Triathlon Wetsuits: What You Get for the Money

The price range of triathlon wetsuits varies significantly.  You could spend anywhere from $50 to $650 or more for something labeled as a triathlon wetsuit.  While the old saying that “you get what you pay for” holds true, it doesn’t necessarily mean everyone should hold out for a top of the line wetsuit.  The model of wetsuit you purchase should reflect your triathlon goals, the level of your triathlon swim technique and conditioning, and how (and how often) you intend to use the wetsuit.

We have done a roundup of the various triathlon wetsuit price points, and categorized them for you.  This is intended to assist you as you determine which level wetsuit to purchase, and exactly what you get for the money. Of course, catching a good deal at the right time of the year can help you “upgrade” to a level above what you pay for, but in general terms, here are the the price points on good triathlon wetsuits.  Keep in mind that we are always on the lookout for great deals on wetsuits, and whenever we find killer deals we link to them from the various reviews we write for you on this site.

It is sometimes said that triathlon gear from various makers is more similar than it is different.  This may be correct, as there is a quick catch-up effect in the industry that never allows one maker to be too far out ahead of the others.  We admire the companies who are spending time and energy on research and development, studying the finer points of neoprene and swimming, in order to bring continually advancing technology to the market.  We are often amazed how much the engineering can advance in just a short amount of time.  Still, we find suits at each price range that seem to provide a great package for a great value, and we’ve tried to outline them as well.

Level 1:  Not Ready for Prime Time

Price Range:  $50 – $150

Summary:  A quick Ebay or online search will yield several hits for very low cost wetsuits, typically made of very basic materials and simple manufacturing.  While it might be tempting to save money on your first wetsuit, these models do not have the construction quality of wetsuits that cost just $50 more, and will not keep you insulated nearly as well as better suit or provide anywhere near the range of motion in the water.  The first signs of the poor construction will be evident when the zipper breaks or the suit gets nicks or cuts from the smallest incidents, and the buoyancy of the wetsuit will not be as good as the higher levels.  We also notice that the seams on these wetsuits are not as strong as better suits and are often uneven or raised (which can cause chafing).  We hate to be such downers, as we generally want to encourage everyone to participate in the sport of triathlon and get in better shape, but we are also believers in buying quality that will last.  My first (and last) foray into the world of cheap wetsuits ended the 3rd time I wore it, when the entire zipper busted as I was exiting the water during a race.  The next wetsuit I bought was a much better quality QR model.

Who They Are Good For:  Someone who intends to only do one triathlon, is on a budget, and doesn’t have a rental or borrowing option.

Recommended Model:  We don’t recommend any models from this level.  We would encourage you to rent a better wetsuit rather than buy a model that won’t last long.  The exception is for youth wetsuits, for which this is a quality price point.  The Blue Seventy Torpedo is a great example of a quality youth wetsuit in this price range.

 

Level 2: Triathlon Entry Level

Price Range:  $190 – $250

Orca S4 triathlon wetsuit

The Orca S4 is a great entry-level option for most newer triathletes.

Summary:  Getting into the entry level triathlon wetsuit market from one of the major wetsuit manufacturers will provide you with a suit that can hold up to many races, provide the insulation you need in cold water, and provide the basic range of motion for a comfortable swim.  With this price range, you can expect a durable wetsuit material and strong seams, and addition to some in-demand features such as a easier pull zipper and more comfort on pressure points on your neck, wrists, and ankles.  Not only will the seams be stronger, but they should be made in a way that will lessen the level of rubbing and chafing on your skin (although not nearly to the comfort level of the higher-end suits on this list).

Who They Are Good For:  Age group racers who intend to make triathlon a regular hobby, but whose main goal is to finish and have fun, and Sprint racers who want to gradually improve their times.

