Buyer’s Guide: WetsuitsMarch 15, 2012By -KM
There are very few triathlon events in Canada that don't allow you to wear a wetsuit and, in fact, there are certainly lots of early- and late-season races where you'll really want to have one on to keep you warm. Many triathletes who struggle in the water enjoy the added benefits of wearing a wetsuit, too - the neoprene helps provide some extra flotation, which can improve your body position and help you swim faster.
Manufacturers have done a great job of enhancing those triathlete-friendly features in the variety of suits available on the market. Fit is key when it comes to purchasing a wetsuit and, yes, they're going to feel really snug when you try them on in a store. All of the manufacturers we've reviewed here make men's and women's models of their suits, which certainly helps on the fitting front. Typically you'll find that the more you spend on your suit, the more flexible and buoyant it will be. We chose not to look at any sleeveless models this year because, for the most part, full suits seem to make more sense here in Canada with the often-cold conditions, and also because most suits these days provide so much flexibility around the shoulders that you might as well get that extra bit of warmth and speed.
It's not like the blue seventy's top of the line Helix ($700 full suit, $495 sleeveless) had much to improve upon, but the new version somehow managed to get even better. There's now even more buoyant rubber in the suit to get you nice and high out of the water and an improved fit around the neck and shoulders. The most obvious change is the ultra light forearms that actually allow you to feel the water through the suit - something triathletes with a strong swimming background will love. The Reaction ($435) has a new air-cell front panel to improve buoyancy and also features upgraded rubber so you'll have lots of flexibility through the shoulders and arms. The Fusion ($325) is specially designed to provide improved buoyancy around the hips and thighs to improve the body position in the water. It's great for triathletes who might not have a swimming background who struggle with their body position. There's still lots of flexibility in the shoulders and a 4 mm chest panel to keep your front end nice and high in the water, too.
The 2012 version of the Phantom ($699) retains Aqua Sphere's unique Core Power System (basically a Velcro strap that you put on inside the suit) which does an incredible job providing support for your core muscles, which helps your position in the water immensely. The Phantom uses Bio-Stretch Zones which allow lots of stretch in the areas you need it to maximize your swim stroke. Strategically placed bands on the sleeves make it easier to pull the suit on, and also serve as a great visual cue to keep your elbow nice and high during the pull. The value-packed Racer ($457) has strategically placed panes around the core to provide similar support and utilizes #39 Yamamoto Neoprene that provides lots of stretch and buoyancy. The Pursuit ($260) also includes lots of features for the price, including the strategically placed panels and Aqua-Flex Collar seen in the more expensive Aquasphere models. All the Aqua Sphere suits are available in men's and women's models and there's even an Iron Girl version of the Pursuit.
The new Vendetta ($800) features 5 mm front (with special air-buoyancy cells to provide added lift) and 3 mm back neoprene panels that are fully coated with the slick Nano-Super Composite Skin. The arm and shoulder portions of the suit are made up from six individually cut panels of 1.5 mm thick neoprene to provide lots of movement. The end result is a suit that provides lots of buoyancy and outstanding shoulder flexibility. The popular Vector Pro ($600) offers the same thicknesses of neoprene but are coated with Super Composite Skin coating. The durable Vortex ($400) rounds out the XTERRA line with a 5 mm/ 3 mm/ 1.5 mm neoprene thickness combination and a high quality liner throughout the entire suit. It's a great intro suit that will stand up to lots of use while training and racing.
The Alpha ($679) uses an Exo-Cell Buoyancy System that provides in key areas at the back of the suit to help get you on top of the water and optimize your swimming position. There's Nano SCS-coated 1.5 to 2 mm #40 cell panels through the arm, shoulder, chest and back that are designed to provide lots of range of motion. It's the lightest and most flexible suit Orca has ever made, which says a lot. The Sonar ($429) has been improved for 2012 with Orca's Aerodome neoprene, which, like the Exo-Cell system uses air cavities to improve buoyancy and body position. There's also some refinements to the shoulder and arm areas to enhance movement. The Equip ($329) uses SCS-coated Yamamoto #39 material through most of the top half of the suit and has 3 to 5 mm panels on the back and lower torso for buoyancy. There's even a forearm panel to help increase power through the stroke.
