Put simply, the tri wetsuit is one of the most crucial buys you’ll ever make in tri. While they’ve experienced a host of technical innovations since the mid-1980s, their aim largely remains the same: to get you through the open-water swim as swiftly, as comfortable and as fresh as possible.
Although most events will see you in a wetsuit for about 10-20% of your race, a tri-specific suit can make or break your experience. An ill-fitting, poorly-chosen suit will leave you sinking in the water with a sore neck; your optimum suit will be the finishing touch to all those hours of pool training and will make you look and feel unstoppable come race morning.
When it comes to buying your tri wetsuit, our mantra has always been ‘try before you buy’, as the sizes can vary hugely. Find a tri retailer or tri expo to try the suits, especially if this is your first tri wetsuit purchase. If not, ensure the online seller has a decent returns policy and study the size guide. Also be aware of your own swim ability when picking. Make note that many top-end features – slender neoprene and a reduction in buoyancy – are lost on, or even detrimental to, beginner swimmers.
Those with sinking legs should look for increased neoprene thickness with enhanced buoyancy. And think about what races (long or short?) you’ll be entering and whether you suffer from the cold.
Our reviewer Niamh, a strong age-grouper, will give a close examination to buoyancy for sinking bodies, comfort and fit, plus added technologies. Value and beginner benefits were other key considerations.
How we tested
We were lucky to test these suits in the warm-ish (18C) waters of Gran Canaria. This afforded us the opportunity to test them in UK summer seawater temps, dealing with waves and currents to fully judge their race-day form (and water ingress). Each was tested for fit, performance, buoyancy, comfort, hydrodynamics, added features, durability, ease of zipper, removal speed, budget and, finally, the visual design.
We’ve long found that you can’t go wrong with a Zone3 wetsuit. The new Advance features eco-friendly abilities with its recycled rubber and it still performs. It has a Flex-Free lining on the shoulders, meaning further reach and little restriction, as well as stretching around the calves. The laser cut collar keeps water out and fits comfortably, and is versatile for all kinds of swimming. We tested in both Cumbria and the Canaries, and the thick and durable neoprene kept our body temp constant in both extremes. The 4mm buoyancy panels in the legs held our body position flat, it’s true to its size and flexes to most body shapes. racezone3.com
Verdict: a brilliant all-rounder that comes at a great price 94%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
Once you’ve achieved the near impossible of getting it on, the Maverick fits every arc of the body. It’s snug like a race skin and lives up to its claim of being fast. Roka’s ARMS-UP tech means there’s no shoulder restriction and it leaves you swimming naturally. By increasing buoyancy in the lower – and making it more centralised – it increases the efficiency of side-to-side movement, meaning less drag. The neckline keeps water out but the difficulty of putting it on stems from the lack of material around the core, with the size guide even suggesting it’s for flat-stomached athletes.
Verdict: engineering excellence, but only for specific shapes 90%
Buy from global.roka.com
The stylish Challenger offers something other than plain black. It’s slick in the water and delivers a drag-free swim. While buoyancy in the legs is excellent, it also has a 4mm chest panel to help maintain a flat body position. Included in the chest panel is Thermo-Guard tech, which retains body heat in cold water. The Yamamoto 39 neoprene is soft and flexible, and the arms and shoulders have 2mm panels to allow it to flex with your stroke. There’s a soft neckline that keeps water out, but the tightness at the wrists and ankles leads to a slower T1. aquasphereswim.com/uk/
Verdict: ticks all boxes and is suitable for all body shapes 85%
Buy from www.swiminn.com
Continue reading our guide to the best women wetsuits for tri, under £300