The reason behind this testing is simple. Find the fastest wetsuit for me for the next few seasons. I contacted wetsuit manufactures and Trisports.com to get all the suits lined up to swim. Thanks you to Aquaman, Desoto, Nineteen, and Xterra, for sending me suits to test. Thank you to Trisports.com for supplying me with the following suits: BlueSeventy, Zoot, QR and Synergy .
To insure as unbiased results as possible and make the test as fair as possible, I did two rounds of testing for each suit. Each days testing consisted of 2×400 on the 6:00. Then I changed suits, swam 200 to make sure the suit was on properly and swam another set of 2×400 on 6:00. Two suits got tested per day. I did not know which suits in round one were being tested until that morning. During the second round I swam the suits in the reverse order of the first round to hopefully eliminate fitness gains.
The first suit to be tested was the suit I was born with. It’s a marvelous suit (thanks Mom & Dad) and has served me well through the years. No neoprene, no zippers, no easy exit leg openings and a few scars from normal wear and tear. We all know wetsuits are faster, but the goal here was to peg how much faster a wetsuit was against my OEM suit.
How did they swim? I’m going to present all four times for the suits then an average time. You can compare how the suits did for me against my OEM suit. I’ll also list what I liked or did not like about the suit, but please remember this is specific to me. This info about the suits will vary depending upon the individual.
No wetsuit. 5:07, 5:10, 4:56, 4:57. Average time: 5:02.5. No complaints, no leaking, no chafing a fine suit, for non-wetsuit swims if I say so myself.
Wetsuit number 1 was the Synergy Hybrid. 4:31, 4:31, 4:28, 4:27. Average time: 4:29.5. It’s a new to the market suit. When I first picked up this suit I thought Orca. But then you see the rubber on the back of this suit and you realize the Synergy is one of a kind. I’ve never seen wetsuit rubber stretch so much. I really liked this suit, although being somewhat slim of build; I found it too stretchy across my upper back, or too much of the stretchy rubber. I could have used a little less material in the suit, but if you have wide shoulders or a muscular back this may be an option for you. With the exception of a seam on my right elbow this was a comfortable suit. Here is a link to the video showing how much stretch the rubber has.
The next suit tested was the DeSoto First Wave. 4:35, 4:40, 4:30, 4:30. Average time 4:33.75. Desoto makes a one, or should I say a two of a kind suit. It’s a two piece suit. You can mix and match the top and bottom to get a top notch fit. I originally swam in a size 4 top, which felt great except at the wrists where it was too big, or my wrists are too small. Every stroke you could feel water entering the suit at this critical area. When I tried the size 3 top, it was just a touch too tight through the shoulders, but no water entered through the wrists and I think the times I swam reflect that. This is a great concept in a suit. It eliminates a weak area in many suits, the zipper, which leaks water into the suit. Because it’s a pull over top, there is no water leaking inside the suit through the zipper. The collar is very comfortable and doesn’t leak at all. In fact this suit was one of the driest suits in the entire testing. I just couldn’t get the top to fit right unfortunately. The bottoms felt great, tight, comfortable and not constricting. This suit was the easiest to put on and by far the fastest suit to take off.
Next up was the Xterra Vector Pro X2. 4:29, 4:31, 4:25, 4:27. Average time: 4:28. When I choose to get back into triathlon in 2005 after taking eight years away I ended up with an Xterra top of the line suit. I was not impressed, tight shoulders, chafing around my entire neck and my arms felt like someone tied weights to them. The new Xterra’s are way better then the suits of old. This suit felt like I was shot out of a cannon. It made me want to swim fast right from the get go. Four of my six fastest first 100’s came while wearing this suit. This might be something to consider if you are an off the front swimmer who tends to get a line of people on your feet early in the swim. They did a lot right with this suit. This was the second driest suit upon exiting the pool. If I had one complaint about this suit though it would be the collar closure, I could never get it to close so it didn’t scratch my neck. It scratched me when I breathed only to the right, never chafed, just a tiny little reminder that I couldn’t get the neck just right. For me this isn’t a big problem I can breathe either side. All in all though this suit felt fast.
The next suit was the Zoot Zenith suit. 4:32 4:34, 4:32, 4:32. Average time: 4:32.5. I put this suit on and wanted to walk around and kick people’s ass. The panels on this suit made me feel like Batman and everyone else was a bad guy. This suit is a 2mm base suit with 3mm panels sewn into the suit to provide a suit that should float like a 5mm paneled suit. The panels ended up channeling water through the suit so you rolled and felt the water roll right along with you. This suit had the most comfortable neck collar of any suit tested. It was also the lowest collar. Lower and more comfy doesn’t always equal faster. Most of the water entering this suit during the testing came from the collar area. For me it was just too low. The wrists and ankles sealed rather well and the suit is very comfortable. The suit came off rather quickly thanks to its 2mm body and paneling.
The Nineteen Frequency was next. 4:30, 4:32, 4:28, 4:29. Average time 4:29.75. This suit reminded me most of my recently deceased wetsuit. This is a well thought out suit, great paneling. Lots of 5mm rubber where the suit meets the water and lots of thinner rubber where you need the flexibility. Well designed legs for easy exit and this suit went on well. In some respects I think this is one of the best designed suits that I tested. To be fair to this suit, I died on the 4:32 repeat, through the 300 I was on 4:28-:29 pace. This was the 4th 400 of the day and I just couldn’t hold it together over the final 75.
