The Best Wetsuit Top Models
Whether paddling, surfing, swimming, or doing any other activity in the water, picking a good wetsuit top to match with the rest of your wetsuit gear will keep your core warm and safe when in the water.
Wondering why you would need a vest? Well, sometimes, in warmer weather, you can’t have a full wetsuit on merely because it’s hot, and it can make you feel restricted. However, a thin protective wetsuit top that acts like a rash guard and a vest at the same time might be just the thing you need to protect you from the harmful UV rays and the wind.
After all, the long and short sleeve wetsuit top models I have picked are made from a high-quality and super-stretchy neoprene that feels like a second skin.
Considering buying one? Here are the most important things to look for in a wetsuit top so that you can make an informed decision when purchasing one.
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How to choose the right wetsuit top for yourself?
Wetsuit top designs come in many different thicknesses and materials primarily tailored to the water temperature you will be in. If you notice, some of the models have don’t have any thickness listed because instead of neoprene, they use lightweight and quick-drying materials like nylon, Polyester or Spandex, and similar.
This doesn’t make them less quality but suitable for protection in warm weather. On the other hand, you can still go with a neoprene wetsuit top that is thinner (1 – 3 mm), which will give you the same UV protection, regulate your body temperature, and will protect against wind and cool water.
All in all, these vests are on the thinner side with more airflow to keep you from overheating while protecting your skin against burns.
As for neoprene, here are two general guidelines on temperature:
When paddling, swimming, or kayaking in a temperature of 16°C – 24°C or more (60°F – 75°F), then get a wetsuit top with a neoprene thickness from 1 to 3mm.
And if the water temperature is from 10°C or less to 18°C (50°F to 62°F), then you will need a neoprene gear with thickness from 5 to 7mm. At this point, I primarily recommend getting a full wetsuit on with boots, gloves and hood that will completely protect you from the elements.
With that said, whatever thickness or material you choose for your wetsuit top, one thing is certain! Do not wear cotton anywhere on your body when in water. Cotton clothing, even socks, take too long to dry, and while drying, they take away warmth from your body into the water or air. So until the cotton dries, you are constantly losing heat.
Neoprene, on the other hand, does the opposite.
How Neoprene Works?
Neoprene is a carbon-based organic chemical-filled nitrogen gas bubbles inside. It is made of repeating building blocks called monomers, which trap heat more efficiently than any other material, even rubbers.
This is why most modern wetsuits use neoprene materials. It traps water between your skin and the material, which provides excellent thermal control. This is how it keeps you warm even in temperatures below 50 F or 15 C. However, to be effective, you have to get it to be completely fit on you so that it doesn’t flush the water out.
So, no matter the model, the design, color, or whatnot, the single most important consideration when buying a wetsuit top should be the temperature of the water you’ll be paddling in.
Getting the Best Wetsuit Top – Buyers Guide
Now that we have gotten the basics out of the way let’s talk about the different types of wetsuit tops, their construction, and the long vs. short sleeve wetsuit top models.
You see, a wetsuit top is a fantastic alternative to full-body wetsuits in summer. When you don’t want to wear too much gear on you and want to keep part of your body exposed, then a wetsuit top will give you just the right amount of protection without overheating you.
Here are all the different factors that amount to wetsuit tops.
Different Types of Wetsuit Tops
Primarily, there is the long sleeve and short sleeve wetsuit top that will dictate the temperature you are in most. The long sleeve wetsuit tops are great for optimum comfort and heat insulation when scuba diving or snorkeling. Even when in the summertime in hot temperatures, you will still be better off with such a design because underwater is always colder than outside.
On the other hand, if paddling, kayaking, or surfing and you want some protection against the wind and sun but not that much, and you value your freedom of motion, then a short-sleeve wetsuit top will be a much better option.
Construction of Wetsuit Tops
Sleeves aside, there are differences in the construction that are also crucial because they can prevent or let water. They also amount to the overall durability of the wetsuit top.
