If the triathlon you are planning to do features an open water swim, a wetsuit is a must. In some cases they are mandatory and so you must wear one. Not only this, due to the fact they aid with buoyancy, they can be a vital part of the swim.
In this guide, you will find expert information about sizing, fitting, and much more so that you know exactly what to look for when investing in a wetsuit for triathlon. Whether you're renting or buying, don't do anything until you've read this guide!
One of the most advantageous aspects of wearing a wetsuit for your open water swim is the buoyancy. However, you need a wetsuit that isn't too buoyant because it could cause back ache and make breaststroke swimming virtually impossible.
The only way you can tell if the buoyancy in your chosen wetsuit is correct is to swim in it before you buy it. Some retailers have pools where you can try the wetsuit in the water and even be videoed to see if the buoyancy in the legs is right for you.
As a general rule, the more you pay for your wetsuit, the more flexible it will be. Flexibility increases your level of comfort, so think about how long you will be wearing your suit in each open water session. A long distance swimmer should always go for maximum flexibility, while someone who races exclusively in sprint triathlons could get away with a cheaper, less flexible wet suit. But think ahead – you may only be doing short swims this season, but if your goal for next year is an Ironman or 2 mile swim, you'll want to invest in a more expensive wetsuit.
All wetsuits provide you with warmth and the layer of water between your skin and the wetsuit will warm up quickly once you get moving. If you particularly suffer with the cold early or late in the season, there are wetsuits that have a special thermal lining inside to keep you warm. This feature would be particularly useful for someone planning a big challenge like swimming the Channel or doing a triathlon in a colder country.
If you do suffer from the cold, you may also need to invest in a neoprene swim cap as well as socks and gloves. Make sure you check with race organisers first that you can wear them in an event.
Unless you are a very unusual shape, there should be no need to buy a custom-made suit as there is a wide variety of sizes available to fit everyone. All wetsuit brands have size charts but they are all unique to their brand, so check the chart carefully if you are buying online.
Top Tip: Avoid buying a unisex suit as men and women are shaped differently.
The video below is a demonstration of how to put on a wetsuit. Ensure that the seal around your neck is fitted properly and is good quality, otherwise the wetsuit will fill up with water. For maximum comfort, you will need to spend around 10-15 minutes getting the suit on and smoothing out any creases.
There are a few different types of zips available. Make sure you are familiar with your zip and how it works before your event. A breakaway zipper offers the quickest exit for triathlon but not if you are unfamiliar with its operation. More expensive suits will often have a very lightweight zip which slides up and down quickly, making getting in and out of the wetsuit quicker for more streamlined transition times.
A wetsuit that is cared for properly will last you 3-4 years, but sometimes things do go wrong. An 18-month or 2 year warranty should be offered with your wetsuit purchase if you buy from a reputable dealer.
Buying Versus Renting
Buying online without trying it on first on can be a very costly mistake. Always ask a professional for advice before investing money in a wetsuit. Buying a wetsuit is a big investment for most people and it's worth taking the time to do some research and travel to visit a shop where you can try before you buy.
Not only this, it's important to make sure you are buying a swimming-specific wetsuit and not a surf or diving wetsuit. Sadly, surfing wetsuits are often sold to triathletes and swimmers but this type of suit can slow you down and restrict the movement of your arms - not what you want for a race!
An entry-level wetsuit can start at just £120 while top-of-the-range suits could set you back up to £600. The middle mark of £300 will give you a great choice of mid-range wetsuits.
If you are unsure about buying a wetsuit, you can hire a wetsuit for the season or just for your event. Lots of triathlon events will have a wetsuit hire facility available on the day, and all good stores will offer a rental facility.
About the authors: Gill and Dawn are professional triathlon swim coaches, ex-triathletes, and experts on wetsuits. Together they run Tri N Swim Well, a private swim coaching facility in Essex and wetsuit showroom.