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 swimskins in this test all promise to give you a faster non-wetsuit swim, which meant plenty of testing in open water.
Best men’s swimskins 2021
Yonda says the D2 uses ‘the fastest, most efficient hydrophobic fabric available’, which is warp-knitted and infused with Teflon to repel the water as you swim. It’s a much simpler affair than some of the other highly technical swim skins on test, and the only one with some flatlock stitching still visible on the outside of the garment. We also found the fabric was less compressive than others on test, which makes it among the more comfortable, leaving us chafe-free after each swim. Yonda claims that the D2 can improve stroke efficiency up to 4.5secs per 100m, which we found to be a little off the mark, but were still satisfied with the 2.5-3secs per 100m improvement we were getting in our times tests. The sticky leg grippers made it a little difficult to pull the suit up over our thighs, but this didn’t affect the performance in the water.
Verdict: Simple, effective and more wallet-friendly than most rivals, 80%
Sailfish Rebel Pro 2
If you want to convince triathletes that your swim skin is fast, it’s not a bad idea to have your company MD break the Kona swim course record in it… and that’s just what Sailfish founder Jan Sibberson did in the previous version of the Rebel Pro 2 in 2018. As we find with Sailfish wetsuits, the fit was generous, and our size medium was quite wide across the chest. The material is described as ‘surface-compressed highperformance textile’ that’s densely woven for maximum hydrodynamics. As expected, we found the Rebel Pro 2 was fast in our timed tests, saving up to 3secs per 100m. A reverse zipper with a cord for quick removal in T1 is a welcome addition, and the seams are all sealed to ensure the smoothest, most hydrophobic surface possible. We did experience some chafing under the arms, so we’d recommend using an anti-chafing product for long swims.
Verdict: A proven high-end option with quality fabric, but a little on the roomy side, 82%
Roka Viper X2
Roka says its swim skins are now Kona’s most popular. After numerous upgrades, the top-of-the-range Viper X2 now features thermobonded taping to provide compressive muscle support without any breathing restriction, plus improved stretch which should stop any discomfort. The stretch-woven textile and hydrophobic Teflon coating are an ideal match, providing a swim free of any restriction and proving to be fast in our controlled pool testing. We did suffer slight chafing under the arms, but this was quickly solved by some Body Glide in our next test swim. Roka says the Viper X2 sizes up quite small because of the compression taping and although we found it tight, our usual medium was stretchy enough to suffice. We think the Viper X2 is worth the cash if you’re a front pack swimmer. r
Verdict: A great suit with lots of impressive tech which justifies the price, 88%
Quintana Roo Hydrospeed
The brand that invented the triathlon wetsuit describes the Hydrospeed as ‘the simplest, most powerful swimskin on the market’, claiming that where others ‘compromise performance for fashion’, Quintana Roo’s focusses on performance at a fair price.While we’ve found some short-sleeved swim skins restrictive in the past, we experienced no restriction or discomfort whatsoever in the Hydrospeed, which allowed us to focus on what matters – swimming fast. The Lycra-free design features quality hydrophobic, moisturewicking materials throughout, with a zip garage at the neck to prevent any irritation. The zipper is fast and easy to undo for a speedy transition, while a choice of seven sizes means everyone should find a size to suit them. The affordable price and equally impressive performance make this best in test.
Verdict: A super comfortable, short-sleeved suit without any restriction, 91%
Huub’s Race swimskin plays second fiddle to its top-end Agilis (£264.99), but after numerous test swims, we preferred the Race due to the less rigid material that we found easier to get on with. It’s actually a classic revived by Huub, who’s brought back this version of its original swim skin to provide a more affordable offering. In the water, the hydrophobic fabric did its job, and we experienced very little restriction across the chest. Huub says the suit has ‘high compression to reduce frontal area’, and while the compression isn’t as great as the offerings from Roka or Sailfish, the slightly more relaxed fit might be appreciated by some swimmers. A fulllength zip guard covers the easy-unlock rear zipper to prevent any discomfort, and the leg grippers hug your thighs while being nice and easy to get in position before you set off.
