Do Wetsuits Keep You Warm? (Wetsuits Explained)

do wetsuits keep you warm in the ocean

Yes, wetsuits are very effective at keeping you warm in colder water temperatures. They trap a thin layer of water between your body and the wetsuit, which heats up gradually using your body’s warmth.

Your wetsuit acts as a layer of insulation between you and the icy cold water, keeping that layer of trapped water nice and toasty for several hours.

That’s the basics, but there’s much more to consider if you want to keep warm for those long winter surf sessions.

Let’s look at how wetsuits keep you warm and what you need to know to prolong those cold surfs when the waves are pumping.

How Much Warmer Does A Wetsuit Keep You?

Wetsuits help you stay warm in even the harshest conditions. They let surfers tackle water temps that would mean hypothermia if you weren’t wearing one.

The right wetsuit can help you surf in water temps of 40-50°F (4-10°C) for several hours. But wetsuits aren’t all equal. They come in different thicknesses to keep the wearer warm, even when it’s absolutely freezing.

Here’s a quick guide on the best wetsuit to keep you warm in various ocean temperatures (or even wave pools, you lucky devil).

Wetsuit ThicknessTemperature RangeRecommended WetsuitRecommended Wetsuit Accessories
1mm68-75°F (20-24°C)Xcel Phoenix Long Sleeve TopRash guard
2mm65-75°F (18-24°C)Xcel Comp WetsuitRash guard, neoprene booties
3mm60-70°F (16-21°C)O’Neill HyperfreakRash guard, neoprene booties, neoprene gloves
4mm55-65°F (12-18°C)Volcom ModulatorRash guard, neoprene booties, neoprene gloves, hood
5mm50-60°F (10-15°C)Florence Marine XRash guard, neoprene booties, neoprene gloves, hood, wetsuit vest
6mm40-50°F (4-10°C)Xcel Drylock HoodedRash guard, neoprene booties, neoprene gloves, hood, wetsuit vest, wetsuit hood

*It’s important to note that we all have different levels of resilience to cold water, and what may be ample for one person could leave another shivering, so you’ll need to test this out to find your sweet spot.

But for a wetsuit to actually keep you warm, it needs to fit well and be thick enough for the job. Let’s find out how wetsuits work to keep the body warm when surfing or diving.

surfer staying warm in a wetsuit and boots while getting absoloutley shacked in a heavy barrel

How Do Wetsuits Keep You Warm?

Now we know that wetsuits are designed to keep you warm and protected in the water, so how does it work?

Heat retention

Your wetsuit traps a thin layer of water between your body and the suit. This layer of water is warmed by your body temperature, preventing you from losing too much heat in the ocean.

The wetsuit does not generate heat but provides a heat-trapping insulation layer that keeps you and stops heat from escaping your body. You’re essentially the battery powering your own warmth, which makes wetsuits so clever in their design.


The thicker a wetsuit is, the better it is at insulating that layer of trapped water and keeping your body warm.

This means wetsuits can range anywhere from 1mm up to 10mm for custom scuba diving wetsuits. For surfing, you’ll still get up to the 6mm range for surfing frozen coasts like Norway or Ireland in the depths of winter.

Proper fit

Your wetsuit is only adequate if it’s a snug, shape-hugging fit. This ensures the warmer water inside your wetsuit doesn’t mix with the colder water from the ocean outside, cooling you down.

Wetsuits too large are prone to flushing when water rushes through the neck, ankles or wrist cuffs. This can even happen with cheap wetsuits that still fit well when the seals around your neck aren’t watertight.

When a wetsuit is too tight, it won’t make you any colder, but it will restrict your movement and blood flow at worst! I’d always advise opting for a good chest-zip wetsuit. In my opinion, they reduce the chances of unwanted water down the back of the neck and are easier to get on. 

Poorly fitting wetsuits are close to useless. You might as well be wearing nothing because they can’t keep you warm by trapping the insulated layer of water you need. 

Protection from the wind

One of the most significant benefits of wetsuits to a surfer is wind protection. With much of your time spent bobbing in the lineup, surfing or paddling back out, you’re constantly exposed to the wind.

That layer of neoprene saves you from the majority of the heat loss, and lots of suits will have reinforced layers of neoprene over your chest and organs to keep them protected from wind chill.

Now, these are the basics of how wetsuits keep you warm, but the surf industry doesn’t stand still, and now we’ve got a whole heap of new advancements to keep us in the ocean for longer.

Activity level

Your activity level when you wear a wetsuit will make a big difference. The trapped water in your suit warms up as your body temperature rises.

