Wetsuit Buyers Guide
This guide will give you some of the basic considerations when looking for a swimming wetsuit to help you identify the optimal wetsuit for your needs and budget.
With the growth of Triathlon and Open Water swimming the market for swimming wetsuits has increased with a range of different wetsuits available with a range of different technologies to improve the flexibility, buoyancy and comfort of a wetsuit.
The current British Triathlon rules state:
Wetsuit mandatory below
Wetsuit forbidden above
Up to 1500m
1501 – 3000m
3001 – 4000m
Alongside the temperature rules the following rules also apply:
- Wetsuits cannot exceed 5mm thickness anywhere.
- Propulsion devices that create an advantage for the competitor, or risk to others are forbidden.
- The most external part of the wetsuits will fit to the competitor’s body tightly while they are swimming.
- A wetsuit may cover any part of the body except the face, hands and feet.
- There is no limitation regarding the length of the zipper.
- Competitors may wear a ‘shorty’ style wetsuit, but should be aware they offer less protection against the cold.
Not all neoprene is created equal
The grade of neoprene used for swimming wetsuits is different to what is commonly used for wetsuits designed for surfing/kayaking etc. While it is still possible to swim in a surfing wetsuit it doesn't offer you the same flexibility, warmth and comfort as a suit specifically designed for swimming.
We usually find that those wearing surfing wetsuits for swimming are normally the first to get cold as the suit doesn't fit in the same way as swimming wetsuits are designed to.
Does it make much difference which wetsuit I buy?
While virtually every wetsuit manufacturer use Yamamoto neoprene to make their suit, there are a range of different grades of neoprene that can be used to increase flexibility, buoyancy and comfort.
The most basic grade used for swimming wetsuits is #38. It is often referred to as diving grade as it is what many of the wetsuits used for scuba diving are made from. It is one of the more durable neoprene grades which makes it a great choice for wetsuits that are used for scuba diving. However, as the material is stronger it doesn't offer great flexibility compared with higher grades of neoprene.
#38 grade neoprene is often found on wetsuits at the entry level / lower price point. While many swimmers opt for these types of wetsuits as they aren't confident swimmers we usually advise against buying a wetsuit in this range as it will in most cases hinder flexibility and can cause you to swim slower as a result.
#39 grade neoprene is the most commonly used neoprene on swimming wetsuits and offers 5x more flexibility than #38. The difference in the flexibility is instantly noticeable when comparing wetsuits made from each of these neoprene grades.
Each wetsuit manufacturer will use a varying amount of different neoprene grades in their suits to maximise buoyancy, flexibility and comfort in each area of the suit.
Newer grades of neoprene such as #40 offer even greater buoyancy and #45 is one of the most flexible neoprene grades available. Where each of these materials are used can drastically improve the flexibility, buoyancy and overall performance of the wetsuit.
Buoyancy vs Flexibility
The wetsuit that you choose should help, not hinder you in the water so looking for a wetsuit to improve your swimming will make a big difference.
If your legs tend to sink when swimming (if you swim faster with a Pull Buoy then they probably do) you’ll want a wetsuit with increased buoyancy to help lift your legs higher in the water.
Look for technologies such as Aerodome 2 (Orca) and +43 (HUUB) which can offer increased lift to the legs.
We would also advise working on improving this position by working on your technique. Your head position can drastically improve your body position along with ankle flexibility and posture in the water. In this instance opting for a wetsuit with increased levels of buoyancy in the legs can drastically improve your ability to swim faster in Open Water. You’ll likely find you swim significantly faster in open water compared to in the pool.
If you’ve already got good body position in the water, you should look for a wetsuit that offers less buoyancy in the legs and focus on getting a wetsuit with increased flexibility in the shoulders and arms.
Look for wetsuits with thinner neoprene around the shoulders and arms. However, 50% of a wetsuits flexibility comes from the lining. Wetsuits with a single piece around the shoulders tend to offer greater flexibility giving you complete freedom of movement and maximising your efficiency.
If you also don’t have good shoulder flexibility you should seek to find a wetsuit that offers greater flexibility to avoid any further restriction within your stroke.
Or, you might opt for the best of both worlds and look for a suit that offers good buoyancy and good flexibility.
Getting the right size
Whether you are new to open water swimming/ triathlon or have been doing it for years, having the right size suit for you will always be advantageous.
Wetsuit sizing is one of the hardest but most crucial parts of selecting the best wetsuit. Often the size guides don’t help as the more flexible wetsuits have significantly more ‘stretch’ which can often mean you will need the size down. Whereas wetsuits with less flexibility tend to come up slightly smaller.
For this reason, we advise trying on a range of different wetsuits in different sizes.
We have lost count of how many athletes we have seen at races in a wetsuit that doesn’t fit them correctly. All your hard training can be undone but having a wetsuit that it is too big and will cause an increase in drag as you swim. Not to mention affect your ability to keep warm.
Wetsuits are designed to keep you warm by trapping a thin layer of water between the neoprene and your body. This can only happen when the suit has a good seal around the neck, wrist and ankles. If the suit doesn’t seal in these areas, it will constantly take in more cold water resulting in you not being able to stay warm when in the water.
When trying on wetsuits, it shouldn’t go on easily and should take a bit of work to get into the suit. The mistake many swimmers make is the suit will usually feel quite tight and you may think it is too small and want to opt for the next size up.
Putting on a wetsuit
For most, the perfect wetsuit size can take as long as 20 minutes to get on. Wetsuits are designed to be like a second skin to maximise your flexibility and help keep you warmer in the water. If there is enough room for a lot of water to get in there, it can make swimming understandably very challenging.
