When it comes to triathlon, there are a handful of items we expect to replace over time. New tires, goggles and running shoes are the cost of doing business, and these "consumables" are usually replaced on a yearly basis—depending on training volume and wear and tear.
While the swim leg of the triathlon is arguably the least gear intensive of the three sports, it requires a bit of an investment when first starting out. This means purchasing goggles, a triathlon suit, earplugs and most notably, a wetsuit.
Like triathlon bikes, triathlon wetsuits vary in both price and features. Entry-level models can run less than $200 while top-shelf offerings can be over $1,000. And of course, you get for what you pay for.
To be clear, triathlon wetsuits are different than surfing or scuba diving wetsuits. They're covered in a smooth outer layer that's more hydrodynamic, and they're constructed to provide more mobility in the shoulders for freestyle swimming. We're not saying you couldn't wear a surfing wetsuit—many new triathletes will use an old one until they know if they want to invest in a triathlon wetsuit—but you'll noticed a marked difference in both comfort and performance.
Let's say you've purchased a triathlon wetsuit, and you've used it for a few seasons of open water training sessions and races. When is it time to replace?
We break down how to tell when you need to replace your triathlon wetsuit, as well as tips to keep it in tip-top shape for years of enjoyment.
It's Time to Replace
It's too loose or too small.
We're all human, and that means we gain and lose weight depending on the stressors in our lives. Fortunately, training for and racing triathlons trends toward the latter. But either way, if the suit you first bought no longer fits, it's time to replace. If a triathlon wetsuit is too loose (this can happen from the material stretching out over time from wear), it'll take on water and slow you down, and if it's too tight, it can restrict your breathing and range of motion—also slowing you down.
The zipper doesn't function properly.
Even on the best of days, zipping up a wetsuit can be a pain (especially if it's sandy). If you notice the zipper is starting to rip away from the neoprene fabric or it's stuck no matter how much WD-40 and zipper lube you throw at it, it might be time to replace.
A tear is beyond repair.
The best offense is a good defense, so as we mention in more detail below, it's always best to try to repair a rip or tear when it's small, before it has a chance to get out of hand. Sometimes though, this is easier said than done, so if your tear is more than several inches long (or in an area like the shoulders that is subjected to more stress) and your repair efforts aren't working, it's time to replace.
If you've ever left a wet wetsuit in your gym bag for more than 48 hours, you know how bad it can smell—especially if left in a hot car. Generally, soaking it in water with a wetsuit-friendly soap can take care of the issue, but if it's a suit that wasn't properly stored for weeks or months, you might have a mildew issue on your hands. Multiple washes and plenty of ventilation might do the trick, but the smell could be a deal breaker for some.
Velcro no longer sticks.
This one isn't always a deal breaker, but it's common for the Velcro in a well-used wetsuit to lose some of its "sticking" power. If this issue is paired with, let's say a faulty zipper, it might be the deciding factor that's it's time to retire the suit.
First and foremost, not all wetsuit material has the same flexibility and durability. Cheaper wetsuits are constructed with cheaper neoprene that's less resistant to wear and tear than more expensive counterparts. We advise all triathletes to purchase the best quality wetsuit within their budgetary restrictions.
But no matter what wetsuit you pick, the care instructions remain the same. Like changing the oil in a car, regular maintenance will lead to more miles of enjoyment.
First, always patch holes or tears in your wetsuit. It's not uncommon to accidentally snag thin neoprene panels with a fingernail or toenail and put a hole in your suit—patch it before it gets too large to fix.
Next, never wear your wetsuit in a chlorinated pool. Similar to how your skin and hair feel when you get out of the pool, chlorine also causes wetsuit material to dry out and get stiff and brittle. If you absolutely feel the need to swim with your wetsuit in the pool to get used to it before a big race, be sure to thoroughly rinse afterward with fresh water.
Speaking of rinsing, it's a good idea to rinse your wetsuit after every use—no matter if you've swam in a chlorinated pool or not. This keeps the material fresh and odor-free, and ensures the salt, chlorine and bacteria won't damage the structure of the material. Note that you should always dry your suit inside-out after rinsing.
Lastly, be gentle. Of course this is easier said than done, but neatly fold your clean and dry wetsuit before storing it in a ventilated, wetsuit-friendly bag. Furthermore, never let your wetsuit sit in the sun for prolonged periods, and don't just throw it in the backseat of your hot car to bake in the summer months.
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