Getting You Out of the Water, Faster
As the first discipline in any Ironman race, your swim can have a big impact on the rest of your race. Although it comprises the smallest portion of the race – on average it makes up just 10% of total race time – having a strong, efficient swim can give you the confidence and energy you need to execute your best race. For that reason, it’s paramount to set yourself up with the best technique, training, and wetsuit required for a successful Ironman swim. Here’s our guide to the best Ironman wetsuits!
Ironman Swim Distances:
Ironman swim distance: 2.4 miles (3.86km)
Ironman 70.3 swim distance: 1.2 miles (1.9km)
The Benefits of Wearing a Wetsuit
Should you wear a wetsuit for your Ironman race? Yes, you almost definitely should. Wearing a wetsuit has multiple benefits that will help you have your fastest, most efficient swim.
First, there’s the most obvious one. It keeps you warm in cold water. Many Ironman events take place in cold lakes, rivers, and oceans. Beyond that, even if the water temperature is tolerable, there’s always the chance that you get cool, overcast weather, which lead to a much chillier swim than expected. Being overly cold in the water is potentially dangerous, can cause panic, and will cause your body to burn more energy. Wetsuit up!
The second, lesser-known but extremely impactful benefit of wearing a wetsuit is buoyancy. The buoyancy of a wetsuit helps you ride higher on the water. This decreases resistance and allows you to swim faster with the same amount of effort. The benefit is less for strong swimmers vs weak swimmers, but some people believe that a wetsuit can help weaker swimmers as much as 25%. Since energy management is paramount during an Ironman race, wearing a wetsuit can drastically help your performance and overall race time. Again, wetsuit up!
Are Wetsuits Allowed at all Ironman Events?
It’s worth noting off the top that although most Ironman and Ironman 70.3 races allow for wetsuit use, not all of them do. Wetsuit permissibility depends on the temperature of the water, and breaks out as follows:
- For water temperatures up to 76.1°F (24.5°C), the swim is determined to be Wetsuit Legal. This means that the water is cold enough that all competitors are allowed to wear a wetsuit.
- For water temperatures between 76.2°F (24.55°C) and 83.8°F (28.8°C), the swim is determined to be Wetsuit Optional. This means that you are allowed to wear a wetsuit; however, anyone who wears a wetsuit is ineligible for Age Group Awards, World Championship slots, etc.
- Lastly, for water temperatures above 84°F (28.8°C), the swim is determined to be Wetsuits Prohibited. In this case, since wetsuits are not permitted, I recommend that athletes wear a swimskin as it still provides some of the efficiency benefits of a wetsuit.
Determining the Best Wetsuit for Your Goals, and Your Budget
The two most important factors in determining the best wetsuit for you as an Ironman or Half Ironman athlete are 1. Your goals and 2. Your budget. If you’re relatively new to Ironman, or more generically, triathlon, then it may not make sense to go for the top-of-the-line wetsuit. Sure, it will likely give you an advantage. But as a new entrant to the sport, working on your form or fitness in the water is going to be drastically more impactful on your race time than having marginally better hydrodynamics in your wetsuit. In the case like this, you’d be better off saving yourself a couple hundred dollars to put towards private swim coaching.
On the other hand, if your swim technique and fitness are both in a great spot and you’re looking to gain every edge that you can, then investing in a high-performance wetsuit is worth it. The technology and design of today’s top wetsuits can shave precious minutes off your Ironman or Ironman 70.3 swim time.
In this article, we’ll divide Ironman wetsuits into three different categories based on budget and experience level. In each category, we’ll present the best options so that you can feel confident that you’ve found the best wetsuit for you. You’ll find both male and female products in each category.
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To Sleeve or Not to Sleeve?
That is the question. When it comes to buying an Ironman wetsuit, this is one of the first things you’ll have to figure out. While wetsuits with full sleeves are definitely more popular, this is definitely a matter of personal preference. To help you make your decision, here are some of the benefits of each.
Benefits of Full-Sleeve Wetsuits:
- Increased warmth – Clearly, the extra coverage is going to keep your arms warmer, in turn keeping your whole body warmer.
- More buoyancy – The additional fabric is going to increase your overall buoyancy. This makes it easier to stay on top of the water, reducing the drag of your body.
- Better hydrodynamics – The fully smooth surface created by the wetsuit fabric reduces overall friction and gives you the optimal conditions for swimming.
Benefits of Sleeveless Wetsuits:
- Less constriction – Although full-sleeve wetsuits are designed to allow for motion in all the necessary areas, eliminating the sleeves provides even more freedom for your shoulders and elbows. If wetsuits make you claustrophobic then a sleeveless wetsuit could also be beneficial for you as there’s less overall constriction.
- Faster Transitions – Albeit a marginal improvement – roughly 5-15 seconds – getting out of a sleeveless wetsuit is undoubtedly easier during T1.
