Wetsuit temperature guide and chart

What kind of wetsuit do I need for certain water temperature? This is one of the questions we get asked almost every day. What’s the deal here? On one hand you want to wear as little neoprene as possible. Less neoprene and thinner wetsuit means less strain on our muscles when we move. As soon as you put on a wetsuit you not only have to move your arms to propel yourself forward, you also have to pull and stretch the wetsuit you are wearing. Because of the extra work you get tired sooner. So, boardshorts all the way :)? Great, but on the other hand you do not want to be cold. There are limits to where you feel comfortable in cool water and there are limits when cold water becomes just plain dangerous to your health and finally to your life. Cold also makes you slower, number and drains your energy. So choosing the right wetsuit for the certain water temperature is a trade-off between these two facts. You want a wetsuit that is thick enough to keep you warm and thin enough not to put unnecessary strain to your muscles. So how to choose the right wetsuit for different water temperatures? Follow this thickness and water temperature guide to find out :)!

winter wetsuit booties gloves Wetsuit temperature guide and chart

Cold water gear. Thick wetsuit with integrated hood, thick gloves, thick booties. If you want to be really warm – get an integrated hood.

Wetsuit thickness and water temperature guide

You can get this info from any manufacturer. But we find these wetsuit – water temperature charts done by major companies a bit funny and not very realistic. Their temperature charts make you believe: “You only need a 3/2 millimeter wetsuit for 54F (12C) water, since our wetsuits are so advanced :).” If they are not talking about the battery heated wetsuits they are probably full of shit.

And even if their chart is OK, there are a few additional things that you need to keep in mind when choosing the right thickness for cold water.

What kind of wetsuit thickness should I get?

It is not just the water temperature that counts. There are a few factors to consider: water temperature, air temperature, wind, cold sensitivity and activity. Let’s take a look at each of them.

Water temperature

True. This is the most important one. And the most obvious one. Colder water – thicker wetsuit. Neoprene acts as an insulator against outer weather elements and the thicker it is the more insulation you have. How thick? Check our wetsuit water temperature chart a few inches lower. Earlier we mentioned that cold water can be hazardous to your health and life. How dangerous is ti?

How Long Can You Survive in Cold Water?

wetsuits water temperature 300x287 Wetsuit temperature guide and chart

World water temperature

What happens when our body is exposed to cold water? Our body core temperature starts to drop and when it gets as low as 70 and 80 degrees F (21 – 27 degrees C) our heart usually stops. But even before that we of course feel various consequences of cold water – our muscles get weak, we lose coordination and strength etc… How fast all this occurs depends on the water temperature. The coldest water you can find will usually be around 39-41-degree F/  4-5 degree C  (remember the water density before it turns to ice lesson from high school?). Generally a person can survive in water at that temperatures for 10 to 20 minutes.

But it is not only the ice cold water that is dangerous. Water pulls heat out of your body about 25 times faster than air! Which means that even water with temperature as high as 75 – 80 degrees F (24 – 27 degrees C) can be dangerous.

Here is the expected survival time in correlation with water temperature:

Water Temperature And Expected Time of Survival Chart

Water Temperature Expected Time Before Exhaustion or Unconsciousness Expected Time of Survival
(°F) (°C)
32.5° 0.3° < 15 minutes 45 minutes
32.5–40° 0.3–4.4° 15 – 30 minutes 30 – 90 minutes
40–50° 3.3–10° 30 – 60 minutes 1 – 3 hours
50–60° 10–15.6° 1 – 2 hours 1 – 6 hours
60–70° 15.6–21.1° 2 – 7 hours 2 – 40 hours
70–80° 21.1–26.7° 3 – 12 hours 3 hours – indefinite
> 80° > 26.7° Indefinite Indefinite

 

Air temperature

This one can be in sync with the water temperature. Lots of times it is. Warmer water in the summer, colder water in the winter. But there are also a lot of places on Earth where this isn’t completely true. Places where cold ocean currents flow past hot desert coastlines. Where the air is hot and the water is cold. Here warm sun and warmer air can allow you to wear a thinner wetsuit than you normally would.

Wind

This is a really big factor. It’s our guess that most wetsuit water temperature charts are written like there is absolutely no wind. If you are lucky enough for this to be true, good for you. But even your average everyday weather has some wind, not to mention windsurfers, surfers who surf wind swells etc… that are exposed to quite strong winds. What does wind do? It cools the surface of your body and increases the feeling of cold. So if you use your wetsuit in wind then it should be thicker. And this is not you “the feel”, there is actual science behind this. In the wind chill chart below you can see how different wind speeds influence the feeling of cold.

wind chill chart for surfing 1024x694 Wetsuit temperature guide and chart

Wind chill chart, courtesy of Ohio weather safety.

 

Cold sensitivity

This changes from person to person. How quickly do you feel cold? For some people it is anything under 75F, some are comfortable in 60F… partly this might be conditioned with your body and blood circulation and partly this is just how used you are to cold. For instance – mountain climber spend weeks at high altitudes and low temperatures and when they come back home, they say that they constantly feel hot. Normal apartment temperature is just to hot for them, so they keep opening the windows :).. well if it’s colder outside. So if you want to surf, windsurf etc..whatever in cold weather and cold water there is some amount of could that you have to get used to.

