You’re cold. Hood still on, despite just walking 10 minutes back to the car, hands shaking, kind of wondering if you have snot on your face. You get to your car, attempt to gingerly place your board on the ground with stiff fingers, and realize as you reach for your car lock that you have no feeling in them at all.
Cold hands when surfing range from annoying to downright dangerous, and there’s one obvious solution: surf gloves.
The 3mm O’Neill Psycho Tech Gloves provide the necessary warmth for keeping frozen hands at bay with flexible and comfortable O’Neill neoprene.
These cold water accessories are essential for a large contingent of the world’s surfers, despite the sport being billed as a sandal-and-boardshorts-only experience. The number of surfers who are paddling out in dark water that’s 40-60 degrees Fahrenheit makes up a large, large portion of the sport, and for those surfers, in those conditions, you need the right gear. A wetsuit, to say the least. A hood and booties, most likely. And last but certainly not least, surf gloves.
They may be the last on that list, but they are essential.
So, what are the best surf gloves?
The Quick Answer: The Best Surf Gloves
Best Overall: O’Neill Psycho Tech 3mm Surf Gloves ($75)
Easiest to Use: Quiksilver Marathon Sessions ($60)
Eco-Friendly: Patagonia R3 Yulex Gloves ($75)
Fastest Drying: Rip Curl Flashbomb 3/2 ($50)
I have tested a variety of surf gloves over the years, and I can confidently say that the quality of neoprene today is the best it has ever been – there’s truly been no better time to invest in some extra warmth for your hands.
For this article, I specifically tested a number of five-finger 3mm gloves. These are the most commonly used in California, where the largest majority of surfers are in the U.S. They are not the warmest gloves on tap (those would be 7mm mittens), but they fit the bill the largest percentage of the time, and trying the same type of glove from each brand gave me a basis to compare them on.
I also run extremely cold and am prone to thicker wetsuits than everyone else I know, so you could say that I’m the ideal testing candidate for surf gloves in California. For this review, I scored each pair of gloves on their warmth, flexibility, drying time, durability, and fit, the main aspects that go into a good surf glove.
Warmth and flexibility are obvious requirements, no need to explain there, as is durability – I don’t want to be buying a new pair of gloves every winter. Drying time matters, unless you’re happy with sticking your hands in a soggy glove before hopping in the water (I’m definitely not), and fit is perhaps the most important criteria here. I’ll explain more in the Buying Advice section of the article (scroll to the bottom), but for now, just know that you want your gloves to fit tightly so they don’t fill with water and create drag while paddling.
In summary, get some surf gloves. They’ll keep your hands warm, and when you decide to head to colder, emptier lineups, you’ll be glad you have them.
A piece of essential advice, though: gloves go under the wetsuit sleeve.
I’ll break down all the individual gloves here and scroll to the bottom for some key aspects of this often-overlooked accessory of surf gear, as well as buying advice.
The Ultimate List of the Best Surf Gloves
Overall Score: 4.4
O’Neill has a long reputation of being the “best” cold water surf brand out there, mostly due to its Techno Butter line of rubber. From suits to booties to hoods, the Santa Cruz-based brand is often a premium choice in traditional wetsuit wear, and I found this to be true with gloves as well.
While other gloves had more admirable characteristics in specific features, the 3mm five-finger Psycho Tech was the best overall surf glove. They are quite warm and snug, are built with thick seams along the tips, have a medium-length cuff that keeps water out, and have a grip that performed well without being overly sticky or noticeable.
I was impressed with how little water got into the gloves after the initial fill-up. The sleeve doesn’t have a specifically thick or wide band to seal it off like other models but instead is entirely made of a tight-fitting material that O’Neill calls the O’Ring Seal. This meant the water warmed up in my hands and rarely flushed, no matter how many duck dives my winter sessions required.
After all my testing, I found that what I wanted most was a glove that kept my hands warm and that I never had to think about during my session. The O’Neill Psycho Tech 3mm proved to be those gloves.
The only real downside is that they are very hard to get on (especially the second hand) due to the very tight cuff. But I’d take that over cold water flushing any day. They are on the pricier end of the spectrum, and there’s a reason for that.
I also tested the O’Neill Psycho Tech 1.5mm gloves as well, and while they were built equally well, I didn’t love them. If I’m going to wear gloves, I’d prefer to keep my hands toasty warm, and I found them a bit cold after a stormy evening session.
