The Great Wetsuit Test

Tim Bridges

Not sure what you need in a wetsuit? We tested a range of suits from under £100 to over £500 to find out the best wetsuits on the market for any budget

What should you look for in a wetsuit? It really depends on what you want to use the suit for and your budget. In 2017 we tested suits from under £100 to over £500. Some suits are designed for open water swimming, while others are more triathlon-specific. Innovations this year include Orca’s two-piece suit – no good for a triathlon, but a real contender if you are looking for something just for swimming. Other brands like Alpkit produce suits specifically for open water swimmers, concentrating on feel for the water and a more natural swimming experience rather than just getting you to your bike in as quick a time as possible.

Different suits offer different levels of warmth and buoyancy, and the more expensive the suit gets the better range of movement you will have as high-spec flexible neoprene is used on the arms and shoulders. Other features on high-end suits might include catch panels on the forearms, breakaway zips and stability panels. Cheaper suits might not have thinner and more flexible neoprene, but they can often be more durable – so something to consider if you want your suit to last a long time or you plan on taking it out on wild swimming adventures and not just racing in it.

Wetsuits help you swim faster by reducing drag and improving buoyancy, but only if you fit them correctly. Put one on incorrectly, and it can seriously hold you back. A wetsuit should fit like a second skin, practically vacuum-sealed. Do a simple test: with the suit on and well-fitted all over, hold one arm out horizontally and check the material underneath. If there are folds of rubber or an air pocket, there isn’t enough of you to fill the suit.

We would recommend you try on a suit before buying if possible. Look at the size guides and make sure you get a suit that fits you as snugly as possible – if you are on the cusp of two sizes, go for the smaller. Whatever you choose, get into the open water as soon as possible – especially if you plan on racing in the suit later in the season.

These suits were tested for performance, fit, buoyancy and faff factor (how difficult it is to put on and take off the wetsuit), plus our overall impression.

Zoot

Women’s Wahine 1

£220

They say: Aquafit buoyancy panels in the lower core and rear, to raise hips to put body in most efficient swimming position. SCS coating on chest and thighs to reduce friction and increase speed.

Style: Fun but with a focus on performance.

Fit: Snug and comfortable, with strong supportive core.

Performance: Perfect for racing and outdoor swimming adventures

Faff Factor: Low

We say: Part of Zoot’s new 2017 range, the Wahine had a great balance of buoyancy, flexibility and support. Good flexibility on the shoulder and the neck was comfy. I liked the fun designs on the suit.

 

Zoot

Men’s WikiWiki

£500

They say: FLEXback design for for full range of motion and reduced shoulder fatigue. SCS Nano coating all over, to reduce friction and drag. Proarm panels on the arms allow for stroke feedback and 0.5mm neoprene on the arms for a top combination of flexibility and speed.

Style: Cool design.

Fit: Like the Wahine, snug, flexible and comfortable. It feels speedy.

Performance: Fast and comfortable in the water. Great flexibility.

Faff Factor: Medium

We say: I had never worn a Zoot suit before and didn’t know what to expect. I loved this suit! Not only did it feel amazing on but I felt fast in the water. The style is funky and a welcome step away from more boring men’s wetsuits. Mesh catch panels are meant to give you greater stroke feedback, but they also give you a connection with the water as you aren’t covered head to toe in neoprene. The 0.5mm neoprene on the arms gave brilliant flexibility with no restriction on shoulder movement. The only downside I could find was that my hands were a bit big for the cuffs so I had trouble getting out of the sleeves.  At £500 this was one of the most expensive suits we tested, but if you have the money it is definitely worth blowing the budget.

Alpkit

Lotic & Silver Tip

£145/ £195

They say: The Lotic is designed with open water and adventure swimming in mind. 3.5 mm neoprene at the back and 4 mm on the leg and rear give extra lift in the lower body. Thinner neoprene on the chest, arms and shoulders for greater freedom of movement.

Alpkit have brought out two new suits this summer: a thermal Silver Tip (£195) and a lighter Terrapin (£99) aimed at giving swimmers a very natural buoyancy in the water.