Recommended Model:  The Orca S4 took the place of the Orca S3, and when it did it brought some higher-end buoyancy and paneling technology to the sub-$250 price range.  While it might not be the performance you want for an Ironman, the S4 provides more than enough technology for your training swims and the typical Sprint and Olympic racer.  If you are on the fence about this or a higher-end wetsuit, we always recommend going up to the mid-level.  After a few races and swims, you will be thankful for the better range-of-motion and paneling.

 

Level 3:  Mid-Level

Price Range:  $275 – $450

Summary:  Moving up to the mid level of triathlon wetsuits will provide one main benefit over the entry level:  Improved range of motion.  Do a long swim in a wetsuit, and one of the first things you will notice is that your shoulders get more sore than when you swim without a wetsuit.  This is due to the limited range of motion from the tight rubber and neoprene.  At the mid-level price point, manufacturers put more effort into using more flexible materials on key pressure points, allowing you to move more freely even though the wetsuit is still fitting tightly.  You may also notice some additional features surrounding construction that help you remove the wetsuit faster during transitions.  Finally, that this and higher price ranges, you can expect better overall buoyancy throughout the full body of the wetsuit and more comfortable interior lining.

Who They are Good For:  Avid age group triathletes who want to not only have fun and finish consistently but improve their times and potentially place toward the top of their age group.   Less avid racers who can afford it may want to step up to this level simply because it is easier on your shoulders and more comfortable.

Recommended Model:  The Orca Sonar is a very good wetsuit for the money, the most popular model from a maker who has been on a roll lately.  It offers the paneling and range of motion we would want in a suit in this price range.  If you want to compare to another good model, the reliable Blue Seventy Reaction is not far behind.

 

Level 4:  High End

Price Range:  $475 and up to $650 or more

Helix triathlon wetsuit high end

You will be hard-pressed to find a better all-around wetsuit than the Helix.

Summary:  You ever put on a pair of jeans and they just fit perfectly?  The high-end wetsuits spare no features when it comes to warmth, comfort and durability, but manage to do it in a package that is sleek and uses the least possible material.  You should expect a wetsuit of this level to provide all the range-of-motion features of a mid level suit, plus a bit more.  In addition, manufacturers usually use their newest, most advanced material to create a suit that is warm and durable, and the best interior lining to create the highest level of comfort.  Seams should be perfect at this price point.  A final feature that is common at this price point is construction that actually helps your body stay more balanced in the water and encourages the right level of body roll during the swim.

Who They are Good For:  Elite triathletes, age groupers who tend to finish at the head of the pack, and those who know they will be able to use the suit for many, many races and other open water swims.  Also good for those who need the best possible range of motion to prevent injury (such as those with chronic rotator cuff problems).  Note that these premium wetsuits are going to be more sleek and thin, so making sure that they work well with your entire triathlon clothing system is important.  You do not want to end up with a sleek, high-end wetsuit over a cheap, bulky pair of triathlon shorts that are bunching-up underneath.  It is best to have some level of consistency in terms of the gear you are layering on top of each other.

Note that at this price point, you might also find specialized “thermal” wetsuits.  These are made with warmer materials for those who, say, swim in the Northern ocean areas or in very early-or-late season temps.  You will pay much more for these, and in our opinion they really only benefit a tiny fraction of triathletes.

Recommended Model:  At this price, all manufacturers make high quality products that we love.  One model that gets rave reviews from racers is the Blue Seventy Helix.  In the past, Blue Seventy had also offered an Axis wetsuit at the high-end, but we believe they discontinued it because no maker needs two top-end wetsuits in their lineup, leaving the Helix as their masterpiece. Get free shipping on the Helix and other Blue Seventy wetsuits through our arrangement with this preferred supplier, simply by following this link.

Conclusion

Regardless of where you are in your triathlon journey, having the right wetsuit is important.  If you skimp, you will regret it during the first leg of every race you ever do.  In addition to helping you on race day, a good wetsuit will support your triathlon training plan by allowing you to be more comfortable in the open water.  Overall, just like we do with triathlon bikes, we recommend buying the nicest wetsuit you can reasonably afford (but within your budget, of course).  Do that, and you will

 

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