I invested in some new wetsuit gear to keep me warm this winter. It wasn't easy finding supply since most surf shops were booming and the common sizes sold out. I happen to be uncommon in everything but feet. So at size twelve I found it difficult to locate what I would consider a GOOD pair of booties when I blew out my last pair of 5mm Rip Curl Rubber Souls and needed to replace them.
I've never really done a straight bootie review, and this won't be one of those either. But when I was forced to dive into the lower tier bootie market recently, I ended up putting a couple of pairs through the rigor and thought I'd share my findings. The only 5mm boots that I could find in my size on the internet were the Hyperflex Access and the Billabong Furnace Comp... and I ended up being pleasantly surprised that one of these panned out to be a viable option moving forward.
5mm HyperFlex Access, Round Toe - I had high hopes for these boots. When I saw my size available on their website, I purchased them for $50-ish, on sale. Good price. The reason my expectations were high to start was because of the success I had found with their 5mm gloves. I've got several pairs of HyperFlex 5mm gloves, and at less than $20 a pair, they are the best cheap gloves on the market that still work in bitter cold conditions. But the boots... I'm not sure what kind of cankled incredible hulk these were designed for, but there is no way you're keeping water out of the Access boots unless your legs are thick like Dwayne Johnson. I've duct taped booties before, to keep cold water out, but that's not an awesome option. Despite that, the sizing is way off. Even when I sized down to s size eleven, the top opening was a civ, and the shoe itself too small, cutting off circulation in my big toe. So I can't review how warm they will keep you. I have two pairs now. They both suck. Maybe i'll use them for kayaking or something.
5mm Billabong Furnace Comp, Split Toe - I had low expectations for this pair of boots when I purchased them on Amazon for $50-ish. They weren't even sized by number, just S, M, L, and XL. I looked at the sizing chart and chose the XL. One reviewer posted that they were the softest boots he ever wore, like walking on cushions. I rolled my eyes. How can a pair of boots, not even cut to an actual size, keep you warm? Probably a kook. But I needed boots, and these split-toes WERE just a one-day delivery. Click. When the boots arrived, they were, in fact, as-described. The XL fit my size twelve foot pretty snug, even around the ankle. Additionally, the boots had a strap to pull them even tighter around the top of my foot. Score. They were definitely really soft, and extremely comfortable, but would these Billabongs keep me warm? I used them in water temps in the low 40's, with air temps in the mid 20's, and a lot of wind (I include the wind, because it's a huge factor when choosing the gear for the day). Anyway, the boots performed. And while I didn't completely avoid a little flushing, the boots did a solid job of not filling up with water. My sessions in the really cold weather last about an hour or so. By then I'm usually feeling the brain freeze and nausea. But on the days I wore the Billabong Furnace Comps my feet and toes were plenty warm. It's time for the 7mm now, but I plan on wearing these again once things warm up. They have great feel and comfort, very little toe drag, and I prefer them to some more expensive boots I've had in the past... not saying I'm out of the market for size twelve Rip Curls once they're back in stock, but no need to rush right now, these bargain bongers work just fine!
Now, I also needed a new hooded winter suit for my rotation. It's better having multiple 4mm and 5mm hooded suits, because even though most of them are "quick-dry" these days, let's be real, they still feel damp and cold on the outside. So I was looking for another 5/4 in order to have the option of a dry suit for those double session winter days. I've been buying Need Essentials wetsuits a lot lately, and I really like their 4/3 hooded suit. But their 5/4's were out-of-stock. I also tried to purchase another Rip Curl Flashbomb. I love the Flashbomb, it may be slightly heavier, but it's the best balance of comfort and warmth. But there were no hooded Flashbombs in stock either. Excel Drylock, out-of-stock. Isurus Ti Alpha, out-of-stock. What the? Then, it got really cold. More than our normal cold. So I decided to go look into something even thicker than 5mm. That's when I landed on a 6/4/3mm from Need Essentials. This would be the thickest suit I've ever owned. Do I need it? I've surfed a decade's worth of winters in New England and I've never worn anything thicker than 5mm. I grew up in Florida never wearing anything thicker than a 3/2! Click. This was going to be an experience.
The 6/4/3 from Need Essentials is extremely warm. The legs are so thick that gravity doesn't even bend them. I've only worn the suit twice. Both in sub-freezing, windy conditions with water below 40. The suit is difficult getting on and off, due to the sheer thickness, but surprisingly it felt pretty flexible during my two surf sessions. I honestly forgot I was wearing a 6mm at times, and was able to settle into my session a little bit. The 3mm hood is the best feature on this suit. It is extra warm, maybe the warmest hood out there, and that's saying a lot because the Flashbomb hood is REALLY GOOD at keeping the brain freeze away. The Need Essentials 6/4/3 was comfortable in most places, I think I need to wear it a few more times to really get a feel for it. But I hope to NOT wear this suit again until next season, because I want to believe that the coldest days are behind us!
Hope you're catching waves where you are. February is about to get real busy for me. See you on the other side!