Best Wetsuits for Kids
Growing up in Colorado, the only time I wore a wetsuit was white water rafting and even then I wore a stinky rental that was defiantly a unisex cut and 2 sizes too big.
When it came to buying my girls wetsuits the last few years I made all the mistakes. I bought wetsuits for my kids that were too big, too worn out or poorly cared for and honestly, just plain cheap.
My intention was to warm up my very petite toddler but instead I kept buying her heavy, useless bathing suits.
Since then I’ve learned wetsuits are these amazing capes that can give kids magic powers in the water. They not only keep kids warm, protected from the sun and abrasions but that extra buoyancy skyrockets confidence.
Learn from my mistakes and set your little swimmer up for success with a suit that actually functions properly. Water activity, temperature, and fit are all important factors when deciding which suit will best for your child’s needs.
Below I’ll discuss how to spot a cheap suit, how to check the fit and which thickness is appropriate for sport/water temperature.
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I’ve learned wetsuits are these amazing capes that can give kids magic powers in the water. They not only keep kids warm, protected from the sun and abrasions but that extra buoyancy skyrockets confidence.Jen Gardner, TMM Team
Wetsuit Styles for Kids
Full Wetsuits for Kids
A long-sleeve wetsuit covering both arms and legs is called a full suit. Full suits offer the most protection from sun, stinging creatures and other abrasions/hazards.
Full suits are the warmest but please note the warmth varies depending on thickness. Below I will discuss the details of thickness in neoprene.
Surfing is the most common use for a full-length suit as it provides protection from friction on your child’s forearms as they jump into position as well as protecting legs and body from rocks and reef.
Kids triathlons are also gaining in popularity, especially during the pandemic where training can take place safely outside and socially distanced. Kids gain that added confidence in open water swims when wearing a full suit.
The ease of getting in and out of a wetsuit during a race is very much dependent on quality and fit. Have you child practice transitioning in a few different suits to find which system is best suited to your child.
The type and thickness of the suit will depend on the location or nature of the swim. A split level thickness rating is very helpful in easing friction in the arms while swimming. Thickness in neoprene is split between the arms and the rest of the suit to increase ease of swimming.
Shorty Wetsuits for Kids
Shorties are the minimalist option. The shorty rocks varying the lengths of short sleeve and shorts. Coverage varies between brands. Often referred to as a “spring suit” because it’s intended use is for in-between seasons. Thick shorties provide needed body heat without restriction in movement.
Shorties are great for swim lessons. The magical buoyancy of the neoprene can give a toddler the warmth and confidence to get in the water. They’re also our favorite for stand up paddle boarding with kids.
Long John (or Farmer John) Wetsuits
This style is also referred to as a Farmer John. Sleeveless but with pants. Used in warmer temperatures and provides extra mobility through the upper body for swimming, but does leave the arms unprotected. Great for kids who prefer to feel less restricted.
Wetsuit Thickness: What to Know
Thickness of wetsuits are listed are measure between 1mm and 5mm. The thicker the suit, the warmer the insulation.
Thin suits are 1mm to 2mm and best suited for warmer locations like the Mediterranean. They are often worn for protection rather than warmth.
Thin suits are also helpful very petite kids like mine who get cold easily in swimming pools. A shorty worked well for keeping Aria warm during swim lessons and playing in mountain pools/hot tubs during ski season.
The most popular thickness is 3mm for colder waters found in the UK or Pacific Northwest. They provide the right balance of warmth and flexibility for most activities and environments.
Very thick 4mm and 5mm suits are for winter use only. These suits are often reserved for winter surf groms, deep diving, and winter triathlons. If a winter suit is necessary, choosing a sport specific suit is best.
Often full body suits will come with two ratings. One for the arms and one for the body, so a 2/3mm suit has 2mm in the arms and 3mm everywhere else. This allows for easier swimming and overall performance.
When thinking about the thickness of your kids wetsuit you should take into account not only the temperature of the water your kid will be swimming in but also air temperature and your kids sensibility to cold. The thicker the wetsuit, the more warmth it provides. But also, the thicker the wetsuit, the more restrictive it is to movement.
