Updated July 2nd, 2023
Stand up paddle boarding is a really fun sport. It’s one of the best ways to get out on the water. The weather isn’t always a perfect warm summer day. That should not stop us from enjoying our SUP paddle board. You can have a great time paddle boarding comfortably on cooler days in the spring and fall and even winter if you dress properly. The foundation to enjoying water activities during colder temperatures is a good wetsuit. Good means properly fitting and warm enough. Good doesn’t have to be expensive. The following guide will help you find the perfect paddle board wetsuit.
When do you need to wear a wetsuit?
When is it too cold to paddle board safely without a wetsuit? A good rule of thumb is the 120 degree rule. If the water temperature plus the air temperature is below 120 degrees F you need to wear a wetsuit.
For example. If the air temperature is 75F degrees and the water temperature is 65 degrees, the combined temperature is 140F and you do not need to wear a wetsuit.
If the air temperature is 65F degrees and the water temperature is 50F degrees, the combined temperature is 115F degrees. 115F is less than 120F so you need to wear a wetsuit.
If the water temperature is below 60F degrees it is a good idea to wear a wetsuit or drysuit regardless of the air temperature as any extended immersion in the water could become dangerous.
According to the United States Search and Rescue Task Force, your survivability in water drops rapidly below 60 degrees. At 60 degrees Fahrenheit you will go unconscious in 1-2 hours. This drops rapidly to under 30 minutes in 40 degees F water. If you are paddle boarding somewhere you can’t quickly get to shore or will be continuously getting wet you should use extra caution in choosing your paddle boarding outfit. To learn more click here.
To learn more about the hazards and effects on your body of being submerged in cold water, see this article from the National Center For Cold Water Safety.
SUP Wetsuit Thickness Guide
The thicker a wetsuit material is the better insulation it will provide and the warmer it will be. The thicker a wetsuit is, the stiffer it will feel and the harder to move in it will be. We want to find the right balance of thick enough to be warm but not too thick to be unnecessarily restrictive.
Wetsuit thicknesses are labeled in the form of 3/2 or 4/3/2. In the first case, 3/2, the torso area will be 3mm thick and the arms and legs will be 2mm thick. In the second case, 4/3/2, the torso will be 4mm thick, the arms will be 3mm thick and the legs will be 2mm thick.
To read more about wetsuit thickness click here.
How do wetsuits work?
Wetsuits work by trapping a thin layer of water next to your body. This layer of water combined with the neoprene acts as insulation. To keep you warm you want to minimize the flow of cold water from the outside into this heated layer of water. For all of this to work you want a tight-fitting wetsuit so the neoprene rests close to your skin to minimize the water layer.
Wetsuit vs Drysuit
Drysuits are wonderful for the coldest of days on the water. Drysuits have rubber seals around your hands and neck and either rubber booties or seals around your ankles. You enter and exit through a chest zipper or occasionally a zipper running shoulder to shoulder across your back. You layer under drysuits with base layers and mid layers similar to what you would wear skiing under a ski jacket and ski pants.
Drysuits work by keeping the water out. No water should enter a drysuit. They are very comfortable on cold days. They do not feel like your wearing a full body spring as wetsuits do. If you get one made with breathable fabric they won’t build up sweat and moisture inside. I used to wear one while sailing small boats in November, February, and March. They were much more comfortable than wetsuits.
Drysuits cost much more than wetsuits. The cheapest drysuits you can buy still run north of $500. The seals and zipper are critical so they just can’t be made cheaply. If the seal or zipper fails while you are in the water you would get cold very quickly as it fills with water.
With a drysuit you must keep up with maintenance of the zipper and rubber seals. Rubber seals will dry out with time unless they are conditioned regularly. The zipper must be waxed regularly.
The 4 Main Things To Look For In A Paddle Board Wetsuit
A tight fit is extremely important for your wetsuit to work. When you first put on a wetsuit and get in the water, there is no water between your skin and the neoprene. You can expect a bit of a chill as water fills in this gap. The thicker your wetsuit is and the tighter the fit the less this will bother you.
If you have large gaps between your skin and the neoprene they are going to fill with water and a large puddle of water takes a lot longer for your body heat to warm up then a small thin layer of water. A wetsuit that is too big will not be warm.
