Wetsuit Buying Guide
By Cyril Morrin
Buying the right wetsuit can be a tricky experience. For newcomers to wetsuits and open water swimming it's hard to know what to look for and even for experienced triathletes getting the correct fit can prove very difficult if you can only try them on in a shop.
Buy or hire?
Consider hiring a wet suit for your first season and learn how that wetsuit fits your body, then use that information to make a purchase.
How much should I spend?
There tends to be three price points for wetsuits - entry level, intermediate and advanced. From my experience the difference between entry and intermediate in terms of price is marginal when compared to what you get for your money i.e. the intermediate offers more in the long run for a little more money.
Logic would suggest that the more you pay the better the wetsuit. I think that holds true for the entry level to intermediate but not so for the advanced wetsuit. My understanding is that advanced wetsuits are for advanced swimmers. Thus an ok swimmer would not benefit from buying an advanced/expensive suit as they are tailored to the needs of very good swimmers where the other suits are tailored to beginners and intermediate swimmers. Advanced suits tend to be less stable i.e. less buoyancy in the arms, which allows for a faster pull through the water, thus an intermediate swimmer may end up slower in an advanced wetsuit.
How do I choose the right size?
The suit should be a (very) close fit (especially when dry) without being so tight that it constricts your breathing. Key things to consider are comfort and flexibility around the joints (arms, neck and crotch), how easy is it to take off, buoyancy and stability. It is worth getting fitted by trained staff.
Remember that the wetsuit that works for a mate may not work for you. In addition to asking people what wetsuit they like, ask them why they like it and what else would they like in addition that their wetsuit does not have. The needs of a good swimmer will be different to a novice swimmer and the needs of a big person will be different to a smaller person and so on. Find out what will work for you.
If you have the cash it maybe worth getting a race suit and a training suit. A race suit would be a size or so smaller than your training suit so it acts like a compression suit and allows for faster swimming as less water gets held in the wetsuit.
Where to buy?
The best places to go in London would be to the various lakes such as Heron and Princes where there are swim shops and you can try the suits in the water. The shop at Heron Lake is okay but Princes Lake has a larger selection of suits. Go prepared with a decent level of knowledge as you cannot expect a shop assistant to know all your needs: their ultimate job is to sell. Failing that another good place to go would be TriUK in Somerset as they have a huge selection of suits and an endless pool.