What should you look for in a wetsuit? With some wetsuits pushing £1000 and a range of different specs, the process of buying a reasonably priced wetsuit can be daunting.
The best wetsuit for you depends on what you want to use the suit for and your budget. Some suits are designed for open water swimming, while others are more triathlon-specific. Included in this years review are a range of suits from sleeveless speedsters perfect for racing to specialist colder water wetsuits and all-rounder suits.
Different suits offer different levels of warmth and buoyancy, with suits such as the Alpkit Silvertip designed for greater warmth across the season, and other suits offering less heat retention but a more natural swimming position either as a result of uncovering arms, or using thinner neoprene (thicker neoprene gives more warmth and more buoyancy).
There is a lot of inventive language about neck bands on suits, as manufacturers try to solve the conflict between a neck band that is tight enough to keep out water, and not so tight it strangles you (or rubs).
As a general rule 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. As well as neck bands, manufacturers are currently very focused on edging ahead of each other in their offers for natural body position suits, coatings that reduce drag, and features such as breakaway zips (which HUUB use for faster changing in triathlon) and stability or ‘roll bar’ panels to strengthen your core. Cheaper suits might not have thinner and more flexible neoprene, but they can often be more durable – 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, if it fits you properly. We would recommend you try on a suit before buying if possible, as wetsuit sizings vary from standard dress sizes and between wetsuit brands (some brands have a more athletic cut than others).
Get a suit that fits you as snugly as possible. 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. And once you have your new suit – get outside in it as soon as possible to wear it in.
These suits were tested for their fabric quality, performance, fit, style and overall impression by the head office team at SwimTrek. Some of the team have many years of experience in open water and outdoor swimming and some are still fairly new in their journey. Where there are both men’s and women’s versions of a suit, only one sex was tested.
The P1 Propel is an all-round wetsuit that aims to deliver many of the key technical benefits of the elite tier of the 2XU range.
Key features in this more moderately priced model includes a rollbar for ‘increased core buoyancy and body position,’ SCS coating to ‘reduce resistance’ when taking the suit on and off and “39 cell” buoyancy paneling.
Fit: With fuss free stitching and a smooth fit, our testers thought this suit fitted like “a second skin”. “The P1 is easy to get on and off and the panel work with differing thicknesses compliments the typical swimmer’s body well,” said one tester.
Performance: The gloves provided (for putting on you wetsuit) are a handy inclusion to prevent snags from fingernails.
Summary: A top choice for price and performance!
The Lotic is the second most economical full wetsuit we tested (Lomo Prime being the cheapest). The Lotic is billed as Alpkit’s ‘best all-round wetsuit for swimming in open water’ and aimed at both experienced open water swimmers and those newly transitioning from the pool.
Fit: Good fit around the trunk. We tested the men’s suit but the cut of both men and women are more generous on the arms, hips and legs than the average supertight tri suit. “Upside: easier to get on and off, downside: bit baggy around the knees” said one tester. Performance: Feeling of mobility in the shoulders varied between testers. The thicker neoprene around the trunk and legs help to lift the lower body in the water allowing for an improved swimming position and combating the effects of drag. The red panels on the forearms and ankles are great for visibility.
Summary: A good beginner wetsuit at a good price, for the swimmer looking for equal performance in buoyancy, warmth and range of motion.
The Terrapin is a thinner suit than the Lotic, designed to give a more natural body position in the water and more “natural swimming experience”. Like the Lotic it is at the more economical end of those tested but still aimed at strong swimmers as well as those “making their first strokes into open water”. The thinner neoprene means it won’t be as warm as other suits.
Fit: Ample space around the shoulders and fitting closely on the legs and waist. The high neckline could rub.
Performance: Felt like a good option for someone that doesn’t enjoy the feeling of wetsuits, and who isn’t seeking extra buoyancy or warmth. The thinner more flexible neoprene gives a good range of movement, and testers could feel more water sluishing through.
Summary: Good price and delivers on the more natural swimming position. An easy to get on wetsuit good for jumping in for a quick wild swim.
With a fleece lined interior and thicker neoprene panels, the Silvertip is Alpkit’s ‘go-to cold water swimming suit.’ The suit is designed to be easy to pull on and off and ‘to trap more water close to the skin, preventing it from flowing around the suit.’ A collaboration with wetsuit designer Dean Jackson, ‘the Silvertip has been created with year round adventurous open water swimming in mind.’
Testers liked the design, a combination of an unusual silver hexagon pattern across the legs and silver blocks across the arms.
Fit: Easy to get on and off, the fabric is comfortable out of the water and insulating in the water. A closer fit across the chest, the thinner material here gives the flexibility of easy movement. For some, tight on the neck (some of the OSS team who have these suits have cut off the neck band).
Performance: Though some water can get into the top of the suit, it doesn’t move around the body and our testers found that the soft inner material was helpful for keeping warm. ‘Love the quality and fit of this suit and use it across most of the seasons,’ says one female tester. ‘It gives me good shoulder mobility though I did switch to a men’s suit to get the required length in the body.’
Summary: A good option for swimmers that get cold or who do a lot of swimming in lakes or colder water.