If a wetsuit is too small the neoprene will be stretched and you’ll find it very difficult to move. This is also not good. To paddle board we want to be able to move our arms freely to paddle. A wetsuit that is overly stretched to put on will also wear out much quicker. Constriction on your arms and legs can reduce circulation which will also make you feel cold.
Your goal is a wetsuit that fits snugly with very little gap to your skin but not so tight that it becomes difficult to move.
A wetsuit has a range of temperatures that it will work well with. For late spring and early fall when the temperature is warm you may want a thin wetsuit. For early spring and late fall when it’s cooler out and the water temperature is lower you’ll want something thicker. For winter you want something very thick and may want to consider a drysuit as well. Wetsuits are not one size fits all when it comes to what temperatures they work well with.
I once fell into the water sailing in March in New York. I was wearing a cheap 2mm wetsuit. The water was mighty cold filling in the suit and it might have kept me from getting full hypothermia but that’s about it.
Paddle boarding is an athletic activity that requires some effort to get around the lake, bay or wherever else your paddling. A wetsuit that is very constrictive in the arms will wear you out paddling much quicker than a more flexible suit. You need to be able to move freely to get back on a paddle board and stand up after falling in the water.
You don’t want to spend a lot of money on a wetsuit that will wear out very quickly. We want to get at least several seasons out of our wetsuit. All neoprene is not created equally in terms of flexibility, warmth or longevity.
The below video gives some information on selecting a wetsuit.
Wetsuit options to consider
A typical shirt shape made from 1 to 1.5mm thick neoprene.
A sleeveless vest made 1 to 2.0mm thick neoprene vests. They usually are zippered.
A jacket made from 1mm to 2mm thick neoprene. Typically these have a zipper.
Neoprene shorts. These are typically 1 to 2mm thick. Appearance is similar to other lycra spandex shorts such as would be worn biking.
Full length pants made of neoprene. These are typically 1 to 2mm thick.
Pants and jackets can be worn over or under a shorty wetsuit or farmer john wetsuit to have a layered approach. Just a jacket and pants worn together will not be as warm as a full wetsuit because water can flow in and out around your waist. Core body heat can be lost quickly due to that flow.
Farmer John/Jane or Long John/Jane
Farmer John or Farmer Jane wetsuits feature open shoulders and arms. They are also referred to as Long John or Long Jane. They can have long or short legs. Think of a tank top style top. These are great for places where the air temperature is warm but the water temperature is cold. They keep your legs and core insulated while leaving your arms free. They make great paddle board wetsuits because your arms are completely free to move and paddle.
A farmer john wetsuit can be layered with a wetsuit jacket for additional warmth on cooler days when it’s not quite enough.
Shorty wetsuits, sometimes referred to as “spring wetsuits” have short sleeves and short pants. This is another style of wetsuit that is good for warm air temperatures combined with cool water temperature. They insulate your core while leaving your fore arms and lower legs uninsulated and free to move.
Shorty wetsuits can sometimes be worn combined with wetsuit jackets and pants for layering.
A full wetsuit as full body coverage including full arms and full legs. They can be uniform thickness or thickness can vary for the arms and legs. The body may be 3mm with 2mm legs and arms.
Hooded Full Wetsuit
A hooded full wetsuit is similar to a full wetsuit but it also has a hood to cover your head. This helps prevent water motion around your neck and also gives your head insulation.
A steamer refers to a thick full wetsuit that is warm and steamy feeling inside. Typically this is referring to a full wetsuit that is 5mm more thick.
Women’s and Mens Wetsuit
Wetsuits are available for women or men in all the styles listed above. Women specific suits are shaped differently to fit a womens body shape better. The same as true for mens suits. Since a tight fit is critical to a wetsuit being able to work and keep you warm, you should pick a wetsuit that works for your personal bodyshape. There are no unisex wetsuits that are suitable for either bodyshape.
Triatholon wetsuits are typically full wetsuits that are designed to be worn during competitive swimming. Ease of motion and flexibility are very important. Bouyancy to keep you floating at the correct angle is also important. These wetsuits will be more flexible and more buoyant than a standard full wetsuit.
Neoprene is a synthetic rubber that was first created in 1930 by a group of Dupont Scientists after purchasing the rights of a study that was done at the University of Notre Dame. It was first marketed as Duprene but changed to Neoprene in 1937 after the trademark name Duprene was dropped.
