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Buyer’s Guide 2010: Wetsuits

Swim Fast, Stay Warm: Hands On Wetsuit Testing.

As we did for last year’s buyer’s guide, we took the plunge in 2010 and did some extensive hands-on testing for this year’s wetsuit review. If we were impressed with the various offerings in 2009, we were blown away by the models that appeared in the Triathlon Magazine Canada office this year. As we’re used to seeing in the bicycle industry, many companies are now utilizing features that were exclusive to their top of the line models in mid-level suits this year. The other general trait we saw in the suits for 2010 was a decided improvement in durability – virtually every one of the suits tested this year could easily be used for lots of use in training and racing.

Vortex3 – $425

It’s Xterra’s most popular suit and our reviewers had no problem seeing why. Considering it’s the company’s entry-level full suit. If you’re looking for an all-purpose wetsuit to use for training and racing this is an excellent option. The new Hyper-Flex GKA Neoprene is exrtremely buoyant and durable. Our reviewer especially liked this suit as she found it extremely comfortable in all areas – the suit was snug in the right places (neck, arms, chest and hips) but also allowed for lots of movement around the shoulders. Part of that comfortable movement comes from the X-tra Stretch Lining which is found throughout the suit and offers flexibility in all four directions. The front chest to ankle panel is all 5 mm thick and the remainder of the wetsuit has varying thickness for flexibility where needed.  The end result was a suit that we found got you high on the water, didn’t allow much water to seep in, allowed for an unhindered swimming motion and was easy to get on and off.

Hybrid – $550

The Synergy Hybrid was a huge hit with our reviewers last year and, for the most part, remained a favourite in 2010, too. Featuring lots of top of the line features, this suit feels like it should cost a few hundred dollars more than it does. The Aerodome Smoothskin rubber covers the front body, lower leg panels and side panels to help get you high on the water and moving easily through it. The silicone treated neoprene also reduces the amount of water that gets into the suit and makes it more hydrodynamic. Aqualift panels help with buoyancy and the shoulders are extremely flexible thanks to the SuperFlex and HiFlex rubber. Finally there’s a special lining that absorbs less water, which keeps you light in the water and makes getting the suit off that much easier, too. Our only complaint came from one of our female reviewers, who found that the rubber bunched up a bit behind her upper back and neck at the top of the zipper – a situation that might have been resolved if we could have got her a slightly smaller size. Despite that one issue, the overwhelming concensus was that Synergy has done lots of things right with this suit, including mixing up the rubber thickness to optimal levels. For example, the extremely comfortable neck is just 1 mm thick, while the rest of the suit is anywhere from two to five mm thick depending on how much movement is required. Just like last year, we’re happy to declare this another one of our favourites.

Ironman Racer ($475) and Pursuit ($250)
Aqua Sphere

Aqua Sphere didn’t take long to figure out how to do triathlon wetsuits right – right from day one of becoming the official wetsuit of Ironman, the company with a rich history of underwater work (it was founded by Jaques Cousteau) has produced some excellent suits. Our reviewers were impressed with both the Racer, which sits one spot below the top of the line Icon in the Ironman line up and the Pursuit, which is Aquasphere’s entry level suit. The Racer has Yamamoto SCS Nanoskin through the core, while the lower legs are made of Polytex with Jet Microskin. That combination allows for flexibility and buoyancy where  it’s needed, but makes for an easy exit when it comes time to slip the suit off your legs. We especially liked the very comfortable Aqua-Flex collar which was comfortable without feeling too snug, but still seemed to prevent too much water seeping in. Overall we really liked how this suit manages to combine a feeling of performance while also remaining very durable. This is a suit you can comfortably use on a regular basis for training without having to worry that your competition might have a leg up on you when it comes to race time. The Pursuit is designed for the weekend warrior or beginning triathlete looking for a more value-priced suit. It manages to combine excellent fit with reasonable buoyancy and flexibility. Like the Racer, the Aqua-Flex collar is very comfortable. One of the neat little extras that Aqua Sphere throws in with the suits is a handy carrying case that can double as a nice mat in the transition area.

Fuzion ($330) and Zenith 2.0 ($750)

The Fuzion is another great example of how what used to be top of the line features have filtered down to mid-level wetsuits. The Fuzion uses speedy Yamamoto #39 neoprene which makes the suit very flexible, durable and buoyant. That’s all topped with the Yamamoto SCS finish which helps the suit slide through the water. There’s an interesting mix of rubber thickness – 3 mm in the calves to ensure the suit will be easy to get off, 5 mm in the torso and thighs and 1.5 mm in the sleeves and arms so that there’s lots of shoulder flexibility. We found the neck, which is a bit lower than on other suits, to be extremely comfortable and thought this was one of the most comfortable suits around the shoulders we reviewed. Which left us wondering what on earth the Zenith 2.0, Zoot’s top of the line suit, was going to feel like. The answer came quickly – Zoot has done an outstanding job with their top of the line suit that takes all the things we liked about the Fuzion and puts them into a lighter, faster and, somehow, more comfortable package. The GLIDEflex rubber in the shoulder makes Zenith 2.0 unbelievably flexible in the shoulders. There are 3 mm side thigh panels along with 3 mm exterior/ 2 mm interior glute and hamstring panels to give you even more lift. The 2 mm Yamamoto SCS Nano exterior and 3 mm low-density panel on the inside help make this an incredibly comfortable and flexible suit that is easy to swim in and very easy to get off.

