Sleeveless vs. Full-Sleeved Triathlon Wetsuits

The swim leg of the Triathlon can be challenging for many triathletes. Bearing themselves in open waters where there are numerous unforeseen factors can add to the already challenging swim. Choppy waters, visibility challenges, cold water temps, anxiety and unmarked swim routes can add to the fatigue.

As a triathlete, your preparation involves doing everything in your power to overcome this, including getting the best triathlon gear. A key move is getting the right wetsuit.

Did you know that a high-quality neoprene wetsuit can reduce your swim time by up to 5%?

However, a big question that comes up when buying that perfect wetsuit is whether to go for a sleeveless or full-sleeved wetsuit. Here, we’ll be covering the following points to make it easier for you to decide:

  • The difference between sleeveless and full-sleeved wetsuits
  • The pros and cons of each
  • The do’s and don’ts of each
  • Exploring some wetsuits under each category with their unique features

The Difference:

It isn’t hard to distinguish between the two. Sleeved wetsuits have sleeves that go down to your wrists while sleeveless wetsuits, also called Long Johns, cut off at the intersection of the arms and shoulders.

The critical point of discussion here is how both these styles offer different advantages to the triathletes.

WetsuitMaterialThicknessCoatingCheckout Here
Blueseventy ReactionYamamoto 394mm,5mm,4mmSCSView Men’s Wetsuit
View Women’s Wetsuit
Orca RS1 OpenwaterYamamoto 382mmSCSView Men’s Wetsuit
View Women’s Wetsuit
ZootSport Wave 1Yamamoto 38 & 393mm,5mmSCSView Men’s Wetsuit
Zoot Sports Wahine 1Yamamoto 38 & 393mm, 5mmSCSView Women’s Wetsuit
2XU Propel P:1Yamamoto 393mm, 5mmSCSView Men’s Wetsuit
View Women’s Wetsuit
Zone3 VisionEco Friendly Neoprene2mm,5mmSpeed-FloTMView Women’s Wetsuit
View Men’s Wetsuit
Rocket Science BasicYamamoto 382mm,5mm,3mmSCSView Women’s Wetsuit

Sleeveless Wetsuits:



  • For beginners, transitions can be tricky to master so a sleeveless can be a good option for them. A sleeveless wetsuit is easier to put on and take off, thereby cutting transition times by vital seconds.
  • Being less restricting due to less neoprene, they can add to shoulder mobility, thus enhancing strokes. This is especially beneficial if you’ve got any issues with your shoulder since there are fewer chances of aggravating the shoulder with sleeve friction.
  • They are perfect for warm water swims, where a good swim in a full-sleeved suit might leave you over-heated.
  • For some triathletes, a feel for the water is important in being able to track the efficiency of each stroke. Their ability to feel the resistance of the water in the catch and pull phase of the stroke helps them get more water behind and push themselves forward.


  • Most triathletes find that the arms add to their drag coefficient since the arms in themselves don’t lend anything in terms of buoyancy or streamline. The opening at the arm-shoulder intersection can allow water to get in and acts like a parachute, consequently increasing drag.  Less neoprene means less buoyancy and more drag, which equates to slower swim times.
  • Sleeveless wetsuits are not suitable in cold waters since they don’t offer the insulation that full-sleeved wetsuits do. Also, if there are any jellyfish, full-sleeve wetsuits offer more protection!
  • Fitting a person for a sleeveless wetsuit becomes a bit more challenging because not every person has the same body structure.  Some may have narrower chests than others and while weight and height may be the same, every person’s body is shaped differently.  A bigger hole means more chance of water to fill any open areas between the suit and your body.  More water in the suit means increased drag, slowing you down.
  • There are markedly less sleeveless models available today than there are full-sleeved.  Many manufacturers have reduced their sleeveless offerings down to one model while others have eliminated them all altogether. 

Dos and Don’ts:

  • Do make sure that the wetsuit fits snugly under the arms to prevent the extra entry of water.
  • Don’t forget to try on your wetsuit before buying it. Take it off and put it on a few times to see if it’s going to get in the way of your transitions.
  • Remember, wetsuits should fit you skin-tight, like a glove, but there is a difference between being uncomfortable in your suit and being restricted in your suit.  You do not want to be restricted in your stroke ability or breathing.