To learn more about Neoprene click here.
Wetsuits are made by joining panels of neoprene material together to make a suit. The panels can be joined by stiching, gluing, taping or in really high end suits the panels are made in the form of the suit. Not all neoprene is created equally.
This is the standard material wetsuits have been made from since the 1970’s. It is insulating and stretches to some degree.
Super stretch – Super Elastic, Stretchy, and X-Stretch Neoprene
Super stretch neoprene has more flexibility making the suit fit better and making it easier to move in. The more super stretch neoprene used in the suit the better. The more super stretch neoprene used in a wetsuit, the more expensive it will be also. For paddleboard use, you would want at least the arms to be super stretch. The legs are a good idea as well.
Smoothskin neoprene has a rubber coating on the outside surface that blocks wind and makes it more water resistant. Since we are standing up on a paddle board and exposed wind, it is a good idea to have smoothskin at least on the chest/torso areas of the suit. Without it you will feel the wind through the suit and it won’t be as warm.
Most wetsuit neoprene is single lined with a layer of nylon. This makes the wetsuit much easier to put on then if it was pure neoprene. Nylon is much less sticky to your skin making it easier to slide against it.
Double-lined neoprene has a nylon layer on both sides of the neoprene making it easy to put on and also providing some extra wind and water repellent. This is the same as Smoothskin Neoprene
Titanium placed between the neoprene and the nylon lining
Some neoprene can have titanium threads between the neoprene and nylon layer. This increases the insulating value of the neoprene making it much warmer without making it much stiffer or less stretchy.
Air neoprene – Aero Core, Fire Skin
Neoprene can be perforated to have more air gap inside it. Air Neoprene is 2 layers of regular neoprene sandwhiching a layer of perforated neoprene. This creates and dead air space similar to a double pain window. The dead air space will fill with water and in the case of a wetsuit and the not moving water will insulate after it has warmed up.
Yulex® is a neoprene substitute made by Pategonia. It is made from natural rubber so it more environmentally friendly than standard Neoprene which is either petroleum or limestone based. Both forms of neoprene are extremely energy intensive to make and created from non-renewable materials. To learn more about Yulex® click here.
There are other similar materials by other brands. The best renewable neoprene substitute still uses at least 15% petroleum based rubber so no wetsuits made currently available are made with 100% renewable materials.
Rear zipper – full zipper and half zipper
Rear zippers are the traditional wetsuit entry you’re used to seeing. A zipper that goes up the back. The zipper can be full length or half length. These are relatively easy to put on. The downside is that the zipper is long and a place for water to get into the suit. The zipper splits the neck seam making it a water entry point as well.
Front zippers go across the chest. These are more difficult to put on than a rear zipper. You enter the wetsuit through the zipper. You have to put both arms in. Then you have the pull the upper chest part of the wetsuit over your head and squeeze your head through the neck hole. After that you need to close the zipper.
To get out you have to pull the neck hole off of your head and then pull your arms out. The advantages are better flexibility since the zipper isn’t running up your back. It runs across your chest where your body isn’t flexing as much. You get a better water seal around your neck without the zipper.
This type of wetsuit has no zipper. You stretch the neck hole open and put your entire body in through it. This wetsuit has to be made with a high amount of super stretch material so they aren’t inexpensive. This is the hardest wetsuit to get in and out of.
A wetsuit is constructed of many panels of neoprene. The more panels that are used, the more seams are needed. A wetsuit with more seams will have better fit. Your body isn’t a series of flat panels so a wetsuit with only a few panels will not fit to it. More panels will result in better fit.
The downside is that more panels means more seams. Seams reduce flexibility and are a path for water to enter the suit. A more expensive wetsuit will have more seams for better fit and utilize more advanced seam construction to increase the flexibility and water tightness of the suit.
Different seam methods have different effects on the flexibility of the suit. Stitched seams where the material is doubled up at the seam will be more rigid than a sealed seam where the material is butted together. Better flexibility leads to better fit.
Seams that allow water to enter and exit the wetsuit will cause the suit to be less warm than seams that are sealed and do not allow water passage. Wetsuits work by keeping a warmed up layer of water close to your body. Thick seams will allow a pocket of water next to your skin that smooth seams will not. Pockets of water are cold when you put the suit on and make the suit less efficient at insulating you.
