Discover which top of the range wetsuit is worth digging that little bit deeper for…
Buying a wetsuit: what to look out for
Wetsuits use different grades of neoprene, with their own thickness and flexibility properties. Thinner neoprene is used for easy shoulder movement and most suits are coated to help you slip through water.
Wetsuit companies use thicker, more buoyant neoprene to help lift you nearer the surface of the water, lowering drag and helping you swim faster. Some suits have more buoyant legs for athletes’ heavy legs.
Some suits feature reverse zippers, which allow easy removal of the wetsuit to save time in races. These also help avoid the cord being pulled down during the swim – which could seriously hamper your race.
Cuffs and calves
It’s no good having a fast wetsuit if you can’t get it off in transition. Look for ‘easy off’ cuffs at the wrist with silicone coating, and either coated or tapered lower legs so the suit is easy to whip off in a hurry.
Some wetsuits use technology on the forearms designed to increase feel on the water – or even propulsion – during the catch phase. Efficacy of these panels varies, so don’t let them dictate your purchase.
Super Composite Skin (SCS) is a slick, hydrophobic coasting applied to the outside of the suit to reduce drag when swimming. Previously only seen on higher end suits, SCS is now available at all price ranges.
How we test
Testing wetsuits in chilly climes is no mean feat, and we opted for a mix of indoor and open water this year, using the coolest pool we could find when inside to avoid overheating. That did mean some regulation timed sprints were much easier; we do these for an extra point of comparison rather than to define our scores, which are gleaned from swimming in and swapping round as many suits as we could. We rated them for buoyancy, flexibility, inner comfort and ease of getting on and (more importantly) off. As with any kit, wetsuit choice is very personal so we’d advise getting out to a demo day to try some out if you can.
THE FX1 is all about flexibility, which comes in the form of its Ultra Flex panel in the upper body. The lining has a four-way stretch into the arms giving the swimmer maximum freedom of movement in the arms and shoulders, reducing fatigue and improving performance. Our tester found while it wasn’t very flexible around the midriff, there was a good range of movement around the arms. The main criticism of the suit is that it is very buoyant so the legs floated very high and our tester found it difficult to use them for rotation and balance at times. The grips around the wrist are tight which gives a strong fit against oncoming water and allows for a great feel when in the glide of the stroke.
BUOYANCY IS the watchword with the Vanquish. Made from aerodome neoprene with air bubbles built between the fabric layers to produce up to 30 per cent more buoyancy than conventional neoprene, it struck the right balance with our tester who noted all her energy was focused on moving forward in the water. The reverse zipper protects from having your zip pulled down during a race and will help you speed through T1, but you may need help getting it on. The sensory catch panels on the forearms help you feel the coldness of the water, allowing for a more natural swim. Our tester enjoyed the shoulder flexibility and shorter leg length, making for a comfortable yet speedy swim.
Zoot PROPHET 2.0
WITH GENDER-SPECIFIC ergonomically shaped panels and a SCS Nano hydrodynamic finish, the Prophet is certainly packed full of ‘go-faster’ technology. Our tester found it a little thick in the shoulders, so weaker swimmers might feel restricted by the thicker neoprene. However, it’s a solid wetsuit when it comes to flexibility and buoyancy, with good balance. It’s all down to the ‘Aqualift’ in the rear of the suit, which is 5mm of neoprene, and helps hold you in the correct position. Our tester noted how easy it was to put on, being neither too tight nor too loose. Plus the big zip tag won’t be missed in T1.
THE SPEEDO ‘four way stretch’ works through flexible underarm panels that interact with the back panels for maximum extension. Our tester found the range of motion across the back and shoulders was excellent, reducing shoulder fatigue. It has good flexibility in the arms shoulder and neck, while the thinner material around the armpits made for a comfortable fit. The suit is very buoyant due to a thicker section of neoprene on the stomach giving more support in the water. It allowed a better swim position although was a little baggy around the stomach, which our tester found to be slightly uncomfortable at times, however it was smooth fitting on the arms and legs.
SAILFISH ONE won our tester’s heart and she declared it easy to get on and off, while still fitting like the proverbial glove. The suit combines the latest in neoprene suit technology with time-tested materials making it a solid all-rounder. It has a stability panel, which is reinforced high-density neoprene material to optimise body position in the water and prevent excessive hip rotation. The extra large arm panels power into the water, increasing stroke effectiveness. It had great all over flexibility, giving the overall impression of being ‘barely there’. It performed well in open water and indoor pool, allowing for maximum speed and floatation.
