A wetsuit is an essential for open water swimmers and triathletes, helping to increase your buoyancy, keep you warmer and even improve your swim speed. But if you’re just getting into wild swimming, you might be wondering what to wear underneath your wetsuit.

There are a few considerations depending on factors including the water temperature and whether you’re heading out for a training swim or taking part in a triathlon. Below we’ll talk you through what to wear under a wetsuit in a few different open water swimming scenarios so you can swim comfortably and make the most of your time in open water.

What to wear under a wetsuit for training swims

For regular training swims, it really comes down to personal choice. But to avoid the chafing and discomfort you might experience if you were to go commando - it’s best to opt for swim wear such as a swimsuit, jammers or swimming trunks. Or a tri suit, if you have one. It’s easier to remove a wetsuit while it’s still wet – i.e. as soon as possible after getting out of the water. Wearing swimwear or a tri suit underneath your wetsuit means you can start taking it off without having to find somewhere private to get changed.

Whether you opt for swimwear or a tri suit, it’s best to wear apparel that fits closely to your body rather than anything baggy – such as swim shorts - which will bunch up underneath the wetsuit.

What should you wear under your wetsuit during a triathlon?

If you’re participating in a triathlon, a tri suit is going to be the most convenient – and the quickest – option to wear underneath your wetsuit. Triathlon suits are designed to perform across all three triathlon disciplines, meaning you won’t need to have a full changes of clothes after the swim. Wearing a tri suit underneath your wetsuit means you can simply remove your wetsuit in transition and hop straight on your bike. The material is designed to dry quickly so you’ll soon dry out and warm up.

If you’re new to triathlon and you don’t yet own a tri suit, you can wear swimwear underneath your wetsuit. But keep in mind you’ll need to either get changed (if a changing tent is available – nudity is not allowed in a triathlon transition!) or put your cycling/running kit on over the top of your swimwear. This can be tricky – and time consuming – when you’re soaking wet from the swim. Which is why many new triathletes choose to get a tri suit after their first few races – it’s an easy win to instantly improve your overall finish time!

Cold water swimming – other gear and accessories to wear with your wetsuit to stay warmer

During the summer months, wearing a wetsuit will generally be enough to keep you warm while open water swimming. But if you’re planning to swim all year round, as the water temperatures drop you might want to consider adding a few other bits of gear to your kit bag to help keep you warm in cold water.

If getting a thermal wetsuit designed specifically for cold water swimming isn’t feasible. Consider wearing neoprene arm sleeves and calf sleeves underneath your regular wetsuit. This added neoprene will help to retain more heat to keep your core warm.

A neoprene hood or headband is also a great option to wear underneath your swimming cap to keep the ‘ice cream headache’ you might experience while swimming in colder water at bay. You can also wear neoprene swimming gloves and thermal boots while cold water swimming to help keep your extremities warm.

What to wear after cold open water swimming

Once you get out of the water, it’s important to make sure you get warm and dry as quickly as possible to avoid experienced what’s known as ‘after drop’.

After drop refers to a situation where a swimmer exits cold water feeling relatively comfortable, but then experiences a drop in body temperature once on dry land which can lead to intense shivering, and in some cases nausea, light headedness and even hypothermia.

To avoid after drop, be mindful of how much time you’re spending in the water. As the water temperature drops you’ll need to consider reducing how long you swim for – it’s always better to get out before you’ve reached your limits. Once you’re back on dry land, remove your wetsuit and wet swim wear as quickly as possible and put on plenty of warm baggy layers. A changing robe is a great addition to your kit bag here as it’ll keep you warm, helps you to dry off and doubles up as a mobile changing tent.

Jenny Lucas-Hill