A group of women open water swimmers wearing the new Red Original EVO changing robe by the lake.

How To Choose The Right Outdoor Changing Robe

What Is A Changing Robe and What to Consider Before Buying One

Changing your clothes on the beach can be challenging, especially if it's cold, rainy and there aren't any dressing rooms. The main purpose of the changing robe is to keep you warm and dry while you are changing your clothes after being in the water.

Enjoying your favourite outdoor watersport is a lot more fun when you've got your changing robe to wear afterwards. They come in all shapes, sizes, colours and materials. That's why we made this guide to help you choose the right one for you.

Before we go into the details, we’ll quickly have a look at the lingo. There are two type of changing robes, there are towelling ones, commonly also called poncho towels, surf ponchos or changing towels. Then there are the waterproof ones, the big coats that will protect you from the elements.

Going forward to avoid confusion, we will call the towelling ones poncho towel and the waterproof ones all-weather changing robe.

What Is A Changing Robe?

women changing into her wetsuit while protecting her modesty with a changing robe.

Changing out of your wet clothes in public after a surf or swim is a tricky situation a lot of watersport enthusiasts have found themselves in at one point or another.

But with a robe, it's as simple as slipping off your wet gear for something dryer without having to worry about finding a changing room or fumbling around in your car.

A waterproof changing robe or poncho towel is an outdoor garment typically worn while changing clothes after enjoying outdoor water activities such as surfing, paddle boarding or outdoor swimming.

You might also hear them referred to as a "dryrobe". This is because the brand Dryrobe were the first brand to establish the concept of the waterproof changing robe, so now people call anything similar to it a dryrobe. It's a bit like when people call any vacuum cleaner a "Hoover" after the brand.

What is a dryrobe?

Changing robes are available in a variety of colours and designs, as well as a waterproof and windproof range. Waterproof changing robes often have a pocket on the inside to hold keys, wallets and other small items while poncho towels don’t. They might have a pocket on the outside to put in essentials like underwear, but not all brands do.

Poncho Towels often feature a traditional "poncho" design with larger arm openings and a hooded neckline for comfort and ease.

Different Types Of Changing Robes

There are two main types of changing robes, Poncho Towels or Towelling robes and Changing Robes which incorporate all-weather waterproof and windproof coats.

1. Poncho Towels

Man drying off with his Red Original Towel poncho

A hooded poncho towel robe is a great way to dry yourself off and get changed at the beach or in public. They're such a convenient piece of kit for surfers and swimmers alike for drying off quickly and easily.

Think wearable towel, but without the risk of it slipping off. A poncho towel is great for lounging around and staying warm after a session on the water.

Cotton vs Synthetic Materials

There are pros and cons to both materials, it just depends on what you're looking for. Here are the key points to consider:

  • Cotton has a more luxurious feel with excellent absorbency, but it can be bulkier so it takes up a lot of space in the travel bag and washing machine.
  • ynthetic Materials fold very small in a bag which is great for space-saving. They have good absorbency but don't feel as nice on the skin as a cotton alternative.

 It's probably for this reason cotton poncho towels are the most popular when it comes to Towelling robes. Poncho Towel robes like the Northcore Beach Basha are perfect for changing in spring or summer.

Sleeve Lengths

Poncho towels either come with no sleeves (long overhanging shoulders) or a short sleeve design.

No Sleeve

Robe towel robe no sleeve

There is a no sleeve option for poncho towels. These usually have a wider opening so it’s easy to move clothes in and out through the arm opening, which makes it easier to get changed, but by the same token, it doesn’t offer as much warmth or protection from the elements as the options with sleeves.

Short Sleeve

Red original towel poncho short sleeve

A poncho towel with sleeves typically offers more cover and protection than sleeveless options. They are bulkier in the bag though so if saving space in your bag is a goal

2. Waterproof Changing Robes

Family keeping warm by the sea wearing their dryrobe changing robes.

A waterproof changing robe is designed so that you can get changed out of your wetsuit or swimming gear anywhere, either at the beach or by the side of the road. Just pop the robe over your wet gear to get changed underneath.

The waterproof outer layer provides protection from adverse weather conditions, so they're also great for keeping you dry and warm after a cold water swimming session.

An all-weather, waterproof changing robe is a lot like an oversized full-length coat and is ideal for protecting you from the elements. It'll also protect your modesty by providing plenty of room to get changed into and out of your wetsuit or swimwear. Especially useful in the winter months.

Surfdock has assembled the largest collection of changing robes in Ireland for surfers and swimmers alike. 

Waterproof changing robes such as the Dryrobe Advance Long Sleeve are ideal for the most extreme weather. 

Sleeve Lengths

Waterproof changing robes come with short or long sleeves.

Short Sleeve

Robe Dry Series Changing Robe short sleeve

A waterproof changing robe with a short sleeve is often a 3/4 sleeve so will still cover most of the arm and leave only the forearm exposed.

Their advantage would be that they offer waterproof changing as opposed to poncho towels and will keep the wearer much warmer. It's also easier to move clothes in and out through the arm opening than it would be in long sleeved waterproof changing robes.

Long Sleeve

Red Original Change Jacket long sleeve

A full length, long sleeve waterproof changing robe is very much like a big, cosy water- and windproof sleeping bag like coat. It will often have a water-resistant outer shell with a cosy inner lining for extra warmth.

Long sleeves can feature velcro to tighten sleeves on the wrist, making it the warmest option available that protects fully against the elements in windy and rainy conditions. With all this material, it shouldn't be of any surprise that the long sleeve is usually the more expensive option.