Check the Fit of Toddler Wetsuits and Kids Wetsuits
No matter what brand, make sure your kid’s wetsuit is the correct size and proper fit.
Too much space will allow water to move freely inside the suit cooling your child down. Too snug reduces flexibility. Have your child squat, raise their arms and pretend to swim. Be to sure to check they can swim comfortably.
The sure sign of a low quality wetsuit is poor seam construction. Bulky seams are often due to a stitch called overlock which can limit flexibility, irritate the skin, and allow water to move through the suit. Overlock stitching will result in leaking and a poorly insulated suit.
If this suit is all you can find this summer, just know that what you are buying is essentially a padded rash guard. I have witnessed first hand the benefits of such a suit. Our time in the water still increased exponentially, including playing in cold rivers and lakes. She also stayed protected while tubing some fairly big features for a 3/4 year old.
Flatlock seams are generally found on thinner kids’ wetsuits. Flatlock stitching is common in low to mid level brands and while the lack of bulk helps avoid chafing, these seams let in water cooling the body instead of warming it.
Flatlock is a better option if you can’t find the preferred option of glued and blind stitched seams. Just like overlock, intended warmth will be minimal. A snug fitting suit will help and there won’t be space for water to be trapped and cooled.
Glue and Blind-Stitched Seams
Glued and blind-stitched seams are ideal for cold water as they lock the water out. GBS, as it is commonly referred to is a sure sign of a well made suit. This special stitch requires a special sewing machine. Surprisingly even this industrial sewing machine is in high demand right now as supply is low and demand very high.
Think ahead, several brands spoke of supply shortages. If you know what you are looking for, pull the trigger sooner than later.
There are three types of wetsuits: back zip, chest zip and no zip. No zip may be best suited for older kids that can handle entry and exit on their own. Lack of zippers can increase comfort but require balance and coordination to access.
Front zip is the most popular and a good option for easy dressing. Back zippers tend to keep younger kid’s busy hands at bay.
Try Before You Buy
Finding the right wetsuit can be tricky given the sizing differences between brands, function, quality and array of styles. Start with sport and water temperature, then pick a style and then finally a brand. We encourage you to try on a few brands as comfort varies between brands.
Warm children stay outside and in the water longer, they are more likely to want to go back out the next time and are protected from the elements.
High quality suits will retain half their retail value if cared for properly. They can also be passed to do siblings and cousins. Giving the gift of warm water play is an excellent gift to give if we don’t say so ourselves!
Best Wetsuits for Kids and Juniors
The 3/2mm full wetsuit is one of the most popular suits on the market and for good reason. An extremely well made suit with the flexibility and durability for a reasonable price. A great entry level suit for your budding surfer or kayaker, this suit can do it all.
Krypto knee pads and wind proof with a flat lock stitch means your little grom will be comfortable and protected against all elements. There are several higher end models that have us drooling but this suit is a good start for the average family.
If your kid is in the surf daily or needs a higher level of warmth, O’Neill offers a full range of suits that offer additional comfort and protection including a full hood, fully tapped seams as well as seamless paddle zones. Double sealed neck collars as well as minimally glued and blind stitched seams offer lightweight quality construction. Please note O’Neill suits tend to be cut slimmer. Sized 4-16 years old.
The Seavenger Scout Child Wetsuit is perfect for all-day play. The 3mm neoprene material keeps your child warm in chilly water while the anti-chafe stitching protects them from any skin irritation.
We love the rubberized knee panels which protect joints from any accidental slips or falls as they enjoy their adventure time. Flat-lock stitching minimizes rubbing and irritation, while the sleek ankle zippers on each leg give a snug feel that prevents flushing.
The Scavenger Scout is known for its warmth and comfort as well as thoughtful attention to detail. These 2/3mm suits have thinner neoprene in certain areas (colored panels) for improved movement/flexibility. We especially appreciate the velcro zipper restraint (separate from velcro neck seal, zippers at the feet, and wear guards. Available in size 4-14 years old.
The Med X Junior is our top shorty choice. This is an easy to get on one-piece shorty with 3 mm of double-lined neoprene. It is perfect for kids who love diving or snorkeling in tropical waters.
