Britain’s coastal waters, lakes and rivers may be beautiful, but even at the height of summer they’re rarely balmy, so if you want your kids to enjoy being in open water you should invest in a wetsuit. Warm kids equal happy water-loving kids. But when buying your child a wetsuit, what do you need to think about?

First up, how old are they and what will they be using it for? If they’re under six and will mostly be paddling and building sandcastles with a few swims, and the odd go on a bodyboard thrown in, you’re best opting for a shorty (short length) wetsuit, which stops at the elbows and knees. The big bonus here is that they’re easier for parents to get on and off their wriggling young children, but they’ll still keep your kids’ core body temperature warm enough to play for hours in the shallows. Wetsuits will also protect kids from harmful UV rays.

As they get older and especially if they’re doing longer sea swims, surfing, stand up paddling or entering their first triathlons you’re best off going for a full-length wetsuit.

Some wetsuits will be better for surfing – generally these will be thicker and warmer, as surfers tend to sit around on their boards more, whereas swimmers are more consistently active. Swim-specific wetsuits are often thinner, with a smoother finish and tailored hydrodynamic design to reduce drag in the water and improve speed. A surfing wetsuit will often have extra padding on the knees for durability, especially for kids.

Kids grow frustratingly quickly, and it can be tempting to go for a bigger size wetsuit than they’ll actually need to save buying a new one too soon. But a wetsuit that is too big will be far less effective in keeping them warm than a well-fitting one, so it’s worth making sure the fit is right, especially if you plan for them to use it regularly.

These kids’ wetsuits were tested on children aged five to eight at Manorbier beach in Pembrokeshire last week.

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Alder Impact 3/2mm Junior Full Wetsuit: £49.99 Ann’s Cottage

We were impressed with this wetsuit from UK brand Alder, both in terms of its value for money and its performance – it kept our seven-year-old tester warm for over an hour as he played and swam in the cold Welsh sea (around 13 degrees). It had a good thickness for UK waters in summer (2/3mm) and he found it comfy and stretchy, though did need some help getting it on and off, but the zips on the legs did help a lot.

I liked the bright colour block on the arms, which made him more visible on a crowded beach. Alder is the brand you see lots of the surf life-saving club swimmers wear, which feels like further vindication of their performance. Suitable for kids aged two-16 years; also available in orange and green.

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O’Neill Reactor II 2mm Back Zip Spring: £39.95 O’Neill

Our five-year-old tester loved this shorty wetsuit from surf brand O’Neill. He could pretty much get it on and off himself thanks to the easy-to-pull back-zip cord, just needing a little help with the Velcro join at the top. It kept him warm for hours as he went in and out of the sea and clambered around rock pools with no visible snagging to the fabric. He said it was comfy and showed no signs off chaffing around the neck. A good value choice. Also available in purple, and suitable for kids aged 4-14.

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Roxy 3/2mm Syncro Series – Back Zip GBS Wetsuit: £100

Our eight-year-old tester really liked design of this wetsuit from surf brand Roxy, though she did need help getting it onto her upper body and to zip it up, but that’s often the case with full-length wetsuits and kids this age. She swam and played in the sea (around 13 degrees) for about 40 minutes and said she felt warm and comfy the whole time. The zips around the ankles made it easier to get off and the extra knee protection was good for playing on the rocks, and would provide extra durability for young surfers, for whom this wetsuit is primarily designed. Suitable for ages two to seven years.

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Zone 3 Kids’ Adventure Wetsuit: £129 Zone 3

Youth triathlon is growing massively across the country right now so it’s not surprising more and more tri brands are making kids-specific product. The Kids’ Adventure Wetsuit from UK-based Zone 3 is for young tri stars who mean serious business. It has a smooth finish and our eight-year-old tester found it super-easy and comfy to swim in, while I liked the bright colours on the ankles, wrists and back which made it easy to keep an eye on her in the sea. It wasn’t as warm as some of the other suits when she stopped moving, she said, but that wouldn’t be a problem if this was purely a triathlon wetsuit. It was one of the easier suits to remove especially around the ankles and cuffs, which would be useful for kids who were racing. Suitable for ages eight-14.

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Gul Response Junior 3/2mm FL Wetsuit: £50 Gul

Our five-year-old tester liked this wetsuit from UK watersports brand Gul, once we’d wriggled him into it that is, but that can often be the case using full-length suits and younger children. He kept it on for hours, running in and out of the sea to swim, climbing on rocks, and he even insisted on having lunch in it as he was so snug and warm. We liked the full body sun protection it offered, the tough fabric on the knees and the Velcro on the ankles, which made things easier when we eventually pulled him out of it. A good summer wetsuit, especially for the price. Also available in lime and blue, suitable for ages two to 14.

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Patagonia Kids’ R2 Yulex Front-Zip Full Suit: £240 Patagonia

This Patagonia Kids’ wetsuit is made using Yulex, a new environmentally-friendly alternative to petroleum-based neoprene, which wetsuits are usually made of. Those eco credentials come at a cost though, and it’s by far the most expensive wetsuit on test, but Patagonia wetsuits are guaranteed for life, so you can hand them down to younger kids and get them repaired for free through Patagonia should anything need fixing.

It was one of the warmer suits on test, and would work best for surfing in seas from 13-16 degrees, so it’s suitable for much of the UK from June to November. We especially like the front zip which makes it easier for kids to get on and off themselves. Suitable for kids aged six-17

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Sailfish Kids Wetsuit: £59 Wiggle

This Sailfish kids’ wetsuit was the lightest and thinnest on test by a mile with the smoothest finish to help kids swim as fast as possible with minimal drag. Our eight-year-old tester found it soft and flexible enough to swim easily in, and easy to get on and off, though he did feel the cold far more than in the other wetsuits.

If your kids are primarily using it for open water swimming and even their first triathlons that would be less of a problem, as the activity should keep them warm, but we wouldn’t recommend this if you’re purely looking for a wetsuit for kids to play about in. Suitable for ages 6-12.

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Xcel 4/3 Kids Comp Wetsuit Spruce: £170 Xcel

Xcel is a popular brand with UK surfers, as their wetsuits have fewer seams which give them a better ease of movement, and stretchiness was something our eight-year-old tester picked up on with this wetsuit. He also liked the front zip which meant he could get the suit on and off himself without needing to ask for our help. He felt warm while swimming and playing in the sea for over an hour. This suit would be a solid option for kids surfing in UK waters from June to November.

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Jojo Maman Bebe Children’s Wetsuit: £26, Jojo Maman Bebe

This wetsuit would be an excellent choice for kids under five as it’s warm and easy to put on those constantly moving toddlers thanks to the front zip and straight-forward Velcro fastening. It felt durable so could be passed onto younger children too, making it even better value for money. It says it’s designed for kids up to age six, but our five-year-old tester pointed to the logo and said it looked like it was for a baby and we struggled to persuade him otherwise. Available in blue and pink, and suitable for kids from one to six years old.

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Verdict: Kids' wetsuits

Toddlers would be well served by Jojo Maman Bebe Children’s Wetsuit, while older children should look to our best buy, the Alder Impact Wetsuit, or the Gul Response Wetsuit as a good value option for surfing and recreational swimming. Serious wannabe triathletes or open water swimmers will love the Zone 3 Kids Adventure Wetsuit, while regular young surfers will like the Xcel Kids Comp Wetsuit Spruce. The O’Neill Reactor II is a solid shorty option for summer and the Patagonia Kids’ R2 Yulex Front-Zip Full Suit is the standout eco option of this test.

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