Your first triathlon wetsuit purchase is one of the most crucial you’ll ever make, the start of a multisport journey that could last a lifetime.
But that’s not to say that the entry-level suits here are just for beginners, as many display enough quality for a host of tri experiences. What they are, however, are top budget triathlon wetsuits on the market, from £100 up to £250, for men and women.
When it comes to buying your tri wetsuit, our mantra is repeatedly ‘try before you buy’, as the sizes can vary massively between brands, and it’s paramount your wetsuit fits you properly.
If you can, find a tri retailer or tri expo to try the suits, especially if this is your first triathlon wetsuit purchase. If not, ensure any online seller has a decent returns policy and study the size guide.
Also, think about your own swim ability when picking as some 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 consider which races (sprint or Ironman?!) you’ll be entering and whether you suffer from the cold.
Former 220 features editor and current editor of Cycling Plus, Matt Baird takes on the men’s suits, and will provide a close examination of buoyancy for sinking bodies, comfort and fit, plus added technologies. Value and beginner benefits were other key considerations.
In the women’s best cheapest triathlon wetsuits, Helen Webster and Kate Milsom look at value for money, buoyancy levels and additional features for athletes either new to tri and/or on a budget.
Top women’s budget wetsuits
Updated for the 2021 season, this latest version of the Advance is claimed to be 16% lighter and more buoyant than its predecessor. The 4mm buoyancy panels along the legs certainly helped our form in the water and we had a decent range of movement in the arms.
We like the stylish design with reflective detailing, while the wide silicone arm and leg cuffs made the suit the fastest to take off on test. It ticks the sustainability box, too, being made from limestone-derived 39-cell Yamamoto neoprene, rather than from petroleum.
There was no chafing, but the neck and legs felt a little short for our cold springtime test waters. Though fast to do up, the zip did allow water ingress, which isn’t ideal in colder temperatures.
Verdict: A comfy and stylish suit with adequate buoyancy, but a little short on the legs
Aqua Sphere Pursuit V3
Aqua Sphere’s 2021 wetsuits have blown us away so far, and the Pursuit V3 continues to impress. The recipe is just right with the ‘Aqua Drive’ core panel consisting of 4mm 38-cell Yamamoto neoprene, the 3.5mm legs holding us up just enough for a streamlined position, and the 2mm thickness ‘Bio-Stretch Zone’ across the arms and back allowing for a silkysmooth arm stroke.
There’s no chafing thanks to the Aqua-Flex collar seal, though we did endure some water ingress via the back zip. It certainly kept us warm for an hour in 10°C waters and was second only to the Zone3 Advance in terms of removal speed. Admittedly, this suit sits just above our £250 price point for budget suits, but it’s worth the extra.
Verdict: With top-quality tech, this is a clear winner for entry-level triathletes
We may not be completely sold on the Magna’s design, but the hydrodynamic SCS-coated suit did feel sleek and high quality when on. We found the sizing was on the roomy side, so you may want to study the sizing chart closely before ordering.
Due to a varying neoprene thickness from 1.5mm-5mm across the suit, our legs felt lifted and our arms had adequate range of movement when swimming at a leisurely pace, though the men’s version delivered a limited stroke extension while on test last year.
Thanks to taped and flatlock seams, comfort was an easy win, with our only gripe being the reverse zipper. It seems unnecessary for an entry-level suit, though admittedly does make for easy removal post-swim.
Verdict: Not the most flattering wetsuit, but comfortable and warm while in the water
2XU Propel P:1
Sitting at the very top end of our budget price range, first impressions of the Propel were good, helped by its flattering design and sleek fit.
The suit’s ‘rollbar technology’ of graduated 39-cell Yamamoto neoprene allows a variation of buoyancy from a thick 5mm at the core, to a thinner 3mm back and 2mm along the ends of arms, all of which aims to aid a swifter swim rotation and more power-conserving arm stroke.
We’re not sure on the sizing process here, which is based solely on height and weight. Our size small fits well except for a bunching of the zip on the back, which gave water ingress. The Propel gets top marks for comfort and shoulder flexibility is great, but we were concerned about poking holes in the thinfeeling neoprene.
