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A proper fitting wetsuit is the most critical element of buying any wetsuit, regardless of the price. You are better off having a proper fitting entry-level suit than an improper top of the line suit. A poor fitting suit is often confused with a suit being the wrong size. The suit will be tight when dry and loosen up slightly once in the water.
What is the water temperature where you will train and race?
If the temp is 75 or above, you may consider a sleeveless suit. The sleeveless suits are easier to get used to swimming in, still offer buoyancy, and allow you to wear a wetsuit without overheating in warmer waters.
Do you like to swim all year around or warmer summer months only?
If you swim all year around, you can extend your swimming season with the purchase of a full suit.
Do you want maximum speed at any cost?
Most tests have proven that a full suit is the fastest, due to the addend buoyancy as well as the fact that you have slick neoprene and no resistance from your wrist all the way down to your ankle, so as you rotate and glide, you are faster in the water with a full suit.
If you decide on a sleeveless suit
The benefit of going to a higher priced suit will be the neoprene used. The neoprene on a higher end suit is more buoyant, slick and flexible, which glide through the water faster. Due to the slick rubber sliding on itself as you take the wetsuit off, the high end suit will make getting the suit off in a hurry a bit easier.
If you decide on a full suit
The same benefits of the higher end rubber apply, in addition to the benefits of having a more flexible rubber under arm, making the swim stroke less restricted, resulting in less shoulder fatigue.
Two main features to look at in a wetsuit are bouncy and flexibility. Being more buoyant in the water coupled with flexibility means being faster – more DPS. Read about the different panels of a wetsuit, and determine what areas you may need more buoyancy and better flexibility.
Neoprene buoyancy and flexibility are rated by Cell counts such as 38, 39 & 40. Lower cell counts are more but less flexible – 39 Cell is optimum for both. Some suits have a more buoyant front panel, as well as side panel, to help maintain buoyancy as you roll onto your side. Other may have thicker rubber in the legs.
Another feature to consider is the zipper. Some suits zips from the top down, some from the bottom up. The idea is to make getting the suit off easier, but if you swim alone, a top zip can be tough to do yourself.
Many other features are now standard, but you will want to ensure you are getting a gripper panel on the forearm to help catch water better during the power phase to the stroke. Also the legs should be cut at an angle to help getting the suit off easier.
The most important part of any wetsuit, at any price point, is the fit. You want a very snug fit, without being restrictive. The suit does loosen up a little when you get in the water, so you want it tight prior to getting in the water. Wetsuits are sized by height and weight. Look at the size chart, and see where you fit the range. The more important measurement is weight, so try and find a size where you fit in the middle of the weight range.
If you are a more experienced swimmer, you might want to be on the higher end of the weight range, which will equate to a slightly tighter fit. If you are a beginner, you may prefer to be on the lower end of the scale, which gives you more room to move.
Ideally you can try on a few different suits to see which fits better. You want to avoid having any gaps or pockets, where water will fill up, causing extra weight to be carried throughout the swim. In trying on a suit, they key is to get the legs on all the way, and very snug in your inseam BEFORE pulling the top of the suit, so as not to be too tight fitting.