How Should a Wetsuit Fit?

Are you in the market for a wetsuit, but don’t quite know what to be looking for, fit-wise? Knowing how a suit is supposed to fit can be tough for the first time wetsuit shopper. Buying a new piece of (expensive) neoprene isn’t quite the same as buying a new pair of jeans – prepare to have a different set of expectations both on proper sizing and comfort level.  Here is a primer on how a wetsuit should feel, and at what point you might have the wrong-fitting wetsuit.

The very purpose of a wetsuit is to keep a very thin layer of water in, next to your body.  That means that the wetsuit is going to be very tight, and that kind of tightness sometimes is unnerving for people.  No other garment in the world of triathlon clothing is meant to fit as snugly as a wetsuit.  Not only is a wetsuit tight, but once it is on you are expected to go out and swim!  No wonder wetsuits are sometimes hard for folks to get used to.

We want to declutter the wetsuit fitting process for you.  Here are a few pointers to help pick out the right size for your new wetsuit.  If you are still looking for the right entry-level wetsuit, we have an entire section on that here.

wetsuit fit tight

Wetsuits are supposed to be tight. Snug, but not constricting. Make sure you use it a couple times before race day to get used to the feel.

Wetsuits fit Tight. While they shouldn’t be painful or cut-off circulation, be aware that a new wetsuit might just be one of the tighter things you’ve ever tried to put on.  After all, the same neoprene that is used in a wetsuit is also used to make orthopedic braces — designed to restrict movement!  If you are a runner, think of how compression tights fit — they should be snug with some pressure but not to the point where you lose range of motion.  Keep in mind that neoprene stretches when it gets wet, and also stretches with use over time. If you’re in doubt about what size is correct or in between sizes, go with the snugger wetsuit.  Trust us — it will feel weird at first, but you do not want your wetsuit to have folds or air pockets in it while you try to swim fast.  If a wetsuit was not tight, it would not serve the purpose of keeping you warm and improving your buoyancy.

Pull it up. A proper fitting suit should not be too roomy in the crotch area. The first thing to do when trying on a wetsuit for fit is to pull the suit up so it’s snug between the legs. Only then should you take an assessment of leg and arm length and shoulder comfort.  Putting a wetsuit on is a process that takes a few minutes — don’t try to do it in a hurry, and make sure you pull up and up to create as much space throughout as possible.  If you are putting a wetsuit on during race morning, don’t be afraid to find someone who can help you do some of the final pulling on the wetsuit, and then zip it up for you (remember, it zips in the back).

Arms and Legs. When trying on a suit, don’t pay too much attention to arm and leg fit, with regards to overall length. It’s really no big deal if the suit has arms and/or legs that seem a tad too short – this wont’ have any effect on your swim time. Likewise, it’s relatively easy to deal with arms or legs that are too long by trimming them to length. This is especially the case with body types that have longer torsos and shorter legs. In fact, many wetsuits come with extra long legs and arms; the wetsuit manufacturer expects you to trim them once you have decided on the purchase and include instructions on how to trim.  The more important thing is that your torso feels right — tight enough to hold water in, but also with enough flex so you can breathe comfortably.  Our wetsuit of choice for years has been a great Xterra sleeveless wetsuit, even in very cold water — proof that the arms really are not very important at all.

Collar. The collar is something that you really can’t trim without harming the wetsuit or its fit. Make sure it’s not unbearably uncomfortable. Keep in mind that the collar will stretch some over time; however, if you have a bigger neck, look for one of the brands that features a lower cut collar. These tend to be a lot more generously sized.  We have seen many swimmers come out of the water before the race is done, not because they were out of shape, but because they felt the neckline was constricting their breathing and movement.

No Junk in the Trunk. One of the more notoriously poor-fitting areas for many wetsuit wearers is the area around the small of the back. If there is too much space here, the wetsuit will billow out and fill with water while you’re swimming. All things being equal, try to pick the suit that fits this area in the snuggest way, but stops shorts of preventing your shoulders and arms from moving freely or giving you a sensation of not being able to take deep breaths.

Body Type. Most manufacturers publish detailed sizing charts for both height and weight, but some body types just don’t fit nicely into these charts. Consider going up a size if your body tends to be very broad-shouldered or barrel-chested. Likewise, go down a size if you body type is thin. Sizing for women’s suits can be difficult – if you order online, don’t be afraid to exchange for another size or brand if something just doesn’t fit right. Remember, all brand and models fit a bit differently. If you have the opportunity, try on a few different styles in you price range to see if one fits comparably better than the others.

The key to getting a good wetsuit fit is to buy the right sizing for your body type, and not skimping on the wetsuit.  Remember, only buy wetsuits made for triathlons. There are lots of very cheap, Chinese-made wetsuits that are really intended for surfing or snorkeling.  Do not buy these — they will not give you the range of motion you need for a triathlon race.

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