In the flatlock stitching design, you have two neoprene pieces that are stitched on the seams together. You can notice it by the zigzag method of stitching. This construction is ideal for water activities when the weather is warmer because it provides exceptional breathability.
Glued and Blindstitched (GBS)
With the GBS method, you have neoprene segments glued together with a stitch halfway through the neoprene material. Although the flatlock stitching is pretty solid, the glued and blind stitched method is considered to provide higher quality in the construction.
Above that, it is watertight because it is glued to remove holes that might occur with the stitching. It also absorbs the minimum of water.
The welded seam construction is a silicon-based seal that joints on the neoprene panels, and usually, the premium wetsuit and wetsuit gear have it. It guarantees 100% waterproof protection and, of course, comes at a higher price.
If you are using your wetsuit top only in summer and you don’t care about thermal protection as much as you do for UV protection, then the overlock stitching is totally fine. Otherwise, it isn’t so effective at retaining water, and it tends to flush it out.
The most popular brands for neoprene tops
O’Neill is originally a Californian surfwear, and surfboard brand started in 1952 by Jack O’Neill. The man perfected the first wetsuit in the 1950s, and since then, O’Neill has been at the forefront of not just developing high-performance wetsuits but surfing as a whole.
Being popular for almost 70 years now, the brand has expanded towards a clothing line, but they have also perfected their water suits line for men, women, children, and plus-size models.
Combining a classic feel with groundbreaking technologies at its exclusive Area 52 facility, O’Neill is always ahead of the game when it comes to wetsuit feature possibilities. You can learn more about the company here.
Founded in 1969 in Torquay Australia by Brian Singer and Doug “Claw” Warbrick, Rip Curl is one of the world’s most recognized and respected brands. It has been at the forefront of the surf and snow scenes since its creation.
Rip Curl is a designer, manufacturer, and retailer of surfing sportswear and accompanying products. It has also become a major athletic sponsor.
The company has become one of the largest surfing companies in Australia, Europe, South America, North America, and South Africa. You can learn more about the company’s history here.
As part of the Henderson Sport Group, NeoSport products come from a company founded in the 1960s. Since the beginning, Henderson Sport Group has specialized in diving gear, and up to date, they innovate in the field, becoming among the top companies for water sports equipment.
Hyperflex Company is founded in 1965 and is a Division of Henderson Aquatics, Inc. They are among the largest Scuba Diving wetsuit manufacturer in the world.
With their 45+ years of patterning and neoprene materials experience, they strive towards creating the best possible wetsuit on the market for the best possible price. Their gear is warm and flexible, durable, and provides the highest comfort when wearing for prolonged periods. You can learn more about the company here.
The top 5 neoprene boots on the market
O’Neill Men’s Basic Skins wetsuit top feels exactly like that, like a second skin. Its design provides high-level protection of UPF 50+ and has minimal seam placement to protect your skin from rashes during your water activities.
This way, the rash guard can be worn on its own for optimal protection from the sun during warmer weather. Or even under a drysuit or a wetsuit as an additional warm layer to prevent the dry suit from irritating your skin.
Speaking of protection, this wetsuit top is a Skin Cancer Foundation Recommended Product with its UPF 50+ Ultraviolet Protection and minimal heat absorption, so you don’t have to worry about spending an entire day under the sun practicing your surfing or paddling.
I know how addictive all these watersports can be, and once you start, you cannot stop, so having such a protective wetsuit top makes things a lot easier.
Made of durable a combination between Polyester and Spandex, it shapes against your body and provides the ultimate comfort without limiting your movement in any way.
Eric, a verified amazon customer, says:
“Went kayaking over the weekend and this shirt was great. I’m light skinned and normally I’m constantly battling to keep sun screen on, which ultimately ends up leaving me with awesome patchy sun burns. With this shirt I was out in direct sunlight for about 7 hours and didn’t get the slightest trace of a sunburn.
Also, if you get in the water this shirt does a great job of holding a bit of moisture next to your skin which keeps you cool.