Wolfgang Guembel has graced our cover in years past (TMC Vol. 5.6) and is now the man behind the designs of Nineteen's wetsuits. The new Rogue ($650) utilizes Guembel's years of experience at the front of triathlon swim packs. The CSC Exoskeleton combines strategically placed Japanese neoprene and compression-fabric lining to provide lots of support and limit stretch where you don't want it in the torso and upper body. The Wingspan Elite system in the shoulders uses top of the line rubber to ensure lots of movement and there are catch paddles on the forearms to help provide lots of leverage and power during the pull phase of the stroke. The reverse wavy zipper helps improve the fit on the torso, too. The Frequency ($500) offers many of the same fit and buoyancy features. Rounding out the Nineteen line is the Pipeline ($280) is a great entry-level durable suit with 5 mm thick rubber for lots of buoyancy and a surprising amount of flexibility in the shoulders.
The Prophet Wetzoot($700) pulls out all the stops using a combination of the highest quality rubber to provide lots of buoyancy and flexibility. The Aqualift C40 rubber used in the core helps get you in the right body position in the water, while the C40 SCS Nano neoprene used in the arms provides lots of reach and stretch. There's even a special design around the knees to help your legs stay in a more natural position and enhance your kick. The Fuzion FS Wetzoot ($350) uses C39 SCS neoprene, which provides excellent buoyance and flexibility, and cuts through the water easily thanks to the Yamamoto SCS finish.
You can read about our swim experience with the Hurricane Freak of Nature in our sidebar - suffice it to say that the world's most expensive suit manages to live up to much of the hype - it's every bit as flexible and buoyant as promised. If you're not ready to fork out $1,200 for your wetsuit, though, you can still enjoy many of the same benefits in the rest of the Tyr Hurricane line. The Hurricane Category 5 ($625) uses Yamamoto Nano SCS neoprene that will get you up high in the water, while the 360-degree Core Stabilization System ensures optimal body position. There's lots of flexibility in the shoulders, form-fitting wrist cuffs to keep water out and quick release ankle cuffs to help you speed through T1. The Category 3 ($450) offers many of the same features but slightly less buoyant and flexible rubber. The entry-level Category 1 ($290) also has lots of great features including stretch panels and flexible arms, while the Speed Wrap Paneling used in the higher end Hurricane's, which helps raise the swimmer in the water, also appears here.
Test Drive: TYR Hurricane Freak of Nature
$1,200 for a wetsuit? No, it doesn't come with a motor (the most common question I've been asked), but there are lots of other features this super-suit offers that separates it from the rest of the field. I've had to ditch the extremely cool wood and metal case the Freak of Nature comes in for my two overseas trips, but that doesn't mean this suit hasn't garnered a fair amount of attention when I've pulled it on for a trial run. The super-hero graphics and gold panels certainly make this suit stand out.
But is there performance to go along with the flash? There certainly is. The Freak of Nature shares many of the same features as TYR's Category 5 suit, including special elevation panels that seem to place you in an excellent position in the water. There are panels on the forearms to enhance your catch and quick-release ankle cuffs so you can get out of the suit quickly and easily.
The biggest difference between the Freak of Nature and other wetsuits, though, is the use of Yamamoto #40 neoprene throughout the entire suit. Other companies use the same material typically around the arms and shoulders because it's really stretchy, but there aren't too many models out there that use it through the entire body. The result is a suit that just feels more comfortable. There's practically no resistance as you pull and roll through the water. The Freak of Nature seems to stretch to your body and doesn't constrict or squeeze the way most suits do. As you swim it feels like more like you don't have a wetsuit on, but you still enjoy the extra lift and speed advantages. (I even got a compliment from Rasmus Henning during one swim with the Freak of Nature, who was surprised that I could swim that fast.)
The only other suits I've ever used that offered the same kind of feel and comfort tended to be so fragile I managed to rip or put nicks in them after just one swim. The Freak of Nature somehow manages to combine durability with that amazing feel. Worth $1,200 for all that? If you can afford it and find other suits to be constricting, it certainly is.-KM
Synergy's Hybrid Full ($599) uses AerodomeSmoothSkin to ensure lots of flotation and minimal resistance through the water. The silicone treated neoprene makes this suit non-porous to help you glide through the water, too. The shoulders remain extremely flexible thanks to the SuperFlex and HiFlex rubberthat's used. The 5 mm panel on the lower leg and side of the suit helps you with your body position in the water, too. This is an extremely durable suit that is a great choice for people who do a lot of open water swimming in addition to racing. The Adrenaline Full ($399) offers lots of flexibility thanks to the AquaLiftSmoothskin material used in the front and lower leg panels and the SuperFlex and HiFlex rubber used in the arm and shoulder panels. The Endorphin Full ($199) is an entry-level suit that offers a nice combination of flexibility and flotation.-KM