Activity

This is also a major factor. If you are active you burn energy and produce heat while you do it. If we take surfing for instance. You can paddle up and down, try to catch every wave you can and you will be smoking hot. Or you can sit and wait for your wave to come or there might be a lack of swell and you need to wait 10 minutes for every wave and sure, you will be cold. Or another example – diving. Divers are not supposed to be very active, they must try to keep their heart rate down, breathing slowly to conserve oxygen. Slowly gliding through cold water depths requires much thicker wetsuit than doing something more aerobic and active does.

With so many factors that influence your choice you can understand that no chart can be 100% right. The problem with wetsuit temperature charts is that they don’t tell you that. Well – now you know!

Our water temperature and wetsuit thickness chart is therefore just for your orientation and is a bit on the safe side. Also – just choosing the right wetsuit thickness is not enough. When the water gets colder you also need to wear booties and later also gloves and a hood.

Wetsuit Quality

Now – we were complaining how wetsuit manufacturers thickness charts suck and only want to make an impression but – quality IS a big factor. A good winter wetsuit will not easily let water penetrate to the inside. Things like double blindstitch, liquid sealing, taped seams, batflap etc… will stop cold water entering your wetsuit so a good one is a must in cold weather and water and this is also the reason that a good winter wetsuit is not cheap.

 

WATER TEMPERATURE WETSUIT CHART

WATER TEMPERATURE

WETSUIT THICKNESS

> 77 F
> 25 C
You don’t need a wetsuit, unless you usually wear a wetsuit to jacuzzi, sauna, to the beach…
72F–77F
22C-25C
Shorty when it gets colder outside, like in the morning, evening and if it is windy. If the weather is warm, you still don’t need a wetsuit.
68F–72F 20C–22C This is the comfortable bottom limit for surfing in shorty. Spring suit or 3/2 full suit is better when it gets cold and windy.
64F–68F
18C–20C
Spring suit or full suit 3/2. If you only have one wetsuit and it is 4/3 you no worries, you can also use it.
59F–64F
15C–18C
A good 3/2 full suit is still OK, if you get cold, wear booties. Otherwise wear a 4/3 wetsuit and you will be comfortable in any weather.
54F–59F
12C–15C
At this water temperature booties become necessary, at least if you like to feel you feet. 4/3 wetsuit is OK, but if you will do a lot of surfing in water at the bottom of this temperature range, you should probably get a 5/3.
48F-54F
9C-12C
5/3 or 5/4/3 wetsuit with booties and gloves. Hood depends on other conditions like wind etc.
< 48 F
< 9 C
5/3 can work, 6/5/4 is better, depends on how extreme do you want to get. Often it is not the thickness of the wetsuit, but bad booties, gloves etc that are the source of cold. So not only the wetsuit, also the booties, gloves and hood must be thick (5mm).

 

So what kind of wetsuit should you get? In our experience – if you will only own one wetsuit, then buy a 4/3. It is the most versatile and useful in widest range of temperatures.

 

Cold water, cold weather and wearing a wetsuit tips

If cold water and low temperatures are not enough, there comes a time when you need to put on a cold and WET wetsuit. To speed this process and get it over with as soon as possible try this:

  • put a PVC bag on you leg or arm when you are putting on your wetsuit and it will slide through the sleeves like a hot knife through butter.
  • For the upper part of your body, where a wet wetsuit feels the most uncomfortable try this – have a dry rash guard in store and wear it before you start dressing.

We hope we helped you with your wetsuit thickness choice. Have fun in winter!

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27 Comments

  1. Hi, what suit should I wear for snorkelling in Ireland from April-Oktober? Local seller convinces me that a 3mm suit will be more than enough but I doubt it. Shall I go for 4-5mm? ( Our average water temp is about 10 C)

  2. Hey, I’m going shark diving off the coast of San Francisco in October. I’ve been told to get a 7mm suit but I think that’ll be too thick. I was thinking a 5mm would suffice. Any thoughts? I want to be able to move…

  3. This was a very informative piece of writing and I highly enjoyed it! I am well educated with wetsuits and what to expect. Thank you for all of your tips! Also, thank you for taking the time to write this :D One more thing…I apologize in advance but there are a few typos that need to be slightly revised. I am only suggesting in order for your article to be flawless!

    Intro- “finaly” to finally
    Air Temperature- in the first sentence, “temeperature” to temperature. The word “thiner” to thinner. The word “wetsut” to wetsuit.
    Activity- “minuets” to minutes
    Wetsuit Quality- “chats” to charts. The word “anly” to only.

  4. Thanks to all for finding the typos, hope I fixed most of them :). A few answers also:

    @gigi, I’m not sure what is the water temperature in Oregon in April but for boots, you can always go with 5mm…once you have boots it’s not a lot of difference if you have 3 or 5mm. If I only had one boots they would be 5mm and gloves 3mm.

