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Swim fast, stay warm and crush your next race
Best for: Choppy conditions, colder races, short strokers
This pretty suit fits like it was custom made, thanks to eight size options covering athletes from 4-foot-5 and 103 pounds to 6-foot-6, 242 and beyond. A reverse zipper makes for a quick getaway in T1, but you’ll want a buddy to help you get locked in—zipping down isn’t easy to do alone. An adequate amount of buoyancy keeps hips up without restricting kick, and the Phantom’s Core Power System—a strap you can pull tight at the core—helps enhance your sense of alignment while encouraging a short, punchy stroke best used in choppier conditions. Plenty warm, it’s a good choice for cold race days, but some athletes might find the liner chafes easily, so load up on the lube.
Best for: Natural-born swimmers, shorter races, guys with a gut
Super flexible neo makes this stealthy suit feel like an extension of yourself. That means a few things: If you’re a good swimmer, you’ll love that it doesn’t impede your feel for the water or change your body position much. It also lets shoulders rotate freely and legs kick normally. But more flexibility means less warmth, so consider that if you tend to freeze on longer swims. That flexy neo also needs an extra tug to pop off of wrists. A low-cut neck doesn’t chafe, and a wider torso leaves extra wiggle room for athletes who need it.
Best for: All conditions and distances, swimmers who need a boost
A smooth lining makes the 3.8 feel luxurious, but buoyancy panels along the front and the lower back to the calf are what make it special. It’s like swimming with a float tube molded to your body that aids rotation and decreases fatigue. Flexible arms won’t impede range of motion in the shoulders, but the neck takes some finesse to lock down correctly without leaking water while sighting. We suspect mediocre swimmers will see instant improvement in swim times with this, but seasoned swimmers will like it too for any distance or water temperature. Bonus: A key holder lets you take tiny valuables with you in the water.
Best for: All-around value, straight-arm recovery
Our tester said if he didn’t know better, he’d have thought this was a more expensive model for its noticeably decreased drag, increased buoyancy, great side-to-side rotation and comfortable neckline. The arms felt best swimming with a straight-arm recovery, and the suit helped increase distance per stroke. The Maverick Comp II holds heat in, so expect to stay warm on any swim—or opt for the long-john model for hotter, longer swims. The ankles fly off fast in transition. Nine sizes make it easy to find the perfect fit.
$260 and $220, respectively; Desotosport.com
Best for: A custom fit, a natural feel
Swimmers who have trouble fitting traditional one-piece suits will find welcome relief in these De Soto pieces. You can get a near-custom fit by picking the perfect top and bottom sizes, and the feel is like swimming suitless, since your hips won’t affect how the top sits on your shoulders. So if you’re looking for comfort and warmth, the T1 is your new favorite neo. If you’re looking for a mega boost in body position or rotation, this option isn’t your best bet. As long as you don’t accidentally knot the Speedtube’s drawstring, it’ll fly off in T1—just remember to take off your goggles before you whip the Speedvest overhead.
Best for: Barrel chests, thicker calves
This British racing suit offers a lot of buoyancy, popping hips up in the water to help draggers maintain a neutral body position. Arm flexibility is top notch, letting you rock out to whatever stroke you feel like taking—short, long, high elbows, whatever. The neck and chest are cut best for beefier-chested men who can fill out the suit’s top, while the high-cut ankles mean a few things: Big calves will be happy, and this suit will come off quickly for everyone. The extra torso thickness for buoyancy should keep most athletes comfortable even in chilly water.
Best for: A killer kick, a speedy getaway
You’ll notice three things when you first put on this suit: The legs are dimpled like a golf ball, it’s super smooth on the outside and inside, and the leg openings are cut higher than on most other suits. In the water, you’ll notice that somehow, despite your legs being wrapped in 5mm of neoprene, your kick feels quite natural and your rotation feels effortless. The neck may be uncomfortably tight for some athletes, but it certainly doesn’t leak any water. Of all the suits we tested, the Vengeance came off the fastest thanks to those high-cut ankles. And it goes without saying: That fun, futuristic silver look stands out in a sea of black.
Best for: Natural arm feel, people who take great care of their gear
For this much dough, you should expect top-notch performance, and the Wikiwiki delivers. Half-millimeter-thick neoprene makes the arms feel almost invisible—like you’re swimming with shaved arms, an experience our tester called “simply amazing.” That said, super-thin neo means you need to be super careful not to tear it. Body Glide the hell out of your wrists and forearms so you don’t bust your investment in transition. Six separate 2mm panels in the chest and abdomen, and 5mm panels in the thighs mold the body into perfect alignment for reduced drag. A Velcro attachment at the lower back is a nice touch for easy zipper access. Great for any distance, we’d pump the brakes on very cold swims because of the thin arms.
Best for: Great swimmers, poor kickers
Think of the Cat 5 as a second skin that gently, almost imperceptibly makes you a more efficient swimmer. It boasts some of the most comfortable shoulders on the market that won’t hinder your stroke—a feature seasoned swimmers will appreciate—while subtle buoyancy panels in the chest, core, butt and thighs help fine-tune neutral body position and aid rotation. Those thigh panels give a good boost, so if you’re a stinky kicker, they’ll help compensate for dragging legs. The buttery soft lining is so comfy you could sleep in it—and it’s antimicrobial to help fight off stink. The monster catch panels look funky but didn’t seem to affect feel for the water much. The trade-off for that second-skin, supple feel: Wrists and ankles need an extra tug to get off, and the Cat 5 could be a bit chilly in very cold swims.
Best for: Stealth speed, “flat” swimmers
Don’t let the understated graphics—or the price���fool you. The A:1 is the little black dress of wetsuits—a go-to that’ll always make you look good in the water. It’ll help improve body position and decrease fatigue with plenty of float. It’ll also encourage good rotation so you get those shoulders up and out of the water with every stroke. The neck might feel snug when you cinch it up, but in the water you’ll forget about it and appreciate the no-leak seal. If you’ve got broad shoulders or just want an extra suit for warmer conditions, the A:1 will make a great addition to your gear cave.