Lauren Belvin and her husband run Belvin Built, a design and construction firm based in Point Harbor, NC, a small coastal town across the bridge from the Outer Banks.
The company does everything from flood restoration after hurricanes to designing brand-new homes. Belvin pays her workers anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a day, depending on the project. But this summer, the only consistent employees they could find were two teenagers they discovered power washing their neighbor’s house.
The company’s challenge is one facing many small businesses in beach towns. From the Outer Banks to the Hamptons, a combination of factors has left ‘Help Wanted’ signs on storefront doors up and down the coast.
Insider’s Ayelet Sheffey reported that the national labor shortage could be due to a mix of four factors: unemployment benefits, COVID-19 health concerns, caring responsibilities, and low wages.
Many seasonal international workers that summer towns depend on were unable to travel to the US due to J-1 visa restrictions. Vacation destinations then face a sixth challenge: the affordable-housing crisis. All these factors are colliding during the busiest travel weekend of the year, as tourists flock to the beach to celebrate Independence Day.
“Before the pandemic it was bad,” said Tom Ruhle, director of the East Hampton Office of Housing and Community Development. “Now it’s dismal.”
Ruhle told Insider that while the Hamptons housing market has been booming, the little affordable housing that was available before the pandemic is almost entirely gone.
The New York Times reported that data collected by Douglas Elliman, a real-estate company, showed that the number of available houses in the Hamptons fell at the fastest rate in over a decade while sales and prices skyrocketed.
“It’s pushing everyone to live further and further away,” Belvin told Insider. “And then rising gas prices coupled with unemployment makes finding skilled labor right now almost impossible.”
Some year-round residents in the Outer Banks have been forced to move out of the rentals as landlords capitalize on the real-estate market.
“I had a friend who lived in Kill Devil Hills for 20 years. Her landlord gave her 30 days to move out in April because he was putting the house on the market,” Belvin told Insider. “Now she’s living in our warehouse apartment.”
Many beach-town restaurants don’t have the staff to remain open at normal hours, and often have to remain closed one to two days a week. With a tourist season only lasting three months out of the year, closing puts a dent in the revenue seasonal businesses depend on to survive through the winter.
Sandbars Raw Bar and Grill, a restaurant in Kill Devil Hills, NC, closed on Friday. Owners Mark and Michelle Shafer posted an emotional video on the company’s Facebook page, citing the labor shortage as the main reason behind the closing.
“There’s not a lot of people looking for jobs out there and it’s become extremely hard,” Mark Shafer said in the video.
Lynn Jones-Hoates, the owner of Healthy Environments Child Development Center in Kill Devil Hills, told Insider she has a waitlist of families wanting to enroll their kids in childcare so they could go to work- but she doesn’t have enough staff to fully reopen.
“The question becomes what it’s going to look like year-round out here,” Ruhle said. “Depending on the work-from-home scenario, if we get more of a year-round economy, we’re going to have more of a demand for year-round workers, and that’s going to exacerbate certain problems we have. Nobody knows what’s going to happen.”
To surf, swim, play, or chase kids around the beach or pool, you need a swimsuit that’ll stay put.
Active swimsuits should hold everything in however you move, not ride up, and survive many washes.
These are six of our favorite brands for active bikinis, one-pieces, rash guards, and more.
There are two approaches to buying a swimsuit: worrying about tan lines and worrying about staying covered. If your main focus is looking good by the pool, check out our guide on the best women’s swimsuits. But if you’re swimming laps, surfing in the ocean, diving for volleyballs, or chasing kids around the beach, you need a bathing suit that will do more than just make you feel good – you need a top and bottom that will stay put and keep everything in.
Luckily, there are more brands than ever making cute, active swimsuits, whether you’re looking for a one-piece, a bikini, or a rashguard.
Athleta’s swimwear is comfortable, stylish, and good for both curvey and athletic figures alike.
Size range: XXS-XL for swim suits, XXS-3X for sun shirts
Athleta is known for producing high-quality workout gear that is equal parts functional and stylish, so it’s no surprise its active swimsuits would hit that same sweet spot to look as good as they feel whether you’re swimming, playing beach volleyball, or turning cartwheels on the shore.
The swimsuits range from sexy to functional to high coverage in every design from bikinis to tankinis to one-piece suits to rash guards, so there’s truly something for everyone. While its designs are great for curves, unfortunately, its swimsuits only go up to an XL; however, Athleta is known for running large, so that should fit more like a traditional XXL (small consolation).
Much of the collection is made from sustainable materials like recycled nylon and many of the suits also have UPF sun protection, which protects the fabric and your skin from the sun’s rays.
Athleta’s swimwear is perfect for water sports including swimming, surfing, and paddle-boarding, thanks to the stretchy, breathable fabric that moves with you.
Athleta’s swimwear is priced on the mid-to-high end ($55-75 for a bikini top; $95-120 for a one-piece) but splurging on one well-fitting swimsuit is better than multiple ill-fitting cheaper options.
What to buy:
Colorblock Crop Top (small)Sculpted Bikini Top (small)High Waist Jacquard Bikini Bottom (small)Colorblock One Piece (small)Cross Train One Piece (small)
The best eco-friendly active swimsuit
Patagonia’s swimsuits are fair trade certified-sewn from recycled materials, they look great, and they stay in place whether you’re surfing or swimming.
Size range: XXS-XXL
Considering Patagonia is a leading brand for clothing designed to stand up to the elements and movement of the outdoors, it’s no surprise its line of women’s swimwear lives up to its reputation.
The swimsuits range from rash guards and long-sleeved one-pieces to bikinis, tankinis, and board shorts. In our opinion, the brand really excels on cute one-pieces that will stay put. In fact, when a few Insider Reviews editors tried Patagonia’s active swimsuits, they found them to be comfortable, supportive (including for DD cups), and reliable for playing in the surf.
We were all impressed by how comfortable the suits were and how well they stayed in place. Women’s swimsuits are often designed more for style than substance, so Patagonia’s collection stood out as a great choice for women who like to actually move around in the water in their swimsuits.
All the swimsuits are made of recycled nylon or polyester that has UPF sun protection and is non-slip. Patagonia also states that these suits are Fair Trade Certified-sewn, so you know you’re buying eco-friendly, ethical swimwear.
The biggest downsides are that sizing is limited (XS to XL) and the suits are pricey, around $120 to $180. — Malarie Gokey
What to buy:
Women’s Glassy Dawn One-Piece Swimsuit (small)Women’s Reversible Extended Break One-Piece Swimsuit (small)Long-Sleeved Swell Seeker One-Piece (small)Bayou Palmetto (small)Stretch Wavefarer Board Shorts (small)
The best luxe active swimsuits
If you want a luxury feel to your sporty beach day, Sweaty Betty’s line of swimwear is very well-designed and flattering.
Size range: XXS-XXL
Sweaty Betty is known for its high-end activewear and applies that same ethos to its swim line. The founder and creative director of SB surfs and paddleboards, and she brings this first-hand knowledge of needing to focus more on movement and less on staying covered into its designs.
The brand truly excels in its well-designed one-pieces which are made with swimming laps in mind. The one-pieces are always surprisingly cute and flattering for the category, with small details like a chest zipper or open back to elevate your basic one-piece without losing the swimming-efficient shape. They usually have chlorine-resistant fabric and are designed for performance with a high neck and supportive straps.
When it comes to its bikinis and rash guards, most pieces have 50+ UV protection as well as quick-drying properties to help avoid chafing.
You’ll definitely pay for the silky, well-fortified fabric, but the higher quality also means the suit will last you many seasons.
What to buy:
Coral Surf Short Wetsuit (small)Medley Swimsuit (small)Harlyn Bikini Top (small)Carve Swimsuit (small)
The best budget swimsuits
Score a professional-grade one-piece for swimming laps or a bikini for secure surfing without dropping too much money from Speedo.
Size range: XS-XL, 4-42
There’s a reason Speedo has been a go-to source for professional swimmers for years. The brand makes high-quality, durable swimwear that offers both support and comfort.
Its classic one-pieces still hold strong with compression in all the right places and a design built for improved performance and faster recovery time. The quick-drying suits feature wide straps for added support and durability, while the smooth and soft fabric is chlorine-resistant.
Speedo also makes very cute and very functional bikinis, albeit only for the small-chested. In general, its suits run small, so the biggest downside is that these suits won’t fit the majority of American women (although Speedo does have a limited plus-size line).
However, if you are smaller and looking for functional, flattering swimsuits that won’t cost you too much, the majority of Speedo’s suits can be nabbed for $28-35 for bikinis, $50-88 for one-pieces, and $48-98 for rash guards.
What to buy:
Solid super pro – prolt (small)Solid Tie Back Top (small)Zip Front Paddle Suit (small)Quantum Fusion Splice (small)
The best plus-size active swimsuits
Swimsuits for All crafts suits made to move with a wide range of body types — sizes 4 through 40.
Size range: 4-40
Swimsuits for All is one of our favorite swimsuit brands period, but we particularly love how well their bikinis, tankinis, one-pieces, and swim dresses stay put as your chasing after kids on the beach or popping up on a surfboard.
Swimsuits for All also has a ridiculously robust catalog of styles including collaborations with awesome body-positive advocates like Ashley Graham, and really cool offerings like chlorine-resistant lycra bike shorts and swim skirts, in case a traditional suit isn’t your jam.
Ashley Graham CEO Lace Up One Piece (small)Halter Ruffle Swimdress (small)Gabrifresh Tie Front Bikini (small)
The best for high-movement activities
Carve Designs was created by surfer girls and makes some of the most flattering cuts and cutest prints available for bikinis that will actually stay on.
Size range: XXS-XL with Tall options
Born out of a surf trip in Mexico, this women-owned business started out selling rash guards and boardshorts for women. As women’s style evolved in surfing to be more accepting of bikinis, the founders shifted their focus to also crafting two pieces that would actually stay put while paddling, popping, and carving — and in designs women would actually want to wear.
A decade-and-a-half later, its line features every kind of bikini cut, including more modest high-neck designs and swim skirts to fully cover your booty if that’s where you gravitate. But what we love about Carve is it also makes cheeky bottoms that make you feel empowered on the beach but won’t slip off when you go underwater.
Also worth noting: The brand also recently launched a recycled swim line with suits made from plastic bottles collected out of the ocean.
The main downside, like many brands on this list, are that the suits don’t fit a huge range of body types or sizes.