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.
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.
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.
Verdict: Massively water repellent, but made with an extremely rigid material, 78%
Roka Viper XII
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.
Verdict: High-end suit with plenty of clever innovations to justify that lofty price tag, 87%
Zone3 Kona Target
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.
Verdict: A fast and stylish short-sleeved swimskin that’s also hugely comfortable, 90%
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Best women’s swimskins 2021
Aqua Sphere Phantom V3
That price tag puts the Phantom firmly at the top end of this grouptest, making it a considered purchase even against the likes of the Zone3 and Roka. The suit features a ‘core power’ system designed to improve posture and hip rotation. We noticed this effect in the water, although we preferred the way the Roka felt in achieving the same, as the overall fit was more supportive. This suit felt a slightly odd shape on this tester but we did like the feel of the two fabrics used, which were both relatively supple as well as highly compressive. The suit was water repellent and, although it featured a locking zip with guard, a pull cord would have been appreciated. On a side note, the styling was our least favourite.
Verdict: Clearly good tech but eye-warteringly expensive and the fit was a bit odd on this tester, 80%
There’s no getting around the fact that for most of us, a swim skin is a luxury purchase. However, if you’re looking for one but don’t want to fork out close to £300, then Huub should be your first port of call as (spolier alert) the brand bagged our best value award this issue for both their men’s and women’s ‘entry-level’ suit – the Race on the next page being the men’s version of this Aura. Like our male tester, we found this suit comfortable and, if a little less compressive than the Roka for example, still high compression enough to make a substantial difference in our swim times. It felt good on and the hydrophobic fabric slipped through the water. Looks aren’t everything, but this suit was easily up there with the most stylish.
Verdict: Still a considered purchase but if you want a swim skin then you can’t go wrong here, 82%
Sailfish Rebel Pro 2
The Rebel Pro 2 is one of three suits (along with the Roka and Huub) that also appears in their male version over the page. This tester has always found Sailfish wetsuits to suit her though, so how about a swim skin? Well, as with their wetsuits they come up a little large, so we’d recommend sizing down in this brand for a fully compressive fit. Patrick Lange used this suit when he broke eight hours in Hawaii so it comes with good pro credentials and, as our male tester noted, the densely-woven fabric gave superb hydrophobic performance. Touches such as the bonded seams and reverse zipper with long pull cord were appreciated. A sleeved version is also available and overall it felt like a quality suit.
Verdict: A fast suit with good credentials and some nice touches. Size down for a compressive fit, 84%
The only sleeved swim skin in our women’s test this year, we were immediately drawn to the styling of this one. Sleeved suits are a little trickier over a sleeved tri-suit, but over a vested one (which Zone3 recommends) this created a smooth silhouette and fitted perfectly with just enough stretch (once on!) to give the range of movement needed through the arms and shoulders. Developed in collaboration with two-time Kona swim winner Josh Amberger, the suit has good credentials and the SCS (Super Composite Skin) technology felt highly waterrepellent and rapid. In our pool sessions this suit gave the most impressive timesaving over our 1,500m test session and the bonded seams felt good quality.
Verdict: Sleeves are a winner, good styling and the fastest suit in our women’s testing this year, 90%
Roka Viper X2
Having pro Lucy Charles-Barclay race in them can’t hurt the cred of the Roka swim skin and, worn over a tri-suit, this was a comfortable (if very compressive) suit. As noted in our male test of the same suit, Roka does recommend sizing up. Our medium worked well for swims up to 3km in the pool and open water, with the bonded interior support and Teflon DWR (durable water repellant) fabric helping us feel fast in the water, something which was again backed up by our Garmin stats. We did experience a little chafing under the arms, but this was solved by adding a short-sleeved tri-suit and/or lube. The suit also featured lower back support and we noticed that on longer swims our body position stayed as it should.
Verdict: Impressive tech and we loved the support it gave, just pipped by the Zone3 this year, 88%