While a triathlon wetsuit will be appropriate for most UK races with an open-water start, a swimskin is for times when the water is too warm to be wetsuit-legal. Most likely this will affect those who race abroad, where there’s a much higher chance water temps will creep above the max legal limit for wetsuits (22°C for 1.5km swims and 24°C for 3.8km swims under British Triathlon and ITU competition rules).
What are swimskins?
Swimskins are made of textile materials that are designed to be hydrodynamic but without the thickness of neoprene. During pool repeats, this tester saved 2-3secs per 100m (as opposed to 4-5secs per 100m in a neoprene wetsuit), so if you want the best swim split possible at your non-wetsuit A-race, it’s worth the investment.
Considering most swimskins cost £200+, splashing out on the off-chance your local race might take place on a sweltering hot day isn’t such a good investment, and British Triathlon rules state that you have to wear it for the whole event in short-course races, which will be considerably less comfortable over the top of a tri-suit.
The six swimskins in this test all promise to give you a faster non-wetsuit swim, which meant plenty of testing in open water. Our test suits were men’s, but versions are also available in female-specific sizing.
This top-end swimskin is available in short-sleeved or sleeveless versions. We previously found the sleeved suit restrictive across the chest, so were hoping for improvements in the sleeveless version. Although the medium is a little on the small side compared to other mediums on test, when positioned correctly the PZ4TX is surprisingly stretchy and unlike the straitjacket feeling we expected when first wrestling it on. Blueseventy say they picked four different hydrophobic fabrics specifically chosen for their compression and stretch characteristics and, while swimming, it’s evident that there’s some muscle support in the legs and little to no restriction on the upper body. The bonded seams do the job of minimising any rubbing or chafing, and overall it provides a comfortable, fast swim for a little less than the other high-end swimskins on test. blueseventy.co.uk
Verdict: Plenty of stretch in the water and constructed with quality materials throughout, 85%
The Agilis was developed with Ali Brownlee leading up to his 2019 assault on the Ironman World Champs, and Huub claim they’ve come up with the fastest swimskin in the world to help him pursue his dream. Developed using their M.A.D. (Measurement of Active Drag) system, Huub say they’ve made the suit tight in all the right places, which shifts your centre of buoyancy and lowers surface drag, and have also added buoyancy and high compression around the core to keep you stabilised through the water. The legs are clad in super-thick panels and, while we don’t doubt that Huub have added them to decrease drag, getting the suit in position correctly took a considerable amount of effort, and in the water it felt a touch claustrophobic. On top things were considerably better, with more stretch offered on the shoulders that allowed for a largely unrestricted pull. huubdesign.com
Verdict: a fast, compressive and tech-laden swimskin, but with very little give in the legs 81%
The RS1 is the priciest suit on test and promises the ultimate in hydrodynamics to speed up your swim. Orca claim the coating won’t absorb any water on swims of up to three hours – and it’s remarkable how well the RS1 does this – with the water beading up on the surface better than any other suit we tested. We were also expecting a highly comfortable swim considering the price tag… yet sadly it fell short in this respect, with the very rigid material almost feeling like it was weighing us down at the shoulders. The thermos-sealed seams are also very thick, which adds to the rigid feeling. A few strokes in the situation improved, and we felt the small amount of buoyancy offered by the suit helping us to move smoothly through the water. A smart edition is the kinesiology tape on the sides, which Orca say will offer extra core support to keep you stabilised for longer. orca.com
Verdict: Massively water repellent, but made with an extremely rigid material, 78%
Roka say their swimskins have become the most popular at the Ironman World Champs, claiming a quarter of the field wore their Viper suit at the 2015 race. A few upgrades later, and Roka’s latest top-end swimskin now has thermo-bonded taping inside to provide compressive muscle support, and improved stretch under the armpits. We found our size medium was on the smaller side of what we’d expect, but when zipped up we found the Viper X II was as stretchy as promised. Roka use two varieties of stretch-woven textile for the main fabric with a hydrophobic Teflon coating, and it moved with us through the water to provide a restriction-free swim, with the water visibly beading off the surface on our water exit. We experienced some underarm chafing during a long set, which is a little disappointing since Roka claim this is an area they’d refined. uk.roka.com
Verdict: High-end suit with plenty of clever innovations to justify that lofty price tag, 87%
While most of the swimskins on test are rather subtle, you’ll certainly stand out in the Kona Target’s loud print inspired by the Ironman World Championships across the arms and upper back. Zone3 claim the X2R fabric is one of the lightest and most compressive hydrophobic materials available, and they’ve also worked to reduce the number of seams to prevent any irritation. We found it did indeed provide a completely chafe-free swim, and the fit is quite generous across the body which gave us some extra freedom of movement. Short-sleeved swimskins have made us feel restricted in the past, but the Kona Target has just enough stretch to allow you to swim as you would in a sleeveless swimskin, with the extra benefit of having more hydrodynamic material covering your upper arms. A pull cord comes already attached to the quality YKK zipper for fast removal in T1. zone3.com
Verdict: A fast and stylish short-sleeved swimskin that’s also hugely comfortable, 90%
Coming from the brand who invented the tri wetsuit, we expected great things from QR’s Hydrospeed swimskin… and it delivered emphatically. Described as ‘the simplest, most powerful swimskin on the market’, QR say they’ve focussed on delivering a swimskin that works with your natural stroke, made from a high-grade hydrodynamic material. Offered in seven different sizes (QR have a handy size guide to help), our M2 size fitted perfectly and provided ample stretch across the chest and shoulders through the water. There was simply no restriction or discomfort to speak of and, even faced with the four sleeveless suits on test, it was the one that felt the most breathable and easy to use. You’ll have to order the Hydrospeed directly from QR’s UK distributor, but it’s the most affordable suit here and our winner. windwave.co.uk
Verdict: Minimal restriction and hugely comfortable through the water; not the easiest to purchase, 92%