Do I Need a Wetsuit?

A common question among first time triathletes is, “Do I need a triathlon wetsuit?” Wetsuits are almost always recommended in triathlons, but I’m writing this from the perspective of necessity.

This is a big concern because it’s often a hefty monetary investment, beating out the entry fee for a first timer. You can usually borrow a friend’s bike, or use your own hybrid/mountain/beater, but wetsuits are a different story because the fit is particular to a person’s body.

So do you need a wetsuit?

Wetsuit Fitting Diagram

I know it's not the most appropriate image for the article, but hey I thought it was helpful.

It depends.

Off the bat, when the water temperature is warm enough, wetsuits can be banned outright by the race, or permissible but rendering the athlete ineligible for awards.   If you’ve signed up for a race that falls under this instance, you won’t need one.

The USA Triathlon (USAT) rules on this point:

  • If the water is 78 degrees or lower, you can wear wetsuits without any issues.
  • But if the water is 78.1 – 83.9 degrees, competitors may wear wetsuits but will not be eligible for awards.
  • If the water temperature is 84 degrees or above, wetsuits are banned outright.

The World Triathlon Corporation (WTC/Ironman) rules on this point:

  • If the water is 76.1F degrees  or below, wetsuits are allowed without issues.
  • If the water is 76.1 – 83.9 degrees, competitors may wear wetsuits, but will not be eligible for awards.
  • If the water temperature is 84 degrees or above, wetsuits are banned outright.

For races where wetsuits are allowed (meaning the water temperature is on the cooler side), there are a few factors to consider.  Let’s get started.

Is it a pool swim?

If yes, there’s no need.  Have a good race!

No?

Is it an ocean swim?

If yes, then a wetsuit is recommended.   Waves and currents make ocean swimming challenging, especially for the more casual swimmer.  Having a wetsuit helps with buoyancy, making it easier to stay afloat, and also helps  you swim faster.  It’s a safety net of sorts, as the wetsuit can do quite a bit of work for you.  But if you’re a life long swimmer, and it’s a badge of pride to swim only with a jammer or bathing suit, perhaps this doesn’t apply. There is no doubt that a wetsuit will still provide benefits even if you don’t really need it to finish the race.

Not an ocean swim?

Is it a Lake swim?

If yes, a wetsuit is generally still recommended for the benefits of buoyancy as noted above.  But, the need here isn’t as dramatic.  Calm lake swims in bearable waters is something you may already do every summer.  Enjoy.  Same analysis for the life long swimmer as noted above. A wetsuit will provide benefits even if you are a great swimmer.

But what if the water is super cold?

Then yes, it’s recommended, but you might be able to abate the cold by also using a neoprene swim cap under your colored race swim cap provided to you.  This is where those life long swimmers would fall into. For all categories of people you should probably get a suit to help combat the cold.

Do you need all the help you can get?

A young lady I helped in the store told me, “I need all the help I can get.”  She blurted this statement as part of a logical assessment of her newbie abilities after I explained to her the different attributes and levels of suits we carry.  She ended up going with a Zoot Women’s Prophet that was on sale, fitting into her budget.   If you, like her, are not very confident in your swimming abilities and have heard yourself saying this, then you will take solace in having a wetsuit for the race.

It doesn’t have to be a high-end wetsuit, but practically any of the popular swim/triathlon wetsuits would give you the help you’ll need. I won’t argue the fact that a more expensive wetsuit generally offer more benefits. However I will say that there are so many choices out there that sometimes the most expensive option isn’t the best option for you.

So after going through this exercise, you may have concluded that a wetsuit is something you need.

I’ve compiled a few wetsuit resources along with actual products for your research:

Best of luck to you on your search for a triathlon wetsuit.

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2 Responses to “Do I Need a Wetsuit?”

  1. Can one rent a wetsuit? When & how?

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