There are things in the sport of triathlon that you can get away with. Triathlon bags, for instance, are not an absolute requirement for completing a tri. You can get away with a garbage bag. We went over this last week. There are other pieces of gear that make you faster—aerobars, carbon wheels, an aero helmet, and so on. Some gear is so important that if you try to race with an alternative—like sunglasses instead of goggles, or vice-versa—you’ll be 100-percent, entirely and thoroughly screwed. Not having the best triathlon suit for you falls somewhere between blindly flailing in the water wearing a pair of Oakleys and a garbage bag tri pack. You’ll get through it, but your body might be so beat up afterwards, you may never repeat the feat.
The best triathlon suit is more than just shorts. Tri shorts involve some spandex and a pad and some pockets—a “suit” has a zipper, holes for those things you use to swim, and a hole for that thing that wears a helmet. You’ll wear this suit from the swim to the bike to the run, all without any need to change, as the pad is thin enough to swim and run without extreme chassis damage, and thick enough to keep your underparts from falling off on the bike.
You can pair a tri top and tri bottoms for that two-piece look, or you can get a tri suit that’s one big piece. In our search for the best triathlon suit, we’ll break down the differences between the two, get into some new features from that last five years, and help decode some of the marketing…stuff…that makes everything seem more awesome than anything else. What we won’t do is a deep dive into the bottom half of the tri suit specifically, so please check out the “Ask Chris” on triathlon shorts for more info on short pads and short length.
How to pick the best triathlon suit for you:
One Piece or Two?
Though it may sound like a phrase best blasted out of an unintelligible KFC drive-thru speaker, this is actually a pretty important decision (though no less important than that fried chicken combo query). Lots of triathletes like a two-piece (suit, not combo) because it allows them to mix-and-match top and bottom sizes. Others (male others) like the option to go topless, though be sure you check the rules of your race before you go exposing yourself to unwilling spectators. Some people like the one piece because you can roll it down during a wetsuit-legal race and roll it up into T1, you could also peel back the top (check rules here, again), and a one piece won’t ride up or down, unintentionally exposing your midrift and causing that dreaded mankini look triathletes have tried to dissociate themselves from since the ‘90s. Also, don’t forget the all-important Bathroom Access Factor in a one-piece over two.
This is an important one when you’re looking for the best triathlon suit. While the majority of tri suits in the last 30 years were focused on a sleeveless cut to allow for better movement and cooling, the new trend is the have shoulder coverage at the least and often sleeves that run almost down to the elbows. The idea being that better materials are allowing for adequate range of motion and increased cooling. For more higher-end suits, there’s claims that these upper-arm covering materials are also more aerodynamic. Not only that, but shoulders, unsurprisingly, are one of the number one places for sunburn, so by covering those things up, we’re dodging yet another skin cancer bullet.
We spoke about this in the triathlon shorts post, but it’s important to bring up seams again because they’re not just crucial in your underparts. Be sure to look for flat (or nonexistant) seams in the armpit and side-of-the-neck area. This is where some of the worst chafing (behind what can happen to your behind, of course) can occur. While more panels of fabric are generally desirable for a better fit—some brands call this “body mapping”—just make sure that those panels aren’t attached in an area that’ll be rubbing over and over, say, during the course of a salty 2.4-mile ocean swim or a sweaty 26-mile run.
Here, even more than in triathlon shorts, it’s super important to get material that’s not only lightweight and breathable, but also sun resistant. As triathletes who spend an inordinate amount of time in the sun, it’s absolutely crucial that the top of your tri suit does a good job of protecting your body from harmful UV rays. Don’t assume the material is all the same, as most brands do a good job of letting customers know the SPF rating of their suits.
Just like in the shorts themselves, nutrition storage is key in your best triathlon suit. Look for pockets that zip up, go at an angle, or are covered when not in use, for when you have a non-wetsuit swim and don’t want to be dragging a parachute behind you. Even if you don’t want to carry your nutrition with you—you prefer to store it on your bike or in a belt—it’s still a good idea to have at least one pocket for errant trash or if things start to go south and you need to reload on goods. I’ve never said, “I wish I didn’t have this pocket,” but I’ve definitely wished I had more.
Now that you’re better armed with some general info to help find the best triathlon suit for you, below we’ve assembled a few choices as a jumping off point:
Note: All suits also come in a women’s version except for the DeSoto Forza Flisuit.
Best Triathlon Suit On A Budget
Decathlon Triathlon Short-Sleeved Trisuit Front Zipper LD
$75, Decathlon.com, 4 pockets
Yes, this is the price for the whole suit, not just the shorts or the top. For those who are unfamiliar, Decathlon is a European brand that literally makes everything from boxing gloves to road bikes and in between. And they make it super cheap. This is a mid- to high-end level tri suit for nearly half of the price of an entry level one. A medium thickness gel pad covers your rear, and elbow-length sleeves cover your little stick arms. The material is definitely on the thinner side, so great for drying off out of the water or hot days, but like most tri suits don’t expect to stay warm if the temperature dips.
Best Triathlon Suit For All-Out-Speed
$475, Swimoutlet.com, 1 pocket
No, the price is not a typo, this is nearly a $500 trisuit. While it may be (super) expensive, the HUUB Anemoi is widely considered one of the fastest triathlon suits money can buy. Extensively tested in the wind tunnel, HUUB claims that this suit can save between six and seven minutes over the course of an Ironman race. That’s actually a really big deal. Using some very interesting neoprene “trip panels” that look almost like little jagged tassles coming off the legs, this suit has all of the bells and whistles one could want. Longer legs and arms, alongside a special “coldblack” technology ensure you don’t get sunburned or overheated with all that speed.
Best Triathlon Suit For Storage
DeSoto FORZA FLISUIT Sleeved
$280, Desotosport.com, 5 pockets
This could also be considered one of the best all around tri suit options, as it checks all of the major boxes: five pockets, sleeves, an (awesome) fly built in just above the pad for bathroom breaks, and a 4mm pad. DeSoto has been in the business for a very long time, and this suit is a culmination of lots and lots of iterative testing. We also love the compression material in the legs and the rated 90 UVB fabric on the upper for sun protection and cooling.
Best Triathlon Suit For Comfort
Orca Core Racesuit
$130, Swimoutlet.com, 2 pockets
Boasting a great entry- to mid-level pricepoint and the most padding in the category, the Core Racesuit is a great choice for longer rides and those who don’t have issues with chafing on the swim/run, but prefer more cushion on the bike. Boasting 6mm of chamois pad, while most brands are around 3-4mm, this is also a great option for those who want a sleeveless suit and prefer mobility over coverage. Fairly standard features like water-repellent fabric and vented side panels round out a decent all-around option that doesn’t break the bank.
Best Triathlon Suit For Women
Coeur Kenna Zele
$400, Coeursports.com, 2 pockets
Though not cheap, this is another example of a no-holds-barred wetsuit that’s specifically made for women in a women’s only brand, run by women. As such, the Zele suit boasts tons of features like a 3/4-length zipper, leg grippers on a 6-inch inseam, and vented rear and side panels. The Big News on this suit is the dimpled Italian fabric that’s meant to reduce turbulent air while riding—a high-end feature that can sometimes be missing on other women’s offerings. Bear in mind the fleece chamois is thinner than some, so be sure you’re a little more gracious on your saddle choice or are racing at a shorter distance.