With so much choice on the market, choosing the right tri-suit can seem daunting. We asked Zone3 to share their wisdom.
When it comes to buying a tri-suit, there is a plethora of information out there that sometimes isn’t really very useful in helping you make a decision as to what you want, need and can afford.
On one end of the spectrum, it can be tempting to splurge out on the most expensive bits of kit you can find. On the other hand, you can also find yourself scrimping on kit that you shouldn’t be scrimping on at all. The most important aspects of kit are comfort, durability and performance. We’ve put together a handy guide to help you choose your perfect Zone3 tri suit.
We’ve designed our tri suits with distance in mind, containing a mix of features depending on which distance they are more suited towards. All of our products are designed with the athlete in mind, with each item being carefully manufactured to include features which will benefit the athlete in terms of flexibility, durability, comfort and performance.
One-piece vs two-piece
When taking part in a triathlon, you have the option to either wear a one-piece tri-suit or wear a tri top with tri shorts. Ultimately, what you choose is up to you as both are fine. Your choice should depend on personal preference and what you find you feel most comfortable in, in terms of fit and shape.
Benefits of wearing a one-piece tri-suit:
- Tri-suits tend to have a more streamlined fit, which is more aerodynamic
- Tri-suits contain fewer seams, so there’s less opportunity for it to rub or cause discomfort
- The top half of the suit won’t ride up and will move around a lot less in general
Benefits of racing in a two-piece tri-suit:
- There’s more flexibility in sizing – you might wear a different size top to bottom, or might be particularly tall, which can mean that wearing a two-piece is a lot more comfortable
- You have the option to wear these separately when training
- Two pieces are easier to remove when you need to take a non-avoidable toilet break during those longer races
Should you choose a short sleeve tri-suit or a sleeveless tri-suit?
There really isn’t much difference between a short sleeve tri suit and a sleeveless tri suit. It’s down to personal preference as to what you choose to race in, but you may consider a sleeveless tri suit in warmer climates, or if you prefer to have unrestricted arm movement.
If you want to race in a sleeveless suit, here's a few that we suggest:
If looking for a short sleeve suit, here's our favourite:
Activate+ Short Sleeve Trisuit
The main benefit of wearing short sleeve tri suits is sun protection on your shoulders. However, sleeveless suits offer more flexibility in the shoulders, especially during a swim. Some people find seams irritating so might opt for a short-sleeve suit for this reason. Short-sleeve suits can also give you a more aerodynamic advantage on the bike section of your race. It’s always best to check race guidelines before making a decision on what tri suit to wear, as use of short-sleeve suits can be restricted.
Some Technical Information to Consider:
In the Swim
Body position and core support
Your tri suit should be tight rather than loose. Even though tri suits, over time, will stretch with your body, the best tri suits are designed with strategically located compression around the core and hip area. In the swim, this gently holds you in and supports the engagement of your core, which increases hip drive and therefore, in turn, reduces fatigue over the course of your swim. This is particularly the case with the ‘speed suits’ used by many people in non-wetsuit races. Just the same as our Zone3 Swim Skins (available for men and women), Speedsuits are worn over a tri suit and removed in T1. Speedsuits use stiffer fabrics, which compress the whole swimmer, providing the maximum drive and minimal surface area.
Drag and Buoyancy
Contrary to popular belief, the most aerodynamic and hydrodynamic fabrics are not those which are super smooth, but those with a slightly rougher surface. A smooth fabric allows air or water to attach to it at a molecular level, which creates a ‘tugging’ at the fabric, which causes a turbulent flow around the surface; increasing drag. Well designed, textured fabrics actually induce a very thin, controlled layer of turbulent flow immediately over the surface, which acts as a super-slick surface for the bulk of the air and water flow, to move over smoothly (this is known as laminar flow).
Our high-end suits such as the Zone3 Lava range, use fabrics which feel ‘papery’ to the touch, making the most of this principle. Whilst it’s against the rules in most races for tri suits to contain rubberise or buoyant materials, there are ways to indirectly cause buoyancy with hydrophobic (water-repellent) coating. As well as assisting in the production of a boundary layer, these coatings significantly reduce the ability of the fabric to absorb water, resulting in the attachment of air bubbles under the swimmer which assists with buoyancy. The right tri suit or Swim Skin can save you about 2-4 seconds per 100m over a cheaper suit, depending on your body shape, stroke mechanics, natural buoyancy and speed. It’s essentially free speed!
