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Guide to Buying a Wetsuit

We all know that triathlon involves a lot of stuff! Bikes, wheels, helmets, trainers, watches, power meters, fins, paddles, pull buoy and more. Then add in a wetsuit, and it’s almost a black magic on knowing what wetsuit to buy. A little like bikes, each company proclaiming they have the fastest wetsuit and this is the one you need!

Pro-triathlete Laura Siddal wearing a wetsuit dive-bombing into a bath

Which Triathlon Wetsuit?

I’ll say first that there is no easy answer for this. I’ve tried pretty much every brand over the past few years, and at the time I feel they are the right suit for me, because I don’t know any different. It’s only when I try another range or brand and feel the difference. Also, what is right for you, won’t necessarily be right for someone else. We all have difference strokes and styles. What works for Lucy Charles-Barclay as one of the best swimmers in the sport, and someone who has grown up as a swimmer, does not necessarily work for me, someone who’s come into the sport quite late and isn’t a natural swimmer.

Also, companies are now bringing out wetsuits for all temperatures and strokes. Whether you are swimming in the Nordic single-digit seas, or just an all year round ocean die hard, to those perhaps who love swimming, and breast stroke is their things, yes there is a wetsuit for you!

Laura Siddall wearing a deboer triathlon wetsuit and pink swim hat

I hope to, in this article, try to provide a bit of guidance that may help as you try and find the right wetsuit for you.

How should a wetsuit fit?

Wetsuits should feel pretty tight. At first they can be a squeeze to get on and may feel uncomfortably tight, but this should ease a little (not loads) and you should feel a little more comfortable, and definitely not restricted. A lot will depend if you have put the suit on correctly (see below). Don’t be afraid to try on multiple suits and take advantage of demo suits, particularly at events where you can jump in a pool and test them out, or even take one for a week or so and swim with it at home. (See the bottom of the article for a good test set swim to do when trying different wetsuits.)

Woman zipping up a tight-fitting triathlon wetsuit

Also study the sizing chart, but if you can, speak to the company itself. As an example, on the sizing charts I always come out as a medium, (same with clothes) but I wear a small or tall small in wetsuits and often small in kit. It’s not because I like things super tight… on the contrary I hate ridiculously tight kit, but it’s just that I’m not traditional dimensions or shape, so whilst my stats say medium, by shape is actually small.

A good suit should feel tight but ultimately comfortable and not restrictive. It should be flexible in the shoulders allowing you to maintain your swim stroke and doing so without massive fatigue. It should also have the buoyancy in the right places to help your swim.

How to put on a triathlon wetsuit

When putting a wetsuit on, it’s best to start with the wetsuit inside out. Then you almost roll the suit on. Starting with each leg, put your foot** into the inside out leg and then roll it up. Probably best to go part way up one leg and then the next, before you then roll the suit up and over the hips and waist. At this point ensure the wetsuit is up into the crotch. You can pinch and gently pull the suit up by the legs again for this (just of course be careful with finger nails etc.)

Man turning wetsuit arms inside out to put wetsuit on

Again, with the arms, start with them inside out and roll the sleeves up your arms. Again, when it comes to the shoulders, ensure the arms and shoulders are hitched up sufficiently. Sometimes it can be helpful to have a friend help with this section, ensuring the suit is on properly over your shoulders and lats and when then zipped up you have freedom to move your arms etc.

**Some people like to use plastic bags over their feet and hands to help slide the suit on, or gloves.

Wetsuit Buoyancy: Sink or Swim

Ok that’s a little dramatic for a bullet point and I certainly don’t want to imply that you are going to sink in your wetsuit! Far from it. That’s one of the bonus’ from a wetsuit, if not the top one. That they are buoyant and help you stay afloat in the water, or rather lift you body up, help your body position in the water, and therefore help you swim faster. For some athletes (males predominantly) they often find they are much better in a wetsuit than in the pool.

How Tight Should a Wetsuit Be?

As said, the suit should be snug but not uncomfortably tight. If it’s too small it will restrict your movement. Too big and it will fill with water and then become a drag.

Triathlete swimming in wetsuit with good shoulder movement

A small amount of water should get inside your suit while you swim. This is necessary for the suit to do it’s job. The wetsuit is designed to hold a small layer of water against your skin. Your body warms this water up, and the suit keeps it from escaping. If too much water is able to flow in and collect, it not only prevents you from staying warm, but just becomes a drag and makes the suit heavier.

How do I know if my wetsuit is good?

If you have the opportunity to test and try a few suits at home before you buy, think about doing a similar set to this below.

Wetsuits Swim Set Test:

  • Warm up then

  • 8 x 100m on a 60% effort.

You need someone else to note your time down for each 100, and also then tell you when to go again, with perhaps taking 15sec rest. It’s important that someone else is setting you off, and you’re not looking at the clock or taking the time yourself. You are swimming blind, so to speak, just going on effort and maintaining that.

You can then repeat this with different wetsuits and then note any differences in time, but also in feel and fatigue.

And so…. Still which do I buy? As said there are lots of great brands out there, and it’s worth trying them out to see which is right for you. It’s like a bike fit, it’s all individual to you, and your dimensions, and it’s a little the same with wetsuits. It’s worth spending the time, but it’s also worth the investment. You spend on a bike, the race wheels, the aero helmet, and more. It’s worth taking the time and investing in a good wetsuit too.


Laura Siddall

Pro-triathlete Laura is a multiple times Iron Distance and 70.3 Champion and was World Champion 4 times as an age-grouper before turning pro. She trains with Julie Dibbens.

Find out more about Laura Siddall here.

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