It’s time for the budget tri wetsuit contenders, and, for the most part, they’re a strong collection of suits. Because your first triathlon wetsuit purchase is one of the most crucial you’ll ever make, the start of a multisport journey that could last a lifetime. But that’s not to say that the entry-level suits here are just for beginners, as many display enough quality for a host of tri experiences.
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When it comes to buying your tri wetsuit, our mantra is repeatedly ‘try before you buy’, as the sizes can vary massively between brands. If you can, find a tri retailer or tri expo to try the suits, especially if this is your first triathlon wetsuit purchase. If not, ensure any online seller has a decent returns policy and study the size guide.
How can you tell if your wetsuit fits properly?
Also think about your own swim ability when picking as some features – slender neoprene and a reduction in buoyancy – are lost on, or even detrimental to, beginner swimmers. Those with sinking legs should look for increased neoprene thickness with enhanced buoyancy. And consider which races (sprint or Ironman?!) you’ll be entering and whether you suffer from the cold.
Features editor Matt takes on the men’s suits, and will provide a close examination of buoyancy for sinking bodies, comfort and fit, plus added technologies. Value and beginner benefits were other key considerations.
How we tested the budget wetsuits
We tested these suits in both the pool and open water, with Durdle Door and Weymouth (home of the Ironman 70.3 race) in Dorset being our open-water venues of choice. Each was tested for comfort, performance, buoyancy, durability, hydrodynamics, zipper prowess, removal speed and the visual design. Value for money was a key consideration for this test, with features and material quality compared from wetsuit to wetsuit.
Most of our tri swim milestones over the years have come in Orca wetsuits (including our debut iron in their £169 S7), and the Equip proved a quality performer from the moment it entered the water. Where it excels is in the comfort and flex, even when compared to the best performers on test (and plenty in the next price bracket up), thanks to the combo of Yamamoto 39 tech, supple inner lining and 1.5mm thick arms. For speedsters, there’s SCS coating to improve hydrodynamics and Hydrolite panels to hasten T1 (it’s also the best for running thanks to the fabric on the reverse of the calves). Worth noting is that it comes from Orca’s Natural swimmer range (for those in search of flexibility over buoyancy), so leg sinkers like us may prefer the extra lift given by the S7, but for frugal strong swimmers it’s hard to recommend anything but the Equip.
Verdict: Peerless comfort and flexibility for the price; but look elsewhere for buoyancy 93%
Buy from https://www.tredz.co.uk
The Wave 1 has previously impressed on these pages but, given it’s been around a while now and the competition elsewhere has improved, we’re nudging the score down a touch. While there’s still little to fault, what’s noticeable compared to the Orca Equip (and even the £140 Speedo on p58) is how thick it feels due to the mix of 4mm and 5mm panels on the back, front and calves, and 38-cell Yamamoto neoprene, with the slighter lack of flexibility evident when worn back-to-back. But if you want a surge of buoyancy and added warmth (it was the warmest in the 13°C waters of Dorset), then this is the pick for you. A further piece of tech that makes it stand out from the entry-level crowd is the GLIDEflex grooved panels on the chest, which help lung expansion and the channelling of water. The removal speed in T1, meanwhile, is decent enough. zootsports.co.uk
Verdict: Solid construction, warm and buoyant, but there are more flexible suits out there 83%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
Like Speedo, Aqua Sphere have been resurgent in triathlon in 2019 and their Racer was a worthy winner of our men’s mid-range (£250-500) test last issue. The Pursuit keeps the bright graphics and SCS coating, but its Yamamoto level is understandably reduced from 40 to 38 to hit the entry-level price point. The 2mm arm flexibility is adequate and the buoyancy levels are far from excessive, helped by a 4mm core and 2mm lower back panels, to produce a fairly natural swimming experience. Sadly our overriding feeling of swimming in the Pursuit is that of a painful neck due to the tight and high collar line, with a strange elasticated insert in the collar adding to the discomfort levels. The upshot is that there’s minimal water ingress but we’d trade a smattering of that for a happy neckline after 20mins in the water.
Verdict: Good looks and gives a natural swim experience, it’s just a shame about the neckline 78%
Buy from www.aquasphereswim.com/uk
Yonda have fine form on these pages of late, with their Ghost II edging the more recognisable triathlon brands to win our men’s top-end grouptest. Sadly the Spectre, like the Bond film from which it shares its name, is a frustrating mix of highs and lows. Into Durdle Door’s water and a noticeable amount of water slithers up the slightly-loose ankles, a problem we’ve rarely experienced with contemporary wetsuits. The reverse zipper caused pre-swim problems – something to be aware of if you swim alone or feel uncomfortable asking strangers to help with the fastening – but it led to a chafe-free swim experience and a faster T1. Positives include an incredible 40 and 39 Yamamoto mix for the price, superior construction, SCS coating and a well-crafted buoyancy that had us positioned evenly on the surface of the water.