There are several methods of seam construction that have varying levels of water tightness and flexibility across the seam.
This is the simplest and least expensive stitching method. The 2 edges of the neoprene are rolled together and stitched. It leaves a ridge inside the suit which reduces flexibility and can cause chafing against your skin. Because there is a ridge, fit will not be as tight and there will be water pockets around the seams. This stitching method isn’t very waterproof. Water will come in between the layers and through the stitching holes.
This is the next level of stiching. The neoprene layers are tapered at the edges and stiched along the taper. This does not produce a ridge on the inside like the Overlock stitch. Water can still enter through the gap in the material and also through the stitching holes.
GBS – Glue Blind Stitch
The 2 panels of material are glued end to end. Then they are stiched only on the inner half. This method doesn’t have any stitching holes going the whole way through the neoprene. For really thick material it can be double blind stitched on both sides. Neither set of stitching goes more than halfway through the material. For additional waterproofing taping and liquid sealing can also be applied to these seems.
The neoprene panels are glued together end to end without any stitching. Taping and liquid sealing can also be used for increased strength and durability. These seams are very watertight since there is no stiching and also very flexible.
The wetsuit seams are glued together prior to stitching. This makes the seam more waterproof
Spot Taped Seams
Sealing tape is glued to the seams on the inside of the wetsuit in critical areas for additional strength and waterproofing
Fully Taped Seams
All the seams are taped on the inside of the wetsuit
A liquid rubber sealant is applied to all the inside of all the wetsuit seams. This is the most waterproof, durable and flexible seam.
Fit & sizing
A wetsuit should fit like a second set of skin. It should be tight fitting and it should move with you. You do not want air gaps between the wetsuit and skin when you put it on. You’ll get a much longer chill when you go into the water if you do. Your wetsuit should be a bit of a struggle to put on. If you don’t have to stretch it to put it on, it is probably too big. Over time the wetsuit will stretch and develop memory and be easier to put on.
When you put your wetsuit on you should still have full range of motion of your arms and legs. You should still be able to squat down with it on. If you can’t move without a lot or resistance the wetsuit is too tight.
When buying a wetsuit please look at the sizing guide. The chest and waist measurements are the most important. If you are on the border of 2 sizes don’t be afraid to contact the wetsuit maker and ask which would be preferable. If you buy a wetsuit and it’s too tight or too loose don’t be afraid to return it for the correct size. Always check the return policy from anywhere you order a wetsuit from before buying.
Now that you’ve got a wetsuit there are a few important things to wear with it. It is more comfortable to have a rashguard underneath. Your hands, feet and head aren’t covered by the wetsuit but they still get cold. Hats, gloves and booties are a good idea for colder weather.
Rash guards are a lycra/spandex shirt you wear under the wetsuit. They don’t contribute to the insulating value of the wetsuit. They feel better against your skin than neoprene rubbing against it. They are cheap compared to the wetsuit and can be replaced regularly. They help prevent your skin from getting rashes by having a thin clean layer between your skin and the wetsuit.
Most rash guards are made from material that has SPF protection from the sun. They make good shirts to wear when your getting wet and need sun protection. They dry quickly. Wearing one makes taking off your wetsuit much more comfortable at the end of the day versus going bare skin if it’s cool and windy out.
Hoods and caps
Your head needs protection from the cold as well as the rest of your body. More heat is lost through your head than any other region of your body. Caps are hats made of neoprene to insulate the top of your head. For really cold days there are hoods which are similar to a “ski mask” that is made of neoprene. These cover your entire head and neck.
You should look for a hood similar thickness to the wetsuit you are using. For most water conditions a 2-3mm hood will be good enough without constricting your movement too much. For water colder then 60F you will want to look for something thicker. A hood can also help prevent surfers ear by keeping your ears warm.
Surfer’s ear and Earplugs
Surfer’s ear is a condition where your eat canal gets blocked by bone growth. Exposure to cold water and wind will cause your ear bones to grow restricting our ear canal. Over time this can cause difficulty hearing. Wearing earplugs prevents water from entering your ear and preventing surfers ear.
Surfer’s ear (also known as swimmer’s ear) is a condition where the bone of the ear canal develops multiple bony growths called exostoses. Over time, this can eventually cause a partial or complete blockage of the ear canal.