What to buy:
Madeline Sunsie Rashguard (small)Barbados Short (small)Melanie Bikini Top (small)Mustique Reversible Bottoms (small, Preferred: Backcountry)
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A well-structured, spacious beach bag is a handy carrier for sunscreen, books, and other portables.
We rounded up options across different price points and styles so you can find the perfect one.
We rounded up the best beach bags to shop, from ones with vibrant patterns to others of a more traditional wicker style. Some with chunky rope straps, others with see-through material to easily locate all of your necessities.
Below, find our recommended options across different retailers and price points so you can add this summer staple to your shopping cart (and then take it to the beach or pool).
A New Day Straw Large Dome with Tassels Tote Handbag
A New Day’s Straw Large Dome with Tassels Tote Handbag is spacious, flexibly designed, and affixed with a string of mauve, magenta, amber, and black tassels hanging from one of the handles. The open top allows you to easily locate your items when lounging outside, too, so you don’t have to dig.
Straw Large Dome with Tassels Tote Handbag (small)
Abrielle Beach Bag
For a fun summer DIY, this orange-and-white floral sewing pattern comes with the fabric of your choice, yard for the handle, an all-purpose zipper for the lining pocket, a spool of coordinating thread, and non-toxic fabric glue to make your own beach bag. There are some other required items, but the seller offers some of them for sale.
Abrielle Beach Bag (small)
A New Day Straw Circle Handle Tote
A New Day’s Straw Circle Handle Tote is oversized, well-structured, and double-handled for easy carrying. Its open-top, simplistic design makes it the perfect tote for heading to the farmer’s market as well.
Straw Circle Handle Tote (small)
South Beach Navy-and-Cream-Striped Tote
Navy-and-Cream-Striped Tote (small)
BeeGreen Reusable Drawstring Bag
The BeeGreen Reusable Drawstring Bag is great to sling over your shoulders that’s suitable for beach trips, hiking trails, and flea markets alike. The straps can be adjusted to fit people of all ages and you’ll appreciate its capacity to fit sunscreen, wallet, keys, and other small items.
Reusable Drawstring Bag (small)
Bulex Extra Large Black Beach Bag
Extra Large Black Beach Bag (small)
CB Station Medium Initial Boat Tote
CB Station offers a boat-style tote with contrasting handles and base that can be personalized with an initial monogram or name in script. Its durable design and zipper closure even makes it an all-in-one carrier to replace your reusable grocery bag.
Medium Initial Boat Tote (small)
CGear Sand-Free Gray Stripe Tote
This classic beach tote is highly durable with contoured carrying straps for comfort. It’s also uniquely functional with a magnetic closure to conveniently secure your valuables, either inside the main pocket or within one of the three sand-free pockets.
Tote IV (small)
Coral Reef Turquoise Painting Pattern Beach Tote Bag
If a long-form tote is more your style than a widely-stretched bag, the Coral Reef Turquoise Painting Pattern Beach Tote Bag is a great option. The edge-to-edge beachy design has black laminated lining for extra support and is deep enough to store a flower bouquet.
Coral Reef Turquoise Painting Pattern Beach Tote Bag (small)
Handwoven Brown Straw Tote Bag
Let’s face it — sometimes, we just want to carry a beach towel and have a hassle-free bag to store a cell phone and mini sunscreen bottle. The Handwoven Brown Straw Tote Bag has a crossbody-like design with a bamboo circle handle, much like Chloé bags.
Handwoven Brown Straw Tote Bag (small)
Jay Aimee Designs Personalized Small Blue Canvas Beach Tote
Nautical can be the name of the beach bag game, and the Jay Aimee Designs Personalized Beach Tote certainly lives up to that navy-and-white emblemed style. You can personalize the center stripe with your monogram, it’s water-resistant, and the chunky rope handles elevate the beach-bound design.
Personalized Small Blue Canvas Beach Tote (small)
Shylero Clownfish Waterproof Beach Bag
For a roomy, durable, and waterproof tote with a unique pattern, Shylero makes great carriers with wide rope handles, a side water bottle pocket, and a built-in keyholder and bottle opener. It also features a top magnet button to close off the wide-capacity bag.
Clownfish Waterproof Beach Bag (small)
Black & Natural-Striped Straw Tote
The beautifully woven, handbag-like Black & Natural-Striped Straw Tote is great for the beach, pool, or out to dinner by the water. It has colorful pom-poms tied to the short handles and will store all of your summer must-haves.
Striped Straw Tote (small)
Vbiger Orange Mesh Beach Bag
The Vbiger tote is sleek, has many storage compartments, and has a see-through middle design to conveniently locate your SPF lip balm, sunglasses, and face mist. Aside from zipper pockets, there’s also a waterproof cell phone case to ensure it sits damage-free.
Mesh Beach Bag (small)
Natural Boho Beach Tote
If you live in your Birkenstocks and love that casual beach look, the Natural Boho Beach Tote is designed just for you. You can’t go wrong with the twisted rope handles, intricate seashell and beaded details, and bohemian fringe border.
Style is one thing, but keeping your fresh fruit and mint-infused water cool is another. The Hydro Flask 35L Insulated Tote will hold up, keeps items cold for up to four hours (keeping the hours-long cooling feature alive like Hydro Flask’s much-loved reusable bottles), and collapses for quick storage and travel.
