For those first timers who think a triathlon wetsuit is just about staying warm, think again. A quality wetsuit is a confidence builder: keeping you warm, helping you float and giving you the hydrodynamic qualities of a seal (minus the blubber).
We lean heavily toward the use of a wetsuit in the swim leg of a race when possible, so we’ve put together this piece with everything you need to know about triathlon wetsuits and specifically suggested a few that stand out from the pack.
Why Wear a Wetsuit?
USA Triathlon rules permit wetsuits for everyone when the water is 78 degrees or below and for those who agree to forgo award eligibility between 78-84 degrees. Wetsuits are not permitted when the water reaches over 85 degrees.
If conditions permit, wear the suit. Here’s why:
- Warmth-wetsuits work by trapping a thin layer of water between the neoprene and the skin, delaying the onset of hypothermia in sub 80 degree water
- Buoyancy-you just float better in a wet suit, a nice surprise if you’ve never worn one before and are warming up to start the race . This is not just because neoprene is buoyant, but also because wetsuits are usually made with neoprene ~3mm thick around the legs and ~1.5-2mm around the chest/arms, ensuring that your least buoyant area gets the biggest dose of float.
- Drag Reduction-triathlon wetsuits are hydrophobic due to a thin layer of water-repellant material coating the exterior. This, combined with the fact that wet suits give new meaning to the term “form fitting” (your skinny jeans have nothing on a wetsuit), mean that you will cut through the water like a shark, or at least a fast manatee.
The net-net of increased buoyancy, reduced drag and temperature management is energy conservation and a measurably faster swim, with possible a 10+% reduction in swim time (that is a savings of several minutes in an olympic-distance race…not bad).
Triathlon Wetsuit Types
Firstly, a triathlon wetsuit is not at all the same as a wetsuit you would use for SCUBA or windsurfing, the two latter being built primarily for warmth and water retention, while the triathlon wetsuit is expressly built for water repulsion and speed.
Most triathlon wetsuit manufacturers have an entry-level, mid-level and expert suit. Quality of stitching, weight and thickness of materials, and specialized speed-optimizing materials/construction are all a factor in the quality and ultimately, the price.
There are different wetsuit designs that suit different purposes (please scroll):
How To Choose Your Suit
When you first put on a triathlon wetsuit it will feel pretty awkward, and you may have the sudden urge to join a German nihilist interpretive dance troupe. Some things to keep in mind:
- Triathlon wetsuits are form fitting to say the least, but they shouldn’t be too tight.
- You need to make sure that you have good shoulder mobility and that you don’t feel like you are being strangled by a too-tight neckline.
- Excess material anywhere is a (literal) drag and a no-no, make sure there are no folds in the material and that hand and feet holes are snug.
- Pretend that you are tired, water-logged and running out of the water towards the transition area, then reach for your zipper and see if you can easily undo it. De-suiting after the swim can be a pain, so you really need to be at ease with how your wetsuit’s zipper is configured to make your transition a fast one.
Where to find wetsuit deals online
Triathlon Village often has some good deals on triathlon wetsuits and an extensive selection, Wetsuit Warehouse also has lots of variety to choose from.
We hope this will help you choose the triathlon wetsuit that is right for you. If there is something we’ve missed, please let us know in the comments below and be sure to like, tweet or share if you think we were on the right track.