Women's Winter Wetsuit Guide

Thank you for taking some time to pick up Hydro Surf Shop’s independent women’s winter wetsuit guide.

Here we aim to help make your online wetsuit shopping a little easier, especially if you are unable to enter a surf shop and try them on and buy the good old fashion way.

We have stripped back the fancy branding names on technical features and we refer to features as what they are - thermal lining, neoprene, seam seals etc.  Our view is that each brand’s technical developments for these designs are for the most part similar solutions to the same problems, and perform the same thing, for better or worse.  But we don’t sell crap, so those suits aren’t in here.  

Our voice comes from 35 years of wetsuit fitting and trading experience, where we have seen almost all the brands and almost all the technical advancements come through our door. Also, as the most southern surf shop in NZ (and likely the world), we unfortunately have the fate of surfing colder waters than the companies that make these wetsuits, so our feedback is harsh.

When it comes to getting a winter wetsuit there are a few really important considerations to factor in.  The first and most important is fit. You can spend way more money on a wetsuit, but it won’t buy you anything extra if it doesn’t fit as well as that cheaper one.  You will always get best results and best longevity from the best fit.

If you don’t know what your brand fit is and you are able to go into your local surf shop, try on as many brands as you can to see what fits you best.  The dimensions on the size charts are pretty good, but they are only a guide.  What they miss is actual body curves, and body proportions like torso length and limb length, these factors  make up your height but can vary significantly from person to person.  Body fit is more important than limb fit if you have to choose one over the other.

Your wetsuit should fit tight like a second skin with no loose neoprene, a little bit of neoprene folding under the arms is ok but if you can grab a handful it's too loose. Be careful to look for the small pocket which can be present in the lower lumber. This is a sign of two things: the wetsuit is too big, and you will have water pooling here against your kidneys, which will make you cold; OR because of the way you hold your hips while standing, sometimes the pocket will diminish or disappear if you lie on the floor (as if you were surfing), so try this in the shop. Once you have your fit figured out, this is the biggest factor in  overall wetsuit performance.

If you’re shopping with good brands, the features, quality, and price will be comparable, don’t get sucked into marketing, just go with fit. Don’t be sold into wetsuits that are too tight either, this became a trend when suits started to get so flexible, but what it does is forces the neoprene to be overstretched, and like anything, will break quicker when over strained for too long.

 If you are new to surfing, and have yet to wear a chest zip wetsuit, or have only used an old flogged one from a friend, be aware that they can feel a little tight on the chest and around the neck. This can feel uncomfortable and is often likened to soft choking or suffocating and is especially present in the beginning. Don’t accept a wetsuit which is leaving a mark on your neck from just trying it on, or if it really does hinder your ability to breath, but firm pressure from the wetsuit here is the nature of the design to keep it watertight, and the chest panel and neck opening of the wetsuit will both loosen-off with wear. It will become more familiar with time, and the discomfort passes. If unsure, please seek peer confirmation if you have surfing friends, or an experienced wetsuit fitter in an established surf shop for a second opinion.  If a wetsuit is loose around the neck, it is absolutely not worth buying. If you’re paying for a new suit, you deserve to get one that fits you properly.

The 2nd thing to consider is that in surfing, like most good things in life, you get what you pay for. The gear is technical equipment, made for the most demanding environment in the world – the ocean- and on top of that, we want it to feel like it’s not even there, and want it to last forever….

This brings us to our 3rd factor, care – especially for the forever dreams which come with spending top dollar. A wetsuit is as good as the care you give it, and like shoes they are only going to do so many Kms before they wear out. Thicker wetsuits last longer, as do better ones, but sometimes more technical wetsuits have more things that can go wrong.  It’s a minefield really. So, care for your suit by doing the basics:

Wash them in fresh water frequently, as the salt and sand particles that get entrenched into the air pockets of the neoprene become abrasive and wear the neoprene from the inside out. This also helps the suit from going stiff when it reaches fully dry. 

Don’t over dry your wetsuit by letting it cook in the sun.  Dry it in the shade as UV light is extremely harsh, especially on glues and rubber seals. It is also very easy to cook your suit by over drying it, which ruins the elastic properties of the neoprene,  think old bike tyres how they start to spit.

Don’t get changed on the concrete, it’s like grinding the soft wetsuit in a mortar and pestle, instead get a change mat or change on the grass or your boardbag.

And the biggest mistake of them all – take your time!  Pulling, yanking and forcing your wetsuit on in a hurry is hard not to do, in fact people pride themselves with how quick they can get into their wettie, but it is the biggest killer of our beloved wetsuits.  Our bodies are not slippery, and even though wetsuits can be, we have all sorts of angles and joints which hold and drag against the neoprene. Next time you get changed, both into and out of your wetsuit, take the time to observe and think about the punishing and pulling forces you are applying with our limbs, hands, elbows, fingernails and feet etc in the process, and you will know what we mean.