- Better in Warmer Water – If the water temperature is greater than 70°F (21°C), a sleeveless wetsuit may be a better option. Wearing a full-sleeve wetsuit in waters like these may cause you to feel like you’re swimming in soup once you’re ten minutes in.
Overall, unless you’re planning to do a race in warmer water, I’d recommend going with a full-sleeve option as your Ironman wetsuit. You can add a sleeveless one to your arsenal later on just to have options But until then, full-sleeve ahead!
Best Ironman Wetsuits for Beginner Triathletes
This section is for the person who is relatively new to triathlon and is looking for a balance of price and performance when it comes to your Ironman wetsuit. For you, your wetsuit isn’t going to be what gets you out of the water first, but at the same time, you don’t want something that’s going to hold you back from swimming your best swim.
At this level, it’s important to avoid buying something overly cheap, as you don’t want something that has limited mobility or is going to tear on you after one race. What’s that old saying? “If you buy cheap, you buy twice.” That definitely applies here.
When it comes to Beginner Men’s Ironman wetsuit options, I can’t say enough about the TYR Hurricane Cat 1 wetsuit. This is the first wetsuit I ever bought and I actually still use it. It provides a level of comfort, durability, and quality that punches well above its price point. I’ve been very impressed with the mobility throughout all the key areas. If you’re new to Ironman races, opt for one of these, it’s exactly what you need. It also comes in a Sleeveless option.
TYR also makes the Hurrican Cat 1 in a women’s version. Again, this is the ultimate can’t-go-wrong purchase for newer Ironman athletes looking for a balance of price and performance. If you’re looking for a sleeveless version on the women’s side, check out the Orca RS1 Openwater sleeveless wetsuit. It offers an improved neoprene coating, good mobility, and reduced chafing points for more comfort.
Best Ironman Wetsuits for Intermediate Triathletes
If you’ve got a little more room in the budget and are looking to gain an edge with your swim, this is the section for you. Increasing from the ~$200 range to the ~$400 range will get you an Ironman wetsuit that provides advantages when it comes to material, mobility, and body positioning. The wetsuits in this range will give you the confidence in performance that you need to step your race up to the next level.
A big step up from the TYR Hurricane Cat 1 mentioned in the previous section is the Hurricane Cat 5. With advanced range-of-motion and 360-degree core stabilization, this wetsuit helps to maintain optimal body position while providing exceptional fluidity to each stroke. Another strong option in this range is the Orca Sonar Fullsleeve Tri Wetsuit. This intermediate Ironman wetsuit focuses on delivering the perfect balance of mobility in the upper body with buoyancy in the lower body. Combined with Super Composite Skin technology, count on this suit to get you in and out of the water with confidence.
On the women’s side, the women’s version of the Hurricane Cat 5 delivers all the same features and benefits as its men’s counterpart. Exceptional performance in body positioning, drag reduction, and mobility will have you coming out of the water feeling fresh and ready to crush it. It also comes in a sleeveless version for those warmer water Ironman races.
Best Ironman Wetsuits for Advanced Triathletes
This is the section for you if budget is no concern and you’re looking to gain every possible edge on race day. Shop these high-performance Ironman wetsuits if you’re an experienced triathlete at the top of your game and are looking for a suit to shave precious time off your swim.
Offering an unmatched balance of stabilization, buoyancy, flexibility, and speed is the ROKA Maverick X. This is what many of the pros use. By using a stiffer material on the core panels, it creates a feeling similar to that of paddling on a surfboard. Surf the top of the water and get longer, easier strokes in with a full-sleeve wetsuit that will feel sleeveless given its incredible mobility through the shoulders and arms. ROKA recently launched the Maverick X 2, but the updates were marginal. Get yourself a deal on the Maverick X while you still can!
For warmer waters, look no further than the Roka Maverick Pro II Sleeveless. Count on its Yamomoto Neoprene and SCS Nano Coating to reduce surface drag and so that you get the most out of every stroke. The Maverick Pro II is also available in women’s.
As far as high-end full-sleeve women’s Ironman wetsuits go, it’s hard to beat the Roka Maverick X. Streamlining your body from head to toe, this wetsuit offers optimal buoyancy and power transfer throughout the body to help you blow by your competition. It offers all the benefits of a full-sleeve wetsuit, without any of the drawbacks. Just looking at it brings the word “fast” to mind. Look good. Go fast.
The Verdict: The Best Ironman Wetsuit
To determine the best Ironman wetsuit, you must answer the following questions:
- Does your Ironman event allow for wetsuit use?
- What is the expected water temperature and does this lend better to a full-sleeve or sleeveless wetsuit?
- Triathlon can get expensive. What is your budget for your wetsuit?
- What are your goals for your upcoming Ironman race? Where are you at with your training and how impactful is your wetsuit performance going to be on your race result?
By answering these questions and using the guide above, I hope that this helps you determine the best Ironman wetsuit for you.
You need more than just your wetsuit for race day. Not sure what else to pack? Click here to check out the 31 Things you Need to Pack for any Ironman race.