On the bike
Drying after the swim
After emerging from the water, donning your helmet and heading off on the bike, the last thing you want is a clingy tri suit. This will restrict your range of motion and increase the amount of effort you need to expend to turn the pedals. If you’re wearing a low-quality, poorly fitted suit, it may even still be wet from the swim when you arrive in T2 which will mean you have to carry the extra weight around even further. The hydrophobic properties of good quality suits create a wicking action, which moves moisture away from your skin and allows it to evaporate. This reduces the cling-wrap effect and allows you to move more freely and naturally. Higher beading properties also make fabrics faster drying once out of the water. Our Aquaflo™ fabric used in the Aquaflo+ collection features a Teflon coating to help reduce drag and repel water.
Aerodynamics on the bike isn’t just about aero bars and expensive wheels. These days, more and more speed is being found from improvements in the aerodynamics of tri clothing. In addition to the boundary layer principle described above, minimising seams and loose fabric makes a measurable difference. As mentioned above, short-sleeved tri suits can be slightly more aerodynamic on a bike than sleeveless suits. Flapping race numbers are another drag contributor, so make sure everything is well pinned down. At 40km/h, over 80% of the power you put out is spent overcoming drag. Saving even a handful of Watts can save you many minutes.
Comfort in the saddle
The pad/chamois in a tri suit is a challenging part to get right. It can’t be as thick as a full-on cycling chamois due to the added bulk on the run, but it does need to provide adequate support and separation from the saddle. Different brands are using everything from a thick-floaty-pull-buoy pad to a thin strip of polyester fleece, or even no chamois at all for many of the elite athletes racing up to Olympic distance. Our Lava collection uses a thicker, multi-density long-distance tri chamois by Italian manufacturer Cytec for added comfort in the saddle. Where-as the shorter distance, Aquaflo+ uses our ‘Tri-lite’ made to measure race-specific triathlon pad with fine-line stitching to further reduce any irritation. The lighter pad helps minimise water absorption whilst providing protection during the cycling phase, without impeding your swim or run.
During the run
Support and compression
As with swimming, a well-designed tri suit with compression in the right areas will support your core and running efficiency, reduce muscle damage and delay fatigue – important for that sprint finish! Women obviously need some additional support in extra areas, so our tri suits all contain inner support bras for ladies. These are made from a higher denier strength Lycra fabric to ensure comfort. The bra allows you to use the main zipper on the front to help you stay cool, without exposing too much chest.
We’ve all experienced chaffing or irritation during a triathlon. The main culprits are body shape, suit fit, temperature, and moisture. While a suit can’t change your body shape and the fit will always be an individual thing, a suit which wicks moisture away from the skin and dries quickly will give you the best chance of staying comfortable throughout your race. The Aquaflo+ collection uses a material called ‘Revolution-X’ which is the latest generation of tech-fabric made in Italy. It’s used on the back panels as it is very lightweight, offers 360-degree stretch and is extremely breathable. Aquaflo+ ‘Revolution-X’ rear ventilation panel.
Temperature control is key when racing so consider things like zippers and fabric. You can get both front and rear zippers but if you go for a rear zip, attach an elastic cord to the end of the zip so you can reach it when it comes time to open. Hydrophobic, moisture-wicking fabrics help maintain optimal body temperature in both hot and cold conditions. In hot conditions, it facilitates evaporation which removes heat from the body. In cold conditions, it pulls cold moisture away from the body, reducing the amount of energy required to stay warm.
In a shorter race, you shouldn’t need to carry any gear or nutrition, but in a long course race, you may need pockets. Avoid large, billowy pockets – these create drag and encourage you to carry too much stuff. Smaller pockets located on the back or side of your top and on the legs of your shorts are much more practical. We have thought about this and positioned pockets in all our tri suits. The activate tri suit, designed for shorter distances, contains a little pocket at the back. Whereas the Lava range is designed for long-distance so contains pockets on each side of the legs plus a larger pocket at the back, giving you enough space to carry sufficient nutrition throughout the race. For Ironman or other very long races, also consider a nutrition belt or a race belt either with loops for holding your gels or a pocket – we have a Lycra or neoprene pouch option.