At this time of year, we have a lot of people coming into my tri store to look at wetsuits especially since the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon (the predicted water temp of the San Fracisco bay is around fifty degrees) was moved up two months to March instead of June. The typical customer is usually a second or thrid year triathlete who is just starting to get serious about racing and training. They may have rented or bought a cheap wetsuit for their first few races and now want to upgrade to a better suit…until they see the price tag.
I will be the first to admit that triathlons are not a cheap hobby/sport (however it is cheaper than golf–I have done the math) and wetsuits are part of the reason. However, when it comes to where to invest your money to get the most return for your buck, a wetsuit is at the top of my list. Many go online or on eBay and find a decent full sleeve suit for $100-$200 with the reasoning that wetsuits are wetsuits and spending an extra $400 is pointless, but what do you get with a better wetsuit?
- Higher quality neoprene: The better the suit the better the material. Cheap neoprene rips easily and is not very supple/flexible. You are therefore going to get more restriction in the shoulders (for full sleeve suits) and more constriction around the diaphragm when breathing. You also run the risk of ripping the suit with finger nails, so you will have to spend another chunk of change repairing it or getting another one.
- Design: If you look at some of the lower end suits they are made with one panel and are one thickness throughout. This construction restricts your breathing and your flexibility. With the higher end models though, you have more panels with varying levels of thickness. With a suit like the BlueSeventy Helix, they have thicker neoprene panels where you need the buoyancy (your hips and chest) and thinner panels where you do not (around the shoulders, calves and scapular). Not only does this free up your arms but also makes you float better in the water.
- Longer lasting: In some industries, price does not necessarily correlate with the quality of the product. A $350 product will last just as long as its cheaper counterparts. In the wetsuit industry, however, in my experience, the higher the price the longer the life of a wetsuit. I have found that cheaper wetsuits begin to fall apart after a few seasons of use; they begin to harden and crack, fray at the seams, and lose its tightness. Higher end wetsuits though will last much longer. I know a triathlete who paid $500 for his wetsuit ten years ago and it has lasted him throughout his intense racing career (usually 8 races per year). The life of a wetsuit does depend on how well you take care of it, but I have found that regardless of care, higher end wetsuits will last 3-4 seasons longer than cheaper counterparts.
If you are considering buying your first wetsuit or upgrading your failing old one, think about investing a little bit more money to get the upgraded model. While I am not endorsing spending tons of money on a suit (the TYR hurricane retails for $1200), spending a little bit more now will save you more time in the water.
N.B: A wetsuit will make you faster in the water, but what makes you really fast is better training. If you want specific recommendations on brands please feel free to email me. Working at a tri store does have its benefits, including the ability to try out lots of the best wetsuits in the market including those from 2XU, TYR, Xterra, and De Soto. Since I did not want to turn this post into one giant advertisement I left out my findings on different wetsuits out.