With wetsuit performance, there are a few things to consider also, mainly:  Flexibility, warmth, durability and construction.

These factors are intertwined, and each company although they say they have made the best wetsuit, has balanced an equation of these factors to make a wetsuit  they think meets their market’s demand best. Your preference in this equation will come from time and experience, but to help break it down for a basic understanding , it all comes down to the amount of air bubbles in the neoprene. How does it feel in your hand? Every brand makes their own formula of neoprene, but the hand feel is the tell all sign, right from the get-go. The less air, the denser the neoprene feels, so it will be less flexible, but mostly more durable. More air means softer, more flexibility / stretch, and warmer as air is a great insulator of heat. But the warmth will pass as it is only while the air pockets are intact that they offer this heat, they will break down and compress together over time and the neoprene will then be thinner and be less of a thermal barrier. In most wetsuits today we see that over a year or two, a 5x4 packs down to 4x3, and 4x3 to a 3x2, and 3x2 to 2mm etc. This is a way you can imagine what lifespan you might get out of a wetsuit longer term. It is not uncommon for people to turn old flogged winter wetsuits into their new summer wettie, and although not as light, or even by this stage as warm as a new summer wettie, they might get another year out of it.

Dense neoprene = firmer hand feel, heavier for thickness, less likely to compact and loose thermal barrier warmth, more durable, less flexible.

Light Neoprene = softer hand feel, lighter for thickness, more likely to compact and loose some thermal barrier warmth, less durable, more flexible.

Cheap neoprene – not to be confused with dense neoprene, will be tough, course looking, and will rip.

We hope that this has helped you somewhat to understand the market a little better! If you were able to walk into our shop, we would have happily saved you the time of reading this and explained more effectively in person by showing you the suits. Thanks for your time to this point, we’ll leave it to the wetsuits now: 

The Rip Curl Dawn Patrol Chest Zip 4x3mm has been a bread + butter wetsuit for us for many years, sitting consistently on the upper end of performance & features for what we call a mid-range winter wetsuit. For us in the very south, the “mid-range” class of wetsuits is perfect for spring, summer and autumn months, when you want good quality and a good price, but not the best of the best. It does fall short in our winter months June, July, August, and if you want to bridge this suit into the heart of winter it needs to be coupled with a complete set of accessories, including booties, gloves and a thermal vest with a hood. The further north you are the better you will fare in those winter months in this wetsuit – from Taranaki / Napier north this will work as a full winter wetsuit.

The Dawn Patrol 4x3 CZ If you are after great comfort and do not need extreme warmth, the Dawn Patrol 4x3 CZ scores consistently at the top of this class and is always at the head of the ‘arms-race’ when competition drives feature upgrades. The things to note are that it is 4mm over the entire leg which cuts a bit of flex but adds a heap of warmth. Most other companies will only have their thickest neoprene around the upper body and thighs, with the lower legs and arms being thinner neoprene. And one that might catch you out is that the back-zip version of this same wetsuit has recently been down-graded from past seasons to using less flexible neoprene and poorer seam seals, so we recommend CZ over BZ here.

The Rip Curl Flashbomb Chest Zip 4x3mm…. Well, what more needs to be said about the most awarded wetsuit of recent years?

For a start, we can confirm the claims are true that this wetsuit is super warm and exceptionally quick drying – the quickest of all. The inside thermal lining feels practically dry already when you take it off, and that makes life soooo much easier if you are thinking about a second surf, or god forbid, you accidently forget to hang it out… a huge bonus. The outside of the wetsuit admittedly is not quick drying and dries about the same rate as any other wetsuit, but the inside IS amazing.

The neoprene is very soft and comfortable to wear, and feels a bit thicker than O’Neill’s 4x3mm, but not as dense as Xcel’s. The flex is upper end of the spectrum, but it is not the absolute winner in this division if we are to start splitting hairs.

The warranty is 12 months on materials as per usual, but Rip Curl boasts an impressive 3 years on stitching to make sure you see a long life of surfing in this suit. Safe to say, the Flash Bomb suits have won a lot of awards for a reason.

The O’Neill Bahia Fuze (chest zip) 4x3mm wetsuit has been around for a long time, but prior to last summer it was known as Super Freak. Always a classic mid-range style, this year the wetsuit has received thermal lining updates through the core to make it warmer, and it has been updated with a superlight, flexible neoprene, making this model the most flexible wetsuit in the mid-range market. Traditionally this model from O’Neill used to focus slightly more on warmth, but now it focuses on performance, so If you are in the north, or hate the feeling of wetsuits full stop, it is a top choice for comfort. For those who live further south, we must recommend this suit is used with full accessories if you hope to get through the winter. If you are in the deep south, we can only recommend it if you plan to have shorter surfs or only go out on sunny days.

