The Ultimate Cold Water Wetsuit Guide

The Ultimate Cold Water Wetsuit Guide

Wetsuits are just magical pieces of rubber that allow us to do what we love, even in the dead of winter! Every wetsuit manufacturer has their own sizing and patterns, which makes it tricky to buy before you try it on. You can find sizing charts online for pretty much any brand and they are a great starting point when trying to figure out your sizing. When you look at the chart, the height dimension tends to be more accurate than the weight, so make sure you fall within the range they offer there. For surfing, I like my wetsuits to fit pretty snug—especially my winter suits. Neoprene tends to expand a bit when it gets wet, so it’s nice to have one that fits nice and snug. For spring and summer wetsuits, it’s not a big deal to have a little bit of extra rubber. But for winter wetsuits, you want to find the best possible fit so you don’t have any areas leaking water, or excess rubber getting in the way of your paddling.  


Wetsuits range from 1 to 7mm in thickness typically. Whenever you see two numbers such as 4/3mm or 3/2mm, it means that the product is made from 4mm neoprene around the chest, back and legs and 3mm on the arms. The arms tend to be thinner to allow for easier paddling when surfing and paddle boarding. There are lots of guides out there about the appropriate thickness of neoprene for different water and air temperature conditions. Depending on where you live, you will have different conditions but here is some information that can be used as an initial guide:

Wetsuit Thickness Temperature Guide

We need different suits depending on the season we surf and paddle here on the Great Lakes. If you can only afford one wetsuit, I would say start with a 4/3mm, as it will be pretty versatile and work well into fall and early in spring. Same goes for booties, invest in a 7mm pair and you are good year round. For gloves, go for the 5mm instead of 3mm. And if you are going to do winter surfing or paddling, make sure you have at a good hooded 5/4mm wetsuit  and a pair of 7mm mittens. In the past, you would want the thickest possible wetsuit you could get. However, the technology has progressed so much that nowadays a high performance 5/4 can be much warmer than a not-so-technical 6/5mm or 7/6mm. 

For surfing, we would never wear a dry suit, as they are too bulky. For paddling, some people wear dry suits in the winter but our crew usually wear a winter wetsuit for SUP surfing. You can wear a windbreaker on top of your wetsuit for flat water paddling. 

Surf the Greats Winter Surfing Great Lakes by Lucas Murnaghan Wetsuit Guide Ontario


We are going to tell you a secret but don’t tell anyone, ok? You can pee in your wetsuit to keep you warm out there. But please don’t pee in it if you rent it from us! The world is made of two kinds of people: those who pee in their wetsuits and those who don’t. I definitely do.

Every time you get home from a session, rinse the inside and outside of the wetsuit in the shower and hang it somewhere to dry away from the sun. Placing a fan in front of your gear helps to dry it quickly. You can flip it inside out after a couple hours and it will be fully dry in no time. Once or twice a month, you can fill up a bucket or a tub with cold water and add ‘Piss Off’, or any wetsuit shampoo to it. We are big fans of Dr. Bronner’s Soap for cleaning our wetsuits. Let it soak for a couple hours then rinse if off and hang it up to dry. Don’t ever put your wetsuit in the washer or the dryer!

Surf the Greats Great Lake Surfing Surf Winter Ontario by Lucas Murnaghan


Make sure your suit is not inside out nor backwards! Look for the kneepads when you are putting it on and make sure your knees go in that spot. If it’s a chest zipper, the zipper goes on the chest! If it’s a back zipper, the zipper goes on the back! Chest zippers are placed horizontally along the chest. Back zippers are placed vertically along the back. You can keep your socks on while putting on a wetsuit, or use a grocery shopping bag in your foot to make it easier to slide into it. We also swear by our WORN (previously known as Wetsox) Products, as they make it super easy to get in and out of your gear while adding an extra layer of warmth.

As you put your wetsuit on, make sure you stretch the legs thoroughly before you start working on the upper body area. Keep your fingernails away from the suit as you put it on, otherwise you will end up with holes in your suit. Not big deals if you do though, just apply a layer of wetsuit cement, let it dry and it will be like new. Try not to leave any areas bunched up for the perfect fit. The ankle part of your wetsuit goes on top of the booties. The sleeve of goes on top of the gloves or mittens. If you roll up the sleeve before putting your gloves or mittens on, you can easily roll them down on top of the gloves afterwards. In order to put the second mitten on, it’s always best to have a surf buddy or ask for the help of a friendly stranger in the parking lot. It must be really hard to be a lobster...

Surf the Greats Great Lake Surfing Surf Ontario Toronto Winter Surfing by Lucas Murnaghan 


Having a change mat makes all the difference—especially when there's snow on the ground. Start by peeling off the mittens/gloves, and then move onto your booties. Open the chest or back zip and remove the hood if your wetsuit has one. If you have a back zipper, you are laughing! If you have a front zipper with a chest entry point, you need to slowly slide the opening down one shoulder and keep going until you get the elbow out. If you have a high-end zipperless wetsuit, the process is similar to having a chest zipper. After that, the other side is easy. 

Hopefully you have a changing robe or a beach towel to wrap yourself around, otherwise, you are probably wishing you had worn a speedo / bathing suit underneath it so you are not flashing everyone in the parking lot! Once you roll the wetsuit down past your knees, the easiest way to get it past your ankles is by stepping on it, one foot at the time, until you are free. It’s completely normal to be feeling defeated by now. If surfing or paddling in cold water was easy, everyone would do it! 

Surf the Greats Great Lake Surfing Surf Ontario Toronto Lake Ontario by Matthew Manhire


We usually bring a thermos with hot water and pour it into our wetsuit before going out on the coldest days. Wetsuits work by creating a thin layer of water between your skin and the neoprene. This water warms up as your heat gets trapped into the wetsuit, so by starting with warm water, you are saving your body the need to warm up that water for you. If you are getting cold, you can always come out and pour a bit more hot water into it. Make sure the water is not too hot though, otherwise you could burn yourself! 

If you still have any questions about wetsuits, just drop us a line. Our experienced crew is prepared to answer any questions and help you find the right gear to surf in Toronto, on the Great Lakes, as well as anywhere else in the world!

Images by Matt Manhire and Lucas Murnaghan. Words by Antonio Lennert.