On the sizing:
I’m a smaller guy and in relatively good shape. 5′ 10″, 160 lb, 30″ waist, 40″ chest, and I originally ordered a medium and it was WAY too tight. I bumped up to a large, and it’s still tight, but not ridiculously so.
I’d suggest taking your waist and chest measurements, and comparing those to the size charts. Whichever of those puts you in a larger size, bump up 1 size from that. For example my waist measurement lines up with a small, but my chest lines up with a med, and I actually went with a large.”
If the lightweight but long-sleeve O’Neill wetsuit top was a little bit too protective for you, along the same Basic Skins line, I have listed the O’Neill short sleeve wetsuit top that is just as protective as the other one when it comes to UV rays but gives you a little bit more airflow due to the short sleeves.
It is made of a polyester/spandex four-way stretch fabric that fits snugly but comfortably against your skin, and most importantly, this material is durable.
It can take a lot of wear and tear, even the sand or rocks, laying against a scratchy surface next to a pool, and with such high protection, it can also save your skin from scratches if you get swiftly tossed against sharp rocks during your surf.
So, if you want more freedom but still want to get adequate protection against the tropical rays while paddling or snorkeling, then this short-sleeve wetsuit top by O’Neil is the real deal.
And hey, if it rhymes, it must be true, right?
Chris and Trish, verified amazon customers say:
“The XL fit my son who normally wears a large. My hubby who wears an XL couldn’t get in it and he’s skinny. My son is 145lb at 6’2″ so pretty skinny. It’s not super tight but not loose either. Just right. Material is nice and color is amazing. He said it was comfy all day snorkeling and I could see him perfectly! Love it. Runs size small IMO.”
The NeoSport men’s wetsuit top with long sleeves and shorts is here for more robust protection, and I say that because of its 3mm neoprene construction and its overall design that acts as both a wetsuit top and shorts with front zipper closure.
The 3mm thickness neoprene is fantastic for diving and snorkeling on temperatures from 16°C to 24°C or more (60°F to 75°F). It will feel protective without being overly constraining for your movements or overheat you because of its short sleeve design.
Talking about durability, this wetsuit top with shorts has a spot-taped construction covering all stress points that might tear with the wear. And alongside, it has flatlock seams that provide a smooth surface on the inside to maximize rash protection and provide maximum comfort and durability.
The Lycra trimmed wrist and ankle seals and diamond plate knee pads guarantee robustness that won’t wear off no matter the water activity.
Jim, a verified amazon customer, says:
“Finally, I have discovered a 3 mm. shorty wetsuit that is super easy to get into, is warm in my winter 47 degrees unheated pool and was priced exceptionally reasonable.
The cross design zipper starting at the thigh and zipping across the chest up to the neck makes entry super easy compared to getting into both legs first and having to struggle to get into the arms and to adjust upward.
With the left leg unzipped until both arms are in, the rest is a piece of cake, especially for my compromised right shoulder. I wish that I had discovered you, folks, sooner for the comfort that I sought for my deep water running and deep water exercise routine over the years. I am 5′ 10″, 160 lbs., and slim.
The medium fit me perfectly; just a tiny bit short in the long sleeve, but negligible. I hope the last statement helps others in their size choice, as did the posted reviews in helping me with my choice of size.”
This long-sleeve Rip Curl jacket constructed of 1.5mm Freeflex neoprene is entirely performance-oriented when it comes to the harsh wear and tear of the surf sessions.
It has strong, stretchy seams that won’t limit your motion but will give you more buoyancy and flexibility. The wetsuit top jacket is conveniently designed with a corrosion-proof zipper, and because of it, it’s easy to put it on and take it off at any time so that you can spend more quality time in the water protected from the elements.
It fits snugly like a second skin, and while wearing, you won’t feel the 1.5 mm neoprene thickness as something obstructing thanks to the E-Stitch high-stretch seams that are 50% stretchier and 30% stronger than regular flatlock seams.
It has a smooth mesh body and top arms for wind protection, and the best part that guarantees quality is the fact that Rip Curl offers a 1-year warranty. Yup, they are that confident in their high-performance products.