O’Neill Psychotech Fuze (chest zip) 4x3mm is the top model in O’Neill’s women’s range – fully tech, high performance wetsuit with full thermal lining, full welded seams, backed by stitching – for added durability – and uses a neoprene formula / construction which from our tests proves to be the lightest for thickness of all the top brands. The neoprene is quick drying - although not quite as quick as RC Flashbomb – it is still faster than the rest. If O’Neill is your fit, you can’t go past this suit, especially in the colder parts of the country.  

Hyperfreak 4x3mm+  If you’re further north or want a little more freedom / flexibility / comfort, but still a high quality suit, we strongly recommend checking out O’Neill’s latest model – Hyperfreak 4x3mm+ as this is undoubtably the lightest feeling top spec winter wetsuit on the market.  To reach that level of flexibility, some warmth from the neoprene will be lost in the long term, but if you want comfort over warmth, look it up HERE.

O’Neill has been synonymous with quality for a long time and we are proud to offer their full range of women’s winter wetsuits and accessories like gloves, hoods and booties.

XcelDrylock Hooded 6/5mm If you are reading this guide because you want to be warm – warmer than ever before, then we highly recommend the Xcel Drylock Hooded 6/5mm Wetsuit, this is the benchmark of warmth, and it has been for a long time.  With the nature of neoprene, an increase in warmth and durability means a decrease in flexibility, that’s just the way it is, but in the depths of winter that warmth is a huge plus – because if you aren’t warm, your muscles will stiffen up, and you won’t last as long in the water. Another plus with the Drylock is it’s an extremely durable wetsuit by today’s standards and the warranty service team are the fastest in the country – meaning you’re back in the water faster if something does ever go wrong. These suits are fully thermal lined, and seam sealed. This year they have a new neoprene in the shoulder to give increased flex for quicker paddling. They have also just brought out a sister suit in their Comp-X range, offering a similar package but with slightly less weight and warmth, and more flex and mobility. This is below in the range and is possibly the dream winter suit we have been waiting for…

Xcel’s Drylock 4x3mm steamer is tried and true a long-standing winter warrior of wetsuits. While you won’t see much of this brand in the warm climates, it is not uncommon to see Xcel products clad head to toe upon surfers in the coldest places on earth. Without a big clothing brand presence behind them, Xcel is lesser known outside the surf community, so tends to be a brand people try later in their surfing carrier through recommendation, rather than marketing.

If you haven’t worn Xcel, it is good to note that the sizing is generous, based off a US scale as opposed to the AUS sizing used in most other brands. For this reason, size down 1-size. Feature wise this wetsuit has everything you’d expect in a top-end wetsuit: fully seamed sealed, fully thermal lined, top grade neoprene, etc, etc. But the stand-out for Xcel is the warmth and durability – while still having a comfortable amount of flex. For most of the country this suit would be the choice from the Xcel range, but if you want a hood or extra warmth assured, check out their hooded models.

We have included 3 suits form Xcel and apologise if this seems unfair, but this guide is for winter wetsuits, and as that means cold, we feel it necessary to show a few hooded wetsuit options. Historically these have been very difficult to come by in women’s styles, and Xcel are leading the way in this offering in NZ.

Xcel Comp-x Hooded 4.5x3.5mm This is a new model, the Xcel Comp-x Hooded 4.5x3.5mm, and they have not yet got the product photos finished, so we have for this guide had to use the men’s model photo to show what this suit looks like, apologies. With no history trading with the model we can only explain it as we see it.

This is a 4.5x3.5mm thickness, so sits between the two conventional winter wetsuit thickness 4x3, and 5x4… our feeling is that this awkward thickness could actually be a break through for the NZ winter climate, as a thickness to cover all bases of warmth, without losing too much flexibility and range of movement. It is derived from their Comp-X link of suits which feature the necessary high-end specs such as thermal lining and seam seals but does not have the less flexible slick skin panels (which cut down the wind). It has a lighter more flexible type of neoprene that the body of the Drylock models. It actually looks quite similar to the O’Neill Hyperfreak 4x3+ neoprene mentioned in the O’Neill review, and which we claimed to be the lightest most flexible in the winter ranges.

That is a lot of information to take in!  We hope it helps you select the suit that is right for you.  The visual image guides show all the key features and each suit has been rated based on experience for warmth, flexibility, durability, and dry time.  The fit is critical so if you are unable to try before you buy and are not happy with the fit just ring us to exchange it before your surf in it!

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