These were warm, downright cozy gloves. Part of this was fit and seal, and part was the thick “Smoothskin” that O’Neill uses on the exterior. It’s a windproof layer that makes the glove’s exterior impermeable, and it made me feel like a seal, which is always nice.
While I felt pretty mobile in the Psycho Tech gloves, the fingers are definitely thick. I had issues adjusting my earplugs because I didn’t have much dexterity, and getting the second glove’s cuff to lie flat under a 4/5 wetsuit was not easy. I was able to grip my board just fine, though.
Dry Time: 4/5
The interior of the Pyscho Tech gloves features the legendary Techno Butter Firewall lining, which is not only warm but dries fairly quickly. They aren’t the fastest-drying gloves out there, but you’ll be pleased with their performance in this category.
The seams on these gloves are thick and well-constructed, and the Smoothskin exterior is an extra layer that’ll keep the gloves lasting longer than most. The grip is well made too.
Fit: 5/5 (Size Small)
Fit is everything with gloves and is variable based on hand size. I found these gloves to fit perfectly for me.
Overall Score: 3.8
The Patagonia R3 Yulex Gloves are all-around excellent and generally hit the mark you’d hope for in a surf glove. They also have the added benefit of being made from truly eco-friendly material and come with a lifetime warranty that Patagonia honors.
The Patagonia R3 gloves fit me reasonably well, have a long cuff with a microgasket at the wrist to stop flushing, and plenty of grip on the palms. I found them to keep my hands fairly warm, each finger to be fairly flexible, and to simply work against cold water. I was worried about the flexibility of the gloves with Yulex, which is notoriously stiffer than traditional neoprene, but they remained quite flexible.
That said, the microgasket, which is more of a lip at the bottom of the cuff than a seal, didn’t keep flushing entirely at bay, as some other gloves were able to do.
I found the Patagonia R3 Yulex gloves to be solidly warm. Not outstanding, but solid. My hands were never cold, the wind was blocked reasonably well, and the microgasket did keep out most water flushing, but not all. I expected the gloves to be a little warmer for how heavy-duty they feel.
For a 3mm glove and a Patagonia one, which sometimes has a reputation for stiff wetsuits, the R3 Yulex gloves were surprisingly dexterous. I could adjust earplugs and my hood, get both gloves on in under a minute, and take them off easily.
Dry Time: 3/5
All other gloves I’ve used had some sort of off-color (usually red) lining on the interior, which helps with both warmth and dry time. Patagonia’s R3 Yulex gloves do have a liner (a 100% recycled polyester jersey liner, to be exact), which obviously kept my hands warm, but I wasn’t impressed with the dry time. They remained damp longer than the other gloves I used and don’t have any of the microgrid lining used in Patagonia wetsuits.
I am impressed with the R3 Yulex surf glove build. The seams are well done, the wrist is made thick, and the palm grips are grippy. I think they’ll last a while, and Patagonia will repair them if they don’t.
I wore a pair of Small Patagonia gloves, and they fit well but not perfectly. The tips of the fingers are a little loose, so water gets in and drags as I paddle. This was not very noticeable with these gloves for me, and otherwise, they fit well.
Overall Score: 3.7
Rip Curl is perhaps the most iconic surf apparel brand out there, and their line of Flashbomb wetsuits has a lot going for it. The Flashbomb 3/2 surf gloves utilize the same E6 Flash Lining as their premium wetsuits and utilize a unique 3mm thick hand and 2mm cuff, creating a glove that should be warm yet slimmed down.
However, I found the Flashbomb 3/2 surf gloves to be clunky and quite a bit larger than all the other gloves I tested. This led to extra water in the fingertips, which meant a more difficult paddle. I would definitely try this glove on in person because the fit was off for me, but from a build perspective, these gloves are pretty solid.
Rip Curl uses a single heavier seal at the cuff to keep out water, and I didn’t find it to be as effective as other gloves. That, plus the flushing, meant I noticed the gloves a fair amount during use. The fingers were also all quite thick. Not so much that it distracted from popping up, but enough that I kept thinking about it in the water.
The real highlight is the E6 Flash lining, which did produce warmth and did dry very, very quickly. They are quite a bit cheaper than other gloves on this list and have a durable build, which may make them an ideal option for folks with a better fit.