Insulated Tote (35 L) (small)
BohoPEACH Large Beach Bag
The BohoPEACH Large Beach Bag is made in Thailand and resembles tiki-style hard wicker handmades from Bahamian islands. It’s unique in that it’s tautly structured and has beautifully sewn seams at the bottom to last you for years of fun in the sun.
Large Beach Bag (small)
Color My World Multi-Colored Oversized Tote Bag
Waterproof Beach Tote (small)
Palm Beach Zip Up Tote
Summer may mean soft serve ice cream and boating trips, but for me, it means whipping out my vibrant Lily Pulitzer prints for sunny days outside. The Palm Beach Zip Up Tote is fully decked with a blue, green, and pink design (with sailboats, lobsters, and palm trees) and will store all of your essentials.
Palm Beach Zip Up Tote (small)
Natural Large Straw Tote Bag
The Large Straw Tote Bag isn’t your typical wicker handheld —its vegan leather handles add a touch of elegance to the intricately woven design. There are two interior zip pockets to store miniature portables and a magnetic snap closure to keep everything in place.
Large Straw Tote Bag (small)
Marrakech Shop Design Straw Beach Bag with Leather Strap
Can I just say, this is so cute. The Moroccan-made bag is perfect to carry on your back while on the boardwalk or to hold onto on a trek through the sand. It’s well-made, unique, and a showstopper for summer.
Straw Beach Bag with Leather Strap (small)
Camino Carryall 35 (small)
Mar Y Sol Multi Tybee Bag
The Mar Y Sol Multi Tybee Bag is a soft and flexible beach tote clad with a colorful stripe pattern and plush pom poms. Its interior pouch pocket is conveniently located at the center, so you can find smaller items amid the wide-capacity interior storage.
Multi Tybee Bag (small)
Vince Camuto Orla Canvas Tote
Wetsuits protect you from cold water, allowing you to surf, swim, or dive longer than if you didn’t wear one.
Choosing a wetsuit depends on how you’ll use it as surfers have different needs than kayakers, for instance.
Our top pick, O’Neill’s Psycho Tech, features water-resistant neoprene, durable stitching, and a comfortable fit.
For anyone who doesn’t live in the tropics, wearing a wetsuit while surfing is a necessity. Paddling out to a break with water temperatures anywhere below 65 or 70 degrees Fahrenheit without a generous helping of rubber can range from slightly uncomfortable to downright deadly – but wear the right wetsuit and you’ll quickly forget all about the hypothermia-inducing water temp (for the most part).
Surfing isn’t the only water sport one might wear a wetsuit for, however. Paddleboarders, kayakers, and divers, among others, also don neoprene getups to keep cold water from cutting their outings short – but not every wetsuit is a jack-of-all-trades type of suit. What one person might need for kayaking might be too cumbersome or ill-fitting for a surfer.
To help anyone shopping for a new suit, I’ve field-tested a number of wetsuits from top brands like O’Neill and Rip Curl, consulted with diving and surfing enthusiasts, and conducted plenty of research to come up with a list of the best currently available.
The O’Neill Psycho Tech is made with water-resistant neoprene to keep it from retaining water, and its top-notch stitching makes it almost watertight.
Pros: Warm, almost watertight stitching, lightweight, quick-drying
Cons: A little pricey
O’Neill’s Psycho Tech is the kind of cozy, stretchy, almost watertight suit that becomes oh-so-precious to cold-water surfers when winter storms roll through and leaky seams threaten to end surf sessions early.
If there’s one company I’d put all my good faith in keeping me from the wrath of hypothermia, it’s the late, lauded laureate and godfather of the modern wetsuit, Jack O’Neill.
O’Neill puts a lot of money into research and design, and while the US military doesn’t exactly endorse or use any single wetsuit, they’ve frequently sent personnel out in O’Neill suits. That alone may or may not speak volumes to you, but the US military is not known to be one to skimp on matters of national security.
This wetsuit is flexible, and I’ve found it to hold up in temperatures considerably lower than their rating. My old Psycho II model from 2009, which saw heavy service through 2010 and has seen service in most of the years since, is still, shockingly, in pretty good shape. The new Psychos are miles ahead, but there aren’t enough problems or even one single tear in my suit that warrant tossing mine out just yet.
Cleanline Surf, the Pacific Northwest’s coldwater surf aficionados, called the Psycho Tech “the pinnacle of wetsuit technology and performance.” The site goes on to taut it for being lightweight, warm, durable, and flexible — I don’t disagree.
Also, the TechnoButter neoprene rejects water so well that it stays light even when wet, and it dries much faster than most suits.
The best budget wetsuit for women
Rip Curl’s Dawn Patrol suits cost less than $200, feature an easy-to-use rear zip entry, and have both stitched and glued seams for added durability.
Pros: Easy in and out via a rear zip entry, stitched and glued seams, inexpensive (as far as wetsuits go)
Cons: Its 3/2 millimeter thickness won’t keep you warm very long in colder water temps
Rip Curl’s Dawn Patrol suits are extremely flexible, thoroughly stitched, taped, and glued, and very reasonably priced.
