Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
The 2013 Triathlete Buyer’s Guide magazine is out on newsstands now (and check out the digital version), and we’re giving you a sneak peek right here. Check out the wetsuit section from the guide below and check back to Triathlete.com for more Buyer’s Guide content.
How to Choose a Wetsuit
We enlisted the expertise of Patrick Baum, customer service specialist for TriSports.com, to demystify the wetsuit selection process and map out the basic steps you should take to zero in on the just-right suit for you.
Assess the athlete’s build. “Proper fit is everything, so that’s where we start,” says Baum. “If it’s over the phone, we ask a lot of questions to get an idea of the person’s build—height, weight and so forth. Do they have a runner’s build, a cyclist’s build, a swimmer’s build?”
Consider swimming ability. “If someone’s not a good swimmer we try to get them into something that will hopefully get them in a better position in the water—buoyancy throughout the suit that puts them up higher in the water so they’ll go faster,” says Baum. “If someone’s a very strong swim- mer, a lot of the time they want flexibility because they don’t want anything getting in the way of their stroke. In that situation we start looking at a suit with Yamamoto 40 [extra stretchable neo- prene] in the arms for shoulder flexibility.”
Consider price point. “We get an idea of what races they are going to be doing—do they need or want a super high-end suit in the $600-plus range?” adds Baum. Or maybe they are just starting out, and need a low- to mid-range suit.”
Identify best-matching brand. “Each brand fits differently, and each has a sepa- rate size chart,” says Baum. “We try to fit the customer in the middle to bottom of the weight range and comfortably within the height range.” If they are in the store, Baum has the customer try on a suit and jump into the in-store pool to test it out. Phone or online customers can take advantage of Trisport.com’s “one free swim” policy. “We want people to get in the water, because feel in the water is critical,” says Baum. “If it doesn’t fit right in the water, they can send it back.”
Sleeves or no sleeves? “A lot of it is personal preference,” says Trisport.com’s Baum. “Sleeveless might work out when just starting out because there’s not a lot of constriction around the shoulders. If a lot of your races are going to be in warmer water, a sleeveless tends to work for the season. But having said that, you don’t see pros in sleeveless wetsuits that often—if they can get away with a full-sleeve suit they’re going to wear one. If someone is talking about wanting a versatile suit that is also very fast, you go full-sleeve.”
How’s it supposed to feel? Baum says if you can breathe OK and zip up the wetsuit without too much trouble (it should feel very tight but not constrict breathing) and you are within the brand’s sizing guidelines, the suit should work. You may not have full range of motion on dry land with the wetsuit straight out of the box, but it should feel more comfortable in the water.
See the 14 wetsuit reviews by clicking on the tabs to the left.
The draw: All-rounder
There’s a reason the Reaction is Blueseventy’s most popular suit—it has the flexibility and buoyant feel of a high-end suit without the $500-plus price tag. The Reaction suits swimmers with a decent kick, as the 4mm buoyancy in the lower legs (compared with the 5mm in the torso) doesn’t limit power derived from the kicking motion. When they updated this suit, Blueseventy lowered the neckline and decreased the bulk around the zipper, which kept testers chafe-free even after a long ocean swim. Although exit is relatively easy, liquid tape allows you to cut the leg to your desired height.
RELATED: Finding Your Perfect Wetsuit Fit
Neosport NRG Fullsuit
The draw: Most affordable full- sleeve suit
This full-sleeve suit is priced less than most sleeveless ones. It is best suited for swimmers that take long, hip-driven strokes rather than those with a hyper windmill-like stroke. Elbow flexibility isn’t the best, but solid buoyancy through the entire body makes up for it. High-cut ankles and a slick inner liner make for a quick exit in transition. Sizing is ample in the torso and shoulders, best matching an athlete with a broad upper body rather than those with a runner’s build.
RELATED: Should You Always Race In A Wetsuit?
The draw: Starter full-sleeve
For athletes looking to get their first full-sleeve experience, the Pipeline is warm and moves with little restriction. Although the smartly crafted neck lies comfortably against the body, water occasionally enters through the rear of the neck. Shoulder construction is a bit limiting when extending for a full reach at the start of a stroke. Buoyancy is focused toward the chest, helping adept swimmers torque themselves high in the water by pressing these thick panels of neoprene deep into the water. Those highly dependent on lift from the hips might need a little more lower body buoyancy.
Zoot Z Force 4.0
The draw: Durable suit that connects to the swimmer
Zoot’s newest iteration of this suit is a noticeable improvement over its predecessor. Credit goes to chest panel design. The center has great flexibility and a more evenly balanced feel. Full extension at the end of a stroke is smooth and uninhibited. Although it is slightly more restrictive than some other suits, it doesn’t feel stiff, but rather connected to the body. A bit of water was able to sneak into the suit through the neck opening. Sturdy seams and neoprene feel ready for the rigors of a quick transition.
