Your 101 Guide to Triathlon Wetsuits
Triathlon wetsuits were designed for swimming, so why a triathlon/swimming wetsuit other wetsuits? It’s as simple as that. What does that mean for you? It means you will be in a wetsuit that is flexible enough for you to swim in and buoyant enough for you to swim faster without really trying to. Triathlon wetsuits provide warmth, of course, but most of us are really after the buoyancy.
Why should you care about buoyancy? Well, buoyancy floats you on the surface, which means less drag in the water. Less drag in the water means greater speed. While speed savings vary by swimmer, you can save as much as 10 seconds per 100 meters just by wearing a full-sleeve wetsuit.
Justwetsuits.com’s buoyancy rating was designed to show how much float is in each wetsuit. Our system includes three ratings: Minimum, Moderate and Maximum. Minimum ratings are given to thinner, less buoyant wetsuits while Maximum refers to thicker ones. Moderate, of course, is in between.
Wetsuits are made of neoprene rubber, which has air bubbles in it that give it (and you) flotation. Swimming in a triathlon wetsuit feels a lot like swimming with a pull buoy. The inside of triathlon wetsuits are covered with a nylon or polyester jersey material. Many wetsuits are coated on the outside with a Super Composite Skin (SCS), making them even more hydrodynamic. Most wetsuits have thicker rubber on the core of the body (where you want flotation) and thinner rubber through the shoulders and arms (where you want flexibility). Most also have tapered legs for easy exit. Some have a textured panel on the forearm for added “water purchase” with each stroke. Features vary by wetsuit brand and price.
So why are triathlon wetsuits priced so much higher than, say, those Body Glide ones you saw on sale last week? The big difference between those types of surfing or “water play” wetsuits and the ones you’ll find at Just Wetsuits are that ours are designed specifically for swimming. The less expensive ones you’ve seen are designed for activities above the surface of the water. They give you warmth, sure, but they are restrictive and not fun to swim in. We promise.
Flexibility is important when it comes to wetsuits, but guaging just how flexible the rubber can be is difficult without climbing in to one. Our flexibility guide helps show just what to expect. Rating indicators range from 1-3, with wetsuits carrying a 3 rating being themost flexible. Suits rated with a 1 offer the least flexible rubber while those with a 2 rating offer middle-of-the-road flexibility.
When shopping for a triathlon wetsuit, you may notice that prices range from about $200 on the low end all the way up to $650 on the high end. This leads many people to ask: “Why? What do you get when you pay $650 that you don’t get when you pay $200?” In general, the greater the price, the greater the flexibility and speed of the wetsuit. The good news? Your wetsuit should last you 5-10 years, generally speaking, as long as you take good care of it along the way.
Sleeveless Vs. Full Sleeve
This is one of the most confounding questions for many people looking to buy a triathlon wetsuit. Do I want full sleeves? Or sleeveless? The short answer is there’s no right answer. But here are some things to consider:
More rubber equals more speed. There is no question that a full-sleeve wetsuit is faster than one without sleeves. Just look at the pros and you’ll see that they overwhelmingly choose full-sleeve suits. That additional rubber on your arms saves you a couple of seconds per 100 meters. It adds up!
Sleeveless wetsuits are somewhat less hydrodynamic because they let more water into the suit. It is simply not possible to create a perfect seal around the arm holes of a sleeveless suit.
The most common concern about a full-sleeve wetsuit is that it will limit arm rotation in the water. If you have your wetsuit on correctly and pull up the sleeves fully, this should not be a problem. Of course, every swimmer is different. Some more accomplished swimmers prefer a sleeveless suit because they are better able to maintain a feel for the water.
Sleeveless wetsuits are easier to get into and exit from, and they are typically less expensive that full sleeves.
Sleeveless wetsuits are better for warmer water. Though, many times if it is too warm for a full wetsuit, it’s too warm for a sleeveless one, too.
Remember, sizing and fitting are the most important elements to consider when buying a wetsuit. Most wetsuit manufacturers have very accurate size charts. Always defer to your weight when making a sizing decision.
This thermometer is displayed on each wetsuit product page to better understand the level of warmth the suit offers. Sleeveless wetsuits are generally designed to be used in warmer water while full sleeve suits provide maximum warmth in colder conditions. Keep in mind that people are different. Every person does not have the same tolerance in cold conditions.
USA Triathlon allows triathletes to wear wetsuits if the water temperature is 78 degrees or colder. From 78-84 degrees, wetsuits are allowed, but age group athletes who choose to wear one are not eligible for prizes.