Between a ‘Bio-Stretch Zone’, ‘Thermo-Guard technology,’ ‘Aqua-Flex collar’ and ‘SCS-Coated neoprene’ there are a lot of technological terms attached to this suit, which comes in one penny under our price limit. The laymen’s version: someone has really thought about making a suit with shoulder stretch that will retain body heat.
Fit: This is a good fitting wetsuit with a close fit around the neck. This helps keep the water out of the body though those with larger necks might find the ‘Aqua-Flex’ collar quite tight.
Performance: A good performing wetsuit that is comfortable to swim in. The close fit still allows for ample movement in the arms, though our testers found it a little more restrictive than other wetsuits.
Summary: A well designed suit both technically and visually, with a striking orange print across the arms.
Less than £100! A new model of wetsuit, the Prime varies the thickness of neoprene for greater performance – with 2.5mm arms and shoulders for freedom of movement and 4mm chest and front of legs for core buoyancy and warmth. This suit is designed for keeping the legs and hips higher in water enabling a more streamlined body position and reduced drag. A low neckline is included for easier rotation of head whilst breathing.
Fit: A slightly more unusual fit than a regular wetsuit, this allows for wider waists and thighs. You can feel the thickness of the neoprene. Has a high placed neckline.
Performance: Very buoyant so perfect for beginners, however a tighter fit on the arms gave our tester (who has big shoulders) a more limited range of motion than other wetsuits.
Summary: A competitively priced entry level wetsuit – may particularly suit stockier frames and those looking for warmth on short and wild swims.
Like the ALPKIT Terrapin this is a thinner suit designed for a more natural swimming position and lightweight feel while swimming, giving ‘a sense of freedom’ and ‘maximum flexibility’ in the open water. With a specially designed stretchable lining, it aims to provide ‘just the right amount of buoyancy without raising the lower body so much that you kick out of the water.’
Fit: This wetsuit takes some time to get on but once on, it has a very close, true to size fit. The fabric is comfortable to the skin, with our tester noting how it felt like a second skin!
Performance: Comfortable in and out of the water, the specific stretchable design lends itself very well to allowing unrestricted movement on the shoulders. The high neckline means only a very small amount of water gets into the suit.
Summary: A sleek wetsuit with a bold design across the arms – for those seeking a more natural swimming position and not so concerned with heat retention, this a top choice.
A moderately priced sleeveless wetsuit that is well placed for racing, this suit is designed to provide the ‘necessary thermal insulation and extra buoyancy without altering your natural position in the water.’ The lining in the neck area aims to ‘reduce friction and the likelihood of chafing.’ Orca claim a soft material that is soft to the touch on the inner coated for increased speed on the outer.
Fit: The ‘tank top’ fit of this suit comes quite far into the chest, allowing space for full rotation of the arms. The lined material around the neck is deliberately softer in an attempt to stop chafing, and has a lower neck line at the front for great movement around the neck.
Performance: This suit enjoys added buoyancy for the torso and legs whilst retaining a good feel for the water due to the exposed shoulders. This would be excellent for racing or long distance swims and is a great aid to move you quicker through the water.
Summary: A great sleeveless suit for both racing and long swims which is easy to get on and off.
Inspired by the more expensive Vanquish model but at a more affordable price, the Vision is advertised as a ‘perfect entry-level or training suit which pushes performance within its class to the next level.’ Featuring a one-piece shoulder section, “Speed-Flo” coating and 5mm buoyancy leg panels, this suit is designed to be fast and comfortable. It also includes “Free Flex” lining to give ‘further flexibility and reach throughout the torso.’
Fit: It has a good, tight fit on the ankles and wrists but needs slightly more time to get on. The general fit of this wetsuit also compliments slightly shorter torsos.
Performance: Very good buoyancy which our tester noted that once on, he could barely notice it. The crew neckline is low but does stretch a little in the water.
Summary: A well performing wetsuit for the seasoned swimmer. The brand have clearly listened and responded to swimmer needs on shoulder range of motion and neckline, and if you like a loud suit with multiple colors this is also a good choice.
One of two sleeveless ROKA suits, the Maverick Comp II is the most affordable wetsuit by the brand. This suit is proud of it’s buoyancy, claiming “RS Centreline Buoyancy” for ‘better rotation, and buoyancy on the lower body to avoid legs sinking’. Coated to improve durability and reduce drag.
Fit: A silky smooth neoprene, this fabric is soft against the skin .This suit has very thick neoprene at the front of the lower body, which can take a while to get on, but the thinner material on the back of the legs does help to alleviate this. It is worth mentioning that you may find your regular size does not match up to the ROKA sizing as our tester found a size and a half down from his regular size fit like a glove (the brand has 10 sizes for men and 12 for women, so the range of sizing is impressive – and the returns policy means you can try a suit and swim in it to check the sizing).
Performance: Very thick neoprene on the legs keep the lower body very high in the water and the sleeveless design allows for no shoulder restriction. This is a great suit for moving very fast in the water.
Summary: A very good wetsuit that is well suited for racing once you find your fit, so we recommend trying one on before you buy.
Our testers at SwimTrek ranged from 5ft’3 to 6ft 5, size 8 to 14-16 or men’s large. Here’s who put the suits through their paces: