Triathlon Wetsuits: How to Choose and Use Them

Most races in the Northeast allow for the use of triathlon wetsuits, although they are usually not required. In any given race, you will likely see a majority of racers taking advantage of the wetsuit rule, as wetsuits offer several benefits. Since using a wetsuit might be a new experience for many, we provided some tips on using and finding a wetsuit.

Along with your bike, helmet, shoes, and clothing, a wetsuit may become a key part of your race day gear.

Do You Need a Wetsuit?
To start, ask if you need a wetsuit at all. Most races in the New York and surrounding areas will have cool open water swims, and water temps below 70 degrees often make wetsuits a good choice as the suit will keep you warmer in the water. When water temps rise to above 78 degrees, wetsuits are often banned because they can actually make you too hot in the water. 
The vast majority of races will feature lake water temps between 65 and 75. There is a second major benefit, though, and that is that a wetsuit will help your buoyancy in the water. The wetsuit has the same effect as a life vest, although not quite as buoyant and much more form-fitting. If you are not confident in an open water swim or unsure of what your first race will be like, a wetsuit may be a good choice just for the peace of mind that it offers.

Where to Get a Wetsuit
The second question is, once you’ve decided to use a triathlon wetsuit, how to get one. Here you have three options:Buy, Rent, or Borrow. Buying a wetsuit can be an investment but may be a worthwhile one if you plan to do multiple races or open water swims. Most triathlon shops and websites offer wetsuits from various manufacturers. Renting a wetsuit is a good alternative if you want to use a high quality suit without making the upfront investment, and if you aren’t sure if racing will become a regular hobby. You can usually find suit rental at local tri shops or with online sources. You can always borrow, which will be the lowest-cost way to go, but wetsuits need to fit you perfectly, so don’t settle for one that is a little big or small. The best wetsuits on the market are often made by companies that make other types of triathlon clothing and gear – TYR, Quintana Roo, and Xterra are just a few, among several others.
As mentioned above, wetsuit sizing is very important. Many people instinctively try to find a wetsuit that gives them room to move around in, but triathlon wetsuits are supposed to be tight. That is how they are designed to keep you warm and buoyant. Get a wetsuit that is snug but not so restrictive that you will have trouble breathing or performing your swim stroke.
The more you spend on a wetsuit, the more range of motion you typically will have – they are made with higher end, more stretchy paneling. Don’t fret about long legs or arms, these can be folded back or even carefully trimmed (if you own the wetsuit).

Using Your Wetsuit
Once you begin using the suit, learning to put it on correctly is important. Do it slowly and carefully you’ll be fine. Start with each foot, and then carefully pull the wetsuit up and pull excess fabric so there are no “bubbles”. Do the same with the arms, unless you have a sleeveless suit which makes the process a bit simpler. Remember that neoprene can scratch and tear, so be gentle with the suit as you pull it on. Put the wetsuit on while it is dry and you are dry, and make sure your feet can slip through the tighter leg holes with ease – some home remedies for making the suit slip on better are to put two plastic bags over your feet, or simply leave your socks on, and easily slip the wetsuit over your feet. Most racers will put some bodyglide or other type of racing lubricant on their wrists and ankles before the race in order to make the on-and-off process a little easier. After you finish the swim leg of the race, you will want to remove the wetsuit quickly. It takes some practice to get this just right, as it does with putting the suit on. While exiting the water, grab your zipper tab, then being careful not to get tangled, pull out your arms as you run to the bicycle area. When you arrive, you can finish the removal and leave the wetsuit out of the way for other racers.
A tip from experience: don’t hang it over the shoes you plan to run in – it will drip dry right onto whatever is underneath it as you bike. Once the race is done, the key to giving your wetsuit a long life is to store it in a place where it won’t be in contact with the sun, sharp objects, or chemicals. A good rinse doesn’t hurt at the start and end of the season, and remember that no wetsuits are intended to be used in chlorine.