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Renting vs. Buying a triathlon wetsuit

Updated on March 20, 2016

In the sport of triathlon racing, aside from perhaps a faster bike, a wetsuit is one of the first major purchases a serious triathlete might consider. Because a wetsuit is a major expense some triathletes prefer to rent one instead. Deciding to rent or buy a wetsuit is a big decision, as well as a big price difference. Just like most decisions in life, there are pros and cons with each direction.

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Renting

*Pros – Renting will save you money. Some of the sleeker, state-of-the-art wetsuits can run into the four figure range in terms of a price tag, so renting a wetsuit will be much less expensive. While prices of renting can vary, a general price range for renting is $45 - $75. While some places may charge by the day, an increasing number of renting venues will let you rent out a wetsuit for a week or two as part of the fee. Having extra days to borrow the wetsuit is quite beneficial since swimming in one is very different than swimming in a regular swimsuit. Being able to have a few extra days of getting used to swimming in a wetsuit, as well as practicing the art of putting one on, will make the transition to racing in one much easier.

Another positive aspect of renting a wetsuit is that there are many online stores where you can give your measurements and have a rented wetsuit shipped right to your door. Many of the rental venues even include return shipping bags - making the return much easier for you. While renting online can seem an easy way to borrow a wetsuit, there are drawbacks of blindly going about this transaction.

*Cons- By renting a wetsuit through a website, you won’t be able to try it on before paying for it. Simply giving measurements on a form doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the wetsuit sent to you will have an accurate fit. It is not uncommon for a wetsuit renter to end up with a wetsuit that is too small, and hard to breath in. By going into a physical store and having a skilled store associate measure you, you will probably have a better chance of getting a wetsuit that fits precisely.

Another negative aspect of renting a wetsuit in general is that many places do not have the newest suit models to rent to tri-athletes. If you are someone who is serious about the sport, and has a specific preference of wetsuit type, not all rental venues may be as accommodating.

Another point I wanted to mention regarding wetsuit rental has to do with the wear and tear of a wetsuit. It can only be hoped that the associates of the wetsuit rental company do a thorough inspection of a wetsuit before it gets shipped out to you. But it is possible for a snag or a small tear to go unnoticed. Even with trying it on a few days before a race, there may not be ample time to exchange the wetsuit if indeed a defect is discovered.

The final point I felt compelled to make has to do with what I call the fluid factor. While I am going to admit to nothing, the truth is that many people urinate in their wetsuits. After all that is an initial reaction many people have when getting in water, especially if it’s cold water. For some of us who get hung up on sanitation, it may be difficult to swim free of the fact that there may be some lingering molecules of pee of previous wearers tagging along for the ride.

Buying Used

Many of the points raised in the previous section are also applicable when it comes to the idea of buying a used wetsuit. When buying one blindly online, it is very possible to buy a wetsuit that is of the wrong size, even when giving accurate measurements.

Another problem with buying a wetsuit that was previously owned is that you may not get a wetsuit in the condition that you are expecting it to be in. You may run the risk of buying a wetsuit that has a snag or hole in it. Or, if it has been worn quite a bit, you may discover that it has become stretched out. Triathlon wetsuits are made out of various types of neoprene material, which does have a tendency to stretch out over time.

And don’t forget about the fluid factor of wearing a previously owned swimsuit. Before donning it on, I would definitely be sure to give the wetsuit a thorough cleaning. Maybe even twice.

While the price of a previously used wetsuit has a pretty broad price spectrum, you can usually find a decent one in the $75 to $300 range. Granted, it probably won’t be the latest and greatest in terms of the technology out there (especially with a more flexible shoulder area the newer ones have) but you’ll still likely find that your swim will be much faster than in staying with a regular swimsuit.

Before purchasing a used wetsuit, whether online or at a store, you may want to make note of the venue’s return policy. Even used wetsuits can cost a few hundred dollars, and if you do discover a defect later when you arrive home, or find it doesn’t fit right, you’ll probably want to have the ability to get your money back.

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Buying New

While buying a new wetsuit can be very expensive, there are definitely some pros that come along with spending the money, especially if you are a serious triathlete that does quite a few races during tri season.

*Pros- Buying a brand new wetsuit can essentially buy peace of mind. It is certainly nice to receive that wetsuit in mint condition, without it being stretched out, or having any wears and tears. It is also is nice to know that the wetsuit is clean and pristine, without any lingering anatomic particles from previous wearers.

When it comes to triathlon races, owning a wetsuit is additionally beneficial since you won’t have to deal with the hassle of borrowing one. It can be very stressful when ordering a rental suit way in advance, and still not have it delivered until the very last minute, or at all.

Finally, if you decide to get a top-of- the-line wetsuit, it can be empowering to know that you own the best wetsuit that exists in the market. And indeed, the more expensive wetsuits usually are better wetsuits. These newer, pricier wetsuits have much more flexibility in the shoulder area, compared with wetsuits made a few years ago. Modern wetsuits are less constricting for the shoulders, are easier to swim in, and have more buoyancy. These factors can definitely lead to a better swim performance on race day.

*Cons – Nonetheless, buying a state-of-the art wetsuit can only be top-notch for so long. If you are fortunate enough to acquire one, hopefully a better one won’t come out onto the market right after the credit card transaction has occurred. But it’s only a matter of time before something better does come along.

The obvious negative aspect about buying a brand-new wetsuit is the price tag that is attached to it. A new full body wetsuit can cost $350 to $1200. The wetsuits that sit on the more expensive side on the price spectrum are going to be made of better material and be more flexible, especially in the shoulder area. Sleeveless wetsuits will be much less expensive. However, they won’t have as much buoyancy as a full body; hence your swim won’t be as fast in a sleeveless wetsuit.

Regardless of the style and model of the wetsuit, it is a big investment. If you aren’t someone who frequently participates in triathlon races, it’s obviously a waste of money. And if you are a serious racer, you definitely want to make sure the wetsuit you invest in is one that you are content with, and feel good in. If you are thinking of taking the plunge and buying a wetsuit, you may want to rent a few different wetsuits beforehand to gain a better understanding of what there is on the market. By trying out different wetsuit brands and styles, you will get a more thorough idea of what you like and don’t like. After all, if you are going to invest in a wetsuit, you want it to be one that is going to last, make you happy, and can go the distance.

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