Love them, hate them, wear them with a leash, without a leash, for traction, warmth, or both, if you surf anywhere other than the tropics, chances are you’ve needed to resort to booties at some point. Every fall it seems there’s a chorus of moans as the water temp dips just low enough to warrant digging out the wetsuit booties from where they’ve been hiding all summer, and a collective rush on all the surf shops when everyone realizes how full of holes last season’s pair of booties have become. Booties get a pretty bad rap as far as surf equipment goes. Surfers complain that they look kooky, make it harder to grip your board, and are uncomfortable, and while the first is definitely true, the second two don’t have to be. Wetsuit manufacturers have responded to the general dislike of booties among surfers by investing time and effort to make booties totally awesome and well worth the investment with different materials and useful features.
How Thick Do I Want My Booties?
Depends on where you are surfing and who you are, but in my opinion, as far as California waters go (even Northern California), 3mm booties will do you just fine. Most booties come in either 3mm or 5mm, with some going up to 7mm or higher. Thicker booties means less board-feel, but more warmth, a good trade off if your feet are going to be unfeeling bricks of ice in 3mm booties. If you’re looking for your first pair of booties and aren’t sure what you need think about where you or reference a local water temperature chart online. California, Mid-Atlantic, 3mm is probably fine. Surfing the Northeast Coast or Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, go for the 5mm.
Round-toe, Split-toe, or (Gasp) Internal Split-toe Booties?
For me, this is an easy one. Internal split toe all the freakin’ way. But for those who haven’t tried all three options from various brands and came to that conclusion themselves, let me break it down for you. Round toe booties are by far the most comfortable, and by far the biggest hinderance to your surfing. Without some sort of separation between your first and second toes, your foot can slide all over inside that bootie, especially problematic for shortboarding. Split-toe booties are the least comfortable, but don’t suffer from the same foot slip. However, they do suffer from catching-your-leash-in-between-your-toes syndrome. Internal split-toe booties are the best of both worlds. The comfort of the round toe with the grip of a split toe. Full disclosure, I have gotten some slippage with internal split-toe booties on a couple of occasions, but only in weird circumstances where I was already falling off my board.
Should I Downsize my Wetsuit Booties?
Short answer: Yes. Long answer, it depends on the brand, but a straight one size down from your normal shoe size normally does the trick. Being made of neoprene and rubber, booties are destined to stretch, so when trying on booties, shoot for the mildly uncomfortable option rather than the ‘just right’ fit. You want as little room as possible in there, any extra material and you’ll be prone to tripping during your pop up.
What Features Do I Want in a Wetsuit Bootie?
Arch straps are great — they go over the top of your foot to prevent your heel from lifting up inside the bootie. In a perfectly fitting pair of booties, an arch strap isn’t necessary, but always is a plus. A heel loop is another great feature that helps to get the booties on and off, and a thermal lining (found on most higher-end booties) will help yours dry out faster and feels awesome too. A cool new feature that only some brands have adopted is a gusseted collar at the top of the boot that seals onto the calf to help prevent water from flowing in.
What Are the Best Wetsuit Booties?
Pros: Game-changing fit and comfort.
Cons: Not the warmest 3mm booties I’ve worn…
Hands down, these are the best booties that have ever gone on my feet. Solite claims to have changed the game with their heat-moldable soles, and to be honest, they have. With just 25 minutes and some hot water, you can have a pair of custom-molded booties, but to be honest, the heat mold isn’t necessary, and not something I did on my booties. I just let mine naturally stretch to fit my feet, and after a couple of sessions of having my toes jammed up in the front, they fit perfectly.
Pros: Warm, comfy, and grippy. Not much more you can ask for when it comes to insulated foot pillows for surfin’.
Cons: For surfers hoping to fly under the radar, that bold side stripe might not be the most intuitive fashion choice.
These are warm and comfortable booties with incredible board feel and proven durability. If you’re looking for the best board feel in a pair of 5mm booties, these are for you. No split toe, an interesting choice. Furthermore, whereas most bootie manufacturers aim to make their booties feel like socks rather than shoes, Vans said screw that and made its booties as much like its legendary skate shoes as possible. And just like those skate shoes, they work. Who knew surfing in shoes would be a great idea?
Pros: Super warm and super cozy, molded exterior grips feet nicely.
Cons: Warm = thick neoprene = reduced board feel.
These booties feel and look great. I love the interior lining (the same lining on Manera’s Meteor wetsuits), and the internal split toe does a great job of keeping slippage to a minimum. The molded exterior helps with that as well, almost squeezing your arch and center foot, and doing away with any need for an arch strap.
Pros: Warm, but also light and stretchy
Cons: Too early to tell, but this much stretch has me worried about long-term durability.
O’Neill boots keep your feet warm. Period stop. With O’Neill’s humble beginnings in the cold-water paradise of Santa Cruz, warmth has always been a priority with the brand but so is comfort. The booties are made of O’Neill’s Technobutter 3, which feels silky soft on the inside and stretches with any movement as well as working wonders to retain warmth, and I’ll admit, I would have mistaken them for 3mm if it weren’t for the 5mm label. Another notable feature, the split toe has a useful connector across the top of the toes to prevent leash toe. If you want a pair of classic wetsuit booties with unparalleled warmth and comfort, the buck stops here.
Pros: Very warm and cozy, great warranty.
Cons: Can feel more like a shoe than a sock – a pro or a con depending on your preference.
Xcel knows what it’s doing when it comes to neoprene, and its booties are no exception. The Xcel Drylock is the brand’s warmest, top-of-the-line bootie, and during my time working at a surf shop, we sold more Drylocks than any other booties combined. With thick fleece lining and the first bootie I’d seen incorporate a gusseted collar, Drylock booties will keep you warm. There have been some reports of durability issues with the heel loop actually tearing off of the bootie, but Xcel has a great neoprene warranty, just hold on to that receipt in case anything happens.
Pros: Low environmental impact, Patagonia warranty, great features.
Cons: A bit chunkier than some may prefer.
The R3 Yulex Split toe is 85 percent Yulex natural rubber and fair trade certified – no other pair of booties on the market is that friendly to the environment or the people making them. Under the hood, this boot’s got some serious features. Including a z-strap with super sturdy webbing, arch support, and incredible fit (I wear an 11.5 shoe and wore these in 11). The internal split toe also does a great job of allowing for more mobility in your big piggie without sacrificing warmth. No noticeable sacrifice in board feel, no “folding,” and all-around a very solid option with minimal environmental impact.
Pros: Well-made booties with all the features you could possibly want.
Cons: Size down more than you think.
Quiksilver has been at this whole wetsuit thing for decades and its expertise and understanding of materials shines through in its latest bootie offering, the Highline Plus Split Toe. Welded seams and a Hydrolock Seal keep water out. The heel loop makes for easy on and off. What I will say is we tested these guys just a half-size down and found the fit a little big. I would highly recommend going a full size or more down from your street shoe.