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 surf 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.
Surf 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 might be true (depending on who you ask), the second two don’t have to be. Wetsuit manufacturers have responded to surfers’ general distaste for booties by investing time and effort to make booties totally awesome and well worth the investment with different materials and useful features.
Where I surf in the Bay Area, there are two types of people. Those who put on booties in early October, and those who wait until early December. In my time surfing here, I’ve worn a lot of different booties, and I got my hands on the options below to test and earnestly figure out which are actually the best surf booties on the market today.
What Are the Best Surf Booties?
Best Fit: Patagonia R3 Yulex ($85)
Best Boardfeel: Rip Curl Flashbomb ($80)
Best Shoe-Style Bootie: Vans Surf Boot 2 Hi V ($90)
Most Rugged: Xcel Drylock Split Toe ($95)
Best True Split-Toe: O’Neill Psycho Tech ST ($90)
Warmest Booties: Manera Magma ($90)
High Tech/Custom Fit: Solite Custom Pro 2.0 ($95)
What Matters Most When Buying Surf Booties? How Did We Calculate Recommendations for Best Surf Booties?
Fit is the most important variable, and that means different things for different people. We’ve done our best to indicate how each bootie fits – high volume will be better for wider feet, and low volume will be better for skinny feet, though it’s always best to err on the side of tighter rather than looser (within reason). In general, it’s a good rule of thumb to size down, and for each option I’ve indicated how much I sized down from my usual shoe size, if at all. You should also take into consideration whether you prefer round toe, split-toe, or internal split-toe booties, more of a “sock,” or more of a “shoe”-style bootie, and other features like heel loops, arch-straps, and more, all discussed towards the end of this article.
Read on for our favorite booties for winter surfing in 2022-2023, and scroll to the bottom for some general buying advice on sizing down, neoprene thickness, and the different toe styles. Booties have all been tested in 3mm, as available, for accurate comparisons in the chilly waters of Ocean Beach, San Francisco.
Pros: Low environmental impact, Patagonia warranty, great grip and a nice tight fit.
Cons: A bit tighter than some may prefer.
Fit: True to size, low volume.
Style: Internal split toe.
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, 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.
The great fit is in part due to the lower-volume of the bootie – these guys really wrap onto your foot, especially in the arch area, which is great for boardfeel and eliminating slippage, but may be uncomfortable for those with wider feet. Due to Patagonia’s own wetsuit-rating system, The R3 is equivalent to a 3mm bootie, R4 booties are 5mm, and R5 are 7mm.
Rip Curl Flashbomb ($80)
Pros: Cozy flashbomb lining, ankle strap to help keep out water. Good grip and a thin sole.
Cons: No heel loop.
Fit: True to size, lower volume, but not as tight as Patagonia.
Style: Internal split toe (5mm also available in round toe)
For those who are worried the Patagonia booties will be too tight on their feet, I present the Rip Curl Flashbomb Booties. They’re a similar sock-like style to the Patagonia R3s, with an arch strap to prevent heel lift. The Flashbomb lining is super cozy and dries fast – great for preventing bootie-funk – and the ankle strap is a useful feature for keeping your boots from filling with water. Similar to the Patagonia R3s, they have a low-volume fit, albeit with a bit less squeeze, so I could see them being a great choice for slightly wider feet. The sole of the bootie is nice and thin, allowing for great board feel.
The lack of a heel-loop is not my favorite, as I’ve found booties without heel loops, combined with cold and clumsy fingers or simply laziness, can lead to ripped booties in the long run. However, that has yet to happen here, and won’t as long as I remember to be careful.
Check Price on Evo
Check Price on Evo
Best Shoe-Style Bootie:
Vans Surf Boot 2 Hi V ($90)
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.
Fit: True to size.
Style: Round toe.
These are warm and comfortable booties with incredible board feel and proven durability. No split toe is an interesting choice, aimed at a universal fit. 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?
Read the full review here.
Best True Split-Toe:
O’Neill Psycho Tech ST ($90)
Pros: Warm, but also light and stretchy
Cons: Could be a little tighter on the upper foot area, mitigated by the foot strap.
Fit: Size down one full size.
Style: Split toe. Also available in round toe (3mm/5mm).
O’Neill boots keep your feet warm. Full 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. 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 surf booties with unparalleled warmth and comfort, the buck stops here.
Psycho Tech ST 3mm
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Psycho Tech ST 5mm
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Xcel Drylock Split Toe ($95)
Pros: Very warm and cozy, great warranty. Rugged sole.
