Triathletes Running Out Of The Water On Triathlon Race

How to Choose a Wetsuit

BY Patrick Smith

Picking the perfect wetsuit is an art. And your athletes are going to come to you, their coach, asking for help. Be prepared with these tips.

Like a kid in a candy shop, selecting gear for your endurance sport is exciting AND overwhelming. Every manufacturer has their own special marketing language for basically the same thing and their own spin on what makes their stuff special. For triathletes and open water swimmers, wetsuit shopping is no exception. To help your athletes narrow down the field a little, here are a few things to consider as they shop for your swim apparel.

Do you even need a wetsuit?

If your event is short, the water warm enough, or your strongest discipline is swimming, a wetsuit may not be for you. The primary benefits of wetsuits are insulation and buoyancy. The wetsuit material, neoprene, floats and holds in heat very well. Wearing one makes you more efficient in the water because you don’t have to use so much energy to stay afloat and warm. If your event is being held in warm salt water, or you are very well adapted to the swim, these benefits may be marginal or even detrimental to your race.

What is your most common use case?

A sprint or super sprint distance athlete competing for the podium needs less wetsuit than an age grouper completing an olympic, half, or full iron distance. If you fall on the ‘less-suit’ end of the spectrum, consider shorts or pant styles that just float and insulate the legs. As the time in the water increases, suit coverage increases. Most athletes competing in half or full iron events should plan on full arm and leg coverage, though warm water events may be conducive to sleeveless suits. If you are unsure, defaulting to more coverage is a good choice.

Are there special considerations?

Is swimming your strongest discipline? You may be able to skimp on coverage. Will you be in particularly cold water? Consider adding a neoprene cap, booties, and/or gloves. Some manufacturers even make thermal versions with thicker material for very cold events. Will this be your first open water event? Choose more coverage for the added buoyancy. Are there rules limiting your options? Different event organizers may or may not have rules limiting what wetsuit options are available to you. Check the rule book so you don’t get penalized.

Try it before you buy it.

Once you have settled on how much coverage you need, reach out to your local triathlon (or open water swim) club, coach, or teammates and see if you can borrow or rent before you buy. And then use it in the water. Dry fit can feel strange and usually somewhat tight. If fitted correctly, in the water, the suit will feel form fitting without restricting breathing. If you can’t rent or borrow to test fit, check the return policy of the seller before purchasing. Many of the bigger brands are understanding that suit fitting can take a few tries and will approve exchanges within 30 days even if you have gone for a swim with the suit.

Keep it simple for your own sanity.

If this is your first wetsuit, time in the water will make an order of magnitude more difference in your event experience than any fancy little details like special coatings or fancy paneling that marketers of wetsuits like to make a big deal about. Once you find your size and coverage, burning up time deciding between reputable brands because of minor feature differences is just taking away from that more valuable training time. Get your suit and get on with training so you can have the best event experience possible.

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About Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is a Training Peaks Level 2 Coach licensed through USA Cycling. He offers consultations, fully customized training plans, and prewritten training plans you can purchase through the TrainingPeaks plans store. You can learn more at his TrainingPeaks coaching page, his website, or by reaching out.