    @vicky, go for 5/4 mm for sure! also get neoprene socks.

    @Ionie, will you have a 2 piece wetuits? With two layers 5mm might be ok, but I think for diving thicker is better.

    @mongo, some people surf without them because gloves are the most annoying piece of neoprene to have on, at least for me :) but for 50F I’d still wear them.

  5. “What does wind so?” should be changed to “do.”

    Thoroughly proofread your posts (and utilize the spell checker) to increase your image and credibility. Thanks for the info!

  6. I need to know what kind wetsuit i need to surf in the winter in maine. I like surfing so much and want to try surfing in the winter this year. Plus waves are bigger.thankx

  7. @Ionie
    The current in San Fran runs from north to south, the opposite of the Atlantic. Prepare for the coldest water. If you get hot, tug at your collar and let some water in.

  8. Was just wondering what sort of thickness I would need in a wetsuit for use in England? Would generally be going in the sea during the summer months when it is slightly warmer, however may visit at other times of the year too, so would be grateful for ideas on a wetsuit that would be a good all-rounder.
    Also, i am very petite, at 5” tall I’ve been looking everywhere for a wetsuit designed for a woman’s shape but also for a slightly shorter body, help! Do you know of any good websites that sell wetsuits for the shorter lady!?

  9. I agree on some points and disagree on others. I have a 4/3 Rip Curl F-bomb, and I easily surf it when water temperatures are in the mid 30′s. I just went out today for three hours in 47 degree water, and was warm as could be.

    The thing that really counts is the quality of your wetsuit. Are the seams liquid taped? Is it fleece lined? How well do the hand/foot/head areas seal? As long as your suit is not flushing and you’re wearing good gloves/booties/hoods, you should be toasty.

  10. Hey i plan to get into spearfishing in shallow depths in Arkansas. Im wondering will i need a hood to keep fish from seeing me in the summer and is there a wetsuit that is comfortable in almsot every temperature under 80

  11. @Andy, I think wind is a big factor here. Without wind you can easily stand some pretty cold water, but if its windy then you get cold as hell pretty fast.

    @Phillip, I don’t know much about spearfishing and camouflage, sorry. As far as a versatile wetsuits go – there is no wetsuit out there that would cover all the temperatures from freezing cold to really warm. Thats impossible with todays technology… well probably not impossible but would be really expensive..kind of like a space suit :).

  12. just wondering.. i live in tropical island and the temperature here is way too higher then 25. i am thinking of buying a full wetsuit the thinnest i can find just for sun protection when surfing, is it ok to wear a wetsuit in summer when surfing?

  13. Jet skiing in the winter/ early spring. Dont really want to get my winter jacket soaking, what kind of wet-suit do I need? Im in Virginia, so the air temperature varies from 50-80 degrees F, water temperature from 50-60 degrees F
    thanks

  14. @John, I think a 4/3mm wetsuit will be enough since on jet ski you are not actually in the water most of the time.

  15. what is better, oneil psyco rg8 4/3 or xcel infinity xzip2 4/3, i am from tassie and it gets down to 11-15 degrees in the winter

  16. I disagree on some points if you consider scuba
    1) thermocline, The water does get cold and you wont know if it does in the area until you hit it…

    2) Depth, neoprene compresses, air bubbles in it get smaller, it looses thermal qualities with depth. If you are going 80 feet you really should think of what you are doing.

    3) If for whichever reason you are diving and it is too warm, you can always let water in (pull your neck off a bit. If it is too thin, well, you are out of luck

    Overall, i find 3mm suit best for warm diving, 7mm for places like NJ

  17. Just to add a note on compression

    a 3mm neoprene suite at the surface will lose 50% efficiency at depth of 10 meters. At 20 meters is becomes only 30% efficient, at 40 meters (your recreational depth) 25% efficient when compared t the surface (1 atmosphere)

    That also happens temperatures decline as you go deeper. So if you purchase 3mm suite, it becomes 1mm equivalent at depth of 30 meters / 100 feet.

  18. Nice article but I have suggestion. You should have a separate recommendation guide for scuba diving. Unlike the other reasons for wearing a wetsuit, divers are completely submerged for a long duration. The water just sucks the heat out of your body. I like in South Florida always wear a 3.5mm full suit with boots unless it’s the middle of summer. Just for argument sake, I dove today and the water was 77 F. I wore my wetsuit and a couple I was with didn’t (they were from California and figured they were tough because they are use to colder water. Long story short, the dude was fine. His girlfriend was freezing after the first dive which was only 30-40 minutes.

    According to PADI water pulls heat out of your body 25x faster than air. (depends on salt or fresh).

  19. This friday I am going to be at the davy jones rendezvous (a sea scout thing…don’t ask) in Lexington NC. The weather for Saturday (we are doing sailing, log rolling, water fights, etc etc on Sat.) has a high temperature of 75. We are going to be at a mountain lake. Do I really need to bring my 2/1 mm Shorty wetsuit, or should I leave it at home.

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