The suit has been a bestseller for several years and being blindstitched, glued, and taped for under $200 certainly hasn’t hurt its reputation. It also comes in both men’s and women’s designs, but, I must make a full disclosure: I’ve never owned one, though I’ve envied them from close and afar over the years.
The best budget wetsuit for men
VISSLA’s 7 Seas is economical but doesn’t cut any corners to deliver a functional wetsuit at a fair price.
Pros: Price tag, sleeve gaskets, stitching and gluing, 1-year warranty
Cons: Neoprene retains water and gets a little heavy
I tried VISSLA’s 7 Seas model in New York this late spring and was hot in the 3/2-millimeter full suit. That’s a good sign. I also caught up with an old friend on Montauk who’s in his third season with the same model, which is as much as most people ask of even a luxury suit. That was good enough for me.
It fit me exceptionally well, which is a shock because I’m six feet tall, generally, stay shy of 160 pounds, and almost no company designs standard suits sized for stick-figured string beans like me.
The seams are held together by double blind-stitching and taped three times over, which somewhere around five years ago was unthinkable for a suit under $200. Matter-of-factly, this suit is designed in much the same way one of my nicer suits from about 10 years ago was, only that one cost me about twice as much. The suit’s also backed by respective 1-year warranties for both the neoprene and the stitching.
Although the neoprene retains water and gets heavy, the suit is remarkably stretchy — maybe stretchier than Patagonia’s Yulex suits — and the wrist gaskets that are located a few inches above the cuff really kept water from getting up my sleeves and slowing my paddling. Further, taking water up the sleeves in fall or winter is shockingly chilling.
I also liked the fuzzy lining, which is akin to Patagonia’s, but, again, this suit is less than half the price (at the time of this publishing). While Patagonia’s suits are nice, and I love mine, I don’t see any need to step up unless you really feel like spending the extra money or you’re going to be surfing in exceptionally cold waters where you’ll probably want the best technology you can get.
The best non-neoprene wetsuit
There are other non-neoprene suits emerging on the market, but my Patagonia suits have lasted through a lot, and it will take a lot for another suit to knock them off their throne.
Pros: Long-lasting (as long as if not longer than most neoprene suits), neoprene-free, almost petroleum-free, very warm, so you can often get away with a thinner suit
Cons: Not cheap, maybe a little stiffer than neoprene suits
Patagonia’s current crop of wetsuits comes via a biochemical company called Yulex. Yulex manufactures neoprene from the guayule plant, a hardy shrub native to the Southwestern United States that’s used to make rubber that’s both renewable and nearly chemical-free.
The latest Yulex-branded suit now has a new patterning intended for “improved fit and increased mobility.” Yulex’s brand of rubber often had a reputation among wetsuit users as being stiff compared with neoprene, which isn’t generally a good thing for water enthusiasts. However, the suits do feature a fuzzy synthetic liner that makes the inside of the suit feel silky smooth while also doing well to make me feel warmer in frigid water.
The company now uses a water-based glue in all its suits, eliminating the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that were used for decades. The new suit also includes solution-dyed fabrics that reduce water consumption and CO2 emissions by 86% and 96%, respectively.
Of course, as goes with the Patagonia story, everything is Fair Trade Certified, and you’ll also get Patagonia’s Ironclad Guarantee, so if you’re not thrilled with your new suit, you can send it back.
What excites me most about this suit is that, although Patagonia hasn’t made the leap to zipperless suits, the corrosion-resistant zipper on this suit is now actually replaceable, so if it wears out before the wetsuit does, you can extend its life a little longer. This is great news because oftentimes the collar or zipper area is the first thing to wear out on a wetsuit.
Learn more about Patagonia and Yulex’s bio-rubber here.
The best wetsuit for paddlesports
If you’re tired of hanging up your paddles for the winter, O’Neill’s O’Riginal spring suit is just enough to keep you comfortable as water temperatures reach the 60s and maybe the 50s.
Pros: Flexible, breathable, affordable
Cons: The chest rubber can be overly sticky
Because our bodies are mostly out of the water when paddling, we tend to work up a sweat beneath a neoprene wetsuit. While any combination of layers can do the trick, I’ve found that a farmer john-style (sleeveless) wetsuit with flatlock seams works best unless you’re dealing with temperatures below 50° F or so, at which point I’d opt for a dry suit. Stohlquist makes a good one for men and women.
Since you’re getting such a thorough upper body workout, I’d suggest avoiding sleeves, which apart from causing you to overheat also tend to constrict movement and cause chafing. O’Neill’s O’Riginal spring suit is 2 millimeters thick and comes with flatlock seams, and at less than $100 can’t really be beaten.
If it’s a little cooler, you might want one with full-length legs (the women’s model, the Bahia, comes in a 1.5mm), or a 3mm. O’Neill doesn’t make the sleeveless suit in a 3mm, but Aqua Lung does, for men and women. Anything above 3mm tends to get a little too hot for paddlesports, at least if you’re not getting in the water.
If you want to spend even a little more money — unless you’re surfing in one of these suits, keep in mind that quality might not be quite as paramount — Patagonia’s Long John (men’s) and Long Jane (women’s) are $169 and worth it. They’re made of the same non-neoprene Yulex rubber as Patagonia’s other suits, but flatlock-stitched so that they breathe a little better.
