Every year, we see gradual improvement in wetsuit technology. Every once in a while, though, there is a rule change that affects the triathlon world, and 2013 is one of those years. Late last year, USA Triathlon announced a new rule that restricts the type of wetsuit a competitor may wear. As of January 1, 2013 “any swimmer wearing a wetsuit with a thickness measured in any part greater than five millimeters shall be disqualified.” That is pretty black-and-white, and we think that Race Directors will simply note which brands and models violate the rule, rather than having triathlon thickness police to measure every athlete’s suit. The rule was implemented to maintain a level of fairness, which in the long run, is a good thing. However, if you’re an owner of a greater-than-5mm-wetsuit, you’re probably not too pleased. Wetsuits aren’t cheap.
The best triathlon wetsuit for you depends on the climate of the area you compete in, your swimming ability, how much you want to spend, and your personal preference. 2013 provides some new choices in the market as well as continued improvement in existing models. It doesn’t matter what brand your suit is, or how much it costs—the best triathlon wetsuit for you depends on how it fits you. A $700 wetsuit that doesn’t fit you properly won’t benefit you in a race. While the primary objective of a wetsuit is warmth, the perfect wetsuit can improve your swim speed by 30 percent. If you plan to make triathlon a regular hobby, it is worth finding the right suit for you. Here are a few things we are seeing in 2013 when it comes to wetsuit trends:
Natural Buoyancy: Buoyancy features have been around in wetsuits for a few years now, but we are seeing them improve as well as move down-market. The buoyancy features that we are fans of include suits that have higher buoyancy qualities in general, as well as those that help the swimmer balance in the water and keep the right body position. It used to be that these buoyancy features were only found in suits priced at $500 or above, but we are seeing more of more of the mid-range wetsuits, at $200 to $400, with impressive natural buoyancy construction.
Ease of Removal: A wetsuit should be easy to get out of during transition. If it’s not—it could cost you valuable time. More and more wetsuits are featuring small features like breakaway zippers and specially-cut ankles and wrists to allow for a faster escape, and we see that trend continuing in 2013 with most wetsuit makers.
Fit: Your suit should offer good shoulder mobility, and one pleasing trend is the continued development of range-of-motion technology. If your suit limits how well you can swim, it’s not a good wetsuit. The fit of the neckline should be snug, but not so much where you feel you’re being suffocated. You also don’t want it too baggy either—gaps can cause the wetsuit to scoop up water and increase drag.
New Material Options. For the first time we can remember, we are seeing some non-neoprene options in wetsuits hit the market. Neoprene is still the proven technology and is hard to beat from a function and value perspective, so we don’t expect any kind of industry shift. Still, for those who might be allergic to neoprene, which is a very small percentage of triathletes, Fourth Element and Patagonia are now offering hydrosuits made of different material. They may not have the triathlon-specific technology, but could be a welcome development for those with severe allergies.
Here are a couple of the wetsuits that we see with some fresh technology for 2013:
At the entry level, the Orca S4 was redesigned in 2013 to include higher-end materials and engineering, incorporating many of the features that are more commonly found on pieces above the entry level. The S4 features the speed transition leg calves for faster escape, and new paneling on both the front and the back of the wetsuit to maximize the combination of speed and range of motion. It is a great example of how technology that would have been expense 5 years ago is moving down market to the affordable entry-level of wetsuits. At just over $200, it falls into many racers’ budgets.
Another welcome entrant at the entry-level price point is the Blue Seventy Sprint. It is Blue Seventy’s value-oriented model, but coming from a maker that knows what they are doing we don’t see a lot of corners being cut. We like the inclusion of a central buoyancy panel to help support balance in the water, as well as the extra range-of-motion around the shoulders that enables a full swim stroke. We commend Blue Seventy on offering this entry-level model that should provide a high degree of value.
The Orca Alpha wetsuit, one of our favorites, just keeps getting better as well. At about $600 it is a wetsuit for serious racers or those with a nice budget. With several redesigns affecting buoyancy, balance, and fit in 2012, many triathletes looking for new wetsuits will see these improvements for the first time in 2013, making them essentially new. Among other things, we are big fans of the new Exocell technology, which Orca says it 20% more buoyant than their previous best of breed.