The condition is primarily caused by prolonged exposure to cold water or wind. Cold water surfers are six times more likely to get surfer’s ear than warm water surfers.http://www.ucihealth.org/medical-services/ear-nose-throat-ent/hearing-ear-disorders/surfers-ear#:~:text=Surfer’s%20ear%20(also%20known%20as,to%20cold%20water%20or%20wind.
To read more about surfer’s ear click here.
Boots or booties are footware made of neoprene for keeping your feet warm. They come in a variety of thicknesses similar to the wetsuit for different temperature days.
There are 2 main types of wetsuit boots. Round Toe and Split Toe boots. Round toe boots are similar to traditional shoes with a single toe pocket. Split toes boots have a seperate pocket for the big toe from the rest of the toes.
Split toe boots allow you better feel from your toes closer to what you would feel standing bare foot on a paddle board. The downside is that split toe boots are more expensive. Split toe boots will not be as warm for the same thickness, the same way that gloves are not as warm as mittens.
You should look for boots similar thickness to the wetsuit you are using. For most water conditions 2-3mm boots will be good enough without constricting your movement too much. For water colder then 60F you will want to look for something thicker.
Neoprene gloves help to keep your hands warm. Keeping your body warm only does so much good if your hands are freezing. You still won’t be comfortable. Gloves come in different thicknesses for different temperature levels.
You should look for gloves similar thickness to the wetsuit you are using. For most water conditions 2-3mm gloves will be good enough without constricting your movement too much. For water colder then 60F you will want to look for something thicker.
Wetsuit socks are made of neoprene, polypropylene or wool. They make your wetsuit and booties much easier to put on and more comfortable. If your wetsuit boots are slightly large they do a good job of taking up the extra space. They are excellent for helping with chafing in your feet against the neoprene boot material. They give you a little extra warmth as well.
Baselayers – Lycra bodysuits
Lycra bodysuits are similar to rashguards except they cover your entire body instead of just your upper body. They are great for making wetsuits easier to put on since neoprene slides against lycra much better than it slides against your skin.
Like most things in life, you get what you pay for with wetsuits. With more money comes more super stretch material, better seams and better zippers. Everyone doesn’t need the most expensive wetsuit out there. For mild spring and fall conditions a light, inexpensive wetsuit may be all you need.
A lightweight spring full wetsuit can be purchased for under $100. A high end heavyweight hooded wetsuit may easily run over $600. Thickness, the amount of super stretch material, and seam construction all have an effect on the price of a wetsuit.
Wetsuits can wear out and break. Seams can split. Zippers can fail. You are more likely to get good customer service and warranty from a well known brand then a really generic, direct from Asia, wetsuit. It may take several weeks to get a wetsuit repaired under warranty. You may still want to do small repairs yourself even if it might be covered under warranty.
To keep a wetsuit clean and smelling nice some care and cleaning is necessary. To start with always rinse your wetsuit off with freshwater after wearing it. Your shower is a really good place to do this. Let’s face it. After being in a wetsuit for a while everyone wants a shower to rinse off the sweat buildup. You can wear it into the shower or remove it after getting in the shower. You want to give it a really thorough rinsing.
You want to periodically clean your wetsuit with wetsuit soap. A big plastic bin or tub is good for this. Fill the tub hallway with water, put your wetsuit in it. Add wetsuit soap. Swish your wetsuit around a bunch to get the soap mixed into everything.
Dump the water from the bin and rinse off your suit. You can do this by filling the tub up with freshwater and swishing your suit in this. Do this a few times until all the soap is gone. You can also rinse the suit off again in the shower.
After cleaning you need to let your wetsuit air dry. You can use a fan to speed up the process if you really need to. I find hanging it in the shower for several hours is a great way to do it since it will be dripping wet.
The below video shows how to properly wash a wetsuit.
You should find a nice dry spot to hang up your wetsuit. You shouldn’t fold your wetsuit for storage since the folds will become permanent creases in your wetsuit. Creases mean poor fit and poor flexibility. You should get a hanger especially made for a wetsuit. Regular hangers can leave creases damaging the wetsuit.
You can self repair a wetsuit. They sell repair kits for repairing tears or holes. They are not difficult to use.
