Kit review: Zone3 Terraprene Vision wetsuit

The world's first biodegradable performance-focused swimming wetsuit

Oliver Whillock Visuals

Zone 3’s Terraprene Vison is the first environmentally friendly performance swimming wetsuit on the market. Is it a game changer? The OSS says yes

The world’s first biodegradable performance-focused wetsuit, called ‘Terraprene Vision’, was launched in March 2023 by Zone3. With an RRP of £399, it’s targeted at the mid to upper level of the triathlon and outdoor swimming wetsuit market. It offers a more environmentally friendly, 100% biodegradable limestone-based neoprene called ‘Terraprene’ from Yamamoto, as opposed to the conventional petroleum-based non-biodegradable neoprene. The most sustainable wetsuit is the one you already own, or a secondhand one – but given the opportunity to test this new wetsuit, I was looking forward to finding out if incorporating the 100% biodegradable material from Yamamoto would live up to the hype. It didn’t disappoint.

Chris Johnson

TEST PROTOCOL

The location for the swim test was the New Bath Hotel Lido in Matlock, Derbyshire; a natural geo-thermal spring-fed lido where the heated water enters the shallow end at a constant temperature of 19.8 degrees Celsius. It was around 18 degrees Celsius on the day of the test. If you’re ever in the Derbyshire area, I highly recommend that you visit this lido for a wonderful outdoor swim experience. The lido also has a rich history, which includes a one-time visit in the 1930s from the Olympic Swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller who played the original on-screen role of ‘Tarzan’.

To add a greater level of control and objectivity, I swam in both the Zone3 Terraprene Vision wetsuit and the Zone3 Advance wetsuit, which the company also kindly agreed to provide. The Advance retails for £249 and it was chosen because its design and configuration of seams and placement of material thicknesses were a fairly close match to the Terraprene Vision, therefore helping to isolate the variables between the two suits so that the swim test would help me perceive any notable differences in feel between the Biodegradable limestone-based neoprene versus the conventional petroleum-based neoprene of the Advance wetsuit. 

FIRST IMPRESSIONS, WETSUIT BENEFITS & HIERARCHY OF NEEDS

My first impressions of the Terraprene Vision wetsuit were that it was similar in general look and feel to other wetsuits. It wasn’t possible to perceive any tangible differences from the biodegradable neoprene. But what did signify a difference was the nod to its biodegradable credentials with the design of the suit incorporating the use of green exterior panels and lime colour panel linings.

My suit size was large. I’m usually either a medium tall or large size in wetsuits, depending on the brand. I followed the sizing guide provided by Zone3, which clearly suggested that I’m a size large and I wasn’t going to disagree, as I’m still carrying a few extra pounds from a very enjoyable Christmas break!

Having worn various wetsuits over the years for triathlon and long-distance swim events, I’ve benefited firsthand from the many features that wetsuits have to offer, such as warmth, added buoyancy, and protection from the elements, such as jellyfish stings in the ocean. In general order of importance, the functional needs from a swimming wetsuit are: fit, comfort, warmth, buoyancy, hydrodynamics, and durability. Obviously, not forgetting style, which can be the factor that any wetsuit purchase hinges upon.

In general order of importance, the functional needs from a swimming wetsuit are: fit, comfort, warmth, buoyancy, hydrodynamics, and durability. Obviously, not forgetting style, which can be the factor that any wetsuit purchase hinges upon.

Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson

I always begin any swim test by remembering the list of most important needs for a particular product, so everything is front of mind whilst in the experience of the test. Designed with triathletes and open water swimmers in mind, this Zone3 wetsuit consists of all smooth surface neoprene panels as you’d expect for a smooth, drag-reduced swim experience. The suit has a strategic arrangement of different neoprene panels in different thicknesses, with the goal of providing support to the body during the various movements of the swim stroke – that stroke being predominantly front crawl. A thinner layer of a 1.5mm panel over the shoulders with only two seam lines moving from the back region to the collar helps to provide excellent flexibility and range of motion for the arms while swimming. Notably, the suit also has large 5mm thickness panels which are positioned over the frontal areas of the hips and thighs, with the intention being to help lift the body into a high, flat, streamlined position while swimming front crawl for less drag and greater swimming efficiency.