I never found myself exclaiming at the Flashbomb’s warmth, but it kept my hands from getting cold, and I could always open a car door after a dawn patrol session. I did expect, due to their rugged build, a warmer experience, but I didn’t quite get one. That could be because of constant flushing and a less-than-perfect fit.
I did not find the Flashbomb’s particularly flexible when worn. This was partially due to fit, which led to poor fingertip mobility, but they also just felt rather clunky on my hands. That said, they were easy to get on and off.
Dry Time: 5/5
On the Rip Curl box, it clearly states, “The fastest drying gloves in the world.” While I haven’t used every glove in the world, the Flashbomb surf gloves did dry at record speed. Like, a couple hours. No other glove came close to this level of dryness.
The materials of the Flashbomb 3/2 gloves are high-end despite being one of the cheaper gloves on this list. They use an excellent lining that will last, the palm grip works well, and the seams are done very well. I expect these gloves to last a long time.
Fit: 3/5 (Small)
I did not personally love the fit of the Flashbomb 3/2 gloves. The fingers were too long, the base of the palm was lower than mine, and the cuff was also rather long. I felt like I was wearing a size too big, despite them being a size Small.
This, of course, is highly dependent on my hands (and your hands), so I suggest you check them out.
Material: Limestone-derivate eco-friendly neoprene Bluesign Certified
Overall Score: 3.5
The Quiksilver Marathon Sessions are 3mm five-finger surf gloves that surprised me. For some reason — maybe the lower cost, but more likely the lack of press and online reviews for this set of gloves — I thought they were going to be less than stellar.
But after a lot of testing, the Quiksilver Marathon Sessions became my favorite glove for all conditions when it’s not really cold. They are different from many of the gloves on this list in that they don’t have a long cuff, so they are much easier to get on and off, and despite being 3mm gloves, they remain very flexible.
The Marathon Sessions have a tacky grip, which I found useful for duck dives, but others may dislike. The gloves were warm enough for most sessions, and even though they got flushed more often than the gloves with full cuffs, they remained very comfortable.
The other gloves on this list felt like a real commitment — I put them on like a suit of armor against the cold and wind — whereas the Marathon Sessions felt like an easy add-on to my gear.
If you have suited up and taken an extra 5 minutes to get thick gloves over cold hands while watching perfect right-hand point break in front of you, you know the quicker those gloves get on, the better. The Quiksilver Marathon Sessions remain my throw-em-on gloves, and I use them when the water is chilly but not unbearable.
The Marathon Sessions also have a few nods to sustainable materials, like the Aqua Alpha glues used, which are non-toxic and water-based, and StretchFlight neoprene, which is made from scrap rubber tires, a material that’s Bluesign certified.
Warm enough. While the Marathon Sessions didn’t wow me with warmth, they worked well in 55-58 degree waters. Some folks won’t even wear gloves then, but if you’re the sort who does, I’d recommend these.
I was impressed with the flexibility of the Marathon Sessions despite being 3mm gloves. You will still have thick fingers, but I found I could toggle a hood, adjust earplugs, and get them on and off relatively easily.
Dry Time: 3/5
The Marathon Sessions have an interior lining that helps with dryness, but I didn’t find their dry time remarkable. They may be a bit damp after a day or two.
The gloves are well constructed, with thick-enough seams and a durable grip. However, the exterior of the glove feels less solid than the others I tested.
Most people will find that the Quiksilver Marathon Sessions run too small. I did, too, but this ended up working out because they were the tightest fitting gloves, and yet still fit, which meant the least amount of water inside the glove. This aided in their flexibility in the water, but most people will want to go a size up.
Vissla has quickly become a go-to wetsuit brand for reliable, durable, well-priced gear, and the 7 Seas gloves are quality contenders. They use limestone-based neoprene for an eco-friendly bent, have a long cuff with a tight lock, and a full liner for warmth and air-dry capability.
These gloves do everything well but are a bit on the expensive side for not having a standout feature.
Xcel is known for making some of the warmest wetsuits around, and the Drylock Texture Skin gloves were made for warmth. Even among the five-finger 3mm variety, these gloves exude heat. They are heavy, hard to get on, have a medium-sized cuff and thick “Drylock” wrist seal, as well as an outer layer that’s wind resistant and highly durable.
These go toe-to-toe with O’Neil’s Psycho Tech and may be warmer, but they are also the priciest gloves on the market.