There is a correct way to put on a wetsuit to ensure the correct fit. The first step is to ensure you put it on the correct way around, (you’d be amazed at the amount of people that put the wetsuit on back to front) the zip should be at the back.
Before pulling the wetsuit on, it is advisable to wear gloves and overshoes (many wetsuits come with gloves and overshoes to wear), these really help avoid putting a finger or toenail through the suit.
Usually the feeling of the suit being too small comes from not actually pulling the suit up the legs, the arms, the shoulders, the chest and finally the back which makes it feel like its squeezing or pulling you to the ground (not a nice feeling).The initial response to many swimmers/triathletes that come into the shop to try on a wetsuit say that they feel like the suit is too small and they “need to go up a size”. In most cases once we have shown them how to get it on correctly, they realise this suit does fit them and, in some cases, even go a size smaller.
STEP BY STEP:
Start by stepping into the wetsuit like you would a pair of trousers. Pull the suit up from the bottom of the legs, pull it half way up your calves. Then proceed to edge the suit up each leg before pulling up the waist. Almost like tight running leggings, we need to pull the suit up bit by bit into the right places so that is it sitting correctly and feels much like a second skin
Once the suit is around your waist, ensure there are no creases in the legs. This will allow you to get the shoulders and arms in easier. Yes the perfect suit should feel like it almost too tight however when you get into the water its usually completely unnoticeable.
As with the legs, gradually edge the suit up each arm and ensure to pull the excess material into your armpit.
Before zipping up the suit ensure the suit is pulled across the shoulders (you might need someone to help you here) if there is a big gap between the zips, the suit will pull your shoulders and reduce the flexibility of the suit.
The zips should be close to vertical before zipping the suit up.
Once your wetsuit is on, use wetsuit lube (it is not recommended to use Vaseline as this will degrade the neoprene) around your neck, wrists and ankles. Ensure you apply the lube liberally as this will prevent the wetsuit chaffing around your neck, wrists and ankles.
Getting into the water with your wetsuit on
As you get into the water you should pre-flood the suit. This is usually the part that includes a few screams.
Crouch into the water so that the wetsuit is completely submerged, then open the neck seal to let water into the suit.
While this might be uncomfortable it is key to ensuring the wetsuit is going to keep you warm. Provided the suit fits correctly and has a good seal, it will trap a thin layer of water between the neoprene and your body. Your body temperature will then heat up this thin layer of water allowing you to stay warm in cold water.
Failing to do this before swimming can lead to getting cold and making your open water swim less enjoyable.
Try wetsuits here at Total Endurance in our Swimming Pool:
Getting to try a wetsuit on dry is one thing but also being able to try it in the water and swimming with it is another.
Fortunately, along with a large range of wetsuits on our shop floor, we also have a range of demo wetsuits in our endless swimming pool room so that you can feel for yourself what it is like swimming with a suit before buying. Equally, you can compare different suits and how they differ for you as a swimmer.
Get in touch about trying on wetsuits in the shop or in our swimming pool where we can offer our expert advice in finding you the best fitting suit that meets your needs and budget.
Caring for your wetsuit
Wetsuits don’t require much maintenance, but you should always rinse the suit out after every use with fresh clean water. The suit shouldn’t be left in direct sunlight for extended periods as this can affect the neoprene.
After swimming, take a shower wearing your wetsuit and then turn the suit inside out and ensure you completely rinse the wetsuit out.
Once the suit has been rinsed out, leave the suit to dry and then hang up using a wide hanger. Avoid using a thin hanger as this will tend to stretch the suit and leave marks in the shoulders.
You should regularly check the suit for fingernail nicks (using gloves reduces the chance of this happening). If the suit has any nicks, use a wetsuit glue such as ‘Black Witch’ to fill them in. Small cuts into the suit won’t affect its performance but care should be taken to avoid putting holes into the suit as these become difficult to fix and can cause a decrease to the suits performance.
If you aren’t going to wear your wetsuit for a while or at the end of the season its optimal to give the wetsuit a clean with wetsuit specific cleaner and then put in a suit bag / cover and lay flat.
Wetsuit options at Total Endurance
We stock a range of HUUB, Orca, Zone 3 and Aqua Sphere Wetsuits in store that are available to try on as well as a range of Demo wetsuits that can be tested in our Endless pool.
This allows you to see how different wetsuits sizes, models and brands compare in size and comfort as well as getting expert advice on the optimal wetsuits for your needs and budget.
We have wetsuits ranging from £139 - £649 with all options in between. .
Exclusive Deals for buying through Total Endurance
All wetsuits purchased will receive FREE wetsuit lube and Total Endurance Swim Cap.
All wetsuits purchased £299+ will receive FREE wetsuit lube, Total Endurance Swim Cap and 30 minutes of 121 swim coaching.
All wetsuits purchased £399+ will receive FREE wetsuit lube, Total Endurance Swim Cap and 30 minutes of 121 swim coaching including underwater video of their stroke.
If you are looking for a wetsuit but not sure how much you will use it, we can offer short term or season hire wetsuits.
For season hire suits, you can hire any wetsuit in our range for using throughout the Open Water season (April – October). You pay 50% of the suit cost as a deposit and then pay 50% for hiring the suit. At the end of the season you can choose to either return the wetsuit and get your deposit back or keep the wetsuit for no additional cost.
If you are interested in booking an appointment to come in and try on a range of wetsuits and get assistance on selecting the best suit for you please contact us.
If you would like more information about wetsuits or general advice on Open Water Swimming get in touch.
Total Endurance, 4 Oldmeldrum Road, Bucksburn, Aberdeen, AB21 9DT
Tel: 01224 900500