THE HELIX boasts the thinnest arms in the business, 1mm premium Yamamoto 40 cell since you ask. These provide full flexibility and the suit boasts gender specific 3mm fit panels plus a VO2 chest panel, which has split chest construction to maximize stretch as you breathe. The addition of 2mm thin lower leg panel helps get the suit on and off with ease. The pleasing design coupled with good flexibility in the arms and shoulders went down really well. The buoyancy worked to keep the hips raised allowing for a more consistent kick without hindering stroke. Our tester found the forearm panels a bonus, making her aware of hand position leading to better technique.
THE EXTREME has a panel of Yamamoto Aerodome neoprene that covers two-thirds of the front of the suit to allow optimum buoyancy and positioning in the water. While the 5mm Yamamoto 39 SCS Nano neoprene in the body and thigh panel, provides a 30 per cent gain in buoyancy as well as a low drag-coefficient through the water. Our tester found this suit perfect for triathletes just starting out as there is good flexibility, with thinner material on the arms allowing for an even greater range of movement. However the body of the fabric remained quite thick and not overwhelmingly fast. It is pleasingly easy to whip off in T1.
TYR HURRICANE C5
THE C5 boasts some clever designs to aid speed including multi-stretch cuffs to allow powerful strokes while keeping water out. TYR have used the lightest Yamamoto Nano SCS Coated 5mm neoprene panels throughout the entire leg, chest, and core, which they refer to as ‘speed wrap panelling’ to raise you up in the water to reduce drag. This suit came up a little small meaning flexibility was slightly restricted, but the buoyancy is balanced. The suit comes off easily thanks to the quick release ankle cuffs. It also has ‘Alpha Catch Panels’ on the arm to aid propulsion in the catch phase, but they were a little bulky and hindered removal of the suit.
Aqua Sphere PHANTOM
THE PHANTOM has plenty of tech that it hopes will put it to the front of the swim pack. It has a strategically placed 1mm stretch zone allowing for maximum range of motion, along with a 5mm sleeve band to encourage a high elbow positioning on pull phase of the stroke. However it was the Core Power System, an internal support that aims to enhance hip rotation and lengthen stroke that really won our tester over. While it took an element of trial and error to get the tension right, our tester found it was definitely worth it in terms of fit and speed. There is good balance throughout the whole suit, which allows full function of the legs, making it a good option for strong swimmers.
THE PREDATOR showcases Orca’s latest innovation, the ‘core lateral stabiliser’ which uses a less flexible material on the core panels to stabilise the body. The 0.88 Free body and arms of the suit are less than 1mm thick and have a titanium coating that provides thermal protection while allowing stroke feedback as you feel the water in each stroke. Our tester wasn’t a big fan of the thinness of the sleeves and found the suit a tight fit. Nonetheless, the Predator is a good-looking suit for slimmer triathletes, as it is quite narrow across the chest. It has good buoyancy and will help weaker swimmers keep their legs up as it provides good all round balance.
HUUB ARCHIMEDES 3:5
THE ARCHIMEDES is available in two versions and the 3:5 that our tester put through it’s paces is ideal for those with ‘sinky’ legs thanks to the NBR X-O Skeleton, created for added buoyancy. The suit has bicep release for stroke efficiency as well as arm crossover alignment for correct positioning and reduced fish tailing in the water. Despite being narrow, the Archimedes fits well and there were no issues with flexibility. A good looking suit, it was also the fastest on test and so comfortable our tester barely noticed it was on. The arms and legs were hard to get on, but stretch calf panels make for a quick exit.
THIS THIRD version of the Project X features even thinner neoprene on the shoulders to deliver unrestricted movement. A foam insert panel elevates body position in the water. The X3 is a sturdy but flexible suit which our tester found gave good rotation in the stroke. It has a perfect level of buoyancy to allow legs to float without sacrificing any of their function. The chest buoyancy comes from 2XU’s Velocity Strakes – separate foam inserts on the torso – rather than trapping air, which feels more stable. It was a little loose at the wrist and is an effort to get on, although it’s fast off. It has a large forearm catch area that rewards good technique, ideal for shaving seconds off a PB.
With 12 excellent wetsuits to choose from, this was not an easy decision but here’s our overall verdict on our top of the range wetsuits test:
Not quite flash enough for top of the range? Check out our selection of the best wetsuits for under £400…
WORDS: Debbi Marco PHOTOS: James Lampard, Sean Allard