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Using patented technology developed for the U.S. Olympic swim team, we rigorously tested wetsuits of every type for speed and comfort.
Fit is the most important attribute of any triathlon wetsuit—it must conform to your body and feel right. But the boost it provides to your stroke is also important, especially when chasing a PR or trying to conserve energy during a long race. Some wetsuits are faster than others, and the difference can’t be perceived in the water or measured with a stopwatch. Triathlete tapped an Olympic sports scientist to quantify the speed gained from nine top wetsuits. Comfort is critical, so the suits were also tested for feel in the water. Here’s how they performed.
The 2014 Events DC Nation’s Triathlon is set for Sept. 7, 2014. Learn about the all-new sprint race and relay options at Nationstri.com.
Building a Better Wetsuit
Wetsuit companies use a host of tools and techniques to construct suits that are fast and comfortable. These are some of the ways they’re working to get you out of the water quicker and happier.
Athlete feedback: Many brands rely on professionals and amateurs to critique and improve suit design and fit. Swimming in a suit is still the most important step.
Fit: Tailoring semi-rigid neoprene into a precise fit is challenging, and wetsuit makers by and large do a great job. TYR, for example, has experienced apparel designers shape its suits, and the products earn high praise as a result.
Trial and error: ROKA has the ability to quickly create a suit prototype. The company makes many different suits through the course of a year and experiments until it finds a formula that works.
Measurement: Some wetsuit manufacturers measure the performance of their suits using in-house and third-party tests.
Materials: Neoprene manufacturers update the rubber and jersey liners used in wetsuits, offering more options for how a suit can be constructed.
Efficiency Test Results
XTERRA Vortex Sleeveless
A comfortable suit does more than make a swimmer feel cozy—it can lead to a better swim. Whether you’re hoping for a new swim-leg PR or to get back on dry land without exhausting your energy reserves, comfort is critical. XTERRA perfected the fit of this suit. It allowed just a tiny amount of water into the suit while helping testers achieve natural rotation to power through a stroke. As a sleeveless suit, reaching is unencumbered. In the efficiency test, however, this suit came up short of the other two sleeveless options for both swimmers.
Aqua Sphere Phantom
Every contour of this performance-oriented suit fit so precisely to our athletically built testers that it seemed to be suctioned in place. From the hips to the shoulders and wrists, the Phantom tightly wrapped itself in place without feeling restrictive. “I had a full range of motion in my arms,” said a tester. “It felt molded to me.” The female swimmer tabbed the Phantom as her favorite full-sleeve because the fit was most suited to a woman’s physique, she reported. This suit is comfy in the water because of its tailored fit (not a generous cut). This updated version of the Phantom is easier to take off than its predecessor, although still more challenging than many suits. A strong connection between the hips and the shoulders injects a little extra oomph into every pull.
ROKA Maverick Pro Full
For full-body coverage with a natural feel, the Maverick outperformed all the others in this review. “Everything from recovery to extension is much faster,” said a tester. The other raved about the lack of resistance in the glide position when extending to start a stroke. Sensation for the water was unparalleled. ROKA uses a textile forearm panel that allows water to pass over the skin, which testers unanimously agreed improved feel for the water during the catch. The suit’s excellent conforming fit, paired with best-in-class performance in the efficiency test, make the Maverick Pro Full an incredibly well-rounded suit that provides ample value for the price.
Gear Lab Award: Most Comfortable
Gear Lab Award: Fastest Overall
Synergy Hybrid Full
Precise fit is the hallmark of some suits, but brute force is the most memorable trait of this one. Neoprene with small air pockets is used from the ankles up to the neck, and this giant section of ultra-buoyant rubber dominates the experience of swimming in the Adrenaline. “It feels almost like a life jacket,” one tester said, meaning it forces the swimmer to the surface, overcoming a lack of balance in the water. This ultra buoyancy helped one tester achieve an exceptionally efficient stroke at slower speeds. The suit lifts the swimmer so powerfully, however, that it can overwhelm natural stroke mechanics. Both testers reported that the suit interfered with their typical rotation pattern. This did not, however, prevent the Adrenaline from performing well in the efficiency test. The tester with an excellent stroke benefited the most from this suit.
Rotating from one pull to the next is natural and intuitive in the R:3. “Flotation didn’t interfere with my stroke,” reported a tester. The suit enables the swimmer to roll through a stroke and extend the arm fully. Both swimmers received a major boost in efficiency from this suit, and it outperformed several of the more expensive suits. Upper-body flexibility is good, but not excellent. Expect a little more restriction compared to the most expensive full-sleeve suits in this review. The difference is noticeable between this suit and this review’s most free-moving full-sleeve.
Zoot Z Force 3.0 SL
Expect full freedom of motion when swimming in this suit. Of all the sleeveless options tested, it was the most liberating. A relatively broad cut through the chest virtually eliminates restriction. “I had my normal stroke and rotation,” said a tester. The tradeoff: A little extra water slips into the torso area. The very skilled tester swam incredibly fast in the Z Force 3.0 SL—only two of the full-sleeve suits improved her stroke efficiency more. For the tester requiring a little more boost, the Zoot didn’t improve his performance as dramatically.
Blueseventy Reaction Sleeveless
The arm openings of this sleeveless suit allow just a tiny trickle of water into the body. While many sleeveless options gush, Blueseventy’s tight fit around the chest and robust connection between the suit and the shoulders seals effectively. Compared to the Zoot and XTERRA sleeveless suit, testers found the Reaction SL to be slightly more buoyant where it counts—in the thighs and hips. It also outpaced the other sleeveless options in the swim efficiency test, and even bested some full-sleeve suits. For both comfort and efficiency, Blueseventy is the clear winner of the sleeveless suits.
Gear Lab Award: Fastest Sleeveless
Orca 3.8 Enduro
Testing this suit on two swimmers produced very different results. While the more skilled swimmer saw a modest improvement, the tester with a tendency to sink benefited tremendously from the 3.8 Enduro. His distance per stroke improved substantially more in this suit than in any other. The massive panels of ultra-buoyant aerated neoprene created powerful lift in the water. Its expertly shaped torso keeps water out while liberating the arms for “totally free movement,” said a tester. Every point in a stroke feels natural. For athletes looking to improve their body position without sacrificing stroke mechanics, Orca has nailed it.
Gear Lab Award: Best For Developing Swimmers
TYR Hurricane Category 5
Fit trumps any feature or updated material—a wetsuit has to conform to the body to perform well, and the Hurricane Category 5 fits incredibly well. “It’s tight but comfortably tight,” said a tester. “The suit gave me the feeling that I’m going to race.” TYR didn’t include flashy features on this suit, but it swims as well as any. Compression through the abdomen creates the perception of a complete connection between the suit and the swimmer. “Smartly placed buoyancy in the hips helps drive rotation,” said a reviewer. This is a swimmer’s suit that is responsive and natural.