Wetsuit jacket: When over the top won't work

A wetsuit jacket is usually something to be worn over your wetsuit for added protection from the cold whether you're in or out of the water. The thicker ones – in the over 2 mm range – generally come with a zipper because it's pretty hard to get one of these over your head without one. They're also usually not suitable for surfing because the zipper in front can be uncomfortable when you're paddling out to catch the wave; that's unless the zipper is in the back, which is a popular design modification nowadays. Surfers usually prefer the zipper that goes from neck to chest level; that wetsuit jacketwon't come in the way and it's a whole lot easier to put on and take off.

Advantages of the two-piecer with jacket

A wetsuit jacket is perfect if you use a two piece wetsuit because then you're prepared for a wide temperature range. Normally, a wetsuit jacket alone will let you stay comfortably in 20-degree (centigrade) water for long periods, but with a wetsuit top underneath, you can even use it for much colder water, and with a full-body suit and hood under the jacket, you should be able to go down to about 7 degrees, or near-freezing, as long as you're wearing other protection like gloves, boots or full-foot flippers, and a dive mask.

Brand talk – O'Neill nuggets

O'Neill makes some great wetsuit jackets in the 1-2 mm range starting at about $40. Of course, they go up to about $150 but for an average of $60 to $75 you should be able to land a great deal. Most wetsuit jackets will be in that price range for that thickness, with minor variations.

Brand talk take two – Pinnacle pointers

Some of the better brands of wetsuit jackets are Neosport, Pinnacle, Blue Reef, Rip Curl, NRS, Billabong and XS Scuba, but there are several more. Pinnacle is probably one of the most prolific makers of jackets, but primarily makes them for scuba use. About $80 is a good average for their stuff. Pinnacle jackets feature diagonal zippers, rubber shoulder pads for added durability, roughskin kneepads for protection and Marine grade zippers and pulls. A 7 mm jacket worn over a 7 mm suit should give you adequate protection from the cold.

Brand talk take three – Neosport nuances

Neosport wetsuit jackets feature the diagonal zipper as well, on their thicker models. The thinner ones are made of 'superstretch' neoprene that not only makes it easier to get in and out of, but also allows for better maneuverability and flexibility under water. The jackets are about the same price as the other brands, and in the mid-three digit range, you can get a combo "John and Jacket", which is basically a jacket top with long John bottoms.

Brand talk…well you get the idea – The Rip Curl report

Rip Curl is another very popular surf brand that carries long and short-sleeve jackets at reasonable prices. Like the other brands, they're available in a range of thicknesses, but the thinner ones are preferred by surfers because they're more flexible, and that's a big advantage when you're moving quickly from a prone position to an upright one in about the time it takes to say "surf's up". Rip Curl also does make watersports jackets for other needs, but most people only know them for their surf gear, and they don't pretend to be anything other than caterers to the great whites.

To put it in an oyster shell…

Choosing a good wetsuit jacket is more a question of preference than anything else because of the huge variety to pick from. You need something that will maintain the water seal, keep you warm, fits well and sells for less. Obviously, if money is no object, then your choice gets harder, but in general, go with your gut feel and buy the one you want rather than the one that's 'in style' – styles change, but you're the one who's going to have to live with it until it's time for a new one.