Wetsuits for Open Water Swimming and Triathlons – A Beginner’s Guide
Category: Open Water and Triathlon

Wetsuits for Open Water Swimming and Triathlons – A Beginner’s Guide

Wetsuits for open water swimming

Wetsuits for open water swimming are distinctively different from traditional surfing wetsuits. In fact, open water wetsuits are made specifically for swimmers needs. With many having additional buoyancy and flexibility built in, this has really helped the growth of open water swimming. If you are open water swimming then do swim in a specific open water swimming wetsuit and don’t make the mistake of swimming in a much heavier surfing wetsuit. Open water swimming wetsuits are very different.

March 2022: Open water swimming wetsuits vary from season to season, but since 2020 sourcing open water wetsuits has become increasingly challenging, with suppliers often selling out months in advance. We have previously partnered with Huub and these are the wetsuits we use in our open water coaching sessions. That said, we recommend Huub, Zone 3 and Orca wetsuits.

Entry level open water swimming wetsuits 2022

Entry level open water swimming wetsuits are usually very buoyant and whilst they can feel more stiff around the shoulders to begin with, they make for an excellent purchase for the seasonal swimmer.

Typically priced between £150 and £225, entry level wetsuits are at least half the price of advanced wetsuits. Both the Orca Core Hi-Vis priced at £169 and the Zone 3 Aspire priced at £225 work well for males and females a like. That said, we prefer to swim in the Orca Care Hi-Vis as it feels more snug and offers better value.

Advanced level open water swimmer competing in races 2022

If you are an advanced level open water swimmer competing in races and looking to save time when swimming then the Huub Varman is not to be missed. With both huge amounts of buoyancy and flexibility in the shoulders, this wetsuit is a real pleasure to swim in. With a recommended retail price of £549 there are definitely some fantastic cheaper alternatives to choose if you aren’t going to get obsessed with regular open water swimming.

Why wear an open water wetsuit?

Keeping warm – Open water swimming does have its risks and sadly each year individuals die competing; this often being attributed to cardiac arrests.

According to Shattock and Tipton (2012), as the body enters cold water there are two autonomic responses; the ‘cold shock response’ and the ‘diving response’. For most individuals, cold shock results in an abnormally rapid heart rate, yet the diving response of holding one’s breath can result in an abnormally slow heart rate. This combination brings the control of the heart into conflict and can lead the heart to produce cardiac arrhythmias (more commonly known as heart rhythm problems), which increases the likelihood of cardiac arrests.

Wearing a wetsuit keeps our body temperature significantly warmer and reduces the cold shock response. We strongly recommend that when you first go into cold water that it is done gradually. We recommend that breath holding does not occur; and that acclimatisation is completed by lying flat on your back before swimming.”

Protection – Open water swims take place in lakes, rivers and in the sea. Wetsuits help to protect your body from debris, birds (swans) and other competitors too!

Additional buoyancy – Swimming technology has kept pace with the increasing popularity of open water swimming and triathlons. Most triathlon competitors find their swimming to be the weakest of the three disciplines. More expensive wetsuits have a golf ball effect built into them, designed to trap air and further aid buoyancy, whilst others have foam strips inserted. Buoyancy usually reduces swim times.

British Triathlon rules

In Britain most open water and triathlon events are governed by British Triathlon rules. The water temperature is taken 1 hour before the start of the race and the following rules then apply:

Water Temperature and the Wetsuit Rules:
Less than 14oC then wetsuits must be worn
Between 14oC and 22oC then wetsuits are optional
Above 22oC then wetsuits must not be worn

What are 3:5, 3:8 and 4:4 wetsuits?

3:5 wetsuit
3:5 wetsuits are the most popular and the ones we would recommend for most amateur competitors. 3 and 5 indicate the thickness of a wetsuit at different points, with the 3mm being found on the upper body and 5mm on the lower body. The differential between the thicknesses causes the legs to rise higher in the water, helping to increase efficiency and reduce swim times. These days, although the same lift principles apply, the thickness of the wetsuits can vary far more within the upper body from chest, to lower arm pit and arms.

3:8 wetsuits
3:8 wetsuits are recommended for those who require more lift in their legs while swimming, common for competitors that are particularly muscular.

4:4 wetsuits
4:4 wetsuits are neutral, providing no differential in thickness and leaving the body to lie in the water in its natural horizontal way, albeit the whole body is likely to be slightly higher in the water than without a wetsuit. Recommended for those who don’t experience faster swim times when they have a pull-buoy between their legs, or those who would like a more natural swim.

Which are the main wetsuit brands?

The three main brands we have swum in are Orca, Huub and Zone 3. Clients from our open water and triathlon programme use any of these as wetsuit brands are really down to personal preference.

How do I avoid chafing and skin irritation?
We recommend putting Body Glide balm around your neck prior to wetsuit use.

Turner Swim’s top tips for wetsuit longevity:

1. Wear cotton gloves to put on your wetsuit. Wetsuits come with gloves and we recommend wearing them to avoid finger nail pinching and tearing your wetsuit.

2. Pull the wetsuit legs and sleeves far enough up – when putting your wetsuit on, start with excess material on your body side and then you can pull the material back down your legs and arms once it’s on.

3. Rinse immediately after use and turn inside out to dry – organised events usually have wetsuit showers or a bin of water to rinse them in post-race.

4. You’ve probably heard the phrase, a stitch in time saves nine. Well this is certainly true when it comes to repairing small nicks or cuts in your wetsuit. We recommend drying your wetsuit out and then using Black Witch Glue to repair the neoprene. Remember to place a piece of paper between the two layers of your wetsuit to prevent gluing everything together.

Shattock, M.J. and Tipton, M.J. ‘Autonomic conflict’: a different way to die during cold water immersion? The Journal of Physiology 590 (Pt 14)[Online]. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3459038/ [Accessed: 15 May 2016].

Keen to know more?
Join a Turner Swim instructor for open water swim coaching at the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre Canary Wharf. We also operate from 12 luxury hotels across London and the UK. Visit www.turnerswim.co.uk for further information.

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