Is 3mm wetsuit OK for winter?

When it comes to winter surfing and diving, having the right wetsuit thickness is crucial for staying warm and comfortable in cold water temperatures. Many people wonder if a 3mm wetsuit is warm enough for winter use or if a thicker option is needed. Here is a detailed look at how 3mm wetsuits perform in winter conditions.

Quick Answer

A 3mm wetsuit can be OK for winter use depending on the water temperature and your personal cold tolerance. Most surfers and divers opt for a 4/3mm or 5/4/3mm wetsuit for winter since 3mm alone provides minimal insulation. However, a 3mm wetsuit combined with boots, gloves, and a hood can work for less extreme winter conditions.

What Thickness Wetsuit is Needed for Winter?

Most surfers and divers choose wetsuits in the 4-6mm thickness range for winter use. Here are some general guidelines:

  • 6mm – Extremely cold water below 55°F (12°C)
  • 5mm – Cold water 55-60°F (12-15°C)
  • 4mm – Cool water 60-65°F (15-18°C)
  • 3mm – Warm water above 65°F (18°C)

Keep in mind that personal tolerance for cold comes into play too. Some people run colder than others. These guidelines assume a full wetsuit covering the torso, arms, and legs.

4/3mm vs. 5/4/3mm Wetsuits

4/3mm and 5/4/3mm indicate wetsuit thicknesses in different areas:

  • 4/3mm – 4mm thick torso, 3mm thick arms and legs
  • 5/4/3mm – 5mm thick torso, 4mm thick arms, 3mm thick legs

5/4/3mm wetsuits provide extra insulation for the coldest conditions but may be overkill depending on where you live. 4/3mm is usually warm enough for most winter surfing and diving locales.

When is a 3mm Wetsuit OK for Winter?

On its own, a 3mm full suit wetsuit does not provide much insulation for cold water. However, a 3mm can work for winter if:

  • Worn in warmer water above 65°F (18°C)
  • Worn with boots, gloves, and a hood to protect extremities
  • Only worn for short sessions less than 1 hour
  • You run warm and have high tolerance for cold

A 3mm will take the chill off in cool water 60-65°F (15-18°C), but most people would be uncomfortable without added accessories after the first 30 minutes. Wearing a vest underneath adds warmth too.

3mm Wetsuit Winter Cold Water Tolerance

Water Temp Cold Tolerance in 3mm Wetsuit
65-70°F (18-21°C) 2+ hours before getting cold
60-65°F (15-18°C) 1-2 hours before getting cold
55-60°F (12-15°C) 30-60 minutes before getting cold
50-55°F (10-12°C) 15-30 minutes before getting cold

Your personal comfort and cold tolerance will vary. Use this table as a general guideline for how a 3mm wetsuit performs in different winter water temperatures.

Pros and Cons of 3mm Wetsuits for Winter

Here are some pros and cons to consider when deciding if a 3mm wetsuit is warm enough for your winter surfing or diving needs:


  • More flexibility and easier to get on/off
  • Less overheating if worn in warmer water
  • Lighter weight and less restrictive
  • Lower cost than a thicker wetsuit


  • Minimal insulation from cold
  • Can compress easier and lose insulating ability
  • Cold water flushing occurs faster
  • More prone to chilling between sessions
  • requires adding layers underneath or over top when water is cold

While thickness is not the only factor, most surfers and divers opt for a 4mm+ wetsuit for winter use to avoid the limitations of a 3mm suit. But a 3mm can work when paired with the right accessories and chosen for the right conditions.

Maximizing a 3mm Wetsuit for Winter

To help a 3mm wetsuit work in winter, utilize these tips:

Choose Warmer Water Conditions

Only use a 3mm in winter when water temps stay above 60°F (15°C). Colder than that will require extra insulation.

Add a Vest Underneath

Wearing a vest underneath adds warmth to the core without sacrificing arm mobility.

Wear a Hooded Wetsuit

A 3mm hooded wetsuit will help retain heat around your head and neck.

Use Wetsuit Gloves and Boots

Protect your extremities from the cold with 3-5mm neoprene gloves and boots.

Apply Windproof Grease

Grease exposed skin with a layer of windproof gel to block wind-chill.

Stay Active in the Water

Continually swim and move around to generate warmth inside your 3mm suit.

Limit Session Length

Plan for shorter sessions under 1 hour until you know your cold tolerance limits.

Have Hot Drinks Ready

Hydrate with hot teas, coffee, or chocolate to warm your core after sessions.

When to Wear a Thicker Winter Wetsuit

While it is possible to make a 3mm work into winter with the right precautions, most people will benefit from having a warmer 4/3mm or 5/4/3mm wetsuit for colder conditions. Opt for a thicker suit when:

  • Water drops below 60°F (15°C)
  • Doing long sessions over 1 hour
  • Wanting maximum warmth without accessories
  • Prone to chills and getting cold easily
  • Doing a lot of waiting, idling, or paddling
  • Surfing or diving multiple times per day
  • Wanting a built-in hooded design
  • Resistance to cold varies day-to-day

The extra insulation of a 4/3mm or thicker suit provides more versatility and warmth for handling cold winter swells or icy diving conditions. Most people prefer having the extra protection of thickness when water drops into the 50s°F.


While a 3mm wetsuit can potentially work for winter surfing and diving, most prefer the extra insulation of a 4/3mm or 5/4/3mm for cold water use. A 3mm alone provides minimal protection unless water stays very warm. But pairing a 3mm with gloves, boots, a hood, and vest can extend its temperature range when sessions stay shorter. For maximum comfort and flexibility, opt for added thickness when winter water temps drop. But strategically layering up a 3mm wetsuit can allow it to work during less extreme winter conditions.

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