Wetsuits in Open Water and Triathlon Swimming

With the massive growth in the sport of Open Water Swimming, more and more swimmers are using wetsuits to complete their swims.Triathletes have traditionally used wetsuits for the swim discipline for many years

With the massive growth in the sport of Open Water Swimming, more and more swimmers are using wetsuits to complete their swims.Triathletes have traditionally used wetsuits for the swim discipline for many years.


The Team have been receiving questions about wetsuits and thought that an information page on this would be helpful for swimmers especially those new into the sport who wish to use a wetsuit.




Jim Kersey of Get Set 4 Swimming is a Great Britain Triathlete who has tried many wetsuits over his career. 



Here are some useful hints and tips when buying and using a wetsuit:



  • Probably the most important thing to consider about a swimming wetsuit is fit. Once you've decided on your price range, make sure the wetsuit fits well.  Wetsuits work by having a thin layer of water between you and the wetsuit that quickly heats up and provides an insulating layer.  However, if your wetsuit doesn't fit properly, too much water will get into the suit. This will cause you discomfort if it's cold water and produce more drag when you're swimming. 


  • Ensuring a good fit is best done by trying it on and making sure you are comfortable in the wetsuit and that it gives you the range of movement you want such as around the neck, arms and legs.  Try it on with the clothing you'll usually be wearing underneath eg swimming costume, shorts, trunks, tri suit etc.  Any ill-fitting garments, gathered material etc could cause discomfort.  This may not be much of a problem if you're only swimming for half an hour or so but over longer distances it could cause rubbing, irritation, distraction and more. You want to concentrate on putting all your efforts into swimming, not worrying about your wetsuit, so make sure it all works well before race/event day.


  • Modern wetsuit have lots of features eg variable buoyancy, ‘grippier’ material on the forearms to catch the water.  In my experience, some of these are effective whereas others are marketing hype.  My current wetsuit has slightly less elastic material at the cuffs and ankles. They still make a seal but these small areas make it easier and quicker to get the wetsuit off.  This is important if you're racing into T1; less so, if you're doing a marathon swim in a wetsuit. 


  • A particularly important feature of a wetsuit is the closure system ie zip and neck piece.  The zip needs to be robust and durable yet easy to use (most have a long cord to facilitate opening) and, at the neck, the neoprene/velcro flap needs to close firmly and lay flat for a good, comfortable fit.  Make sure you can reach around and open it easily.  Find out as much as you can and decide what will work for you, from magazine/internet/forum reviews etc. 


  • Rubbing should not be a problem with a modern, good fitting wetsuit but, if it is for example around the neck, use either a small amount of proprietary wetsuit lubricant or baby oil between you and the suit.  Remember not to use too much, as everything could become too slippy and you won't be able to grip anything!  Avoid the use petroleum jellies, as they can rot the neoprene of the wetsuit.


  • Modern wetsuits have various construction methods and usually have panels of various sizes and thicknesses to ensure a good fit.  Thinner neoprene is used across the shoulders and upper arms to give a good range of motion; thicker material is used around the torso and legs to give insulation and some buoyancy.  There are also different types/quality of neoprene.


  • When you've used your wetsuit, rinse it in clean water, remove any dirt and store it as specified by the manufacturer.  This will usually involve making sure it is dry, then storing it flat or rolled up in the storage bag supplied.  Wetsuits can be heavy and storing them on a coat hanger can lead to wear at the wetsuit shoulders.  Also, you can damage your wetsuit when putting it on or taking it off if your nails are too long.  Neoprene is quite soft and sharp nails can rip or tear the wetsuit, so cut them before using your wetsuit.  Your wetsuit may get damaged over the years and wetsuit repairs kits are available. They help to extend the life of the suit - follow the instructions supplied for a neat repair.





I am happy to answer any further questions you may have so please drop me a line


Meanwhile enjoy the videos above


Jim Kersey (Get Set 4 Swimming Coach)




Wetsuits in Open Water and Triathlon Swimming Links