2019 2XU P:1 Propel Women’s Sleeveless Triathlon Wetsuit


This wetsuit is engineered from 100% Japanese Yamamoto neoprene. It gives triathletes optimal buoyancy and flexibility. Some of its key features include:

  • SCS Coating / Hydrodynamic silicone coating
  • 39 cell front buoyancy panel / Max buoyancy
  • NEOPRENE THICKNESS Front chest (upper) – 5mm
  • FABRIC 100% Sponge rubber, Nylon laminated

Full-Sleeved Wetsuits


  • A full-sleeve wetsuit offers more buoyancy, which adds to speed. Our arms don’t have enough fat content to give them any buoyancy, and you might feel them getting heavier in the course of your swim. A sleeved wetsuit with good core panels lends that extra buoyancy to relieve you of that weight.
  • With providing optimum insulation, they are perfect for swimmers who tend to get cold easily and of course, in temperatures below 77 degrees. This adds to speed margins.
  • Less drag: The neoprene arms with a special SCS coating act almost like a second skin, making your body more streamlined and can considerably lower drag coefficient.
  • With a full-sleeved suit, you can take advantage of all the highly engineered sleeve features added to the panels, including special textured patches to help you catch the water more efficiently.
  • Full-sleeves offer additional protection from the sun or anything in the murky waters!
  • The technology has come so far in the past 10 years that some sleeved wetsuits are so thin they almost feel like a sleeveless suit.  All manufacturers have lowered the thickness of the material in key areas like the shoulders and underarm areas to ensure maximum rotation and little to no restriction in your mobility.  In addition, the Yamamoto material used in the shoulders and underarms gets increasingly more flexible depending on the model of the wetsuit, offering flexibility that is undeniable.


  • The fit can get tricky.  An ill-fitted full-sleeved wetsuit can get extremely restricting and can even be harmful, aggravating the shoulders and limiting the mobility of the arms.
  • Having material around the shoulders can feel like it will slow down your stroke rate.
  • Full-sleeves can create slower transitions for beginners who haven’t quite mastered taking it off.

Dos and don’ts

  • When it comes to full-sleeve wetsuits, the fit is crucial. With the right fit, you’ll enjoy all the benefits the sleeves have to offer.
  • If you’ve got the money, go for it! A general rule of thumb here is that the pricier a wetsuit is the better quality it is. It’s got a whole arsenal of features to give you that added advantage in the water.

Zone3 Women’s Aspire Triathlon Wetsuit

This wetsuit for women is perfect for both beginners and the pro triathletes. Some of its key features include:

  • Premium #39 SCS Yamamoto fabrics ensure great flexibility, comfort and performance all-over.
  • An aqua dynamic ‘SCS’ Nano coating applied to the neoprene eliminates drag in the water and streamlines your body.
  • A higher stretch 3mm chest panel combined with 1.5mm side chest seam conserves core body warmth and is designed to suit a wide range of different chest sizes.
  • A new 1.5mm one-piece shoulder panel with no seams from elbow to elbow provides more flexibility and distance per stroke.
  • Pro Speed CuffsTM on the arms and the legs and a downwards YKK zip for rapid removal after the swim to ensure the quickest transitions, saving you vital time on any course.

2019 ORCA Predator Men’s Full-sleeve Wetsuit


The new predator men’s full-sleeve wetsuit is designed for the total swimmer, offering the highest possible buoyancy in your legs and arms along with additional flexibility in the upper body. Here are some of its features:

  • 0.88 Free’s 5 layer construction and heat reflective Titanium coating allow for extreme stretch and flexibility, high buoyancy and insulation with less drag.
  • Super thin 1.5mm SCS coated neoprene collar provides comfort.
  • Bamboo InfinitySkn Lining for extreme flexibility and second-skin comfort.
  • 1.5mm Yamamoto 44cell in the key underarm area for maximum flexibility, fit and comfort.
  • 5mm Exo Cell Core Lateral Stabilizer (CLS) with 4mm Exo-Lift front panel provides streamlined body positioning, reducing fatigue.
  • Coated in HydroLite Nano ICE for a lower drag coefficient. 

We hope this guide gives you some insight and inspiration when it comes to buying the right wetsuit for your next triathlon event. Whatever you end up buying, make sure it’s high-quality since most athletes report a more comfortable experience in something more high-end and well-engineered.

Consider the pros and cons of the sleeveless wetsuit as opposed to the full-sleeved wetsuit, but in the end, each triathlete is different so choose what suits you, your technique and your level of experience best. Good luck in finding the perfect wetsuit for you and note the owners of have 8 brands to choose from to help find one that’s right for you! Call them anytime to discuss wetsuits, fit, models and what may be the best options available to you.

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