Style: Black with red flashes makes for a pretty cool suit

Fit: Standard

Performance: Great for wild swimming, this isn’t a racing suit

Faff Factor: Low

We say: Specifically designed for outdoor and wild swimming, the Lotic doesn’t have fancy catch panels and all the whistles and bells of more expensive suits. But it is a solid and well-designed wetsuit, designed to withstand the rigours of adventure swimming. It has a simple construction and the red flashes on cuffs, ankles and neck are made of a more “surf-style” neoprene which is easy to get on and off and feels much more robust. A good choice if you are not a racer but are looking for a robust and well-designed suit for open water swimming of any distance.

Head

Women’s Explorer 3.2.2

Men’s Explorer 3.2.2

£138.99

They say: Created from very light elastic material, well suited to all types of swimming, with “no stitching in the critical areas”.

Style: Fluorescent and highly visible, we’ll be honest, when we took it out of its packaging we thought it looked more like a surfing wetsuit. Certainly great for visibility and actually quite fun.

Fit: Doesn’t have the snug fit of the other wetsuits we tried, but comfortable and allows a full range of movement.

Performance: Faff Factor: Low

We say: We liked the bum loop below the zip to help with hoisting the wetsuit on. It didn’t feel as buoyant as other suits. It is a versatile low cost suit, which is great for a splash and exploring summer water spots, but if you’re looking for that snug feel to boost your performance at a swim event, there are stronger choices.

Tim Bridges

Orca

Orca Open Water RS1 top and bottoms

Top: £145 Bottom: £145

They say: “The perfect option for the openwater swimmer,” the innovative two-piece design is designed specifically for swimmers – this would be no use in a triathlon as it takes longer to get on and off. A velcro seal system joins top and bottom, and 3mm neoprene gives greater buoyancy in the chest panel. No zip. Our female tester was taller than average (5ft 10) and found the suit more comfortable than many wetsuits. ‘The suit can come up longer and shorter in the body depending on where you Velcro – I found it very flexible and comfortable, though there’s a technique to getting the top off! A rotator cuff injury generally means that’s – ask someone else.’

Style: Fun and funky

Fit: Minimal feel with great flexibility

Performance: A natural swimming experience

Faff Factor: Low

We say: Gimmick or revolution? To be honest, we weren’t sure. But actually this is a great idea. With no fighting with zips and no need to have someone else to help you on with the suit, the two-piece suit is a great option for outdoor swimmers who appreciate the benefits of neoprene. Buoyancy is limited to the chest panel so your swimming feels natural and the neoprene is light and flexible, so you swim normally rather than being lifted and propelled by strategically placed buoyancy panels. All in all it feels a very natural experience. Plus, the suit is so light that it can easily be stowed and carried around in its own bag (included).

Sailfish

Men’s G-Range

£575

They say: Sailfish’s flagship wetsuit promises a swimming experience beyond compare. Zero Resistance Panels allow greater movement and flexibility, Nano Space Cell 2 Neoprene gives minimal resistance in the water and ergonomic panel management gives improved hip stability and better propulsion.

Style: Simple, sleek and streamlined.

Fit: The G-Range immediately feels great on –flexible and supportive

Performance: As you would expect with a high-end suit, you feel as though you are about to nail a PB.

Faff Factor: Low

We say: Like Alice, I have worn Sailfish Attack suits and really rated them, so was interested to try out their top of the range suit. Like Alice, I love it. Unlike some suits, you don’t feel constricted in a Sailfish – the neoprene is soft and flexible. Although designed for triathlon, it feels like a swimmers’ wetsuit – very comfortable with great feel for the water. The flexibility gives a more natural swimming experience.

DCIM101GOPRO

HUUB

Women’s Atana

£424.99

They say: Designed specifically for women athletes, allowing the swimmer to maintain an effective kick and waterline position without being lifted too high out of the water. X-O Skeleton for body alignment and buoyancy, four-way stretch lining for greater comfort and a break-away zipper.

Style: Serious, compact, ready  to compete – I felt  like Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games – totally badass.

Fit: A go faster, snug fit.

Performance: Excellent. Felt supported and streamlined in the water. Definitely something I’d want to be wearing for a serious race or nailing a PB.

Faff Factor: Medium – you’ll need someone to help you put this on and zip up, but the quick zip release makes it super speedy to take off.

We say: A serious suit for smashing a PB – great for racing. This suit empowers – you want to work hard to make it deliver on everything it promises. Totally streamlined – my bust was on lock down, but not squashed and my stroke felt smooth and natural.

