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11 best wetsuits for wild swimming, as tested by our experts

Take the plunge with the best wetsuits for open-water swimming and triathlon

best wetsuits for wild swimming 2021

Fancy dipping your toe into triathlon or adding open-water swimming to your cross-training routine? You're going to need one of our expert-tested best wetsuits to train in.

The best wetsuits offer a layer of insulation against Britain's infamously chilly waters, allowing you to swim in comfort for longer, while also providing some buoyancy and protection against floating debris.

Is a swimming wetsuit different?

Unlike 'normal' wetsuits, such as those you might use for surfing, wetsuits designed for wild swimming and triathlons are stretchier and extra flexible around the hips, knees and shoulders to help you swim more freely.

They are also more buoyant, helping you to maintain the best body position in the water and therefore swim more efficiently.

Can you swim in a normal wetsuit?

While you can swim in a normal wetsuit, these are made from a different type of neoprene that's thicker and less comfortable and efficient to swim in.

Wetsuits designed for triathlon and open-water swimming also have a Super Composite Skin (SCS) coating, which is smooth and helps you to be more streamlined in the water.

Opting for an open-water specific swimming wetsuit will ensure you don't overheat and will make swimming easier.

      How does a wetsuit work?

      It’s vital you find a tight-fitting wetsuit because wetsuits keep you warm by acting as a second skin. When you submerge yourself in the sea (or your lake, pond or river of choice), a thin layer of water gets trapped between your skin and the neoprene. This is quickly warmed by your body heat, creating an insulating barrier between you and the icy currents.

      But, be warned: cold water will rush into any baggy patches, causing a deeply unpleasant sensation known as flushing. It really is all about the fit.

      What should I look for in a wetsuit?

      The best wetsuit for you will depend on what you want to use it for, as competitive triathletes will have more demands than casual paddlers. That said, there are some common key factors to consider:

      Fit: Quite simply, your wetsuit will be useless if it doesn’t fit snugly – loose areas around the joints are an open invitation for flushing.

      Flexibility: Wetsuits for open-water swimming should have plenty of stretch around the knees, hips and shoulders. If you can’t raise your arm past your ear, then front crawl is a no-go.

      Thickness: Wetsuits come in varying thicknesses for use in different seasons. This is usually displayed as two numbers separated by a slash or colon.

      For example, 3:2 suits are among the most popular in the UK. The first figure represents the thickness of the torso (in millimetres) and the second, the thickness of the limbs (also in millimetres). The arms and legs tend to be thinner to allow for greater flexibility.

      Buoyancy: Thanks to their thick neoprene build, wetsuits will provide a bit of extra buoyancy. But there’s a touch more to it than that. The Zone3 suits we tested had 4mm-thick buoyancy panels on the hips and legs. These are great for beginners, as they will lift your lower body in the water, placing you in a more powerful position for front crawl.

      Stronger, more experienced swimmers, however, might find their legs are lifted too high by these panels. Triathletes are likely to prefer a neutral buoyancy, like the two Orca suits we tested, which will allow the legs to rise and fall in the water more naturally.

      What thickness wetsuit is best for swimming?

      For swimming in Britain, a 3mm torso is best suited to tepid summer waters, 4mm will keep you cosy in spring and autumn, and 5mm will help keep the cold at bay in winter (providing there’s not a dusting of snow on the beach).

      British Triathlon Federation race rules state that wetsuits must not exceed 5mm in thickness, but don't worry too much about this – most major brands will have taken it into account when manufacturing their wetsuits.

      How we test

      Our Runner’s World Lab testers took a range of wetsuits out for a series of swims, submerging themselves in ponds, lakes and the sea in the name of research.

      They then fed back on each wetsuit's performance, letting us know if they kept them warm and proved flexible enough for a race-winning front crawl.

      The best models fitted like a glove and offered plenty of protection from the cold, allowing our testers to stay in the water for longer. They were stretchy enough to let them swim freely, and they didn’t dig in or chafe.

      The six wetsuits that earned our team's seal of approval are stamped with the Runner's World Expert Tested logo.

      Editor's picks

      The five extra wetsuits below have been tested and rated by our editors and contributors, all of whom swim in open water regularly and compete in triathlons.

      Some of these wetsuits are a little more technical – and therefore more expensive – than the wetsuits we tested in the lab, making them better suited to more competitive swimmers and experienced triathletes.

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      Best wetsuits under £200
      Best wetsuit
      Orca amazon.co.uk
      Orca Openwater Core Hi-Vis Wetsuit
      £143.99
      £128.90 (10% off)
      Best wetsuit for flexibility
      Zone3 Azure Wetsuit
      £150.00
      Best wetsuit for strong swimmers
      Orca amazon.co.uk
      Orca Openwater Core TRN
      £149.95
      Best wetsuit for triathlon
      dhb wiggle.co.uk
      dhb Hydron Wetsuit 2.0
      £96.00
      Best wetsuit for warmth
      Nabaiji decathlon.co.uk
      Decathlon Nabaiji Neoprene Open-Water Swimming Wetsuit
      £199.99
      Best wetsuit for travel
      Sola amazon.co.uk
      SOLA Open Water Swimming Wetsuit
      £109.95
      Editor's picks
      Roka sigmasports.com
      Maverick X II Wetsuit
      £975.00
      Orca sigmasports.com
      Athlex Flow
      £369.00
      2XU wiggle.co.uk
      2XU P:1 Propel Wetsuit
      £219.00
      Orca amazon.co.uk
      Athlex Float Wetsuit
      £174.95
      Roka sigmasports.com
      Maverick Comp II
      £385.00
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