One of the more common questions we receive is on the low-end wetsuits available on the market. Any quick Ebay search will yield a whole slew of wetsuits in the $50 – $100 range, much cheaper than even the entry-level wetsuits from reliable triathlon gear names. The logic is this: Why buy a $300 wetsuit when you can just get one for $75?
We have used those $75 wetsuits in open water, and given them tests. Sure, they will get you through a race, but we always encourage our readers and customers to invest in quality instead of consuming low-grade products. Our advice to readers is usally to rent a good wetsuit if you only want to spend $50, and otherwise pony up for the entry-level wetsuit from a maker like Blue Seventy, Orca, or Quintana Roo.
Specifically, here are a few things that you will see in the cheaper $75 wetsuits:
Cheaper Material. Far and away, what you give up in the low-end wetsuits is material meant for triathlons. The neoprene is of a very base-level quality, and you usually have one thickness of neoprene throughout the suit. That means that you don’t have the variation in fabric that provides for better buoyancy, warmth, and range of motion. The material is usually very thin, meaning that it doesn’t keep you very warm and it tears very easily.
Poor Seams. Seams on a triathlon wetsuit are critical, as you will be testing them with every single stroke you make. On the cheap models, you will usually find that the glue in the seams is uneven and minimal, creating a wetsuit that is prone to tears and may even have uneven tension. If you do more than a race or two with it, chances are you will be in the market for a new one soon.
Low-Quality Zippers and Padding. On the low-end wetsuits, things like zippers and neck padding are often cheaper, meaning that things may break or you may get more chafing than in a better wetsuit. In fact, the reason I stopped testing one of the $75 wetsuits after just a couple uses was that the zipper completely ripped off as I was removing the wetsuit.
Again, we want to encourage people to do triathlon and don’t want to create a $300 barrier to entry just to race, but think in terms of quality and investment and you will find yourself with a much better all-around wetsuit. Besides a bike, your wetsuit might be the most strategic triathlon-specific investment you will make. It needs to fit you well, should support whatever performance goals you have, and should feel great in the water, not restrictive. Most of all, if you spend $250 to $500 on a wetsuit, you should fully expect that it would last you for several seasons if you take care of it. Contrast that with a $75 wetsuit that might have a seam break each season, causing you to gradually spend more than you would have on a top quality suit from the get-go. Read more from our site for a better idea of what kinds of wetsuits you get at certain price points.