David Felice, a verified amazon customer says:
“Love the ease of putting it on. I spend a lot of time on my belly paddling, I do feel the zipper. It sits differently than pull over wetsuit tops. And it let’s water in differently than wetsuit tops. That being said, I like the smooth skin and the warmth level of the 1.5mm versus a 1 or 2mm. Takes a little getting used to but I like it.”
Can’t make up your mind between neoprene and stretchy mesh materials? Why not take both?
The Hyperflex wetsuit top uses 50% mesh skin neoprene and 50% rash guard material. This enables the user to gain double benefits from the super-durable and heat-regulative neoprene and the optimal performance rashguard material that fits comfortably.
This wetsuit top has mesh skin that blocks the wind, while the nylon underarms and side panels of the sleeves give you unrestricted motion for kayaking, paddling, swimming, and any other water activity.
Thanks to its clever design, the Hyperflex wetsuit top can be worn under a wetsuit or a drysuit in case of super cold temperatures for added warmth without taking away your mobility. On the other hand, you can wear it with your swimsuit only for optimal protection from the sun without overheating you. This way, you can surf the waves longer without scorching like a chicken nugget.
Additionally, this mix of materials not only that is durable, but it is also effortless to care for. Namely, thanks to the Polyolefin that’s unique to this Hyperflex model, you get the following benefits:
- Polyolefin repels moisture more effectively than any other fiber. This way, cold or warm, you stay dry.
- Because there is no evaporative cooling against the skin, Polyolefin offers superior insulation no matter your sport of choice.
- What’s more, this short-sleeve wetsuit top is extremely lightweight, so you won’t feel it while wearing it. It provides warmth and protection without excess bulk. So it can be worn alone as a sun-protective layer or underneath a more robust water gear as an additional chill blocker layer.
- It stands against the usual wear and tears, and it is resistant to abrasion and tears. It also repels bad odor because Polyolefin is inert so it doesn’t allow for the growth of odor-causing bacteria
- The high-quality color won’t fade away after multiple uses and washes, sunlight, or chlorine exposure.
J.L, a verified amazon customer, says:
“I was going on vacation to San Diego a little earlier this year and decided to grab something that would both help with water temperature and wind-chill, as well as provide some extra sun-protection to boot. Around this time of year the Pacific’s water temperature is in the low 60’s, while air-temperature averages mid-70’s for the highs (at least when we went).
While this does not come close to a full-body wetsuit, it did make May feel like July, provided you’re being pretty active on the beach. I spent a lot of time skim-boarding which kept my body-temperature raised.
So this suit with the sun beating down on the dark colors and the neoprene-like fabric on the torso—coupled with what I’d suggest as even moderate water activity, I felt fine! Resting on the beach afterward in shade, I began to cool down a lot as the wind hit me.
Also took some pretty hard falls, slides, and rolls both in and out of the water, to which the suit held up. Was out at the beach daily for 6 hours at a time throughout the midday. No sunburn on any covered parts, including the very light mesh on the sides, arms, and neck.
I cannot attest for the durability of this hybrid shirt, as I only used it for a couple of days. But I will say that I took some nasty falls and slides both in the water and on wet sand from skim-boarding, for which it held up fine.
I’ll update my review when I’ve used it more to report results. After 3 full days of use with repeated full submersion, it still has a lingering chemical almost tar-like smell to it on the main material.
Understandably, this does not “wrap” around your body as a spring suit or a full-body wetsuit grips around your legs and groin.
As such, there is a tendency for water to easily creep up through the bottom of the shirt and neck. As such, getting the right fit is very important because you want it as comfortably tight as you can get it. I felt they could’ve used a stronger elastic band around the neck and waist to make a tighter fit.
The neck material was more or less loose around my neck with no elastic property. Nevertheless I’m overall very satisfied with my purchase, as it frankly exceeded my expectations. Definitely measure your chest and waist size rather than ball-parking the size.”