Getting Into Your Wetsuit
Putting on a wetsuit is not the most fun experience in the world. You are essentially putting on a full body spring that sticks really well to bare skin. Here is what we have found works best over the years for putting on a wetsuit.
Putting on a wetsuit
Put one foot completely through the leg. Then the other foot.
Put one foot into one leg of the wetsuit. Put the foot completely through until it comes out the ankle hole. Put your other foot completely in until it come out the ankle hole.
Pull the wetsuit up to your waist. Pull the leg material tight
Pull the wetsuit up your legs until your legs are completely in the suit. Pull up on both your lower legs and then your upper legs to work the wetsuit up your legs. You want the material tight up to the top of your legs before working any farther up.
Pull the wetsuit up to your chest. Pull the chest material tight
Pull the wetsuit material up to the top of your chest. Pull everthing tight up to your armpits. Make sure there is no loose material around your waste or stomach. If you make sure that the wetsuit is fully on up to your armputs it makes getting your arms in much easier.
Put one arm in all the way and then the other
Put one of your arms in the entire way. Pull your hand out the wrist hole. Work the wetsuit material up your forearm and upper arm. After you are sure that arm is in all the way then repeat for your other arm.
If you have a back zipper, the next step is zipping the zipper. If you have a front zip wetsuit there is more work to do. The below video demonstrates how to put on a wetsuit with a back zipper.
Put your head in the neck hole
If you have a front zip wetsuit pull the neck over your head and push your head through the neck hole. If you have done a good job pull the wetsuit tight everywhere else this will not be that challenging. If you haven’t and have a lot of slack material at your legs or your arms then it will be a chore. Pull the neck opening as far down your neck as you can.
Zip up the zipper
Lastly zip up the zipper. If it is a backzip, hopefully there is a long enough strap on the zipper that you can grab it behind your back and pull up. If you can’t then you need to find help. If the zipper is sticking go find help before pulling so hard you break the zipper. Close any seal around your neck that might be there. Most back zipper wetsuits have at least some Velcro tabs at the top of the neck.
If you have a front zipper, then just zip it up. You can see the zipper and what is going on so the zipper is much easier to close.
The below video demonstrates how to put on a wetsuit with a front zipper.
More Helpful Tips for putting on a wetsuit
- Put a plastic bag on your feet and hands to help them slide into the suit. Especially if the wetsuit is already wet.
- Do not put on/remove your wetsuit while sitting on rocks or a rough surface
- Make sure the zipper is completely open
- Make sure the wetsuit isn’t inside out before trying to put on.
- Don’t sure fingernails to pull on neoprene. They can scratch or tear it.
- Get help from a partner for zipping and unzipping the zipper.
- Have a partner zip/unzip your wetsuit to avoid snagging and putting stress on the zipper and neoprene.
- Don’t yank or tug on the wetsuit too hard if it’s not going on. Figure out what it’s caught on. Pulling too hard can tear neoprene.
- Don’t wear watches or jewelry or other metal objects while putting on and taking off a wetsuit.
Getting out of a wetsuit
Getting out is easier than getting into a wetsuit. The most challenging part is getting your head out of the neck hole on a front zip. Make sure the zipper is completely open before trying to pull the neck hole off your head. After that work one arm out, then the other. Then pull it down and pull your legs out.
A changing robe to cover you up while taking off your wetsuit can make it much more pleasant on cold, rainy or windy days. It can insulate and shield you from the elements while you work your way out of your cold wet wetsuit. We like and use the Voited Changing Robe and Drycoat.
☆ Recommended Gear
Voited Outdoor Changing Robe and Drycoat
See our Review of the Voited Changing Robe to learn more.
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Co-Founder & Chief Editor
I grew up back east in Pennsylvania and learned to ski on a family trip to Killington, Vermont when I was 6. I immediately fell in love with the mountains and outdoors and have been skiing across the US and Canada ever since. I went to school for Mechanical Engineering, and have a Master’s Degree in Material Science and Reliability.
I am a total gear nerd and love learning how things work and thinking about how they could be improved. Nothing excites me more than trying out new gear. I’d rather spend 3 hours taking my bike apart and learning how to change something than go to a bike shop. These days I reside in Michigan by the Great Lakes and go skiing, biking, and boating as much as possible.