Choosing an Open Water Swimming or Triathlon Wetsuit

Posted by Andrew Lang on 8th Dec 2017

Whether you are buying an open water swimming wetsuit or a triathlon wetsuit it can be one of the more daunting purchases for the swim leg. It can be a significant cost and there seems to be a lot of discussion about fit, trying on and more.

Below are some hints you should keep in mind when purchasing your first wetsuit. They answer many of the questions we get asked at Ezi Sports all the time. The answers should hold up for most wetsuit brands. Although I am partial to Orca Wetsuits (Orca have been in the sport over 20 years and made significant improvements over the years) the ideas make sense for other brands such as Zoot, Blue Seventy, 2XU, Volare and more.

These recommendations are based on our experience and feedback from our customers – take them as hints and tips but make your own decision.

There are three features of a wetsuit that will impact your swim – buoyancy, flexibility and warmth. All wetsuits have these features – some better than others – even the lower end models.

Buoyancy (waist, arms and legs) will help your swim times by keeping you higher in the water which means less drag. This is a key wetsuit feature if you are new to open water swimming or not so fast in the swim leg or a triathlon. A good wetsuit will have multiple panels. They are thicker (typically 5mm) in the areas that need most buoyancy – the waist, chest and upper legs. One of the key benefits of a sleeved wetsuit over a sleeveless is the arm buoyancy so always consider a sleeve!

Wetsuit flexibility will ensure you can move those arms as fast as possible. Look for a wetsuit that has a thinner panel around the shoulders (2mm). Many of the more expensive triathlon wetsuits (for example the Orca Alpha or the Orca Predator) have thinner arms – even as low as 1mm and feel like a second skin. If you are broad in the shoulders and find a wetsuit tight then go sleeveless (remember the statement about buoyancy above).

Warmth in a swimming wetsuit – no one likes to jump into freezing water. A 7am start in a triathlon or open water swim can seem cold no matter where you are. Most swimming wetsuits are not focused on warmth because you will warm up within 30 seconds of vigorous swimming. This is a major distinction between triathlon wetsuits and surf wetsuits. Surf wetsuits are made for warmth as a surfer will spend plenty of time sitting on their board waiting for that big wave. DO not use a surf wetsuit for open water swimming (unless you are desperate).

After the basics in what to look for – what about buying online. It’s a great place as you can see reviews, look at sizing and contact the store. We find about 1 in 3 people call us at Ezi Sports for advice before purchasing their wetsuit.

Here are some hints for buying online:

1. Follow the size chart. Easy to say but what happens when you are in between sizes, or your weight says one size, but your height says another. We advise if you are new to wetsuits or open water swimming then we recommend looking at the chest measurement first, then weight and then height.

2. Buying a wetsuit without trying it on actually works! It makes you focus on your size and dimensions rather than the fit/feel in a shop. Wetsuits are tight and generally hard to put on until you are used to them – not easy to do in a shop.

3. If in doubt go up a size. If you are on the edge of a size then go up a size as you will feel more comfortable. Remember wetsuits will be tight but also stretch. If you are new to buying a wetsuit then better to feel comfortable in a lower end wetsuit and save your money for a more expensive one later.

About the author

Andrew Lang has been competing in triathlons for over 20 years and all distances from Sprint all the way up to completing 19 Ironman triathlons. Although he is a middle to back of the pack triathlete he has been fortunate to race at 2 Ironman 70.3 World Championships and the Ironman World Champions at Kona. Since 2009, Andrew has co-owned and operated Ezi Sports – the largest online triathlon store in Australia. He gets to field test and evaluate most new products on the market as well as help thousands of athletes with their sport gear needs.