This is achieved by hard paddling and non-stop surfing so your body naturally gets warmer. Adversely, sitting for long periods waiting for waves, your body temperature drops and your insulated layer will also start to cool down.

So, if you want to make the most of your wetsuit’s abilities, stay active in the water whenever you can.

How Wetsuits Have Evolved To Keep You Warmer

We’ve put together a handy table to see all the new ways wetsuit companies are trying to keep you warm in the water.

AdvancementDescriptionHow It Keeps Us Warm
Neoprene MaterialSynthetic rubber that retains flexibility over a wide range of temperatures.Traps and heats a layer of water between the skin and the suit, providing insulation.
Blind Stitched & Liquid Sealed SeamsStitching method that doesn’t fully penetrate the neoprene combined with liquid sealing.Minimizes water exchange, ensuring the water trapped inside the suit remains warm.
Thermo LiningPlush, thermal inner lining made from materials like polypropylene or titanium.It enhances heat retention by reflecting heat back to the body and wicking away moisture.
Air NeopreneIncorporates air chambers within the neoprene material.Air acts as an insulator, further enhancing the suit’s thermal properties.
Zipperless EntrySuits eliminate the traditional zipper, replaced by a chest or shoulder entry.Reduces potential points of water entry, ensuring a snugger, watertight fit.
Double Neck ClosureAn inner and outer neck seal.It prevents water from entering and flushing through the neck area, one of a suit’s primary cold entry points.
Integrated HoodWetsuits with a built-in hood.Reduces heat loss from the head, a primary area of body heat loss.
High Stretch PanelsAreas of the suit, like underarms or knees, have higher elasticity.Ensures a snug fit, which reduces water flushing and enhances mobility, keeping the body warm.
Wind-Resistant Outer LayerA smooth outer surface is often called “smooth skin” or “mesh skin”.Minimizes the wind chill factor when surfacing, preventing rapid heat loss.
Ankle and Wrist SealsTighter seals at the extremities.Stops water from flushing in and out of the suit at these points, preserving the body’s warmth.
surfer in a 3mm wetsuit and boots on a chest high wave

How Wetsuit Accessories Can Keep You Warmer

Now we know a neoprene wetsuit will keep you warm in even the harshest conditions. But you can stay even warmer if you pair them with boots, gloves and hoods to cover your extremities, where you lose heat the fastest.

This is a must for cold temperatures when your hands and feet can turn into icy blocks, making paddling and catching waves nearly impossible. Here are all the ways you can squeeze some extra warmth out of your wetsuit.

  • Hoods: Keep your head warm when you’re duck diving. Without them, you’ll have to deal with mind-melting ice cream head, trust me, it’s no fun.
  • Gloves: Keep your fingers nice and toasty when you’re paddling and catching waves.
  • Booties: Keeps your feet nice and warm so they still work to balance when you’re up and riding on your surfboard.
  • Rash guards: Can be worn under wetsuits to provide an extra layer of insulation and prevent chafing and surf rash.
  • Wetsuit vests: Worn under wetsuits to provide an additional layer of insulation for the body’s core.

Any of these will help keep your body temperature where it should be and keep you surfing for longer. Head over to Xcel Wetsuits for the best wetsuit accessories you can buy (in our opinion).

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s look at the internet’s most pressing questions about wetsuits and water sports so no one’s getting cold anytime soon.

Does wearing clothes under a wetsuit keep you warm?

No, it does not make you any warmer and can even be uncomfortable, especially if you’re wearing a thicker wetsuit. Clothes have the habit of bunching or rolling up, leaving you with a lumpy appearance and awkward posture on your surfboard.

What should you wear under your wetsuit?

At Honest Surf, we recommend going full commando in your wetsuit unless it’s a rental wetsuit; when a tight-fitting garment in your nether regions is always recommended.

Do wetsuits keep you warm out of the ocean?

Yes, you’ll be sweating in no time! Like in the ocean, the thicker the wetsuit, the quicker you’ll peel it off in a puddle of sweat.

How can I make sure I get the right wetsuit fit?

Your best is to head to your local surf shop. They’re going to be more than happy to help, and you’ll be helping a local business by buying a wetsuit from them.

What are the best wetsuits for surfing?

Whether its cold or warm water, we’re all about Xcel Wetsuits hare at Honest Surf. They’ve got the best wetsuits, a range of wetsuit tops, and other surf gear for cold and warmer water. You can check out the gear here.

Are wetsuits unisex?

No, women have a more curved lower back and broader hips, so you’ll need to grab a gender-specific wetsuit to ensure it’s tightly fitted.