Frequently asked questions – buying a wetsuit top
1. Will a Wetsuit Top Keep Me Warm During Diving?
If you get the thickness with temperature ratio right, your wetsuit top will protect you from the cold just fine. For neoprene wetsuit tops, you have the make sure it fits you tightly and snug enough to eliminate any excessive water-entry. Also, the seams have to be solid to stop water-flushing.
2. Are Wetsuit Tops Suitable For Scuba Diving?
Yes, your wetsuit top will regulate your heat just fine when scuba diving. However, for lower temperatures, I would still suggest getting a full wetsuit or drysuit of at least 3mm neoprene thickness or more for better thermal control.
3. Are Wetsuit Tops with a Zipper Good Idea?
A zipper does not affect the performance as much, so it all comes down to your style and liking. However, when buying a wetsuit top with a zipper, you must be mindful of the brand. Whether is something popular thus high-quality like the RipCurl or NeoSport ones in our list or not.
Zippers are tricky, and if they don’t come from a trusted brand, they might not be as durable. Also, if you have the choice, go for zippers on the front for convenience and more comfort when putting it on.
4. How to Wash a Wetsuit Top Properly?
No matter the water sports gear you have, whether a wetsuit top, boots, gloves, dry or wetsuit, it accumulates oil, debris, and dirt over time. This can become unpleasant, which is why I always say to wash your equipment after each use.
However, proper washing is important because it can prolong the life of your wetsuit top. So, always hand wash and rinse your wetsuit top in freshwater. Otherwise, washing in a washing machine will damage the neoprene and will cause the seams to break.
No need to use any detergents or soaps either. It is important to wash after each use, just like with wetsuits, but especially important to clean the salt away if you have been using your wetsuit top in the ocean.
5. How to Dry My Wetsuit Top?
After thoroughly handwashing it with freshwater, drying is the next vital step in preventing damage to the materials and the overgrowth of bacteria and unpleasant smells.
Namely, the drying needs to be in the open air, and don’t forget to keep your wetsuit top out of direct sunlight. When in use, it is fine, but when drying, they should be in the shadow because UV rays tend to degrade neoprene and cause a premature breakdown in the seams.
6. How to Remove the Stink from My Wetsuit Top?
With proper washing and drying, there usually isn’t any bad odor, but if that happens, then deodorizing them can be relatively easy.
Firstly, as with all your water ware, you need to let your wetsuit top dry completely. Sometimes the neoprene, depending on its thickness, takes longer to dry, and people get impatient, so they store their wetsuit tops not thoroughly cleaned out and not dried out, so they develop an unpleasant smell.
When this happens, you can use some specifically designed odor-removing products like Gear Aid Revivex Odor Eliminator (previously labeled McNett Mirazyme) or Sink the Stink Gear Deodorizer. (We are not associated with either of the products, it’s just my opinion on eliminating the odor). There are also other similar products on the market, so take your pick.
Soak your wetsuit top in there, and then wash it with fresh water. Just make sure that the product you choose doesn’t just mask odors, but it eliminates the bacteria that causes the bad smell in the first place. These types of products can also be used for wetsuits and all other gear, from base layers to gloves to life jackets.
Wetsuit top Summary
Wearing a wetsuit top gives you the ideal protection without the restriction of movement for most water activities. You can either be with one and pair it with bikinis or board shorts or wear it under a drysuit or a wetsuit for an added temperature-regulating layer.
With all the different thicknesses and models on the market, it can indeed be confusing what to pick. Lucky for you, I have done all the research, so you don’t have to, and came up with the five best wetsuit tops you can’t go wrong with.
Plus, you have all the tips on choosing the right one for you and how to take care of it to ensure longevity and optimal performance.
So, all in all, I think you are all set to venture out on your grand paddling adventure.
Of course, if you have any questions or you would like to share your experience with your wetsuit top, feel free to comment down below. You never know who you might help with your experience.
And, in the meantime, I’d love to connect with you on my Facebook and Instagram accounts for more cool tips and recommendations on water sports gear and wetsuits.