Billabong may be the sleeper wetsuit brand in the surf world. I interviewed Anna Gadauskas, a cold-water queen of surfing who has glided on waves in Iceland, Norway, and New England (to name a few), on the merits of cold-water surf gloves to help fill my gap in truly cold waters.
After talking with her, it became clear she knew a lot about different glove types, thicknesses and brands. She is also sponsored by Billabong at the time of this writing and told me they were hands-down the warmest wetsuit and gloves she’d ever warn.
The Anti-Glove are aptly named — they’re made for people who hate wearing gloves. This means that they are not bulky, you can feel your fingers, and they’re easy to get on and off.
The downside? Basically no warmth. The Anti-Glove is barely a millimeter thick; its main feature is that it cuts wind. So, for those who basically won’t wear gloves but need something for a particular windy session, they may be ideal.
For those who actually need gloves for warmth, though, the Anti-Gloves aren’t for you. And in my experience, putting on gloves to not actually get warmth is kind of a bummer. But maybe you’ll feel differently.
As you can tell, this guide is about five-finger surf gloves, which certainly provide warmth but are not the top dogs when it comes to keeping your hands from freezing in truly frigid conditions. For that, you need mittens.
For all those winter warriors whose idea of fun is a sub-40-degree water session (often with air temperatures hovering around freezing), mittens are the surf gloves you actually need. I did not test these, but in my interview with Anna Gudauskas, she said mittens are the only way to go for temps that cold.
Each brand above offers a pair of surf glove mittens, and they are usually in 5mm or 7mm varieties.
If you’re in for truly cold water surfing, get mittens, and get the ones that fit you best.
Do you really need surf gloves?
I’ve asked myself this question a lot over the last 10 years. I live and surf in Ventura, California, where many people would argue that, no, you don’t need surf gloves. The water dips down to 54 degrees at its coldest and doesn’t stay there long, with average winter temperatures right around 58.
This is not cold by many standards. So, while you don’t need surf gloves in Ventura, they are awfully nice on the coldest days.
The bigger question here is, what is a need? I know many surfers who have never worn gloves and have no desire to. They are of the “less is more” mentality, which collides with the intense, brusque surfer vibe that suffering is an essential part of the experience.
I don’t partake in either of those beliefs; I believe the point of surfing (and the only real point) is to have fun. And after a certain number of years trying to open my car with frozen hands, I realized it just wasn’t fun to be that cold.
Likewise, if you’re a young buck and don’t believe in things like pain, there will come a point when your body, head, feet, and even hands are achy and cold. It’s called aging, and it’ll happen to the best of you.
The R3 Gloves are an all-around winner, and they come with Patagonia’s commitment to sustainability and the planet.
Then there’s the other half of the question: besides the extra cost, why not wear surf gloves? The downsides of booties are that you have much less mobility on your board (and they’re a pain to get on). A hood’s rough because you can’t hear and sense the waves in the same way, and you might get some neck strain (though I’d argue hood downsides are relatively minimal, especially with how they aid against surfer’s ear).
I found in my testing that the downsides of gloves are actually less than booties and about the same as hoods, assuming you have the right-sized gloves.
The main downside to surf gloves is that, when sized too big, water fills up the glove and creates drag when you paddle, which slows you down and induces arm and shoulder fatigue earlier than normal. On a paddle-heavy day in solid surf, this is a major bummer, and that’s often what you’ll get in the coldest moments of winter surf. There are also the downsides of any extra piece of gear — they aren’t as natural as your body, they get damaged over time, they cost money, and you have to deal with them.
Yet when surf gloves fit well, I have found that they give me a bit of increased grip on my board and a heap of warmth. My hands were the warmest part of me after long sessions, extending my time in water and speeding up my post-surf routine. When the glove fit and warmth were on point, I basically forgot about them. And unlike booties, when you’re up and riding, they don’t get in the way at all.
To answer that question — do you really need surf gloves — I’d answer: “Needs are relative.” But if you run at all cold or surf in chilly waters, I’d recommend keeping a pair of surf gloves in the gear closet.
What kind of surf gloves do I need?
