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Triathlon Wetsuit Buying Guide

This 4 step guide helps the undecided triathlete choose a wetsuit that is right for him or her. It is a comprehensive and easy step by step process.

Step 1 – Why a triathlon wetsuit?

It’s important to know why and how a triathlon wetsuit (wet suit) will help you. Here are some benefits a triathlon wetsuit has over a diving wetsuit, surfing wetsuit, or no wetsuit at all. (The word wetsuit/wet suit can be spelled two different ways. For the sake of consistency we choose to use the one word version wetsuit for the rest of the guide.)

  • The buoyant properties of a wetsuit help lift your body out of the water so you expend less energy.
  • A tri wetsuit is also designed to assist in better swimming form and technique for beginners. This however doesn’t mean you can stop training!
  • Wetsuits are designed to make a person more hydrodynamic in the water by reducing drag while swimming, helping you to swim faster. This is typically found in all triathlon wetsuits to some degree or another. Typically in the mid-range to high-end wetsuits you receive more benefits.
  • A wetsuit can provide warmth in cold water swimming. The neoprene used to make wetsuits naturally adds warmth, though triathlon wetsuit makers generally design for performance (flexibility/speed/buoyancy) and not warmth.
  • A well designed triathlon wetsuit will help you through a transition faster than a diving or surfing wetsuit.
  • Tri wetsuits are designed with increased flexibility for dexterity (especially around the shoulder area) and speed of movement.
  • Higher quality rubbers will allow for a more comfortable fit and better buoyancy relative to range of mobility.

Here are a few of the more popular triathlon wetsuit brands today: 2XU, Zoot, Orca, Blue Seventy, De Soto

Step 2 – What category wetsuit are you considering?

There are many triathlon wetsuits to choose from. Every year the top triathlon brands offer more and more options than the prior year. To help narrow your search we divided the wetsuits into four categories based upon the variety of options and selection of wetsuits offered by the top brands. It is worth noting here that more expensive suits generally have more flexibility and buoyancy. This usually equates to more comfort. It is not uncommon for beginners to get a higher end suit for added benefit and comfort, especially those who are less experienced swimming in open waters. However, we understand that purchasing can be quite an investment, which is why we offer high quality triathlon wetsuit rentals at affordable prices.

Category 1: beginners, budget-minded

Generally beginners and the budget-minded fall into this category. If you’re just getting started in swimming you’ll need a solid suit that will get you through training and races. Fortunately you don’t need to spend much to satisfy these needs. A general rule is that more expensive suits are designed for speed, comfort, and fuller range of motion. So if you’re just looking for a basic functional suit then you can save some money. These suits help you “get your feet wet”.

Category 2: seeking speed and value

If you train regularly or plan compete in several wetsuit-legal races, you’ll more than likely fall in this category. You may also fall into this category if you are an intermediate swimmer looking for a more comfortable fit, giving you fuller range of motion. Experienced triathletes and triathletes with a competitive swimming background most often consider Category 2 or Category 3 wetsuits. Triathletes who are looking for a wetsuit to enhance their speed without breaking the bank will typically consider Category 2 wetsuits.

Category 3: seeking speed and comfort in proven technology

If you’re looking for a fast and comfortable wetsuit with proven technology then you should consider Category 3 triathlon wetsuits. These wetsuits generally have high quality, buoyant rubber. They aren’t the most expensive suits but they are great options for people looking for high performance without paying the highest price. These wetsuits are designed with efficiency, flexibility, and performance in mind. In some cases, the makers of these triathlon wetsuits have implemented innovative features and unique materials to create high performance triathlon wetsuits.

Category 4: advanced hydrodynamics, comfort, newest innovations

If you’re looking for the most comfortable and fastest wetsuit with the newest technology then you should consider Category 4 triathlon wetsuits. If you’re looking for every little edge and don’t mind spending more for the top of the line wetsuit then these are the ones for you. These wetsuits generally have the best quality and most buoyant rubber. As well they are designed with efficiency, flexibility, and performance in mind. In almost every case below the makers of these triathlon wetsuits have taken extra effort to utilize innovative features and unique materials to create high performance triathlon wetsuits.

Step 3 – Determining the right wetsuit for you.

At this point you’ve narrowed down your price point, but which wetsuit should you purchase? The best way to find the right suit for you is to try on all the wetsuits that you are considering. However, if you don’t have this option, try to stick to the manufacturer’s sizing suggestions as closely as possible. Here are some things to consider when trying on or selecting the right wetsuit:

Proper Fit

When selecting a wetsuit you’ll want to make sure that it is not loose and fits you well between your crotch and shoulders. Arm and leg lengths may vary and shorter lengths are acceptable. In fact, a shorter leg is often preferable as it will allow for quicker removal of the suit. Also, look out for a good neck and wrist seal so water doesn’t flow into the suit. Allowing water to enter the wetsuit creates more weight for you to carry as you swim and will generally slow you down. To maximize your speed, minimize the amount of water inside the wetsuit. Be sure to note the arm and shoulder reach for a wetsuit. This area is most important to make sure you have an unrestricted swim stroke.