 

HUUB

Men’s Aerious II

£449.99

They say: Huub prides itself on the Archimedes having a ‘non-suit’ feel – it is designed to be so flexible that it doesn’t feel as though you are wearing a wetsuit. 1mm neoprene panels aim to help achieve this feeling while the X-O Skeleton delivers structure and control to reduce snaking, power loss and directional waste by gripping and holding the pelvis and hips.

Style: A serious suit for racing.

Fit: Snug but flexible

Performance: One word: fast

Faff Factor: Medium – you need someone else to zip you in.

We say: As soon as you put on this suit you feel like a Brownlee. It is designed for racing and you immediately feel as though you are about to smash a PB. In the water it performs as expected – its snug but flexible fit means you feel supported and streamlined in the water. The low neckline was comfy with no chafing. Like the women’s Atana, the snug racing fit means it takes a bit of getting on, but the breakaway zip makes the suit quick to remove. At this price, the Aerious II isn’t a suit for messing around in your local pond, but for an aggressive racing suit this is a serious contender.

Lomo

Women’s Challenger

£79.00

They say: Aquagrip catch panels, Flexible Matsuda Neoprene – 3mm on the core for warmth and 1.5mm underarms for flexibility.

Style: Simple, modest design and clean cut.

Fit: True to size

Performance: Very good. The range of movement around the arms and shoulders was great.

Faff Factor: Low – I could zip myself in!

We say: Great value for money. A wetsuit that incorporates all the key design considerations of warmth, buoyancy and flexibility to feel confident on the start line of your first swim event or exploring lochs with friends.

Zone 3

Women’s Advance

£169

They say: ‘Extreme Flex’ material used for the underarm panels facilitates greater movement. Slightly thicker panels to support the legs and hips; ‘SpeedFlo’ fabric on 70% of the wetsuit to minimize drag through the water, increase speed and improve durability. The remaining 30% made from high quality rubberised smoothskin neoprene. Pro-Speed Cuffs on the lower legs to help increase speed of removal.

Style: Athletic, smart and simple design.

Fit: Comfortable – snug, supportive and although thicker than some other wetsuits around the torso it didn’t feel overbearing.

Performance: Sleek and smooth!

Faff Factor: Low

We say: With really good freedom in the shoulder, I liked this a lot. A confidence boosting feel for swim events but versatile for a variety of swim adventures. A great value for money choice. It looks and feels more expensive – shhh!

 

BlueSeventy

Men’s Reaction

£345

They say: Updated for 2017, the mid-range Reaction has been improved with a more flexible upper body and new, flexible lower leg panels for quicker suit removal and comfort.

Style: Classic

Fit: Comfortable with high neck

Performance: A good all-rounder suit

Faff Factor: Low

We say: I liked the Reaction – it felt robust, well-made and capable of withstanding the rigours of racing as well as being lugged around in the boot of the car to various lakes and rivers for wild swimming adventures. It felt fast in the water and the higher neck was comfy. Nice catch panels on the sleeves and a generally understated, classic design.

 

BlueSeventy

Women’s Sprint

£150

They say:  Entry level wetsuit updated for 2017 with thinner neoprene and new strategically placed super-stretch greatly improve flexibility on the arms and legs.

Style: Straightforward, blue and black.

Fit: High neck and comfortable cuffs.

Performance: Good entry-level suit

Faff Factor: Low

We say: This is a versatile, comfortable all round wetsuit. It feels durable and reliable. You appreciate the attention to detail on the cuffs and neckline.

Jonathan

2XU

Men’s A:1 Active Wetsuit

£240.00

They say: The A:1 is designed for optimal flotation and flexibility. Features include water entrapment zones, rollbar for enhanced positioning, floating zip panel and front buoyancy panel.

Style: Sometimes you just want to be Batman. In those situations, this is the suit for you.

Fit: Solid support

Performance: Good level of buoyancy and support

Faff Factor: Low

We say: The mid-range A:1 Advance has grooves on the chest panel designed to speed you through the water and semi-rigid panels on the forearms to improve catch. These features, twinned with the understated blue design, make you look like you are wearing a superhero suit. In the water the suit felt fast but robust. I particularly liked the fit at the neck. Out of the water, the catch panels made the suit quite hard to get off at the arms, but the high-cut ankles meant that the bottom half was one of the quickest on test to remove.