When you're starting out in triathlon, one of the most important bits of kit you'll buy is your wetsuit. For those lacking a little confidence in the water, making the right choice is crucial, but even if you're comfortable ploughing through chilly lakes, your wetsuit should keep you warm, buoyant and streamlined, making you faster and more efficient in the water. If you can spend between £120-£270 on your first wetsuit you'll be able to choose from a great selection of suits targeted at slower swimmers or those who need a bit more help with floatation, particularly when it comes to leg-kick. The more you spend, of course, the more you'll get in the way of go-faster details such as catch panels on the forearms (to increase the amount of water you can pull on the 'catch' phase of a stroke) and differing thicknesses of neoprene throughout the suit. Entry-level wetsuits tend to be thicker (particularly on the legs and torso) to keep weaker swimmers afloat. You might want to select a suit with thinner material around the shoulders and arms if your stroke is strong enough to benefit from a change in pace. Whatever you choose, try swimming in the suit before you buy it. Most manufacturers allow this and many make their suits available at open-water training venues around the country. Take a few different suits for a spin and see which one is best for you. We've selected a range of wetsuits to reflect a variety of budgets.
Blueseventy Sprint 2009, £105
This is a bargain for a triathlon wetsuit - you shouldn't expect bells and whistles for such a reasonable price tag. Indeed, the focus is strictly on buoyancy and warmth - the suit is thick all over, making it tough to pull on and slow to take off. However, if you're just starting out, nervous about the swim, and just want to get round in one piece, the Sprint represents money well spent. It's not the fastest in or out of the water, but it will keep you afloat, put you in a streamlined position and get you through your swim in one piece. If you don't want to spend much more than £100 on your first wetsuit, don't buy a sleeveless suit or a shortie; there are triathlon-specific wetsuits out there at budget prices, and this is one of the best.
How it rated: 7/10
Nineteen Pipeline, £175
This wetsuit polarised opinions: we loved the good bits and disliked the bad bits.
It's a great suit for the price, but there are things we'd want to fix before doing a long swim in it. It's aimed at beginners so the neoprene on the legs was thick. This made the Pipeline tough to climb into, but follow Nineteen's tips (over) and you should be fine. Once the suit was on, it looked great (in fact, it was the only suit that prompted a comment from a passer-by). Despite its long sleeves, water entered the cuffs and a detail on the collar scratched the side of the neck. Otherwise, the suit was comfortable and pretty fast, thanks to the flexible armpit area. It came off extremely quickly, making it a great choice for anyone keen to shave off seconds in T1.
How it rated: 7/10
Ironman Aqua Sphere Pursuit, £180
The Aqua Sphere/Ironman partnership has aimed the Pursuit at those just starting out or intending to do only a few races in the season. As you'd expect, the neoprene is pretty thick (particularly on the legs).
This means setting aside time to ease on the suit but it also means it will keep you nicely buoyant - perfect for anyone struggling with streamlining. In the upper body, the neoprene is thinner but is still thicker than in more expensive suits. This does have an effect on flexibility, but won't pose a problem for anyone prioritising floatation over rotation. Elsewhere on the Pursuit you'll find leak-resistant cuffs, a long zipper and a smooth, comfortable collar. Overall, this is a great-value suit, and it comes with a sturdy, spacious carry case.
How it rated: 8/10
Orca Equip, £150
This would be a good choice for getting round at a steady, if not speedy, pace. The Equip is wonderfully buoyant but the thick neoprene also stops it being very flexible and responsive. It's not easy to pick up the pace and sprint in the Equip, but if sprinting is the last thing on your mind and you just want to finish, it may be the suit for you. The Equip does feature thinner panels of neoprene on the lower legs, which make it quite easy to take off - this is sometimes just as important as a fast swim time. Although the legs and arms seemed quite short, there are effective catch panels on the forearms to help you with your catch and pull. In fact, this suit surprised us by how pleasant it felt to swim in: at this price we assumed that it would feel less comfortable.
How it rated: 8/10
2XU Team T:O, £199
The T:O offers SCS-coated Yamamoto neoprene and some great design features. The neoprene thickness ensures a high and streamlined position in the water, making you faster for less effort. 2XU has used a one-piece design from the neck to the knee to improve hydrodynamics even further. Within this section is the upper leg, which uses thicker neoprene to give you greater buoyancy. Below the knee, the neoprene is thinner. This, combined with the quick-release leg cutaway, makes the suit quick to remove. The neoprene and interior lining of the underarm are flexible, for a good range of shoulder movement. The T:O has a floating zip panel, giving a strong, flexible back as you move through the longest part of the arm stroke.
How it rated: 8/10
Zone3 Aspire, £195
The two most noticeable things about the Zone3 Aspire are its looks (it's easy to spot in the throng of a swim) and Pro Speed arm and leg cuffs, which make the suit exceptionally fast to remove. Clever panels and quick-release legs enable you to get the suit off in a flash. The reverse zip (fastening at the top) is also easier to undo than a regular design (the Aspire is available with a traditional zipper, too). However, it takes a little longer than some suits
to pull on, but if you practise and prepare you shouldn't have much of a problem.
The Aspire is comfortable and buoyant, encouraging a good body position, and stretchy panels allow freedom of movement in the shoulder area, which should assist your recovery.
How it rated: 9/10
Zoot Fuzion, £270
The Fuzion's price tag reflects the premium features and flexibility on offer. Its light and lowest-density rubber makes it a great choice for the more confident beginner. Zoot gave us a lot of technical information about how to measure co-efficiency of friction but all we wanted to know was how the suit could make us swim better. The coating reduces the Fuzion's friction in the water - you'll go faster for less effort. The collar is low at the front to preventing chafing. The Fuzion's cuffs have been updated and we did notice how little water entered here during the arm stroke. The arms seemed long; we liked the feeling of protection but they may be too long for some. It was a little tough to take off - plenty of Bodyglide would come in useful.
How it rated: 6/10