Cons: Can feel more like a shoe than a sock – a pro or a con depending on your preference.
Fit: Size down one half or one full size.
Style: Split toe. Also available in round toe (3mm/5mm).
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 to keep water out, Drylock booties will keep you warm. They are a particularly structured bootie, with more of a shoe rather than a sock feel, but with a good fit, your surf performance will not be hindered, and the rugged tread sticks to wax like none other, and is great for scrambling over wet rocks without slipping. 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.
CHECK PRICE ON EVO
CHECK PRICE ON EVO
Manera Magma ($90)
Pros: Super warm and super cozy, molded exterior grips feet nicely.
Cons: Only available in 5mm.
Fit: True to size/one half-size down.
Style: Internal split-toe.
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. Although the Magmas are only available in 5mm (for 3mm check out Manera’s X10D booties)These booties have a superb barefoot feel, for those who prefer that over surfing in more shoe-like options from Vans, Xcel, and others.CHECK PRICE ON JACK'S SURFBOARDS
Solite Custom Pro 2.0 ($95)
Pros: Great board-feel and game-changing “heat mold” system.
Cons: Not the warmest 3mm booties, and a bit high-volume for my feet.
Fit: High volume, size down one full size or more.
Style: Internal split toe.
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. To be honest, the heat mold isn’t necessary, 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.
Last year, Solite’s booties were at the top of my list. This year, Solite debuted their 2.0 version of the Custom and Custom Pro booties, and these things are packed with features like heat booster socks which help improve the fit and add an extra layer of warmth inside the boot, a three-point arch strap, a new sole design that they claim is more barefoot-feeling, and an upgraded lining.
That being said, I’m not as stoked on Solite’s 2.0 as the original version. There’s a lot more volume in the boot which, as a skinny-footed surfer, resulted in a fair bit of slippage. This was fixed by cinching the straps tightly, but what I was so excited about with the first version of Solites was how they started way too tight, but stretched out over time into a perfect fit. Perhaps I should have sized down even more.
How Thick Do I Want My Booties?
Depends on where you are surfing and who you are. 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 run cold, your extremities will often be the limiting factor on how long you can stay in the water, so it can be worth going for a thicker bootie. I’m surfing in the San Francisco Bay Area, and 3mm booties do just fine as a year-round option, though it can be nice to have a pair of 5mm boots for cold spells or dawn patrols.
If you’re looking for your first pair of booties and aren’t sure what you need, think about where you live, what seasons you’ll be surfing, and reference a local water temperature chart online for comparison. For most of California, 3mm is probably fine, though as you venture further and further north of the Bay Area, 5mm becomes increasingly popular for winter surfing. For Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, except for mid-summer, you’ll probably want a pair of 5mm. Mid-Atlantic and Northeast winters warrant 5mm as well. Iceland? Now you’re in the 7mm-range.
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, unless they have a connected split toe, like Xcel’s Drylock or O’Neill’s Psycho Tech, above. Internal split-toe booties promise the best of both worlds. The comfort of the round toe with the control of a split toe. They don’t always live up to that hype, but the ones on this list do, unless indicated otherwise.
Socks or Shoes?
Nowadays, booties tend to lean one way or the other. Some, like the Vans Surf Boot and the Xcel Drylock act more like shoes, with a sturdy, less flexible sole. It makes a certain amount of sense, you skateboard in shoes, why not surf in them? Others, like the Rip Curl Flashbomb and the Manera Magma go for more of a sock-style fit with less volume and a thinner sole that tends to wrap the arch a bit more for a barefoot feel.
Who Should Surf Booties Fit?
Fit is all-important when it comes to surf booties. Feet are weird, vary a lot from person-to-person, and there is nothing worse that a poorly-fitting surf bootie. Too big and they’re worse than worthless, making you a worse surfer (but at least you’ve got an excuse!). It’s always better to have a little less room than you’d like to start out (see below), but go too small and your feet just hurt. My feet are long, skinny, and have finger toes. There, I said it. As a result, I want a bootie that is low-volume but will stretch a decent bit to accommodate my toes. Someone with wider feet might want a higher-volume bootie so they can order a small enough size for the length of their foot but still have enough room from side to side. I’ve done my best to indicate the volume of each bootie included here.
Should I Downsize my Surf 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 slippage or tripping during your pop up.
What Features Do I Want in a Surf 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.
Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.