Once you’ve got a first season under your belt though, or if you’re lucky enough to have a bit more to spend to start with, then it might be time to upgrade. In a first tri wetsuit you’re looking for comfort, a great fit and maybe a few features that will help you transition faster.
Key things to look for in a mid to top-end wetsuit are the correct buoyancy for your swim style, so consider whether you need more buoyancy in the legs, but also whether you want more structure and lift in the chest and torso, or whether your body position and core strength are such that you don’t need it. The thickness of the arms becomes a consideration here too (some on this test go as low as 0.5mm), plus maximum flexibility in every area of your stroke should be a given.
Next, think about tri-specific features that could bag you a few extra seconds. What kind of zip do you find easiest? Top- down, bottom-up, or quick-release? Are the arm and leg cuffs speedy to remove or will you get stuck? What is the suit like to run in if you’re planning a race with a long distance to cover between swim and bike?
How we tested
We tested our women’s suits in the warm waters of Club La Santa in Lanzarote. The saltwater lagoon features a marked 1.9km course used for the Lanzarote Ironman 70.3 race, so was the perfect place to put these suits through their paces. There were also three 50m swimming pools to use.
Finding the Helix from Blueseventy in your pile of test kit is a bit like greeting an old friend – so popular has this suit been in the triathlon market that it’s now on its sixth version and has scored countless triathlon world titles since its creation. Redesigned for 2018, this suit scored 83% in our men’s test last year and we’d agree that the women’s version is equally good. The 5:4:4 buoyancy profile and positioning of ‘LIFT’ foam technology gave a great position in the water for this sinky-legged tester. The overall fit is good and the suit is quick to pull on and off, thanks to a decent amount of stretch in the lining. The 1mm arms with large catch panels gave excellent flexibility and feel for the water, with Blueseventy’s ‘Torsional Stretch Technology’ allowing plenty of mobility through the shoulders, limiting fatigue even over longer swims. blueseventy.co.uk
Verdict: This classic suit remains current thanks to the winning tech and continues to perform, 86%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
Zone3 have redesigned the Vanquish and the result is a flexible suit, aimed at triathletes looking for marginal gains. The main headline is the 0.3mm sleeves, now the thinnest around (the Zoot WikiWiki and Orca Predator feature 0.5mm arms – see men’s test overleaf). Whether that extra 0.2mm makes a difference is debatable, but add the arms to the 1.5mm shoulder panel extending from the chest to the back and there’s no doubt that, if you like a barely-there feeling, this suit is the one for you. The rest of the suit is soft thanks to a silk-fit lining and ultra-stretchy panels, while the 5mm aerodome sections lift both legs and torso. We had water ingress on the neck, but sizing down would likely solve this. Sadly the neck did chafe a little as well, though. Finally, Speed Pro cuffs on the wrists and ankles made it the fastest on test to remove. zone3.com
Verdict: Zone3 innovate with a classic wetsuit, adding the thinnest sleeves on the market 88%
Buy from www.tredz.co.uk
Alongside the Elvis-gold design, the Phantom 2.0 also features a ‘Core Power Band’ around the centre, designed to stabilise your middle, support the back and encourage hip rotation. As this section of the suit also includes a rubber pattern on the lining, it also made it the trickiest to get into on a sticky day – and the neoprene panels also aren’t the stretchiest (a top-down zipper adds to the faff). Once on, the fit’s good and that centre panel, alongside a mix of 4mm/5mm buoyancy panels around the legs and hips, gave us a great position in the water. Although it isn’t for triathletes who prefer a feeling of freedom in their suits, sinky-legged swimmers will rejoice at the control it gives. We had no water ingress at the neck even in choppy sea and the 1mm arms felt flexible. Fabric wrist panels give a good feel for the water and the suit’s fairly easy to remove.
Verdict: Fast and pleasurable to swim in; high buoyancy and corrective positioning, 83%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
The Propel is the easiest suit here to pull on thanks to the ‘stretch lining’, and is instantly flexible and comfy, with those graphics adding to the superhero feeling. Into the water and we were equally impressed, with the 45 cell neoprene, seamless 1mm arms and chest panels giving a range of motion while limiting shoulder fatigue. This suit features a mix of 2mm and 3mm leg panels joined by buoyancy panels on the torso, so doesn’t lift the legs as much as some of the 5mm suits, but our legs were lifted enough to correct our position. Plus, as it isn’t too corrective, strong swimmers who like a natural-feeling wetsuit will love the way it feels. We did experience some water down the neck, but sizing down to a S/M from our usual medium should solve this. Shaped cuffs prevented water ingress up the sleeves and are speedy to remove.
Verdict: Super-flexible and speedy wetsuit with gains for stronger swimmers 95%
Buy from www.tredz.co.uk
Coming in at a similar price to most in this test, the Torrent from French brand Mako is a suit that hasn’t seen any updates since we tested it a year ago so it’s battling against the latest tech and upgrades. While it still holds its own in the visibility stakes, we found this suit one of the trickier to get in and out of due to the jersey lining, which also made it feel tight and inflexible. It sizes quite small compared to others on test, too. Yet, like the Aqua Sphere Phantom 2.0 on the left, this suit comes into its own once in the water, with 1.5mm neoprene in the arms and shoulders giving good reach and flexibility, while a mix of 3mm and 5mm panels in the back and body kept the legs high. You also get stretchy panels at the top of the legs designed to make running to T1 easier and fabric catch panels on the wrists to improve the feel
Verdict: A solid and visually striking suit, but one that could use a revamp for the high price, 75%
Buy from www.swiminn.com
Available in 12 women’s sizes from XS to XXL, our testing of the Pro II really proved that wetsuit fit is king. Our usual medium gave a frustratingly restrictive feel, but once we sized up to a medium/tall, a whole new world opened up. The suit was still time-consuming to wriggle into, but once on gave us a fantastic position in the water, streamlined and with our feet just breaking the surface thanks to a graduated buoyancy profile centred around the lower body. Despite the close fit, the reach through our stroke was superb thanks to Roka’s ‘arms-up’ design (the suit is constructed around the arms being in a streamlined, ‘up’ position) which limit shoulder fatigue. Adding to the comfort was the neckline, which achieved the
holy grail of being comfortable, yet not chafing or leaking even on a 3km-plus swim session. uk.roka.com
Verdict: Get the right fit and this suit will reward you with a fast and comfortable swim experience 92%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk/
The overall verdict
This year’s women’s top-end wetsuits show the high level of technology now available. We’d happily pull on most on race day without any worries, but the 2XU took our ‘best on test’ award by virtue of its flexibility, comfort and speed. Sinky-legged swimmers looking for more buoyancy may prefer to choose one of the suits with 5mm legs though, such as the Aqua Sphere. Roka take our cutting-edge award thanks to the ‘arms-up’ fatigue-limiting design, which for us, offered the most comfortable long swim experience on test.