Congratulations on choosing to enter a triathlon!

Whether this is your first or your fortieth, a triathlon is a serious feat of physical endurance and the equipment you have for it can affect your performance as well as your personal enjoyment of this event.

For the swimming portion of this race, most people opt for a wetsuit. There are two kinds of true wetsuits, and then there is the trisuit. Each style of swimming gear has its own benefits and drawbacks, and every experienced triathlete has or will experiment until they find their perfect fit, so to speak.

There are many factors to consider when choosing your apparel.

The Trisuit

Unlike traditional wetsuits, the trisuit is specially designed for triathlons to be worn through the entire race. They come in many different styles, including one- and two-piece varieties for many different personal preferences.

The top is usually sleeveless, some Women’s varieties even offering a freedom-inducing sports bra-like top. The bottoms are like biker shorts with a thinner pad than usual for the seat area.

A recent innovation in triathlons, the trisuit comes with it own set of pros and cons for wear during the swim portion. Though not many have made the switch to the trisuit, they seem to agree on the following:

Pros

  • Lightweight, breathable material
  • Can be worn the entire race, no need to struggle with putting on and taking off a cumbersome wetsuit.
  • Available in one- or two-piece styles
  • Widest variety of coverage
  • Thin pad dries quickly between segments.
  • Cooler in hot weather

That being said, there are some drawbacks to this option.

Cons

  • Lightweight pad may not be as comfortable for biking portion
  • Not as buoyant; best for those strongest in swimming
  • Little temperature control; effective in fewer weather conditions

While they might be appealing, trisuits do have their limitations. They provide freedom, but without a lot of assistance to the swimmer. Made of neoprene and more buoyant, traditional wetsuits are the commonplace choice for most triathletes.

Here, the primary differences involve coverage and whether they are sleeveless or provide full arm coverage.

Sleeved wetsuits

Sleeved wetsuits are the most traditional and often the most common. They provide a high level of temperature control and protection, as well as being ultra-buoyant and helpful to the swimmer while in the water.

During open-water triathlons, these can provide the most warmth possible in the water, and also help the swimmer’s efficiency by streamlining the swimmer’s body. How do they compare

Pros

  •  Very buoyant neoprene; full-body coverage means maximum buoyancy.
  • Excellent for cold or open-water races
  • Largest range for temperature threshold
  • Streamlines the swimmer’s entire body, making for maximum hydrodynamic movement.
  • Best protection for skin and body
  • Variety of sleeve and leg lengths

Cons

  • Most expensive option
  • In warmer weather may end up being too warm
  • Can become very heavy
  • Only worn during swim portion
  • Best protection for skin and body
  • Sometimes difficult and time consuming to remove

Still, they are the top choice for most athletes who compete in triathlons, for it is a tried and true method. It is safe for open water and almost all weather, while may of the drawbacks are superficial.

It is an extremely different thing to wear than the trisuit, and its benefits and lesser qualities are two different games.

Sleeveless wetsuits

But somewhere in between the trisuit and the full-body sleeved wetsuits are sleeveless. Sleeveless wetsuits are a viable compromise between the two, for they provide many of the same benefits as a sleeved wetsuit with some additional appealing qualities more associated with a trisuit.

Most athletes who choose to wear sleeveless wetsuits have found that they are excellent for mobility and freedom, even if they can be less comfortable sometimes.

Most of the differences between these and sleeved wetsuits are minor, and the comparisons are relative and personal and must, of course, be considered by each individual triathlon participant. Some things to consider with a sleeveless wetsuit:

Pros

  • Neoprene, as with the sleeved wetsuits, so very buoyant
  • Good in hot weather
  • Come with a variety of leg lengths including shorts, knee-length and full-length
  • Greater freedom of movement
  • Not as difficult to remove as a sleeved wetsuit

Cons

  • Heavier than a trisuit when wet
  • Sometimes the short sleeves chafe under the arms when wet.
  • Only worn during swim portion

The sleeveless wetsuits generally have most of the same properties of a full-sleeved wetsuit, with a few key differences. These things make them a sort of middle ground between trisuits and full-body wetsuits.

Conclusion

Ultimately, you probably want to have a variety of swim gear in your wardrobe if you continue to compete in triathlons, from full-body sleeved wetsuits to as minimal a trisuit as you can find.

However, choose wisely the first time, for the last thing you want is for your equipment to let you down and not allow you to perform your best. If this is the first one you’ve purchased, or you’re choosing your own for the first time, take all factors into consideration:

  • What will the weather be like?
  • How strong of a swimmer am I?
  • How much can I spend on my swim gear?
  • What other environmental factors will I be exposed to (fish, water creatures, sand, rocky shores)?
  • How claustrophobic am I under pressure? How much freedom do I require?

Overall, any of the three types of swimming triathlon wear will be proper and helpful attire, providing protection and mobility, and being an asset to you in your race to the finish.