The beginner’s guide to tri wetsuits

Beginner Triathlete

Contemplating a swim

Along with a bike and running shoes, a triathlon wetsuit (or tri wetsuit) is one bit of kit you can’t get away without buying …unless you’re planning on restricting your triathlon races to pool-based events (and where’s the fun in that?). If you’re planning to train and race in lakes, rivers, quarries or the sea, you need to get yourself some neoprene.

Here’s our beginners guide to why you need one and what to look for, as well as a quick run-down of some of the more common wetsuit terminology.

Why you need one

Triathlon wetsuits provide a few things: warmth, buoyancy and improved performance in the swim. The layer of neoprene will keep out the chill of open-water, and if you think you’ll feel the cold more than most (or be in the water for a considerable length of time), you can choose a suit made of thicker material. Whatever the thickness, a wetsuit will make you much more buoyant that you would be without one, giving you a sense of security as well as a great streamlined position. If you feel you suffer from heavy leg syndrome, you can choose a suit which is thickest on the legs. And, by keeping you buoyant and giving you a good posture in the water, a triathlon wetsuit will enable you to get more from each swim stroke, making you travel faster for less effort. Now can you see why you need to buy a wetsuit? But with such a dazzling array of brands, makes and models out there, how can you choose the best wetsuit for you?

What to look for

  • have legs which seem to sink and trail behind you whilst swimming? – choose a wetsuit with thicker neoprene on the legs
  • feel the cold? – go for a thicker wetsuit to keep you warmer
  • are a slower swimmer who might be in the water for a while? – choose a wetsuit with thicker neoprene on the body and limbs
  • think you’ll be up front coming out of the swim? – choose a more flexible wetsuit which you’ll be able to take off quickly
  • are particularly short? – consider cutting the arms and legs of your wetsuit down to suit your height, but remember this can’t be undone!

Jargon Buster

Before you shop for your new triathlon wetsuit, you’ll need to learn the lingo. Here’s our guide to some of the jargon surrounding wetsuits:

Buoyancy – the degree of extra floatation a good triathlon wetsuit will give you

Catch-panels – clever bits of design some wetsuits have on the forearms to encourage a better stroke

Chafing – that horrible rubbing which will occur if you choose an ill-fitting wetsuit

Neoprene – the material triathlon wetsuits are made from

Reverse zipper – a zip which fastens at the top and pulls downwards to do up (preventing it from being pulled open by another swimmer)

T1 – the transition between the swim and bike sections of a triathlon, within which you’ll have to get out of your wetsuit

Zip cord – the long tie attached to your zip, which you grab in order to start undoing your wetsuit

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