We all have that mate who claims to not feel the cold, refusing to ditch their 3/2 until deep into December… usually the same guy that won’t acknowledge Christmas until a week out and puts their tree up on December 24th.
I’ll admit, I once was that guy, but not anymore – now I’m older, wiser. Shakin’ Stevens has been on rotation in my house for weeks and I’m maximising the amount of time a cheese board is acceptable for both lunch and dinner.
The same rationale applies to the donning of winter rubber, why hold out when you can jump into the warm embrace of thicker neoprene now? So, unless you’re that guy (don’t be that guy), the time has come to switch to a 4/3.
The wetsuit in question, needessentials 4/3mm Thermal Chest Zip.
Before we dive into the review, let’s start from the top with a quick intro to needessentials for the uninitiated.
If you’re a regular to Wavelength it’s likely that you’ll have watched Torren Martyn sliding through pristine tubes or drawing graceful lines whilst sporting needessentials rubber, but you might not know the story behind the brand.
Founded by Ryan Scanlon in 2013, having previously worked as Senior Vice President of Global Products for the world’s largest surfing brand, with a simple aim – to make the best possible wetsuits more affordable.
By letting go of all non-essentials such as advertising materials, packaging and branding they can produce a premium wetsuit at a price that’s friendly on the wallet.
Torren Martyn going to work on his aforementioned ocean canvas.
Now you know some more about the brand, let’s get the suit under the microscope. This 4/3 has been designed for cold-water autumnal & springtime conditions; water temps from 11c upwards. So if the air temperature is on your side and we avoid a monster cold snap it will see you deep into the winter season.
The materials used have been chosen to minimise impact on the environment, constructed using water based lamination glue and 360° stretch limestone neoprene. A more eco-friendly alternative to regular oil-based neoprene, with the rubber elements of the suit coming from recycled car tyres and not a piece of single-use plastic in sight when it lands on your doorstep.
A new feature for AW 2021 is the rapid-dry thermal lining, providing optimum heat retention and comfort… crucially it will also help you to avoid having to clear the mental hurdle of pulling on a soaking wet, freezing cold suit on those elusive two-surf winter days.
To get technical:
That’s the brand and the technical side of the suit covered, so let’s jump into how it performed.
To set the scene, I’m a mid-thirties, city-dwelling, doesn’t-get-in-the-water-enough sort of surfer, having switched the North Devon coast for Bristol a fair few years back. The result is that my surfing hours have been seriously stunted and I’ve surfed in a wave pool as many times as I have the ocean this year.
So when I spoke to needessentials about testing out their new 4/3 Thermal Chest Zip, The Wave stood out as the obvious place to put it through its paces – an 8am session in winter being just about the coldest water for the suit to stand up to.
But mother nature had other ideas, with the appearance of a purple patch on the charts, back-to-back days of offshore wind and a swell period topping 20s.
The result was a few days of pumping surf, accompanied with paddle-outs that The Wave (thankfully) doesn’t replicate. Perfect test conditions to confirm whether this suit really does offer everything you need.
I have to be honest though, I was hoping for a nice gentle head-high reintroduction to salt water surfing and instead I was met with double overhead sets and a twinge of regret that I hadn’t stopped at one of North Devon’s more sheltered corners.
But two surfing rules that I’ve come to live by over the years are that you should never check the surf for more than a minute (to avoid talking yourself out of it) and you should never drive away from good waves in search of better. So, time to suit up…
It’s a safe bet there were zero thoughts of seeking alternative options this day.
First things first – fit and comfort. To be fair, gone are the days of thicker suits feeling like cardboard and resulting in a ten-minute wrestle to get suited up, but on first pass the NE 4/3 was super-stretchy and easy to slide into. James at needessentials had given me a heads up that their sizing comes up slightly smaller than some other brands, but MT was spot on for my 6’1 frame and snug in all the right places.
Next up – performance. Ignoring the clean-up set washing everyone 40m back inside, I ran down to the beach ready for a workout. Still, with a massive swell period on my side I got tactical, picking a gap between sets for a dry hair paddle out… 10 minutes and 25 duck-dives later I can say the plan didn’t quite come together, but that the suit was plenty flexible!
Over the course of the surf there were probably half a dozen or so monster paddle outs to contend with, having been unable to resist riding all the way inside for an end-section hit. A war of attrition followed between my paddle fitness and an inside bank that I got far too familiar with. These left me regretting the aforementioned early-season cheeseboards, yet impressed with the manoeuvrability from a brand new suit – every degree of the 360° stretch limestone neoprene doing its thing.
Not the author, not North Devon. Torren putting his needessentials rubber to the winter test.
And the final test criteria – warmth. Once upon a time increased flexibility meant sacrificing warmth, but nowadays that just isn’t the case. If anything I was a little too warm after some of the solo paddle battles, flushing the suit through to cool down. It goes without saying that when picking a wetsuit for the winter season that too warm is definitely better than not warm enough, no matter what your summer suit mate tells you. External liquid sealed seams and internal taping meant there were no leaks and this felt like a 4/3 that could go deep into winter.
In summary, the needessentials 4/3mm Thermal Chest Zip felt like a great suit, a worthy alternative to some of its more prominently branded competition. So if you’re not too bothered about fluoro panels or logos splashed on your suit then this is a great option to keep you warm this autumn & spring.
Watch Torren Martyn taking on the cold Northern Reaches here.