Material and thickness

Most wetsuits will vary in thickness (1.5mm-5mm) and “stretchability” throughout. You’ll want thinner and generally more flexible material around your shoulder and arms where you will be moving most. Thicker material is generally used in the chest and leg area to help with buoyancy, helping you float on top of the water. The various brands will for the most part offer the same type of rubber/neoprene in their price ranges.


Most methodologies for fitting are taken from the perspective of performance, some wetsuit brands more so than others. In our experience many people find a performance fit to be tight and uncomfortable. If you are looking to just “make it through” a short course swim you may feel more comfortable in a less restrictive suit. In this case, consider a size up if you are between sizes. The following are some concerns people may have when considering leaning towards a more relaxed fit:

  1. Gaps and loose fitting areas may cause chafing. A wetsuit that fits well regardless of a loose or tight fit you can avoid chafing.
  2. A wetsuit that is loose when new will become looser with wear. Neoprene is a stretchable fabric that loosens with wear and relaxes in water. A wetsuit will become looser the more you train in it, which is another reason to train in your wetsuit before your next event.
  3. A looser suit is more prone to carrying water which will cause you to pull more weight or create drag. A slightly looser fit may cause you to suffer in performance. However in my humble opinion your mental state, directly correlated to you comfort and confidence, will make more of a difference than the minute physical lose in speed due to weight and drag. If your goal is to finish a short course race I recommend leaning towards a looser fit however if you are considering a long course race a tighter fit might be the better way to go.

Sleeved or Sleeveless

This is mostly up to personal preference but some would argue that sleeveless arms allow for freer arm movement thus a faster wetsuit. Another consideration for sleeved versus sleeveless would be temperature. You’ll see more sleeveless wetsuits in warmer waters. Some people prefer the unrestricted range of motion that they get from a sleeveless suit as as an issue of personal comfort. If you have no preference and want to go with the majority then purchase a sleeved wetsuit. Sleeved wetsuits are far more popular than sleeveless wetsuits world wide. This isn’t to say there aren’t pockets around the world where sleeveless is more popular.

Special Features

Specially coated rubber, break away zippers, reverse zippers, special panels, etc… There are a lot of features to consider and again these are personal preference. Special coatings are found on almost all triathlon wetsuits and will cause for less friction (more hydrodynamic) through the water. Once you’ve determined that a fit is good, the rest is up to you.


This has nothing to do with function but I mention it because the appearance of your wetsuit is a legitimate consideration. If you look fast and feel fast who’s to say you won’t be fast? This bullet might not float the boat for some but for me and others it’s plays some role.

Step 4 – Buying the best triathlon wetsuit for you.

A triathlon wetsuit is not a trivial purchase but it is one that will make a difference in your race. Make sure you purchase your wetsuit from a source that will assist you after your purchase to make sure you have the right suit. If you purchase online you’ll want a policy like One Tri’s that allows you to exchange the suit for another if it doesn’t fit. (One exchange free of freight for purchases over $250.)

If you are brand new to wetsuits try on a friend’s or rent a suit you are planning on purchasing. Unfortunately wetsuit rental locations aren’t designed for “trying-on” wetsuits. Many rental businesses usually only rent one brand or one line of wetsuit and in many cases you can’t choose the suit you want to rent. This won’t give you a good idea of the wetsuit you are considering to purchase. Check out our triathlon wetsuit rentals. We offer several styles that you can rent that you can also purchase.

The shopping process

We want you to get the best wetsuit for your race. As triathletes we know how much of a challenge this process may be so we’ll make sure you’re comfortable with your purchase every step of the way. If you need any more information that you can’t find here or online please contact us by phone or email. Our wetsuit shopping process:

  1. Read the shopping guide and research wetsuits online.
  2. Choose and purchase wetsuit at
  3. Receive wetsuit in mail and try on.
  4. Give us a call or email to verify fit and comfort.
  5. If the wetsuit doesn’t fit we will exchange it for any other wetsuit. (One exchange free of freight for purchases over $250. Product price differences will still apply; meaning if you want to trade up you’ll have to pay for the difference.)

More about Triathlon Wetsuits

If you’d like to find out more about triathlon wetsuits here are some helpful resources: – How to care for your De Soto wetsuit

More definitions:

This section is a supplement to the wetsuit buying guide. Are you thirsting for more knowledge? Read below for more nuanced details of our beloved triathlon wetsuits.

Triathlon wetsuit buoyancy:

Almost all triathlon wetsuit brands achieve their buoyancy from a combination of thickness and type of rubber. Also most brands will have the thickest part of their wetsuits no more than 5mm. This is because USAT and WTC (Ironman) have rules that limit wetsuit thickness to 5mm. You will find that all the brands put the 5mm sections of their wetsuit in the front torso and leg areas. The reason for this is that these are the heaviest and most dense parts of your body. By giving the greatest lift in these areas they are making it easier to swim in an efficient and streamlined position. Buoyancy is only one part of the equation when designing a great triathlon wetsuit. Another major consideration is flexibility. Flexibility is important for comfort, dexterity during the swim, and speed when running to your transition.

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