The draw: Ultimate flexibility
Flexibility outshines every other characteristic of the ART. It allows for great feel for the water and flawless stroke mechanics, although a little water was able to trickle into the suit through the neck and tended to create a small pool near the stomach. Larger athletes are likely to fill out the suit better than those with slender builds. Thigh and hip lift is solid, helping to prop the swimmer at the top of the water to take full advantage of the free moving upper body.
The draw: Natural movement with lots of chest buoyancy
The neoprene stretching from hips to shoulders is incredibly flexible. It creates a feeling of natural movement for all types of swimmers. The arms are cut shorter than most, so be sure to pull the wrist openings far up the forearm so the shoulders settle. Elbow flexion is incredible and yanking the suit off in transition is easy. Swimmers with good natural body position will benefit most from the suit’s buoyancy, which is centered further toward the chest than many.
Xterra Vector Pro
The draw: Shoulder-driven construction for freedom and leg lift
Swimmers with shoulder-driven freestyle technique will love the Vector Pro 3. Generating drive from the hip doesn’t feel quite natural in this suit, but the shoulders move without inhibition. The lower body is extremely buoyant, allowing the legs to relax and go along for the ride instead of kicking to stay at the surface. Wrist openings are snug and secure, preventing any water from seeping into the suit, but they take a little effort to remove during the run to T1. Both the seams and neoprene seem robust—we expect this suit to last for many seasons.
The draw: Perfect blend of flex and float
Orca strategically added ultra- buoyant patches of aerated neoprene throughout the suit, making it incredibly buoyant from the start of a stroke through the mid-point. It generates the sensation of riding high in the water, especially at the hips. The shoulders are completely free to move and, despite outstanding flexibility, water stays sealed outside of the suit. Chaffing was non-existent.
The draw: Outrageous flexibility
Strategically placing thick panels of extra buoyant aerated neoprene and thin ones for pure flexibility gives the X:3 freedom of movement without compromising lift. The arms spin freely and the suit complements any type of freestyle stroke. Lift through the hips and upper body helps prop the swimmer, and the suit feels comparably buoyant to other top-caliber wetsuits. Fit is tight and suited to athletic builds, although the stretchable chest panels conform to the swimmer’s physique.
Rocket Science Sports RJ Sleeveless
The draw: Freedom of movement
For the triathlete who wants complete arm flexibility, the Real Jane is made to fit all shapes and sizes. Buoyancy was sufficient, but not quite as dramatic as the full suits. The neckline wasn’t the most comfortable we tested, but the closure system—which doesn’t involve Velcro—decreases the chances of chafing. The suit comes with a warning that proclaims it was “designed for serious athletes who want to be fast.”
Profile Design Wahoo Sleeveless
The draw: Women’s-specific sleeveless
Flexibility is one of the biggest reasons to splurge on a high-end suit. The Wahoo Sleeveless of course outshines any full suit when it comes to arm freedom—a little loss of buoyancy and heat are the drawbacks. Its arm and neck openings are both secure so only a small trickle of water enters the suit. Its 4mm neoprene panel stretching from the neck to the knees keeps the suit close to the water’s surface, especially for swimmers with good body position who press the thick torso panel into the water for added lift.
Aqua Sphere Powered W-Phantom
The draw: Athletic fit and snug cuffs keeps water out
Touted as a wetsuit for the elite- level triathlete, the Phantom definitely has a “performance fit” best suited for ultra-athletic physiques. The snug cuffs around the wrists and ankles can make for a more difficult entry and exit, but once on, the Phantom keeps water out and provides excellent range of motion in the shoulders. One differentiating feature is the internal supportive belt that wraps around the core, a reminder to maintain forceful hip rotation. Although the reverse zipper requires a friend to close, zipping out is fast.
Synergy Hybrid Full
The draw: Flexible shoulders
Testers found the rubber of the Hybrid to be incredibly stretchy, making for one of the easiest exits in T1. The chest and torso felt slightly less stable than the other suits, but the flexibility allowed for easy shoulder movement. The neckline is incredibly soft and flexible but still secure. One tester suggested ordering this suit on the smaller end because it fits a little loose and seems to stretch more than others.
TYR Hurricane Category 5
The draw: Pro quality without a constricting fit
Typically suits catered to the elites have a too-tight fit for many amateurs, but the Category 5 was surprisingly comfortable and easy to put on and take off while still being incredibly secure against water leaking in. The suit’s five-panel core stabilizing system stayed tight around the torso and felt smooth while rotating through the water. One tester said the suit felt “buoyant in all the right places” with a “perfect fit” that allowed for a natural, long stroke without restriction.
Follow Triathlete on Twitter @Triathletemag for inspiration, new workout ideas, gear reviews from our editors and more.