How to shop for a wetsuit
Open-cell vs. closed-cell wetsuits
Apart from temperature, what you’ll be doing in or on the water is a major deciding factor for which wetsuit is best. If you’re swimming or surfing, a floaty, hydrodynamic closed-cell or single-piece suit is likely your best bet. These are either chest- or back-zipped and come with different sleeve and leg cuts.
But if you’re diving, a closed-cell wetsuit allows too much water flow between it and your skin. You’ll find yourself feeling stiff and cold, and stiff and cold are never what you want while diving for long periods of time. An open-cell wetsuit provides suction between the skin and suit that’s nearly watertight. While these types of suits are a pain to get in and out of, they keep you much warmer and allow for much greater flexibility underwater.
Editor’s note: If you use a little eco-friendly dish soap, getting into an open-cell wetsuit is much easier.
Open-cell suits usually don’t have zippers apart from the wrist and leg cuffs but closed cells come in a variety of different zipper configurations. Some manufacturers are starting to develop zipperless models, too, which could eliminate zippers altogether — at least on more expensive suits.
Back-zip suit: Back-zip wetsuits are the original design, and almost always cheaper than chest-zip or zipper-less suits. They’re fine for swimming in temperate waters on relatively warm days, but I’ve found that having cool water seep down your back on a chillier day — or in the middle of winter, for that matter — can be miserable.
Chest-zip suit: Usually more expensive, chest-zip wetsuits tend to keep you warmer thanks to a smaller, well-protected zipper that sits on the front of the suit. This also makes them the most difficult to get in and out of, but, overall, we think they’re worth it. They tend to last longer, and some even allow for the neckpiece to be replaced, which is often the first thing to wear and tear on a wetsuit.
Zipperless: I haven’t yet tried out a zipperless wetsuit, though I’ve been hearing positive buzz about O’Neill’s Hyperfreak Comp zipless model. It would be more of a performance suit than most require, and it’s hard to say whether the lack of a zipper will, in turn, stretch the suit more or keep us warmer, but we will see how they fare over time and update this guide with our findings.
Wetsuit thickness and temperature rating
Wetsuit thickness is measured in millimeters, and the core is most often thicker than the extremities to keep your body temperature up while allowing for more mobility in the arms and legs. This is why you’ll see two — or sometimes three — numbers, listing the core’s thickness first (e.g., 3/2, or 4/3/2).
Temperature rating corresponds with thickness, for the most part, but varies some from company to company and material to material, but here’s a basic rule of thumb:
Mid 60s to low 70s: 2 mm
Low 60s to high 60s: 3/2 mm
Low 50s to low 60s: 4/3 mm, or 4/3/2 mm
Low to high 40s: 5/4 mm, or 5/4/3 mm
High 30s to low 40s: 6/5 mm or 6/5/4 mm
Upper 30s and below: While a good 6/5- or 6/5/4-millimeter suit can do you well in the upper 30s, it’s tough to stand it any colder. There are 7/6- and 7/6/5-millimeter wetsuits, but they become impedingly stiff at that point. A good 6/5 or 6/5/4 with hood, boots, and gloves will take care of most of us through winter.
Not all sizing is consistent
Size charts vary from company to company, so make sure to have a look at the chart to be sure which one fits you best. Unless you get a custom suit, none are likely to fit you perfectly but you should be able to get close enough.
Stitching and seams
Not all wetsuits are created equal, and while most are made of neoprene — and come from the same factory in Taiwan, despite different brand names — it’s the stitching and seams that make all the difference.
Overlock stitching: This is the most basic stitching, and it will let water flow through your suit like Victoria Falls. Okay, not really, but I save these cheap suits for spring and summer, or when it’s not exactly board-short temperature, but a constant flush is actually refreshing.
Flat stitching: This is probably a little fancier than the stitching they taught you in Home Economics class. By no means is it watertight, but it lies flatter and holds up better than basic overlock stitching.
Blindstitching: Blindstitched suits have even narrower stitching than flat-stitched ones, and the seams are usually glued, which does a pretty good job of preventing water seepage.
Sealed, taped, glued: This is a definitive step up, and usually what you’ll find with blindstitched suits. Once you get into blindstitching, you start to notice that very little water seeps through your suit, and you stay relatively dry inside. The best of these suits are also sealed and taped both inside and out, but the full combination is where suits start to get above the $500 price tag, which isn’t crucial for most. Still, if you plan to be surfing in sub 55-degree Fahrenheit temps, we highly recommend forking over the extra dough.
Here’s what every first-time wetsuit owner should know:
Wash your suit every time you use it, or at least as frequently as you can stand to. Wetsuits take on everything you put into them, from your sweat, sunscreen, seawater, and yes, urine. While it may not damage your suit, it will surely smell bad.
And even though Helen Hunt does it, it’s not exactly a good idea to pee in your wetsuit, for obvious reasons. Regardless of whether or not you decide to relieve yourself in your suit, get a wetsuit shampoo, and follow its instructions well. Do NOT use any old soap for this, or you’ll be sorry.
Store your wetsuit in a dry, shaded area with plenty of ventilation. We all know what happens to wet things in confined spaces, but hanging your wetsuit to dry in the sun is surely the quickest way to end its life.
Hang your wetsuit loosely on a thick-framed clothes hanger, a proper wetsuit hanger, or fold it loosely. If you hang a wetsuit on a sharp wire hanger, it will stretch out. If you fold it too tightly, it’ll crease. I roll mine up when I travel to avoid creasing.