Verdict: A decent suit with lots of flexibility for fast swimming, but sizing could cause issues
This is a good-looking suit for the money (not that that’s the main thing, but it’s a bonus). It feels good quality in the water with the 1.5mm neoprene across the chest and arms allowing plenty of flexibility, even for those with a wide ‘swinger’ style of swimming. The rest of the buoyancy profile errs towards stabilisation, which many new swimmers may welcome.
The 5mm in the front of the legs coupled with 4mm in the backs and a mix of 3mm/2.5mm in the body gave us a high position in the water, but it did feel a little too much, as well as restrictive. If, like this tester, your lower back is prone to aching, then be careful of suits that lift your legs too high. This is something many female swimmers may find isn’t needed, due to lower-body fat distribution (talking to all the pear shapes out there!).
Verdict: A good suit at a good price, but watch out for the levels of lower-body buoyancy
Huub Axiom 3:3
You can get a very entry-level Huub (the £130 Alpha), but the Axiom sits just above that at £199. We found some restriction in the previous Axiom, but some tweaks have made this a perfect fit. The suit (along with the Orca) followed the curve of our backs and didn’t cause aches after long swims. That’ll also be due to the 3:3 buoyancy profile (men get 3:5), designed to allow for the different fat distribution on women’s bodies.
It’s less ‘stretchy’ than others on test, though, and Huub recommends sizing up if you’re in doubt. The low neckline is comfy and we found the shoulders seemed to encourage high-elbow technique rather than letting us get away with our usual wide straighter-arm style!
Finally, there’s a breakaway zipper, which may be a faff in these socially-distanced times as you’ll need someone to do it up.
Verdict: A comfy and nicely balanced suit, although less flexible than others. Tricky zip!
A rare beast at the sub-£100 price point, the men’s version – in the same orange colourway – has featured in our ‘budget best buys’ before now with an 86% rating.
You get a mix of 4mm neoprene through the core body, to 3mm on the legs and 2mm arms. The cut on the women’s suit is odd though as although our height/weight put us in a M, the top half of the suit was huge, with loads of excess neoprene. A size S improved things a little, but meant the legs were too tight. We asked a second (UK12) tester with a different body shape to try the medium and she also reported problems with sizing and water ingress, as well as overall comfort. One that proves when it comes to wetsuits, fit is king!
The neckline was cut very high as well, which felt odd, but didn’t bother us when swimming.
Verdict: The spec for the money gives this a big tick – but our testers couldn’t find a good fit
Any brand that opts for bright pink on a women’s design will have some of us wrinkling our noses (men get red). Yet we have to give Orca kudos for providing the only bright-armed suit on test – which works as a safety feature so you’re visible in open water, as well as helping family spot you on race day. If you like pink, it’s pretty funky, too.
This suit felt great on and equal to Speedo’s in flexibility. Orca have clearly used their tri know-how in this budget offering as it’s easy to pull on (a big worry for many new open-water swimmers), while the 4m bottom/2mm top neoprene combo works to combine buoyancy and flexibility in a way that felt comfy and supportive.
There was a tiny water trickle in the neck, but that may be solved by sizing down from a medium to a S/M – and it didn’t really bother us in the 19°C waters of our test lake.
Verdict: A flexible, striking and comfortable suit that comes with an amazing price tag for the tech
This Blueseventy staple’s £200 price tag puts it at the top of our suits here by a whole pound, and savvy swimmers may find the considerably cheaper Orca or Speedo more of a draw. The Sprint was among the snugger size medium suits on test and, after an hour in the water, we found it pulled our lower back a little, so watch sizing.
Those stretchy blue jersey panels under the arms feel a touch basic compared to the full neoprene construction of others on test but, coupled with thin 1.5mm neoprene on the outer arms, allow a wide range of movement.
You also get stretchy calf panels for quick removal and the 3-4-4mm buoyancy pattern gave us a good body position. The bottom-up zipper and rolled neck, although bulky and high at the back, prevented water ingress, as did the cuffed sleeves.
