsuit that will keep you warm in winter without breaking the bank this would be a good option.
Best sailing, paddleboarding and windsurfing cold water wetsuits
Gill Men’s ZenTherm Skiff Suit
Gill has always been ahead of the game when it comes to designing specialised dinghy sailing technical clothing and the Men’s ZenTherm Skiff Suit is a prime example.
In its manufacturing process Gill uses 3mm Ecoflex limestone neoprene. The calcium carbonate from the limestone used to make limestone neoprene is apparently less harmful to the environment than its petroleum counterpart and has improved heat retaining qualities, which makes it is ideal for colder temperatures.
Gill has designed ZenTherm Skiff Suit to offer a good balance between performance and comfort. The skin-tight fit is made possible thanks to its zip-free design and extremely flexible 4-way stretch fabric that also allows for a full range of movement when racing.
If you are looking for a multi-purpose suit for other watersports such as stand up paddleboarding, kayaking or windsurfing, this is also good option.
Musto Flexlite Alumin longjohn
The Flexlite Alumin longjohn 2.5MM from Musto may sound a bit too thin for cold water sailing but Musto tell us it uses its unique Flexlite Alumin technology that not only makes the warmth benefit the equivalent of wearing a 4mm to 4.5mm standard wetsuit, but it is also incredibly light and flexible for high-octane racing.
So what is Flexlite Alumin technology? And how does this compare to standard three-layer neoprene where a sheet of neoprene is bonded between two fabrics – the durable outer fabric and insulating inner fabric? According to Musto, Alumin is the fourth layer, which sits between the neoprene and the inner fabric. The idea is that it regulates body temperature, keeping you warmer for a lot longer.
Other features include durable anti-abrasion nylon-faced neoprene on the seat, back of the thighs and knees, plus quick drying plush backer in the chest and back area.
In her summing up of the Flexlite Alumin suit she wears, double Olympic Gold medallist Hannah Mills MBE says, “it’s an amazing product… Although more expensive than some others in the Musto selection, it provides a super high-quality neoprene which would last for years.”
Zhik Mens Superwarm V Skiff Suit
Zhik, known for its expertise in the design and manufacture of dinghy specific technical wear, is a good company to consider when choosing a cold water wetsuit. The men’s version of the Superwarm V Skiff Suit longjohn is designed with the active sailor in mind. It features a 3D body-mapped and ergonomic fit, and Zhik say 3-2mm neoprene construction offers ‘great warmth in the coldest conditions’.
The targeted super-stretch panelling in the upper body allows for ultimate comfort and flexibility and, the Zhiktex II’s specially designed panels on the knees and seat area provides superior abrasion resistance for comfort and increased suit longevity.
Like all well manufactured wetsuits, it has glued and blind stitched seams and the soft, fast-drying fleece on the inside of the neoprene is also a cozy addition.
Rooster Supertherm 4mm Longjohn
This Supertherm 4mm Longjohn wetsuit is designed to work in conjunction with the Rooster Supertherm Top as an ideal combination for extreme cold conditions.
Using fabrics that have less environmental impact including limestone based neoprene, recycled Polyester, and water-based glue during construction, Rooster has come up with this new generation wetsuit that is proving extremely popular.
It may not be the cheapest on the market but its well thought out design to achieve not only optimum warmth, but also to include dinghy sailing specific features, makes it a real consideration when looking for a cold water wetsuit.
Among some of the suit’s special features are a triple layer construction crotch relief flap, articulated (pre-bent leg shape) for a more streamlined fit, and a quick dry thermal lining throughout. There is also a super wicking heat boost panel on the inside chest, which is designed to work well with the Supertherm Top.
Mention should also be made that the suit is ProHike Pad compatible, which means it is a particularly good choice for use on hiking dinghies where you need a bit of extra protection.
Magic Marine Racing 3mm Blindstitched longjohn cold water wetsuit
Another good, dinghy sailing option wetsuit is this Magic Marine cold water longjohn, which has 4WaySupertex reinforced seat, shinbone and knees. Also, like the Rooster suit, this one is hiking pad compatible, which means there is an option to purchase Magic Marine’s Propads for when you need a bit of relief from sitting out.
Manufactured using 3mm blind stitched M-Flex neoprene with honeycomb thermal lining, the suit is designed to be ultra flexible. Magic Marine say ‘the additional warmth provided by the honeycomb lining allows us to use a thinner neoprene but keep the same warmth of a thicker suit’. The idea is a lighter, more flexible suit but just as warm.
Other features include the all-important relief zipper, easy entry shoulder straps with hook and loop closure adjustment, and water drainage holes on lower back panel.
Buy it now from Coastal Watersports
Cold water swimming wetsuits
O’Neill Epic 4/3mm Back Zip GBS Wetsuit
As you’d expect from the world’s largest wetsuit manufacturer, O’Neill their wetsuits can be relied upon to deliver quality cold water wetsuits.
The Epic range is actually the brand’s entry level category but that doesn’t mean it is without plenty of extras, in fact this Epic 4/3mm suit has many fof the features you might find on cheaper brand’s mid-level suits.
The wetsuit is made from super stretch, soft neoprene for comfort and warmth and includes a thermal lining for those that feel the cold. Many sellers report that the O’Neill Epic wetsuits are their best selling cold water wetsuit due to its great price and it can be used for so many water sports.
Although it is not as thick as some other wetsuits, the lining helps it feel warmer than some of similar thickness and 4-3mm of neoprene should provide a wetsuit that can be easily swum in without restricting movement.
Our sister title Practical Boat Owner’s deputy editor, Alison Wood, has been cold water swimming in her O’Neill wetsuit and reports that it is still going strong after 10 years of use.
Read Alison’s full guide to cold water swimming equipment here
ORCA Openwater SW
Orca are something of a Goldwater swimming specialist when it comes to the wetsuit market.
As a swimming specialist, it’s no surprise that the Orca SW features many ideas that are geared entirely towards cold water swimming.
One high-tech piece of kit included is a built-in chip on to which you can load medical and identity details and also featuring a universal identification system – something of a ‘hope to never need it’ safety feature.
The bright orange legs and arms are designed to be high visibility so other water users can see you and you can be easily identified should you end up in trouble.
It features 4mm neoprene throughout which is made from eco-friendly neoprene so as well as keeping you warm, it does have some decent green credentials too.
Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Head to Amazon’s dedicated sailing page for more marine products.