How to choose a diving wetsuit
A simple, closed-cell suit like a surfing wetsuit works above the surface where you have heat from the sun and little pressure, but when you get below the surface, it can get stiff and cold. An open cell suit will keep you much warmer and more flexible, whether you’re freediving or using scuba tanks.
I’ve never actually owned an open-cell diving suit — I use a surfing suit to dive, which I assure you is less than ideal — so I called on a lifeline: an old friend who spends his workdays and sometimes his nights underwater in the marrow-chilling depths of New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds. If anyone has earned the authority to deem a wetsuit good or bad, we figure it might be a commercial diver, after all.
A commercial diver’s input
The array of both open cell and closed cell diving suits in the locker where he works is almost exclusively with Beuchat and Cressi wetsuits, and while many of the members of the dive team do wear closed cell suits to work, they don’t last as long — maybe that’s intended. Open cell suits are snug, and almost suction-cup your skin, which is extremely efficient for keeping you warm, but makes them very difficult to get on and off.
When we would go spearfishing together — I in my 5/4-millimeter closed-cell surfing wetsuit, he in his 7-millimeter open-cell diving suit — I’d be in and out of my suit in half the time it took him to roll his on and off. But, by the same token, he could still feel his hands and feet after an hour of diving. Meanwhile, my lips would be turning blue.
Bottom line: If you’re going to be in even moderately cold water, save yourself the agony of freezing and put up with the nuisance of stretching into a skin-tight open cell suit.
How to shop for a dive suit
If you’ve never worn or owned a diving wetsuit before, you’ll probably want to go to the local dive shop and have the pros sort you out, or at the very least fit you.
When picking out a diving suit, color, or rather pattern, is a consideration that goes beyond aesthetics. If an experience with wildlife is what you’re after (even if you’re not in search of dinner), then a camouflage suit is probably a good idea, simply because you won’t startle as many creatures as quickly as you would with a black suit, or one of any color, really.
Also, note that camouflage is relative: If you’re going to be in open water, you’ll want a rhapsody in blue, and if you’re going to be in kelp, coral, or rocks, you probably want to look for a more greenish-brown pattern.
A few drawbacks
The main downfall of many closed-cell suits is that they are made of or coated with a softer, more delicate rubber-like neoprene skin which, while it keeps you warmer and leaves you agiler in the pressured depths, is highly prone to tearing.
Also, always make sure your wetsuit is wet when you’re pulling it on, and follow instructions for care and maintenance like these, from Aqua Lung. Never leave any wetsuit in the sun but especially not a suit with skin material, which will melt and stick to itself, a tragedy not covered by any warranty far as I’m aware.
Aqua Lung, Beuchat, Cressi, and Mares are companies that have all been around since recreational diving has, more or less, and they all have similarly long legacies and popular standing with commercial and recreational divers alike.
Pros: Tighter-fitting, more watertight, keeps you warmer, less constricting
Cons: Can be more expensive, much more delicate, difficult to don and doff
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UPF clothing protects your covered skin from UV radiation while outside fishing, hiking, boating, and traveling.
Brands make everything from long sleeves to skirts to hats with UPF protection now.
L.L.Bean is our top pick for brands that sell sun protection clothing for its wide selection of well-made, attractive UPF clothing.
Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
Most of us know that when we’re headed out for a beach day, backyard BBQs, home pool parties, or outdoor adventures, we need to slather on sunscreen to prevent a sunburn and minimize our risk for skin cancer. But skin protection goes beyond just lotion you rub on your exposed parts. The skin under your clothing while you’re out hiking or building sandcastles with your kids can still be exposed to harmful UV radiation.
That’s why sun-protective clothing and accessories should be a staple of your summer wardrobe. The Skin Cancer Foundation says that sun-protective long sleeves, shorts and pants, hats, neck gaiters, even gloves, are the most effective form of sun protection. These specially designed items feature tighter weaves than normal clothing which reduces the number of UVB and UVA rays that can penetrate through to your skin. Some brands, like Columbia Sportswear, also use proprietary tech for added features, like reflecting any lingering rays away from your skin.
How protective an item is is defined by its Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). While Sun Protection Factor, or SPF, is measured by how long it will take for UV-exposed skin to redden, UPF indicates how much UVB and UVA can reach your skin through the fabric at hand, the Skin Cancer Foundation explains. The average cotton tee has a UPF of 5, which means the garment allows 95% of incoming UV rays to penetrate it, while an item with UPF 50+ only allows 2% of the sun’s rays to pass.
If you are an avid adventurer, chances are you already have some lightweight long sleeves or hiking pants with UPF features. But if you usually cover-up at the beach with a cotton long sleeve from the local gift shop, or you’re hiking in a generic workout top, you might need to up your UPF protection. Luckily, as outdoor adventures become more popular and more people are taking their fitness under the sun, a wide range of brands are designing clothing and accessories with built-in sun protection. To help you find the most stylish sun-smart offerings on the market, we’ve rounded up five fashionable brands that sell clothing with a minimum of UPF 50.
L.L.Bean is a one-stop-shop for summer basics for both men and women, including button-up tops, trousers, shorts, tees, and even dresses that feature built-in UPF 50 at a moderate price point.