Verdict: Some great touches, but the reverse zipper will divide beginner opinions 80%
buy from yondasports.com
Quick-release zipper issues aside, we were largely impressed by Dhb’s top-end Aeron Lab (£250) last issue and that suit shares some tech with its cheaper sibling, including the SCS coating and wide array of buoyancy thicknesses (from 1.5/2mm on the arms to 4.5/5mm on the legs). What the plain Aeron doesn’t offer is Yamamoto 38, and the comparable loss in comfort is evident straight away. The arm reach for a suit of this price is appreciated, however, and the neoprene mix kept us horizontal in Weymouth’s waters. Sadly, and despite using lube, we had chafing issues from the rear neck area that began shortly into our sea swims and intensified by the swim’s closure. Trying before you buy is tough with Wiggle but worth noting is that the Aeron is currently £115, which adds to the appeal for beginner swimmers taking tentative steps into triathlon.
Verdict: Great price, decent aesthetics, reasonable reach, underwhelming neckline 75%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
The Speedo Fastskin Proton, which is, put simply, up there with the best budget wetsuits we’ve ever tested. It’s not often that we have to double check the RRP as we believed it would be more expensive, but that’s the case with the Proton wetsuit. We expected north of £200, but what we have is Yamamoto 38-cell neoprene, and a lean, lithe and continuous 1.5mm shoulder panel for an astonishing £140.
Into the choppy waters of Weymouth for our key test swim and we felt plenty of love. Where budget wetsuits are often purely functional – a slab of buoyancy, a slither of flexibility – the Proton finds the balance between keeping you afloat and maintaining a feel for the water thanks to the 1.5mm thickness of the shoulders and supple neoprene. And it’s also damn enjoyable to swim in.
Negative points are few, although we would’ve liked the tight cuffs to be easier to remove and those with sinking legs could be better off looking elsewhere for more buoyancy than the max 4mm leg thickness offered here.
Verdict: Flexibility, style and comfort for £140? this is an incredible entry-level suit 93%
buy from www.speedo.com
The Alpha offers a sleek design that doesn’t look out of place against its loftier Huub siblings. The feel is also different from the usual budget suits, which often offer masses of neoprene thickness.
Cut to poolside and the ‘speed cut’ ankles and smooth neoprene make it swift to put on… until the shoulder area. This tester isn’t exactly broad, but getting the suit over our shoulders was problematic, and we managed to twinge a shoulder muscle pulling it on (much to the amusement of the jammer-clad fraternity on the waterside). Things initially pick up once in the water, with the level of buoyancy feeling evenly controlled and far from excessive. Whether it’s down to the ‘Glide Skin’ neoprene or not, the outer also feels slick through the water.
The flatlock construction of the interior continues the comfort and chafe-free theme, and yet we still had arm issues in the water, with ingress up the sleeves and shoulder fatigue by the end of our sessions. Much of this is down to failing to find a desired fit, with the underarms remaining baggy (two medium friends also had fit issues). And yet, there’s much to celebrate with the Alpha and it’s great to witness a suit that offers trickle-down tech from its vaunted stablemates. If you spot it at an expo and it fits you, you could do far worse.
Verdict: great buoyancy profile, price and internal comfort, but arm fit issues 79%
Read full review
Buy from huubdesign.com
The overall verdict
For those on a really strict budget, we’d recommend checking out the Speedo Proton, which is probably the best sub-£150 men’s wetsuit we’ve ever tested. At that price point here, the Dhb has much to recommend it but – and, yes, fit is a subjective thing – we can see the neck chafing happening to other triathletes in the swim.
In the £250 battle, both the Aqua Sphere and Yonda have superior construction and an enjoyable, natural swimming experience. Yet, for us, both have flaws, from Aqua Sphere’s high and tight neckline to Yonda’s odd water ingress and choice of a reverse zipper (and the pre-swim trouble it brings), a questionable choice for something that Yonda target at ‘first timers to triathlon.’
The solid Zoot is the pick for those who swim or suffer in the cold, but there’s a resounding winner here and that’s the Orca Equip for its flexibility, comfort and massively-enjoyable swimming experience that it brings.