Next up was the QR SuperFull. 4:34. This suit got pulled from testing because it was just way too big. It’s a very, very flexible suit. My other suits are QR’s and I just went with the same size. This is a one size down suit from previous models. I knew this suit was too big when I could pull the collar up to my ears. Nice suit, very flexible, and I think this could be a fast suit given that it felt like I was swimming inside a water balloon.
Aquaman Gold Cell was next. 4:29, 4:29, 4:27, 4:27. 4:28 average time. This suit has a very tall neck. Hardly any water comes through the neck. At first I thought this might be a chafing or restricting neck, but I was wrong. This is probably the most comfortable neck in the lineup. The inside of this suit is smooth skin neoprene lined. You smell just like a wetsuit upon exiting the suit, the tradeoff is that it’s extremely easy to put on, even when wet. If you are doing TTT, this could be the suit for you. It’s a fast, comfortable suit. I now know why so many Europeans use Aquaman and the fault that more Americans don’t. They do little advertising; the suit isn’t in any tri retailer I’ve been in over the last three years. Trying to find an Aquaman wetsuit to touch is like trying to find a snowball in my back yard here in Arizona in July. I received this suit from France with a note from the owner assuring me I’d like this suit. He was 100% correct. He said Aquaman is so good they don’t have to advertise. I think if they want to penetrate the US market they better find a way to get this suit into more consumers’ hands. Many suits I’d consider inferior are drowning out this suit at the start line.
The final suit is the Blue Seventy Helix.4:25, 4:27, 4:24, 4:28. Average time 4:26. This suit stands in stark contrast to the Xterra. That suit feels like you’ve been shot from cannon. This suit swims fast but feels slow. I kept checking the clock every 50 and thinking no way is this suit this fast. If you are a touchy feely person this isn’t your suit. If you like objective data then this might be your suit. This was probably the most uncomfortable suit to wear around the deck before swimming. The Torsional Stretch Technology, the blue bands, dug into my back and the armholes dug into me as well. Once swimming though, this suit was very comfortable. One complaint was this suit was one of the slowest off in transition suits. I think it’s partly the design, lots of taping over the seams, tight fitting and small leg and arm holes. Of course these are some of the things that make this suit, and others, fast. Does fastest in the water but slower in transition equal a faster suit? It depends. If you are an off the front swimmer then probably it does. If you are in the middle of the pack from the gun until exiting out of the water, then I’m not so sure.
I was able to talk with several of the suit manufacturers. There were several things that most agreed upon:
The SCS coating for many swimmers isn’t going to make a difference. Getting a clean start will probably do more for you then having the top of the line coating on the suit.
Fit, fit, fit. You need to try on several suits, they all fit different, they all feel different and they all swim different. Get the right fitting suit.
Putting it on correctly is another big area of concern. It should be snug into your crotch, pull all the excess material up from your legs, up towards your shoulders. It may take several pulls to get the suit on properly. Make sure the arms are aligned properly.
Long sleeves are faster then no sleeves. The Euro’s know this, the elites know this but many American age groupers are slow adopters. This is probably due to some bad fit issues with long sleeve suits in the past. Make sure the suit fits.
Most of the rubber used in these suits comes from the same factory.
Water grabbing panels on the arms may not do anything for you, they may actually be slower. But it’s a price of entry on top line suits now.
Being in the scrum of swimmers is going to negate much of the differences between suits.
No wetsuit is going to make up for a lack of swim training. If you swim 35 minutes in a half ironman, a wetsuit isn’t going to make you a sub 30 swimmer.
I slept through the swimming bullshit, but the rest looks pretty good.
awesome collection. Keep up 🙂
After reading through this article, I just feel that I need more information on the topic. Could you suggest some resources please?
There isn’t a ton of articles like this out there. Tri 24/7, a UK site, did something like this a few years ago.
Great review Brian!
Did you find that any of the suits were more buoyant than the others?
I just signed up for my first triathlon and my swimming is horrible. I’ve been spending a LOT of time at the pool. I had the opportunity to do an open water swim clinic recently and I just froze up once I got past the shore break and I couldn’t touch the bottom. Although my entry level xterra wetsuit seemed to keep me floating ok, I was still freaking out about not being able to rest out there in the middle of nowhere.
I was thinking that if I could find a suit that kept my head (and possibly shoulders) up out of the water, I would think less about drowning and more about swimming. It’s a mental thing, I get it, but if spending the extra money to get past that barrier right now is what it takes, then I’m willing to do it so that I can have that much more time to train.
No wet suit that is triathlon legal is going to float you head and shoulder above the surface of the water when you are vertical in the water. Most suits should keep your head above water with light sculling action. I can’t say for certain that one suit is more buoyant then another since that wasn’t something I specifically looked at. The more 5mm rubber you have in the upper body the more buoyant the wet suit is going to be when you are vertical in the water. I’d suggest that you spend some time open water swimming with one or two other people to become more comfortable in open water.
You are so right about this!
Thanks for the comparisons. I used this site before buying my wetsuit.
The article states that a 35 minute HIM swimmer in a speedo won’t get under 30 minutes by wearing a wetsuit. I can’t speak to that. However, in my case, a 45 minute swimmer can get under 40 minutes with a triathlon wetsuit. or a 8:30 400m swimmer can get to a 7:00 400m with a triathlon wetsuit. For those of us with relatively poor form, I think the wetsuit helps more by getting us to plane better (while the faster people don’t have that problem even without a suit).
Also, I started out with a comfort-fit surf wetsuit before buying a super-tight triathlon suit. The surf wetsuit barely improved my times compared to a simple swimsuit. A properly fit tri-suit is very much worth it.
Good stuff Brian. Makes me want to do some testing of my own.