Helix ($700) and Axis ($620)
Blue Seventy

If cervelo is the dominant bike at Ironman races in North America, blue seventy is the dominant force right now on the wetsuit front. It’s not hard to understand why when you pull on the flagship Helix model, which seems to do it all – it’s fast, it’s comfortable, it’s durable and manages to provide lots of flexibility around the shoulders (a generous underarm gusset helps on that front) so you feel like your swim stroke isn’t compromised. Blue seventy uses what they call TST (torsional stretch technology), a combination of a number of Yamamoto panels, to allow the body to roll easily – the shoulder panels are isolated from the rest of the body to improve flexibility. The mix of rubber thickness works really well, too – thicker torso and leg panels give way to 1.5 mm arms and a not-too-bulky collar. Combined with quick exit legs, a reverse zipper and multi-stretch cuffs, you just can’t go wrong with the helix. The Axis is a brand new suit designed specifically for poorer swimmers. Including many of the features that are the norm in the blue seventy suits, the axis uses extremely buoyant materials in the backside and thighs to get you up higher in the water so you’ll find yourself in a position usually reserved for the strongest swimmers.

Cell Gold – $799

The Cell Gold is hands  down the most comfortable and flexible suit we’ve worn. Using Metal Cell technology (which basically puts the high performance Yamamoto GIGA #40 neoprene rubber both on the outside and inside of the suit), the Cell Gold is incredibly flexibile and very comfortable. The collar on this suit is every bit as comfortable – despite being relatively low, it manages to prevent any excess water seeping down into the suit. The suit doesn’t absorb very much water at all and you really feel as if you’re sliding through the water with very little resistance. During our test we were amazed at how fast we felt in this suit. It is slick through the water and, thanks to all that flexibility, is a breeze to get off in T1. If you feel like we’re setting you up for a “but …,” unfortunately, we are. That super flexible rubber is very fragile and you have to be extremely careful getting this suit on without getting a nick in the rubber. If you’re willing to handle the Cell Gold with that kind of care, you’ll be thrilled with the performance and comfort.

Frequency – $650

A hit with our review team last year, the Frequency sees some improvements in 2010. There’s an upgrade of the rubber – Yamamoto 40 – being used on the WingSpan system, which is a flexible panel of rubber around your lats and down to your lower back. The added flexibility allows the major swimming muscles lots of movement and promotes body roll. The entire suit feels more flexible thanks to the high stretch liner that’s now included. There’s a 2mm thick super-stretch panel that covers the calf, which makes for an easy exit from the suit in T1. Buoyancy is enhanced thanks to the 5 mm thick panel on the back of the legs and hips that will put you nice and high in the water.

Sonar – $429

Like so many other manufacturers, Orca has managed to add lots of high-end features to this intermediate level suit. Made with Yamamoto #39 SCS rubber, this suit feels extremely flexible while providing lots of buoyancy. While we’re not sure that the HydroLift Buoyancy Cell technology in the arms, which is supposed to help raise your elbows during the catch phase of the stroke, was the main reason we felt so fast in this suit, it certainly didn’t hurt. The DeltaStrech Shoulder Panel and HyperStretch UnderArm provide lots of shoulder flexibility. The rest of the suit is equally as comfortable and flexible – the neck panel is one of the features previously seen in the top-of-the-line Apex 2 and the thin Speed Transition Calf Panel makes getting out of the suit quite easy.

Project X – $899

The designers at 2XU included every feature they could think of in the Project X, the company’s top-end suit. Starting with an extremely comfortable seamless neck that reduces friction and water intake, this suit is designed for maximum speed and hydrodynamics. The various panels in the suit are made up of either 39 or 40 cell rubber to provide outstanding flexibility and buoyancy – we especially liked the thick, 39 cell front panel that seems to get you really high in the water while the 40-cell 1.5 mm underarm stretch panel provided excellent shoulder movement. There’s a Titanium Alpha Coating to maintain warmth and even a floating zip panel to provide even more flexibility as you roll through the water. The Quick Exit Lower Leg Panel makes this an easy suit to get off in the mad rush of your first transition.