Updated December 2021
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Buying guide for Best triathlon wetsuits

Ready to shave seconds off of your swim and T1 (transition 1) time? Do you need to add some warmth and buoyancy to your next race?

Then it's probably time to invest in or upgrade your triathlon wetsuit. These wetsuits are specifically designed for the needs of a triathlete. They provide superior mobility over traditional wetsuits, making them perfect for the athletes who push themselves to the limits.

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The longer you're in the water, the more efficient you want to be. Wetsuits that cut down on resistance will also help conserve energy, especially on long swims.

Key considerations

Types of triathlon wetsuits

  • Fullcut: These wetsuits reach from head to toe or, more accurately, from ankle and wrist to neck. They’re hydrodynamic with some having catch panels on the forearms to propel you farther with each stroke. These suits are intended for water temperatures around 50ºF and up. However, they are the most difficult to remove.

  • Sleeveless: As the name implies, these wetsuits offer full coverage except for the shoulders and arms. They have better shoulder mobility and are easier to remove, but they don't offer the warmth or some of the hydrodynamics of a fullcut suit.

  • Shortcut: Shortcut suits are sleeveless and knee-length. They work well for strong swimmers in warm water. They're easier to remove than any other type as there’s less material to remove.

  • Bibjon with Pullover: These two-piece suits feature bibs covered with a zipped pullover. They’re not as watertight or hydrodynamic as a fullcut wetsuit but are far easier to remove.

Fit and comfort

The fit is one of the most important considerations you'll make. Triathlon wetsuits should have a snug fit to keep water out. At the same time, if it's too tight, your movements could be restricted. Snug but comfortable is the way to go. There should be no bunching around the crotch or underarms and no air pockets or creases. A full range of motion in the shoulders is also key. Also, the best fit comes from choosing one for your body type – men’s or women’s.

Mobility

Here’s where triathlon wetsuits are different from other types of wetsuits — mobility. Triathlon wetsuits have thinner, more flexible material over the shoulders to maintain your stroke. They also have better flexibility over the entire suit, which allows for the lateral movements necessary to increase speeds and makes it easier to remove the wetsuit. While sleeveless wetsuits offer the best mobility, they lose some of the hydrodynamic benefits that come from sleeves.

Competition level

Competitive triathletes will need and notice the benefits of high-tech wetsuits more than intermediate and beginners. High-tech wetsuits have the most buoyant rubber with Nano SCS coatings that increase buoyancy, inner silicone coatings to reduce resistance, and jersey arm gussets for mobility. They may also have panels on the chest and hips that increase buoyancy to elevate the body out of the water. Lower-leg propulsion panels, transition panels over the seams, and breakaway zippers are a few of the other features that professional triathletes may want. However, most beginning and intermediate triathletes don’t need to invest in a wetsuit with all these features.

Beginners and even some intermediates will be happy with a mid-priced suit with buoyancy panels around the core and hips and exterior coatings to reduce drag. In general, you can match the price of the suit to your competition level, and many mid-range suits have an excellent set of features that rival higher-priced models.

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Did you know?
Wetsuits help keep your body warm by trapping a thin layer of water against the skin. Body heat warms the water, which helps maintain your body temperature. That’s why fit is so important.
STAFF
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Features

Seams and seals

Seams are key to a good seal, which you need in order to prevent too much water from entering the wetsuit. (However, you do need some water in there to keep the body warm.) Without an adequate seal, water tends to pool in the arm and shoulder areas, adding weight and creating resistance. Wetsuits with transition panels that overlap seams and reinforced seams reduce resistance and keep water out.

The neck, wrists, and ankles may have a flexible panel with reinforced taped seams, as these areas undergo a high amount of stress when you put on or remove the wetsuit.

Material thickness and paneling

Neoprene, the synthetic rubber used to make wetsuits, is used in different thicknesses over different parts of the body to enhance hydrodynamics. The thicker the neoprene, the more buoyancy you have, which in turn reduces resistance. Wetsuits designed for hydrodynamics have varying thicknesses of neoprene to lift the body out of the water and enhance your stroke. For example, thicker neoprene is often used over the middle of the chest and lower back to raise them out of the water, while thinner panels are used on the upper and lower arm to increase mobility. The more paneling on the wetsuit, the more hydrodynamic it tends to be. However, extra paneling technology increases the price as well.

Material

Currently, 39 cell neoprene is the highest quality material for the main body of a triathlon wetsuit because of its buoyancy. For flexibility, 45 cell neoprene is often the most coveted material. Some manufacturers also use stretch jersey in high mobility areas, such as around the arms.