Other Features To Keep In Mind

  • How many pockets do you want? This is a personal choice, but waterproof changing robes can come with a front pocket (either one or two); zippy pockets and an inside pocket. It helps to think of the average amount of things that you'll be carrying at any one time. Changing robes with lots of pockets are great for carrying all sorts of different items, from sunscreen, goggles and small clothing items to your phone and car keys, but there's no need to go overboard.
  • Fleece-lined pockets are also handy features for keeping the little digits toasty.
  • Many waterproof changing robes and Poncho towels come in different sizes, other brands offer a one size fits all adults
  • You'll also find a kids' version available from most brands so your little ones won't be left out in the cold

Sizing - What Are You Using Your Changing Robe For?

Women drinking coffee sitting at an outdoor table wearing their changing robes

Before choosing which size changing robe to get, the first thing you need to decide is whether you are wearing it before and after your session to stay warm and dry or whether you will be using it to get changed under.

As a rule of thumb, if you're not using it for changing at all, but more to stay warm, you may be looking to choose a smaller size to fit more snugly. On the other hand, if you are using it for changing, especially in and out of a wetsuit, you will need more space.

Once you've realised how you're going to be typically using the garment, you can choose the option that suits its use best.

The Trend Goes Towards A Smaller Fit, But Is It For You?

 Man getting ready for a swim while wearing his waterproof Dryrobe Advance

There's a change in trend now with people choosing smaller changing robe sizes, mostly because they're wearing it before and after their activity and not to get changed in. For this reason, they tend to go for a less bulky size that offers enough cover to stay warm but is more form-fitting.

If you are looking to get changed underneath your changing robe, the recommendation for a fit with an ample amount of space is still to choose the recommended size according to the brands’ size guides instead of sizing down.

Otherwise, you might find yourself struggling to get changed with any sort of grace.

How to choose a waterproof changing robe

One of the most common reasons for returns is that our customers are concerned they bought too big a changing robe, even after reading the size guides.

All waterproof changing robes are made to an oversized spec. They are not fitted coats. So when you’re trying one on, it will look big. Possibly bigger than you expected. It's sort of the point.

Also, consider that you won’t be standing in front of a mirror or strutting down the catwalk in your Dryrobe. You will be moving around, sitting down, walking, or cuddling into it with a hot cuppa. It won’t always look as bulky as it does on Day 1 after first coming out of its packaging. 

Here Are a Few Things to Look Out For...

When choosing the right size waterproof changing robe, like:

  • the length of the arms - are they the right length finishing below the wrist or are they too short.
  • the length in the body - have you got enough length in the coat to cover yourself? Are you risking your dignity if you lift your arms up?
  • Was it easy to pull your arms in? - When you zip it up, how easy is it to pull your arms inside.
  • Do you have plenty of room to get changed? - Pretend to towel off and get changed inside your robe as you would.

All brands will have a size guide suggesting which size you should go for depending on your height and maybe even the type of use. These are of course only guidelines and at the end of the day, it's down to your personal preference.

How to choose the right size for you

It’s not easy to find the right size online and not all of us can try on a friend’s changing robe before buying our own, so we’ve put together as much information as possible from our own experience as well as our customers. This will hopefully give you a better idea and help in choosing the right size for you.

All waterproof changing robes are a unisex fit. We are using different examples for men and women below because these are the most common scenarios we deal with. Of course, men also choose smaller sizes, as well as women, choosing bigger sizes, so we don’t mean to offend by using gender-specific advice, but we feel it assists us in being as helpful as possible.

An example for women

Woman wearing a Red Original EVO change jacket

I am 5’4 and a UK size 10. If I was using my Dryrobe to wear instead of getting changed under it, I would have chosen a size Small. I do however use it to change out of my wetsuit, so have chosen the Medium size.

That gives me lots of room to get changed underneath. It is long in the arms, but the velcro on the wrist is very handy to tighten it there.

The Small size has a little less changing space and the sleeves are a bit shorter. The length of the robe is the same in Small and Medium.

I also have a short-sleeved Red Paddle changing robe in Medium, which is a little less bulky than the Dryrobe and not quite as long. It’s great to throw on after a swim and wrap up warm in.

Medium is the smallest adult size in the Red Paddle range and because it fits slightly smaller than the Dryrobe, is perfect for both wearing after a session on the water and getting changed under it without seeming too big.

An example for men

Colin is 5’10 and wears size Medium clothes. He uses his Dryrobe to wear in the car to and from the surf. He doesn’t get changed under it, so he has a Medium.

If he wanted to get changed under it, he would need a Large which would seem quite big on him but would offer much more space to get changed in.

Dryrobe have an XL size, this would be for you if you are over 6’2" and wear a 2XL T-shirt or bigger. We find that a lot of the Extra Larges that get ordered are being returned because they look very big at first glance.

Best Selling Poncho Towel and Waterproof Changing Robe Brands

A changing robe is a must-have for any beachgoer or watersport enthusiast who wants to stay dry and warm after getting out of the water. But with so many brands to choose from, it can be difficult to decide which one is best for you.

Here is a quick list and breakdown of the best selling change robe brands that Surfdock sell to help make your decision easier:


Changing out of a wetsuit or swimsuit can be awkward, but with the right changing robe, you'll have enough space to do so with ease. Changing robes come in many styles and sizes, which is why it's important to know what type of usage best suits your needs before making a purchase.

We hope this article is helpful when it comes to choosing an outdoor changing robe that will work for you. If you need any further help figuring out how to measure yourself accurately or want more information about our different types of changing robes, feel free to search our brands and products online at Surfdock.com or send us an email at shop@surfdock.com and we'd love to point you in the right direction.

You are also very welcome to visit us at our store in Dublin and try on different brands and sizes to find the right fit for you.

See you on the water soon,