Verdict: Some nice features, but the sprint now feels dated and is the most expensive here
Which women’s budget triathlon wetsuit was the best?
We expected to see a decent amount of tri-specific tech in suits closer to the top of our £250 price bracket, including intentionally placed buoyancy panels, quick-release sleeves and adequate range of motion when swimming.
Given this is a budget test, in order of price the Lomo Prime comes in as a bargain and has been well-rated in previous 220 men’s tests, though sizing/cut troubles meant they missed out on a high score here.
The Orca TRN is a great suit and the bargain of the test offering a flexible, comfortable and well-thought out experience which will keep most triathlon newcomers happy, while the Speedo Proton is a similar offering for £10 more, but too buoyant, giving us lower back issues after swimming.
While the £199 Zone3 Advance impressed with its flattering colourways, fast-removal sleeves and snug second-skin fit. At the same price-point we have the Huub Axiom 3:3, which gave us a superb swim, though it is less stretchy than others, so some who want a more flexible feel may prefer to go for one of the Orca or Speedo.
Blueseventy’s £200 Sprint remains a contender and had good lift in the water, though we’d stick to all-over neoprene for swimming in colder temperatures. A step-up in price is the £225 Raceskin, which certainly felt toasty and is made to a high standard, though faster swimmers may find the flexibility across the shoulders a little lacking.
Despite only £15 separating the most expensive suits on test, the 2XU and Aqua Sphere seem worlds apart. 2XU does a good job on colourways and comfort, and we can’t forget just how important it is to look and feel your best on race day! We were also big fans of the zonal neoprene thickness and extreme flexibility in the shoulders.
The quality of the Aqua Sphere suit, however, feels second to none. Such a well thought-out design and tech that includes heat-retaining materials, seals to prevent chafing and an easy-pull zipper results in the complete package, meaning the Aqua Sphere claims best on test.
Top men’s budget wetsuits
Yonda has fine form on these pages with the Ghost and Spectre tri wetsuits. The similarly paranormal-themed Spook is from the British brand’s open-water collection, but there’s little to give you the frights here.
Construction is high quality and the nylon/neoprene combo offers an unrestricted front-crawl stroke due to the smartly placed panels. The only mild chills we did experience came from some water ingress, and from the nylon being looser and more absorbent than neoprene. This means it takes longer to dry and can get heavier.
The classy neck, meanwhile, led to a chafe-free swim. We’re not convinced by the elasticated arm cuffs, which did lead to some water ingress, but the overall comfort and durability heightens the versatility – we’d happily use this on our paddleboard ventures alongside open-water swimming and for tri race days.
Verdict: Edges the Sailfish as the open-water cotender, but is tri-friendly too
The Proton has been around a while now, but that’s no bad thing as it’s a winning budget suit. After our first swim, we had to double check the RRP as we believed it’d be more expensive, but what we actually have is Yamamoto 38-cell neoprene, and a lean, lithe and continuous 1.5mm shoulder panel for an astonishing £140.
Where budget wetsuits are often purely functional – a bludgeon of buoyancy, a flirtation with flexibility – the Proton finds the balance between keeping you afloat and maintaining a feel for the water thanks to the 1.5mm thickness of the shoulders and supple neoprene. And it’s also damn enjoyable to swim in.
Negative points are minimal, although those with sinking legs may want more buoyancy than the max 4mm leg thickness offered here. The neoprene is also quite delicate and we’d size up if you’re between sizes.
Verdict: It may not be new, but it’s still a fine budget suit offering remarkable value
The first rule of Sailfish is to size down, with the brand’s suits regularly coming up bigger than we’d expect. The second rule of Sailfish is that the suits it makes are always top quality. That continues with the sleek Atlantic, which joins the ever-expanding pool of open-water-specific suits rather than pure tri wetsuits.
This means thinner neoprene and thus less buoyancy, with the thicknesses ranging from 0.5-2mm. The result is you have to kick your legs far more than a tri wetsuit – good for technique progression, less so for conserving race-day legs for the bike and run.
