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If you’re new to the sport of triathlon, you’re probably wondering what the best wetsuit is for beginners. Maybe you’re thinking that a wetsuit is only necessary to keep you warm. You’ve seen people surfing out in the chilly fall or spring waters and figure it’s about the same thing. Some beginners may actually be using or thinking about using a surf wetsuit because hey, they’re available almost everywhere, they’re cheap, and they look cool. The first thing you should know is that no, a surf wetsuit is not a great choice for triathlon. Surf wetsuits are made to keep you warm, that’s true, and they’re generally made to prevent restriction in the shoulders so you can paddle, but that’s where the similarities to a swimming wetsuit end.
The best triathlon wetsuit for beginners will keep you warm, but almost more importantly, it makes you faster and more efficient. And the slower you swim, generally, the greater the improvement that even the most basic tri wetsuit will bring. Tri wetsuits are specially designed to not only keep you warm and allow your shoulders to move freely, but the material is made to shed water, make you hydrodynamic, and actually float you in specific areas to put your body into a better swim position.
Ready to learn more about triathlon? Check out our complete beginner’s guide.
What to look for when it comes to the best beginner wetsuit for you—in order of importance:
Different brands fit different people better. Even different level wetsuits need to be sized slightly differently. Higher-end wetsuits generally size down because the neoprene is more flexible, so it can be tighter without restricting your movement. Lower-end wetsuits should closely follow the size guide or go on the higher end if you’re between sizes. Be realistic about your proportions (bigger shoulders, longer torso, bigger thighs, etc.), and follow the recommendations on the wetsuit’s website or better yet if you can try them on in person in a store. Bear in mind a wetsuit will loosen up slightly after spending a session or two in the water.
This floating effect that generally gives triathletes a five- to 10-second advantage per 100m. That can add up to around two minutes over just an Olympic-distance race! By strategically placing different thickness neoprene in different areas on the body, the best beginner wetsuit will help lift your hips and/or legs to prevent the dreaded “anchor effect” that’s particularly prevalent in cyclists and runners. Some wetsuits have so much float that you can actually reduce your kick—so you’re not only improving your posture to give you free speed in the water, but you’ll actually be less tired when it comes time to bike and run.
While many beginner wetsuits use thicker neoprene to save money, the best beginner wetsuits will have slightly thinner, more flexible material in the shoulder area to prevent fatigue.
The neck area:
The best beginner wetsuit for any triathlete is one that won’t chafe or irritate your neck while swimming. A thinner material with few stitches that are taped or welded down will lessen the chance of a raw neck post-swim. Higher-end wetsuits will have a very thin neckline with innovative ideas like a magnetic clasp.
Many brands claim to have “the best neoprene coating” or some sort of special catch panel on the forearm. While these are rarely something that will slow you down, these little features are often far less important than the manufacturer would have you believe. There’s a reason “special features” sits at the bottom of the list, far far below fit on our list.
So before you spend a few hundred bucks at the local surf shop, check out the ten best beginner wetsuits options for triathletes below:
The best wetsuit for beginners looking to float
The big win with the S7 is the amount of beginner-specific neoprene placed in key areas. Orca has 5mm rubber in the hips and legs to help with floatation for those with poor swimming posture (most beginners who come from a running or cycling background). Orca does a nice job of carefully calling them the “Progressive Swimmer” with an icon of someone swimming with their hips low in the water. Super strong swimmers may want to look elsewhere for something with less float that’s more lightweight (like Orca’s $350 Equip suit that targets the “Natural Swimmer”), but this is one of the best wetsuits for beginners with less swim experience.
The best wetsuit for beginners looking for something flexible for warm swims
Rocket Science Sports Basics Long Sleeve
Testers love this wetsuit for warm swims or when flexibility is the name of the game—looking at you, experienced swimmers who hate shoulder restriction, but don’t want to spend a fortune. Despite the lack of floatation and warmth, the Basic does a great job of holding a neutral body position in the water and never bunches in the knees while kicking.
Best wetsuit for beginners looking for something gender-specific
HUUB Axiom 3:5 (men’s) and 3:3 (women’s)
Using much of its trickle-town technology, HUUB’s Axiom line utilizes different thicknesses of neoprene to create the right amount of float in men (max of 5mm in the hips) and women (max of 3mm in the hips). The big selling point with this wetsuit is the low neckline that’s meant to reduce chafing, flexible arm panels, and a breakaway zipper for a faster T1.
Best wetsuit for beginners looking a no-frills experience
TYR Hurricane Cat 1
If you’re looking to stay warm and buoyant, but want a low-key look and no-frills design, the Hurricane Cat 1 is the wetsuit for you. While it’s not the most flexible suit on the list, it does its job well and is durable to boot. Athletes with a longer torso, take note.
Best wetsuit for beginners looking for a high-end experience
Synergy Endorphin Fullsleeve
Time and time again, the Endorphin gets high marks as a suit that hits outside of its weight class. The flexibility throughout the suit and comfortable neck design has continually impressed testers, and while this isn’t the cheapest suit on the list, it’s worth almost twice the price. Triathletes with large calves (hello cyclists?) should particularly take note of this suit.
Best wetsuit for beginners looking for flexibility
Though boasting slightly less float than some of the other entry-level options, this is a great choice for proficient swimmers who have good body position but want more flexibility in the shoulders (and don’t want to spend $300 and up). Using a max of 4mm of neoprene throughout the body, the Sprint uses super thin rubber in the arms to keep things loose in the water.
Best wetsuit for beginners looking for bells and whistles
Zone3 Advance Wetsuit
Made from eco-friendly limestone neoprene and scrap rubber from tires, the Advance wetsuit punches way outside of its class with features usually found on a wetsuit for nearly twice the price. Weighing in on the slightly more lightweight/flexible side of beginner wetsuits with a 4mm max neoprene thickness around the hips and legs, the arms have a new and incredibly flexible construction rounded out with a laser-cut collar.
Do you have more questions about your first (second, third, or tenth) tri? We have an active and supportive community of everyday athletes and experts in Team Triathlete who are willing to help. Plus: Members have exclusive, near-instant access to the entire editorial staff at Triathlete. Help is just an @ away! Become an Outside+ Member and join Team Triathlete now!