The neoprene chest area is smooth which provides greater elasticity. It features smooth neoprene inserts on the wrists and legs that minimize water infiltration. It is lightweight and a front YKK zipper means it’s easy to put on. Separate anatomical cuts for both boy and girl are nice attentions to detail which offer more comfortability. Available in sizes 2-10 years old.
Best Toddler and Baby Wetsuits
This 3mm suit (also available in a 5 mm weight) is made with glued and blind-stitched seams, quality neoprene and fine touches to detail like ankle zips. In the full-length jumpsuits, there is a self-sealing spine pad over the zipper to further limit water exchange and to help ease the discomfort of dive tanks.
Down below, Freedom Flex kneepads provide a super-tough exterior with great mobility. Suit has a durable back zipper with zipper tab leash for easy donning and doffing.
We also really like the Henderson Shorty (also available in a toddler size) as a great spring season option which boasts glued and blind stitched seams and well as being anatomically designed for comfort.
The Thermoprene Jumpsuit’s effectiveness is based on a contoured fit that helps keeps water exchange to a minimum combined with a superior grade of neoprene for maximum heat retention. Size available in 2-16 years old.
“We had O’Neil before we bought these and I had planned on getting O’Neil again but O’Neil was way to big. Henderson was perfect. She’s been wearing it for six months doing winter surf camp from 3:30-5:00pm and it keeps them super warm.
My son has a size 10 and I like that it has side leg zips because he has big feet so that makes it easier to get on and off. Both wetsuits are a 3mm which everyone told me would be too thin for Monterey water but neither kid has complained about being cold so I think they are pretty decent thickness/material.
Plus my kids O’Neil ones faded really bad in the sun and these ones haven’t faded at all.”– Sarah Ricks, TMM Community
The O’Neill Youth Reactor Toddler is everything we love about the Youth Reactor in pint size. With one exception, a back-zip design to keep busy fingers from unzipping the suit – and to prevent neck irritation. Sizes 1-6 years old.
Team member Sarah’s daughter loves her toddler O’Neill Reactor.
“The O’Neill Reactor is perfect for a long day on the river. or at the lake. Not only do the long sleeve protect Harper from rocks and other abrasions, the suit also offers excellent sun protection.”– Sarah Toal, TMM Team
This popular surf suit is made with a 100% StretchFlight x2 limestone-derived neoprene which is warm, light & flexible. It has vapor stretch on the chest and back panel to help retain heat and block wind.
The Syncro comes with a back zip entry, YKK zippers and GBS (glued and blind stitched) seams.
Last but not least, every toddler suit needs Supratex knee pads for durable, lightweight & flexible protection. Drainage holes make sure you tot stays warm all day. Sizes 2-16 years old.
Wetsuits for Kids: The Bottom Line
You don’t need little groms catching big waves to justify protecting skin or deep scuba dives to encourage staying warm. Whether your sensitive tot is just chilling at the splash pad or immersed in an alpine lake, a wetsuit provides several attributes that are invaluable to your kids health and enjoyment in the water.
A wetsuit isn’t always necessary, sometimes a rash guard and a hat is enough protection. Watching how you kid interacts with the water they are playing in will give you a clue if more warmth and protection is necessary.
If you are traveling and will only need the suit a few times. Renting might be a better option. Wetsuits are a lot of things but easily packable isn’t one of them.
There are a lot of wetsuit options out there, the more expensive ones will last longer and keep kids warmer but the most important factor is fit. Too tight and kids won’t want to wear them, too loose and they will get cold.
If you do wish to buy a used wetsuit, ask questions about how the suit was cleaned and dried, if it has ever been stored outside and make sure to check the seams. Like waterproofing, once a suit has been ruined bringing it back to life is tricky and unlikely.
Now that we live on an island, I hope my little swimmers will have plenty of time to test out a variety of suits. Water play is the by far the most soothing therapy for my special needs kid. If we can find a comfortable suit that gives her that added boost in confidence, that’s worth trying out a few, right?
Best wetsuits for kids
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