The benefit is a natural swimming experience, with the nylon/neoprene construction hugely flexible and providing excellent upper-body movement (it was the swiftest in our timed tests too). Despite that Atlantic title, it’s a suit we’d rather use in the Med, as we noticeably suffered in the cold. s
Verdict: A supple and slick training suit, but ot one for race day or the cold
Fifty quid is the cheapest wetsuit we’ve ever tested, but does a rock-bottom price ensure good value? Not in this instance, especially when you compare it to the Aptonia or Lomo’s own Prime wetsuit at £105.
The nylon construction of the arms just felt rigid and swimming was an ongoing wrestle to get the disobedient arms doing what we wanted – forget any talk of this suit acting like a second skin. The tight elasticated cuffs proved troublesome to get off or pull up, meaning we couldn’t access our sports watch pre or post-swim, and the chunky zipper head gave us serious neck-rubbing issues.
The 3mm all-over thickness felt too little in the legs and overkill in the upper body. In terms of positives, the suit’s flatlock stitching is welcome, it feels durable and looks decent enough, while the water ingress through the zip was limited.
Verdict: An incredibly cheap suit, but the price shows in the erratic performance
Aptonia Triathlon SD
Regular readers will know that we’re personally not fans of reverse zippers, especially on entry-level wetsuits. We just can’t see why Decathlon has gone down this route with the sub-£100 Aptonia Triathlon SD when an entry-level suit should be all about making things easy for newcomers (judging by the customer reviews, we’re not the only grumpy one).
Rant over, and once we’d been zipped in (thanks, mum!), the suit’s actually pretty good, the neoprene/ polyester combo and 2mm arms proving lithe enough in the water, and both front crawl and breaststroke-friendly.
The buoyancy from the 4mm panels felt understated but efficient, but water ingress was noticeable around the neck and zipper. It’s a fine-looking suit as well and – yes, we’ll admit it – that reverse zipper coupled with the shorter cut of the legs did make it swift to remove.
Verdict: So close to being a corker, sort that zip and come back in 2022!
The Advance was once this tester’s top entry-level suit recommendation, but it’s recently been superseded by the £179 Orca S7 and 2XU P:1. The 2020 Advance instantly takes the eco award with its recycled rubber construction, and there’s no pre-swim faff with the standard zipper (unlike Aptonia and Raceskin).
Zone3 don’t list the panel thicknesses, but it’s 2mm on the shoulders, a 3/4mm core and 2mm again in the calves. Buoyancy is far from excessive (leg/bottom sinkers may want more) but it’s evenly balanced. There were no neck or water-ingress issues, yet the suit only placed third in our timed speed tests.
While not an exact science, we found it tight around the shoulders (and we’re more Woody Allen than The Rock in shoulder width), which could’ve lessened efficiency. Getting it off is speedy thanks to the Pro Speed Cuffs.
Verdict: Efficiently ticks the boxes for entry-level triathletes, but edged here by the 2XU and DHB
Aptonia Neoprene LD
The Aptonia was second out of the testing bag and looked odds-on for the Best Buy award until the Dhb swept to the title. Plus points include the ability to try before you buy at a Decathlon store, which is tricky for the Dhb and Raceskin suits on test, and a visual design that’s our top pick here.
Into the emerald waters of Vobster (once we’d wrestled, breathed in and been fastened up due to the reverse zipper – see also Raceskin), you can feel the buoyancy levels are high thanks to air bubbles inserted into the fabric and the 5mm neoprene thickness on the chest, hips and thighs. Some stronger swimmers will find this excessive. As a leg sinker we didn’t mind too much, and the LD wasn’t far behind the Zone3 in our timed lake tests.
It’s slightly baggy under the arms and that zipper loses it points, but a two-year guarantee is welcome.
