There are lots of types of wetsuits on the market make sure you get one designed for swimming. These are created with buoyant, flexible neoprene to not only help keep you warm but also allow for movement in the shoulders and improve body position.
Swimming wetsuits fit very tightly, there should be no loose baggy bits anywhere! This tightness can be slightly disconcerting, to begin with, but you will get used to it in time. It can be quite hard putting your wetsuit on sometimes, however, they do come off easier when they’re wet after swimming.
Check the thickness of the neoprene, there should be a panel of neoprene that is at least 4mm thick, normally in the legs and torso, there are some cheap pretenders on the market with 1-2mm of neoprene all over, while these may offer some warmth in mild waters (temperatures above 17°) they will give you no buoyancy and are not a true triathlon/swim specific wetsuit.
Entry level wetsuits are perfect for those getting into the sport, at a lower cost, starting at around £100. They tend to be a simpler design in terms of the number of panels the suit is made up of
and different thicknesses of neoprene throughout. They offer a good level of buoyancy although can sometimes feel a little more restrictive around the shoulders than higher cost wetsuits. Rental wetsuits will normally be entry-level models.
Mid-range wetsuits range in price approximately from £200-£400, generally, these will offer a better level of flexibility in the shoulders and arms. The neoprene panelling will be slightly simpler than a top of the range wetsuit but will have different thickness of neoprene which can provide a more balanced body position than entry level suits which tend to offer a more all over buoyancy.
Top of the range wetsuits tends to start upwards of £400 in price. In top end wetsuits, you will normally see the widest range of neoprenes generally from 3mm to 5mm offering the most buoyancy where most people need it and more flexibility around the arms and neck. If you do go for a top of the range suit, take extra care with them, with finer neoprene they can sometimes be slightly more fragile. Look out for 'end of season' sales, sometimes you will find half-price top of range wetsuits.
CARING FOR YOUR WETSUIT
Swimming wetsuits are made from very delicate neoprene, here are some pointers on caring for it to help it last longer.
- Avoid using your fingernails when putting on your wetsuit! Nails can cut the neoprene very easily and leave small crescent moon shaped cuts, these have the potential to pull into bigger holes.
- Avoid tugging on the zip with the cord, the weak part of the wetsuit is at the bottom of the zip at the base of the spine, it can easily rip here, ask someone to zip up the suit for you.
- After swimming, rinse off the wetsuit in clean fresh water, leave inside out to dry, once that side is dry turn the right way out to dry any excess water off the outside.
- Store out of direct sunlight, this can degrade the neoprene if left in the sun for extended periods.
- Don’t leave on a hanger for extended periods of time as this may stretch the neoprene in the shoulders, loosely fold to store.
If you really enjoy your open water swimming or struggle with the cold there are a few extra accessories you can consider – although please note, some items can only be used in training
and not for races.
Neoprene caps are available made out of the same neoprene as your wetsuit and with a chin strap, they can offer extra warmth in the very chilly water. NB: a lot of people do find the strap under the chin off-putting or uncomfortable.
Neoprene booties offer an extra bit of warmth for your feet for training to help keep you in the water a bit longer. Not allowed for triathlon races, occasionally allowed for open water swim races if water is very chilly, check with the organiser first.
Neoprene gloves can help keep your hands warmer, the come in webbed finger versions or non-webbed versions, webbed versions allow resistance for training but are never allowed to be worn in races. People who suffer from Raynaud syndrome can sometimes seek permission from event organises to wear non-webbed gloves but you must contact the organiser prior to the event for permission if you plan to do this.
A neoprene vest under your wetsuit can help add warmth when training, however not recommended for racing as they are very hard to remove by yourself once you’ve finished the swim.