Are Lava Pants Legal in Triathlons?

If you are a triathlete or an open-water swimmer, you might have heard of lava pants. They are a type of swimwear that claims to improve your performance and comfort in the water. But are they allowed in triathlon competitions? 

In this blog post, I will explore what lava pants are, how they can benefit you, and what the rules and regulations are regarding their use.

What are Lava Pants?

Photo of a female swimmer of Asian descent, emerging from cold open water, wearing Lava pants. Water droplets cascade down the neoprene material, showcasing its insulation properties. In the background, other swimmers can be seen, some wearing wetsuits, highlighting the unique design of Lava pants.

Lava pants are a brand name for a type of buoyancy swimwear that is designed to mimic the effect of a wetsuit without covering the upper body. They are made of neoprene, a synthetic rubber that provides insulation and flotation. Lava pants were created by XTERRA WETSUITS, a company that specializes in triathlon and open-water swimming gear.

Lava pants have several benefits for open-water swimmers. They help you maintain a proper body position in the water, which reduces drag and improves your speed. They also allow you to breathe more naturally, as you don’t have to lift your chest as much to inhale. Additionally, they provide warmth and protection from cold water and sun exposure.

The Role of Lava Pants in Triathlons

Lava pants can also be useful for triathletes, especially those who are new to the sport or struggle with swimming. They can help you train more efficiently and effectively, as they simulate the feeling of wearing a wetsuit and enhance your muscle memory. They can also help you transition faster from swimming to biking, as you don’t have to peel off a full wetsuit.

Photo of a determined triathlete swimming in clear blue water, wearing lava pants that fit snugly around their legs. The water ripples around them, and their arms are mid-stroke, emphasizing the power and technique of their swim.

However, lava pants are not a substitute for a wetsuit or a tri suit. They have some drawbacks that you should be aware of. For instance, they can restrict your natural range of motion in your legs, which can affect your swimming technique and efficiency. They can also cause chafing or irritation if they don’t fit well or if you wear them for too long.

Legality and Regulations

The most important question for triathletes is whether lava pants are legal to wear in triathlon competitions. The answer depends on the specific rules and regulations of the event organizer and the governing body.

 There are two main organizations that set the standards for triathlon attire: 

  1. The World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) and 
  2. The International Triathlon Union (ITU)

The WTC is the owner and organizer of the Ironman and Ironman 70.3 series, as well as other branded events. The ITU is the international federation that oversees the Olympic and World Championship events, as well as other sanctioned races. Both organizations have similar but slightly different rules regarding wetsuits and other swimwear.

 WTC Wetsuit Rules 

Photo of a professional triathlete at the shoreline, wearing a full wetsuit, preparing to enter the water. The environment appears calm, with a few other competitors in the distance getting ready. A clear sign nearby states the water temperature as '24.5 C (76.1 F)'.

The WTC wetsuit rules state that:

  • Wetsuits are permitted if the water temperature is up to (and including) 24.5 degrees Celsius (76.1 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Athletes may wear a sleeveless wetsuit or lava pants if the water temperature is between 24.6 degrees Celsius (76.3 degrees Fahrenheit) and 28.8 degrees Celsius (83.8 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • No wetsuits or lava pants are allowed if the water temperature is above 28.9 degrees Celsius (84 degrees Fahrenheit).

 ITU Triathlon Wetsuit Rules 

Photo of a professional triathlete standing at the edge of a clear water body, about to enter, wearing a black wetsuit. The water has a digital thermometer displaying 21.5 degrees Celsius. Behind the triathlete, there's a banner with the ITU logo and text stating 'Wetsuit Permitted'. Diverse spectators are in the background, some holding cameras, others consulting rulebooks.

The ITU triathlon wetsuit rules state that:

  • Wetsuits are permitted if the water temperature is 22 degrees Celsius (71.6 degrees Fahrenheit) or lower.
  • No wetsuits or lava pants are allowed if the water temperature is above 22 degrees Celsius (71.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

As you can see, lava pants are only legal in some WTC events, depending on the water temperature. They are not legal in any ITU events, regardless of the water temperature. Therefore, before you decide to wear lava pants in a triathlon, you should check the official rules and regulations of the event and the governing body.

The rationale behind these rules is to ensure fair competition and safety for all athletes. Wetsuits and lava pants provide an advantage for swimmers who are less skilled or less fit as they increase their buoyancy and speed. However, they also pose a risk of overheating or dehydration if the water temperature is too high.


In conclusion, the use of lava pants in triathlon races is determined by the specific guidelines of the governing body. While WTC rules allow lava pants in certain water temperature ranges, ITU races prohibit them entirely. 

The goal is to ensure fairness and safety. It’s crucial for triathletes to familiarize themselves with these regulations as wearing lava pants outside the approved conditions could result in disqualification. For further insights on triathlon attire and rules, feel free to explore our website or reach out to us.

Thank you for reading, and happy swimming!

Frequently Asked Questions

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