Verdict: Looks the part, adequate in the water and a nice price, but we have to question the reverse zipper
2XU Propel P:1
2XU have won the lion’s share of Best on Test wetsuit awards for the past few seasons, and the 2020 P:1 Propel boasts an impressive feature list for the £215 tag. There’s a SCS coating, high grade 39-cell Yamomoto neoprene and 1.5mm neoprene in the upper body. Fairly high buoyancy levels are provided by a mix of 3mm and 5mm on the upper chest, legs and back, while 2XU’s ‘rollbar’ tech adds to the controlled body position.
Similar to our mid-range tester on p60, water ingress was felt around the neck and along the rear zipper – something that was bearable in 19°C waters, wince-inducing in less (it also trickled into the arms). Yet this didn’t hugely affect its aquatic chops, as this was the fastest on test loops. We personally prefer the visuals and feel of 2018’s edition of the P:1, but a two-year warranty is another plus.
Verdict: Top tech, swift in the water and a decent price tag make this the budget suit to beat
The Magna’s price tag flirts with mid-range wetsuit territory, and there are features here you’d expect from loftier wetsuit companies. These include a lean 1.5mm neoprene thickness in the arms and shoulders, Yamamoto’s hydrodynamic SCS coating and a reverse zipper, though the latter is something we question on an entry-level suit for the pre-swim toil it brings (you’ll need to ask someone to zip you up).
While Raceskin’s Summa is a hit for our mid-range tester on p61, no matter how many times we tried, the Magna just felt restrictive around our shoulders and limited our stroke extension. Whether it’s down to panel placement (our shoulders are far from broad), that lithe 1.5mm neoprene failed to do the trick and resulted in our slowest times on test. It’s a shame, as the suit is stylish, durable and has limited water ingress.
Verdict: Impressive tech, stylish visuals, durable… yet we just struggled once in the water
The Hydron 2.0 is a budget suit that’s very hard to fault. The construction is durable, the fit true to size and the visual design – for a circa £100 suit – is decent enough. Into the 36m-deep waters of Vobster Quay in Somerset, and the buoyancy is surprisingly moderate for an entry-level suit thanks to the 3mm thickness on the hips and 2.5mm on the thighs (usually this thickness can be up to 5mm).
We’re a leg sinker but still managed our second fastest lake splits in the Hydron, even if the 2mm back/arms thickness and flexibility understandably felt less flexible than the £215 2XU. The zip’s a standard bottom-up affair, while removal is swift thanks to the calf panels. Water ingress, meanwhile, was minimal.
Verdict: A sequel that easily betters the original and is hard to fault for triathlon beginners
Which was the best men’s budget wetsuit?
Just £170 separates the men’s suits here but there’s a huge amount of variation on test, with the new breed of open-water suits from Sailfish and Yonda, impressive tri-on-a-budget contenders from Aptonia and Speedo, and the cheapest wetsuit around from Lomo at just £50.
The Lomo just doesn’t feel like a suit we could recommend for tri. It’s too cumbersome and uncomfortable for anyone seriously contemplating a tri race day, and we can only see ourselves using it for messing around at the beach.
The £100 Aptonia is next up in price and is an instant step up in tri friendliness, with supple neoprene and decent enough flexibility. If they reverse the reverse zipper decision, we’d heartily recommend it for newcomers to tri.
The Yonda edges the Sailfish in the open-water suits face-off, proving more versatile and more favourable in chillier waters. Both are well-crafted and comfortable suits, and both are great fun to swim in.
Try as we may, we just couldn’t swim naturally in the Raceskin, while the Zone3 will do the job for countless athletes, but it’s edged by the Dhb in terms of budget and the 2XU for feel in the water.
That leaves the Speedo Proton which though it may have been around for a while, we just think is a brilliant suit at a remarkable price. Edged just by the 2XU P:1 Proton with supreme flexibility, measured buoyancy and plenty of mid-range tech which makes it the winner of this sub-£250 test.
As budget suits aren’t only for beginner triathletes, we also did repeated timed average speed per 100m tests on our multiple 750m swim loops. Comfort and feel in the water were our key parameters for this test, but the results confirmed our perceptions of the suits, and also highlighted how trying before you buy (or a watertight returns policy) is essential.