Pros: Great basics with sun protection of UPF 50, mostly reasonably priced, lots of options and variety in products, offerings for both men and women, seal of recommendation from Skin Cancer Foundation
Cons: Fancier items can get pricey
Size range: XXS-3X for women’s; S-XXL in regular and tall for men
There’s a reason why L.L.Bean is a go-to source for stylish yet durable outerwear and accessories. The American brand has been making high-quality functional goods for more than 100 years. While you probably own a pair of L.L. Bean’s winter boots or cozy thermals, the company’s summery UPF clothing is just as good.
The iconic company has more than 150 items with built-in sun protection for all genders, including separates, dresses, outerwear, and accessories. Trousers and tops mostly retail for $60 or less, while higher-end pieces like hiking jackets and polarized sunglasses range from $100 to $250.
If you like to be active while outdoors, Athleta’s on-trend activewear with UPF 50+ is just what you need.
Pros: Stylish activewear with UPF 50+, many versatile pieces that can be worn multiple ways, high-quality
Size range: XXS-3X for women in petite, regular, and tall
If you love to exercise in the sunshine, check out the UPF workout wear at Athleta. The activewear brand is known for its fashionable yet functional pieces and the company also has a large variety of sun-conscious items.
Insider Reviews writer Kylie Joyner is a huge fan of the brand’s Sunlover UPF Tank saying, “it provides excellent protection from the sun’s rays.” She added that it is great for hot runs because it “wicks sweat away easily, and dries quickly.”
Kylie also mentioned that the Athleta UPF top is on the more expensive end but “its performance, quality, and the features it offers make the price justifiable.”
Best bright-colors brand
If your warm-weather wardrobe is full o bright prints, Lilly Pulitzer‘s UPF clothing will be right up your alley.
Pros: Fashionable feminine items with UPF 50+, variety of items and prints, great for vacations
Cons: Very bright colors and prints might not be for everyone
Size range: XXS-XL
Resortwear brand Lilly Pulitzer is known for making colorfully printed clothing that screams summer. Knowing that a lot of the brand’s customers pack its cheerful designs for tropical holidays, Lilly Pulitzer expanded its collection to include pieces made with sun protective fabrics.
The vacation-ready UPF 50+ line includes everything from preppy pullovers and sporty leggings to flirty frocks and ruffled skirts, all in the same vivid and happy prints as the regular collection.
The UPF 50+ Sophie Dress was the brand’s first foray into sun-protected clothing and remains one of the most popular pieces to date with a 4.7-star rating on Lilly Pulitzer’s website. The feminine frock comes in six different prints and can be customized with your initials.
It’s just one of the pieces from the stylish line that can offer protection when worn as a cover-up to the beach but is sleek enough to take you from the sand to dinner in a snap.
Best swimsuit brand
If you spend your summers outside laying by the pool or hanging out on the beach, Lands’ End‘s stylish UPF 50 swim and cover-up options will ensure your skin stays protected.
Pros: High-quality swimwear and cover-ups with UPF 50, The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation, large variety of options
Cons: Pieces with technical functions can get expensive
Size range: XS-3X in regular, petite, and long
While Lands’ End has a huge offering of clothing with UPF 50, its swim and cover-up collection is the largest we’ve ever seen. The swim line includes one-pieces, bikinis, swim skirts, rashguards, and even dresskini styles.
While most of the line is at a moderate price point, some of the pieces with technical features like tummy control and Slendertex fabric can be pricier.
Best technical plus-size brand
Columbia Sportwear uses its proprietary technology to make high-quality UPF clothing for fishing, hiking, trail running, and traveling and is one of the few brands to offer sizes up to 5X and 3X for men and women, respectively.
Pros: Range of sizes; durable, technical gear; sport-specific which includes fishing gear at a larger size; widely available, affordable
Cons: Women’s sizes max out at 3X
It’s no surprise that one of the leading technical outdoor apparel brands would make great sun-protectant clothing. Columbia Sportswear’s UPF items feature Omni-Shade™ Sun Deflector tech, which utilizes reflective dots to deflect sunlight away from your body, while the Omni-Shade™ fabric itself is tightly constructed with UV absorbers to keep any rays that do make it through off your skin. Its sun-protectant clothing is also sweat-wicking to keep you cool and dry on hot days.
The brand offers a huge range of UPF clothing — including tops, bottoms, jackets, hats, gaiters, gloves, even cute jumpsuits and dresses — for most every outdoor activity that has you baking under the sun (namely fishing, trail running, hiking, and traveling). What’s more, Columbia offers these protective items to fit a range of sizes, up to a 5X for men and a 3X for women. While quite a few brands on this list make UPF clothing up to a 3X for women as week, Columbia’s gear overall is some of the most popular with plus-size adventurers for durable, technical, and functional needs.
Brands for UPF hats, gloves, and other accessories
Coolibar has an extensive collection of UPF 50+ clothing and accessories — everything from scarfs and hats, to beach shawls and even gardening gloves— that look good and offer solid protection.
Seirus Innovationis a partially black-owned business and one of the leading brands for sun-protectant accessories. It makes UPF gloves, neck gaiters, and a wide variety of sun hats that have the helpful ability to physically connect to the neck gaiters for serious skin protection.