Which wetsuit?

So, you've decided that you want to swim in a wetsuit, but which one should you choose? It's a bewildering world of tech and features, so here's a simple guide.

Make sure it's a swimming wetsuit

In general, there are two types of wetsuit, one for general use (surfing, windsailing, coasteering etc) and one for swimming. So what's the difference? Water sports wetsuits are designed to be hard-wearing and grip so surfers don't slip of their boards, for example. Swimming wetsuits are designed to help you swim faster.

How to spot a swimming wetsuit

Swimming or triathlon wetsuits have a few go-faster features that you can look out for to make sure you're getting the right one. Firstly, they have a slippery coating to help you swim smoothly. Secondly, the neoprene is thinner, especially around the shoulders to give you freedom of movement. That said, most swimming wetsuits have different material thickness for different parts of your body to help with warmth and buoyancy.

Helping your body position

If I've coached you, you'll know that I harp on about body position. Swimming wetsuits are designed primarily for triathletes who swim front crawl, care about race pace and want to swim faster. That means that they often give added buoyancy to the legs as many triathletes suffer from what I technically refer to as 'sinky legs'.

But beware. If you've not got high bone density from pounding the pavements or huge calf muscles from pedalling your bike, you may have floaty legs and a wetsuit with added buoyancy may make your legs too buoyant. Equally, if you want to swim breaststroke, a wetsuit with thick neoprene on the legs will make your feet leave the water when you kick.

How do I buy a wetsuit?

I recommend a website like Wiggle. Their size guides are great, as is their return policy, so buy a few and try them all on. I mean it. It's so important that it fits right and think of the calories you'll burn getting them on and off.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Fit - should be really snug. It shouldn't cut off your circulation, but the tighter it fits the better it'll work.

  • Buy for your size now - not the size you hope you'll be, or for added room. If it's roomy, cold water will slosh around inside (yuk) and if it's too small it'll be uncomfortable.

  • Think about your stroke - will you swim front crawl or breaststroke? If it's the latter, don't get a wetsuit with thicker neoprene on the thighs.

  • Think about your body composition - are you lean or not? Do you carry weight in your thighs? If you're female and pear or hourglass shaped, don't go for extra buoyancy on your legs.