There are three main components of surf gloves to consider:
1. The type of glove: five-finger, “lobster claw” (three-finger), or mitten
2. The thickness: 1.5mm, 3mm, 5mm, or 7mm (and corresponding water and air temperature)
3. Size: Small, Medium, Large, etc.
Different Types of Surf Gloves
The name is obvious, and you’ll find five-finger gloves in most surf shops. Five-finger gloves provide the least amount of warmth, the most amount of flexibility, and are often used in waters above 46 degrees.
Lobster claw gloves, also called three-finger gloves, are hybrid gloves. They offer a good degree of warmth because they sandwich multiple fingers together (which creates more warmth) but still provide a degree of flexibility. They are used most often in waters between 40-46 degrees.
Mittens are for the truly cold water surfers. You stick your entire hand inside at once, which makes them easy to put on, and they keep all your fingers sandwiched together, providing the most warmth. They have the least flexibility, but in waters below 40 degrees, they are often a necessity, and gloves in general at that temperature are an actual necessity.
Cold-water queen Anna Gudauskas says:
“Once the water is in the ’40s, I definitely want 5-finger gloves and anything below the ’40s, I’ll reach for mittens or lobster claw gloves. Having multiple fingers together really keeps more heat in.”
She also told me that in winter in Ventura, she doesn’t wear gloves, but she does wear a 5/4 wetsuit and that most folks who get cold just need a thicker wetsuit. So you could always try that out.
The Thickness of the Glove
The quick of it: The thicker the glove, the warmer.
Just like wetsuits, thickness is listed in millimeters and works its way up from 1.5 all the way to 7 for surf gloves. The sweet spot for most people, however, is 3mm, 5mm, and 7mm, the former being the most common in chilly waters and the latter being for those Northern Lights kind of surf spots.
Generally, you match thickness and glove type to water and air temperature, creating some lovely middle point where you can surf comfortably, buy the gloves often enough that you don’t stress about it, and remain able to open your car door after dawn patrol.
Anna had this to say about the thickness of gloves and quality of gear for truly cold water:
“Wind is also a factor in this, so on a really windy day, I might go for thicker gloves. Good gear makes such a difference, and buying new gloves every year is a worthy investment. Despite Iceland and Norway sounding the most arctic, the coldest sessions of my life have been in New England during some of the winter storms where air temp doesn’t get over 15 degrees F. I didn’t really have the right gear for that trip, and we showed up the day after all those slushy wave videos were coming out, meaning the ocean temp was only 1 or 2 degrees above freezing. There’s a term called the ‘screaming barfies,’ which refers to the feeling of circulation returning to your fingers after they’ve been freezing cold. It feels something like nails being hammered into your extremities.”
To be clear, my fumbling for keys with “frozen” fingers in Ventura is a far cry from screaming barfies. That said, in both scenarios, surf gloves are helpful.
The 3mm Marathon Sessions glove provides warmth without the struggle often accompanied with getting gloves on and off, thanks to a shorter wrist cuff.
In my testing, I found that anything below a 3mm glove is not really worth it. I tried 1.5mm gloves and felt that despite the fit being perfect and the water being on the warm side of cold (58 degrees), they just didn’t warrant the whole “wearing gloves” things. My hands were not that much warmer, and I still struggled to take them on and off.
For most surfers, 3mm gloves are warm enough, dextrous enough, and work in enough range of water temperatures to warrant purchase, even if you don’t always surf in waters that justify them.
When you get into waters below 45 degrees, you start to look at thicker gloves. And if you want to be prepared for literally anything, a 5mm mitten is probably the simplest answer. It’ll get you through the worst of most winters, and you can switch to 3mm five-finger gloves for the warmer days.
As Anna said, “If I had to pick just one pair, I’d go for mittens.”
What size wetsuit glove should I get?
The smallest glove possible. The main drawback I found in all of my testing is that any glove that was too big filled with water to the fingertips and created a drag sensation while paddling.
This didn’t bother me much when popping up or actually surfing, but it’s surprisingly annoying if you have a heavy paddle day. The gloves will always fill (and refill) with water, so you want the tightest-fitting glove possible.
The only way to ensure this is to get hands on (in, rather) the product. If you’re ordering online, be sure to try the gloves out at home before you get in the water with them and make them unreturnable. It’s also worth noting that each brand’s version of “Medium” is different. I am a Medium in most things surf related, but I found Smalls on every brand fit me best, and some brands’ Smalls were still a little big.
If you are struggling to get the gloves on, you’re on the right path. And remember, once water hits them, they stretch a bit.
Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.