If you're just getting into triathlon and open water swimming, or looking to upgrade your existing wetsuit, this guide will help you make an informed decision on what you need and answer some wetsuit FAQs.
From choosing between bouyancy level, materials, and cuts, to performance profiles in the water, there is much to consider when choosing a wetsuit. We look at the main benefits a wetsuit provides and help you understand and compare wetsuit performance.
Why should I buy a wetsuit?
For many triathletes or open water swimmers, wetsuits give you more confidence, a smoother profile in the water, and better control. But it's not one size fits all. Different swimmers will have their own preference when it comes to things like the degree of buoyancy, for example. Some key advantages of a wetsuit are:
- Warmth: For Age Group Triathlons (excluding Open Age Group) if the temperature is below 24 degrees, then wetsuits are optional (and compulsory below 14, 15 and 16 degrees for Olympic, Half and Full Ironman races respectively). The neoprene / rubber material traps a layer of water between the skin and suit. This is then warmed by your body temperature, maintaining heat.
- Buoyancy: A wetsuit provides extra buoyancy in the water, which can make swimming a little easier. Holding you high in the water - especially your legs or hips - the suit helps you maintain a good swimming position easier.
- Speed: Wetsuits reduce drag in the water. This, along with the added buoyancy and better body position, means faster times.
- Energy conservation: This is an important aspect in triathlon, with the cycle and run still to go.
How should I choose?
To find the right wetsuit for you, think about your style and the type of athlete you are. Here are a few areas you should consider.
- Material / Neoprene: Wetsuits use different grades of neoprene, with their own thickness and flexibility properties. Thinner material may be used around the shoulders for easier movement. If you're a powerful swimmer but lack technique, then thicker suits with more bouancy could be the way to go. If you're looking for flexibilty to get the most out of your finely-tuned stroke, then a thin suit will be a great choice.
- Buoyancy: Brands use thicker material to help lift you to the surface of the water, therefore lowering the drag and helping you swim more efficiently and faster. Some suits will use thicker material around the legs for athlete who need to lift their legs more.
- Neck Line: A good seal around your neck is key. Without the seal, the neck becomes a scoop and the suit will fill with water. However, some people think it can feel restrictive on your breathing. It’s key to find a suit with a neckline that feels comfortable and not constricting around your neck. Some suits now have softer material lining the neck which helps.
- Zipper: Suits either zip bottom to top or top to bottom. There are advantages and disadvantages to this, and again it comes down to personal preference. A reverse zip (seals top to bottom) can help prevent the cord being pulled down during the swim. It can also allow for a quicker removal of the suit to save time in transisiton. Whichever zipper you prefer, practice removal to speed up your T1 time. It’s something that is often forgotten in training.
- Taped seams: Most wetsuits have taped seams on the wrist and ankle areas, making it easier to get the wetsuit off.
- Catch panels: Some wetsuits have panels on the forearm designed to increase feel for the water and propulsion during the catch phase of your swim.
Wetsuit cuts, which are right for me?
There are three main kinds of wetsuit cut available, offering different performance benefits for a variety of swimming styles.
- Full Cut: This is the full length, full body style of wetsuit, perfect for cold water.
- Sleeveless: A full wetsuit, but with no arms. Some people prefer this style for the increased range of motion and flexibility.
- Short Cut: Much like the sleeveless, some people prefer a shorter cut wetsuit 'shorty' or a swimskin, which is great for faster transitions and warmer water. Not so great in cold water though...
Wiggle buying tips
- Comfort is King: In general the suit must be comfortable from crotch to shoulder. It should not restrict your shoulder mobility or shoulder/arm reach.
- Price: The quality and price of a wetsuit will vary from entry level through to elite. Premium priced wetsuits offer higher levels of performance and features, but there are some great entry level options available at Wiggle that give you a taste of the elite models.
- Size matters: Follow the size charts and options for the brand you're looking for on Wiggle. Your weight will be more relevant than your height (think racing weight too). If you fall between two sizes, then consider the larger size for comfort. If you have worn the suits before and are looking for a ‘performance’ suit, then opt for the smaller size.
- Big brands: Wiggle stock most of the main brands, all of which have a range of suits from entry level through to elite. Look out for blueseventy, Zone3, dhb, Sailfish, Huub and Speedo.
How to put on a wetsuit
So you don't damage the material of your wetsuit, it's advisable to cut your finger and toenails so you can't nick the neoprene as you pull it on. Secondly, if you're wet or sweaty, dry yourself off, it's much easier to put on a wetsuit when you're dry. Some people also like to put dry, thin socks on whilst they are putting on their wetsuit as this can help your feet slide through the leg holes a little easier.
Put one leg through and pull higher above your ankle than you think it needs to sit, do the same with the next leg.
Pull the suit up to your crotch using the inside of the suit so you don't tear the material.
Pull the crotch of the wetsuit up high, if you don't feel like you have enough space or material to do this, you may have to pull the material on your legs up higher again. You want the fit to be tight around the crotch region so that the wetsuit doesn't bag when you pull over your torso or have pockets of air.
Once it's over your hips put one arm in and pull higher up your arm than you think you need to (similar to the legs) and repeat this process on the other side. You want the fit to be very close to your armpit.
Bend over from the waist and do a little wiggle around if needed to get the wetsuit into the right place.
Now do the zip up and make sure the neck is high. The wetsuit should feel tight to your body but not cutting off any circulation.
Triathlon wetsuit vs surfing wetsuit
Yes, they're both made from similar materials and will both keep you warm in the water, but there are a few difference between a triathlon wetsuit and watersports/surfing wetsuit.
Surfing wetsuits overall are thicker than triathlon wetsuits as they tend to spend less time moving their body to warm up.
Swimming wetsuits glide through the water more easily as they are made of many different panels to exactly fit around your body shape plus have a much thinner material around the arms to allow freedom during your swim stroke.
Swimming wetsuits are coated in a fast-drying outer layer, which absorbs much less water making you more speedy through the water.
What do you wear under a wetsuit?
If you are open water swimming, you can simply wear a swimming costume or shorts under your wetsuit. If you are taking part in a triathlon, you will wear a tri-suit underneath, which is a thin, tight material with padding in the crotch for when you get on the bike. It's also advisable to apply some wetsuit lube or anti-chaffing cream so that your wetsuit doesn't rub and is easy to get off when you come out of the water.
Now that you know the features of a wetsuit to look out for, why not take a look at the Best Triathlon Wetsuits blog, where you'll find a range of the best wetsuits at different price points for both women and men.