Coatings

Coatings reduce resistance and T1 times. Super composite skin (SCS) or slick-skin technology are two options that repel water to help you go faster. These coatings also decrease fatigue, because you don’t have to work as hard.

Coatings also come into play during T1. Transition times are key but getting out of a wetsuit isn’t always easy. Suits with silicone and similar coatings at the cuffs and inner catch points glide off the body easier than uncoated neoprene.

Zipper

Zippers need to be able to be unzipped in seconds. Triathlon wetsuits with one of these three types of zippers will give you the upper hand:

  • Breakaway zippers are unique in that they can be unzipped with the traditional method of pulling down on the zipper or by holding the zipper cord over the left shoulder and tugging upward. Once pulled using the shoulder method, the entire zipper releases instantly for quick removal.

  • Reverse zippers go from top to bottom, which means you pull from bottom to top for removal. Many people find this movement easier than pulling downward.

  • Floating zipper panel is a unique design that eliminates seams around the zipper by using a zipper panel instead. The panel moves with the shoulders for greater flexibility and mobility while swimming.

Triathlon wetsuit prices

Inexpensive: Triathlon wetsuits start around $150 to $200. Many of these entry-level suits are shortcut or sleeveless. Basically, the less material needed to make the suit, the less it costs. However, you will find some older-model fullcut suits at the top of this price range. Wetsuits in this category may have paneling designed to hug and lift the body out of the water and include a water-repellent coating to decrease resistance.

Mid-range: In the $200 to $400 range are excellent fullcut wetsuits for the committed beginner and intermediate triathlete. These wetsuits will have SCS coatings and silicone-reinforced cuffs with 39 cell neoprene of various thicknesses used throughout. As the price goes up to $400 to $600, there’s an increase in the use of panels and panel technology to enhance hydrodynamics. They’re definitely meant for competitive triathletes or intermediate triathletes who are looking to cut seconds off swim times and move to the next level.

Expensive: At $600 and up, you’ll find top-of-the line wetsuits with jersey or 45 cell neoprene zones over the shoulders for increased mobility and a wider range of specialized neoprene thicknesses over the body. Manufacturers use paneling technology to the fullest to make it easier to kick, reach, and stroke while conserving energy and heat.

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Expert Tip
To preserve the shape and avoid creases, the wetsuit should be stored flat. Avoid any petroleum-based lubricants during a race, as they can damage the neoprene.
STAFF
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Tips

  • Wetsuits increase your buoyancy. While sleeveless suits are easier to remove, they’re not as warm or buoyant as a fullcut model. However, if you’ll be swimming in warm waters, a sleeveless model might be more comfortable.

  • Your weight is more important to the fit of the wetsuit than your chest and height measurements, although you’ll need all three. In general, if you are in between sizes or your weight puts you close to another size, opt for the larger size.

  • Wetsuits need to be maintained properly. Use fresh water to rinse it out after each use. Hang it inside out from a shower rod to drip dry. You’ll occasionally want to hand wash it using wetsuit shampoo to reduce odors.
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Practice in your wetsuit before race day. Not only will you be more comfortable with removal, but it also helps loosen the interior of the suit for greater flexibility.

FAQ

Q. Are there regulations on wetsuits if I want to try to place in a triathlon?
A.
Yes, the USA Triathlon (USAT) puts out guidelines that do limit your wetsuit choices if you plan to place or qualify for further triathlons. In water that's 78ºF or below, you can wear a wetsuit that's up to 5 millimeters thick. You can wear a wetsuit in water that's 79ºF to 84ºF degrees, but you will not be eligible for awards or qualify for future events. Wetsuits are not allowed in triathlons where you’ll be swimming in water that’s over 85ºF.

Q. What’s the benefit of a bibjohn-style wetsuit?
A.
Bibjohn wetsuits are easier to remove but still have many of the benefits of a fullcut wetsuit. They provide excellent buoyancy, warmth, and maintain mobility. However, because they have more seams, they do create more resistance than a fullcut wetsuit

Q. How are triathlon wetsuits different from other wetsuits?
A.
Triathlon wetsuits are thinner than wetsuits used for surfing and other water sports because triathletes are moving the entire time they’re in the water. Thinner neoprene provides mobility and keeps athletes warm (but not too warm) as they’re expending energy. Triathlon wetsuits are also designed with targeted panel construction that uses material thickness and coatings to reduce resistance and increase speed. Some triathlon wetsuits also feature catch panels on the forearms that increase friction to help move more water with each stroke.

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