HOW IT PERFORMED

Putting the suit on was very easy. The zip has a smooth motion, and I was able to use the pull cord and zip up the suit myself without the need for assistance. During the swim test, the Terraprene Vision wetsuit provided an excellent swimming experience. Swimming firstly in the Advance wetsuit, and then the Terraprene Vision wetsuit, I’d have expected my shoulders to be a little bit fatigued when swimming in the Terraprene Vision wetsuit. However, they immediately felt a little less restrained and the wetsuit was more flexible over the shoulders, which allowed me to more easily achieve the high elbow position during the arm recovery of the front crawl stroke. As mentioned previously, the Terraprene Vision wetsuit has two seam lines which connect the back regions of the suit to the collar; whereas the Advance wetsuit has four seam lines, in a ‘Raglan’ style sleeve construction. Apparently, the Terraprene Vision wetsuit incorporates an ‘X-10’ one-piece shoulder panel which extends across the chest and shoulders to give even more flexibility and stroke efficiency when in the water. Seam lines which are made up of the panel joints of adhesive and stitching generate extra tension and restriction to material stretch in the direction of their orientation. Which is to say, the perceived greater flexibility in the Terraprene Vision wetsuit shoulder movement could be a combination of the biodegradable neoprene and the reduced number of seam lines from the ‘X-10’ panel. 

With any piece of swimwear, fit and comfort are the most vital functional aspects to consider. Generally, the fit of the suit was very good. The collar construction of the wetsuit provided a snug fit with the neoprene flat against my neck. It’s a very comfortable wetsuit. I didn’t experience any noticeable chafing or irritation from seams. The wetsuit is fully lined for extra insulation as standard in a swim wetsuit. 

The most noticeable feeling in the suit was the way that the legs felt lifted up high, into a flatter body position. I could easily get away without the need to kick; it’s certainly not a neutral buoyancy wetsuit. It seems designed for front crawl, as suggested by the 5mm panel thickness configuration on the legs which will be really helpful for those who struggle with their front crawl and poor body positioning. The smaller the frontal cross-sectional area you create when swimming, the less drag forces you’ll experience, and the faster you’ll move through the water for less energy used. And in terms of drag forces when swimming, the ‘form’ drag which is the cross-sectional area, generally accounts for the largest component of total drag forces as you try to move through the water. ‘Form’ drag can be as much as 80 percent of total drag, whereas ‘Skin Friction’ drag, or the drag experienced on the surface of the body accounts for only 20% of total drag. And this is also why technique is critical in swimming for reducing drag and increasing speed through the water. 

The most noticeable feeling in the suit was the way that the legs felt lifted up high, into a flatter body position. I could easily get away without the need to kick; it’s certainly not a neutral buoyancy wetsuit.

But even during breaststroke, I found that the wetsuit fitted nicely around the legs and crotch area, allowing for full movement of the legs during the breaststroke kick. If breaststroke is your preferred stroke, then this suit should still be fine for you especially at a leisurely pace. The added buoyancy provides extra safety and confidence especially when swimming in wide open stretches of water, some distance from the shoreline. 

Taking off a wetsuit is an important consideration for a triathlete when every second counts during that transition between the swim section to the cycle section of a race. And not surprisingly, considering Zone3’s pedigree as a triathlon brand, this aspect of the wetsuit’s performance shone through. It was very easy to remove – probably the easiest I’ve ever experienced in a wetsuit! This was especially noticeable in the removal of the legs. Obviously, this experience will differ with every individual because of the differences in body shapes. But this aspect of the wetsuit should also benefit open water swimmers on colder swims when your fingers are numb and the last thing you need is a wrestling match with your wetsuit as you need to quickly undress into your dry thermal clothing.

Chris Johnson

VERDICT

This is a well-built, quality wetsuit. If you’re searching for a quality wetsuit for an outdoor swim event that provides performance along with sustainability credentials, then this delivers. Zone3 states that this wetsuit is where ‘performance meets sustainability’, and I agree. At present, it’s probably the best available option on the market. A significant leap in the right direction. I know I’ll feel a lot happier swimming in this product, knowing that it should eventually biodegrade. 

In terms of durability, you might question whether a material that breaks down more easily at the end of life may not be as durable during its working life. Well, Zone3 and the Terraprene neoprene manufacturer Yamamoto claim that in terms of durability, it matches the traditional neoprene in terms of typical storage and swimming conditions, and only begins to biodegrade when under the correct heat, pressure, and moisture conditions in landfill. They also state that Terraprene is a synthetic rubber with similar properties to performance neoprene, but is produced from renewable feedstocks and is 100% biodegradable rubber. It uses limestone rock (calcium carbonate) as the key ingredient to replace the main petrochemical inputs to make polychloroprene (neoprene). In landfill conditions, it breaks down into methane and biomass, like other organic materials in landfill. There’s no microplastics to worry about. Based only on my short duration swim test, I found no evidence to disagree with this statement. 

In terms of styling, the Terraprene Vision wetsuit currently comes in the one colourway with the distinctive Zone3 block-coloured forearm and lower calf panels. Green exterior panelling communicates its biodegradable credentials, and is a sporty colour – although green isn’t to everyone’s tastes. Personally, I’d be more than happy to wear this wetsuit in one of my longer distance swim events this year. I’d be confident that it would help me perform at my best.

FURTHER LINKS

Chris Johnson