When it comes to selecting a wetsuit one can easily be overwhelmed with all the options out there. We alone offer eight different gender specific models! After some research, it can get even more complicated when comparing other brands and models. Let’s explore the topic and help you decide on the best suit for you and your goals in the water.
There are several key factors to take into account when buying your first wetsuit:
- Frequency of Use
- Swim Distance
- Water Temperature
- Swimming Background / Skill Level
- When to Choose a Sleeveless Suit
All wetsuits are not created equal! One thing to keep in mind is that every brand has a different cut and size chart that is unique to itself.
If you are a competitive athlete: going for the podium, aiming to qualify for a Championship race, or looking to set a new personal best, then you definitely want to choose a suit at or near the top of the line. In these situations, every advantage is critical to the overall goal. Our REACTION and HELIX models have a great deal more flexibility throughout the upper body which equates to a greater range of motion in your swim stroke. This means the swimming motion will be most natural with less restriction in the shoulders resulting in less fatigue and faster swim times. These models also feature more elaborate construction methods and buoyancy technologies. Remember, buoyancy equals speed in the water.
It’s important to have a range for your budget so you know where to concentrate your search and make your comparisons. Most customers are satisfied when they purchased the best performing suit within their budget. It’s better to buy the best suit your budget allows rather than to get the least expensive suit with the plan to upgrade later. The reason is that you’ll often end spending more money as the resale value of used wetsuits is not very strong. Most people, rightfully so, want to spend as little as possible on a used wetsuit.
Frequency of Use
How often you plan to use your suit is a factor worth giving a lot of consideration to. If you plan to use your suit weekly, it would be better to get a suit that is more comfortable to swim in (greater shoulder range of motion and flexibility) than a suit with less flexible neoprene that puts more tension on your shoulders. If you only plan to use the suit once or twice a year and for shorter races it may make more sense to get a less expensive suit. You would still want to take the other key factors into consideration as if your one race a year is a longer distance race and/or you are more competitive then you’ll want a suit with more flexibility.
The further you swim the more fatigue your swimming muscles will undergo. Wetsuits naturally place a resistance load on your shoulder and the longer the swim the more you will notice it. One of the most critical differences in wetsuits is the flexibility of the neoprene and there is a noticeable difference between, for example Yamamoto 38 cell rubber to 39 cell rubber to 40 cell rubber with the higher number being more flexible. Wetsuits will make a swimmer faster compared to no suit, even with some resistance on the shoulders, due primarily to the improved body position wetsuits provide swimmers. For swims and races under a mile a swimmer will not notice this difference as much as when the swim extends beyond a mile. The further the swim the more flexibility through the shoulders will be noticed and appreciated.
This is a critical factor and is also very much individual as some swimmers are more comfortable in colder water than others. All wetsuits provide some warmth, but for water temperatures below 56-58 degrees a purpose built cold-water suit can provide additional thermal properties. The THERMAL Reaction is fully lined with our Zirconium (a synthetic wool) jersey for extra warmth. On the opposite end of the spectrum a full suit over the course of a longer swim in temperatures above 70-72 degrees can be too warm. While some athletes could comfortable swim without a wetsuit in these temperatures, most athletes will still opt to wearing a full or sleeveless suit for the speed, body position and buoyancy benefits of the neoprene.
Swimming Background / Skill Level
The more advanced swimmer you are the better “feel for the water” you possess. With a greater sense of this “feel” swimmers talk about, the more you will understand and appreciate the more flexible neoprene as it will allow you to have the most natural swimming stroke. Since 2010 we have built our Helix wetsuit with a permeable fabric at the catch panel to return that crucial feel for the water that can be lost with a full neoprene arm. If you are new to swimming with less connection to your stroke mechanics, you will likely not notice the difference as much as a more experienced swimmer. The great news is that any wetsuit will exponentially help a beginning swimmer more than an experienced swimmer due to the improvement of body position in the newer swimmer.
When to Choose a Sleeveless Suit
While full suits are considered to deliver faster swim times than sleeveless models there are people who prefer a wetsuit without arms. Fit is a critical one – a sleeveless suit is certainly easier to put on and less claustrophobic than a full suit. They are also more affordable and obviously more suitable for warmer climates. Finally, sleeveless suits have the least amount of shoulder restriction since there are no shoulders and arms to content with.
As you can see there are several factors to consider when choosing the best suit for you. We hope this helps send you on the right path to selecting the best suit for you and your budget. The other critical factor is how one puts on a suit. An ill-fitted wetsuit, especially in the upper body and shoulders, leads to increased fatigue and a poor open water experience. Check out our guide and video to fitting your suit optimally. Happy Swimming!