Put simply, the tri wetsuit is one of the most crucial buys you’ll ever make in tri. While they’ve experienced a host of technical innovations since the mid-1980s, their aim largely remains the same: to get you through the open-water swim as swiftly, as comfortable and as fresh as possible.
Although most events will see you in a wetsuit for about 10-20% of your race, a tri-specific suit can make or break your experience. An ill-fitting, poorly-chosen suit will leave you sinking in the water with a sore neck; your optimum suit will be the finishing touch to all those hours of pool training and will make you look and feel unstoppable come race morning.
When it comes to buying your tri wetsuit, our mantra has always been ‘try before you buy’, as the sizes can vary hugely. Find a tri retailer or tri expo to try the suits, especially if this is your first tri wetsuit purchase. If not, ensure the online seller has a decent returns policy and study the size guide. Also be aware of your own swim ability when picking. Make note that many top-end 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 think about what races (long or short?) you’ll be entering and whether you suffer from the cold.
Our reviewer Niamh, a strong age-grouper, will give a close examination to buoyancy for sinking bodies, comfort and fit, plus added technologies. Value and beginner benefits were other key considerations.
How we tested
We were lucky to test these suits in the warm-ish (18C) waters of Gran Canaria. This afforded us the opportunity to test them in UK summer seawater temps, dealing with waves and currents to fully judge their race-day form (and water ingress). Each was tested for fit, performance, buoyancy, comfort, hydrodynamics, added features, durability, ease of zipper, removal speed, budget and, finally, the visual design.
We’ve long found that you can’t go wrong with a Zone3 wetsuit. The new Advance features eco-friendly abilities with its recycled rubber and it still performs. It has a Flex-Free lining on the shoulders, meaning further reach and little restriction, as well as stretching around the calves. The laser cut collar keeps water out and fits comfortably, and is versatile for all kinds of swimming. We tested in both Cumbria and the Canaries, and the thick and durable neoprene kept our body temp constant in both extremes. The 4mm buoyancy panels in the legs held our body position flat, it’s true to its size and flexes to most body shapes. racezone3.com
Verdict: a brilliant all-rounder that comes at a great price 94%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
Once you’ve achieved the near impossible of getting it on, the Maverick fits every arc of the body. It’s snug like a race skin and lives up to its claim of being fast. Roka’s ARMS-UP tech means there’s no shoulder restriction and it leaves you swimming naturally. By increasing buoyancy in the lower – and making it more centralised – it increases the efficiency of side-to-side movement, meaning less drag. The neckline keeps water out but the difficulty of putting it on stems from the lack of material around the core, with the size guide even suggesting it’s for flat-stomached athletes.
Verdict: engineering excellence, but only for specific shapes 90%
Buy from global.roka.com
The stylish Challenger offers something other than plain black. It’s slick in the water and delivers a drag-free swim. While buoyancy in the legs is excellent, it also has a 4mm chest panel to help maintain a flat body position. Included in the chest panel is Thermo-Guard tech, which retains body heat in cold water. The Yamamoto 39 neoprene is soft and flexible, and the arms and shoulders have 2mm panels to allow it to flex with your stroke. There’s a soft neckline that keeps water out, but the tightness at the wrists and ankles leads to a slower T1. aquasphereswim.com/uk/
Verdict: ticks all boxes and is suitable for all body shapes 85%
Buy from www.swiminn.com
<strong” style=”display:none” our guide to the best women wetsuits for tri, under £300
The Sailfish Vibrant is stylish and designed to be reliable for beginner swimmers. It’s made of thick Longlife Cell Neoprene, which performs well at chilly temperatures, and it provides excellent buoyancy throughout. It has a hardened neoprene panel on the hips to stabilise your body position in the water, is flexible around the upper and has little shoulder restriction. The decent-sized zip and fit ensures it’s quick to get on and off, but we found the generous sizing allowed for water ingress. Overall, with the right size, it’s a decent performer with the extra buoyancy, but it’s on the expensive side for an entry-level wetsuit. sailfish.com
Verdict: a decent performer with added buoyancy 75%
Buy from www.swiminn.com
This is classic Blueseventy, with a great minimalistic style, good shoulder flexibility and a drag-free feeling in the water. But the most noticeable post-swim area was the tight neckline that claimed a layer of skin, so check the sizing. With an easy zip, and Aqua-seal cuffs at the ankles and wrists, it’s quick to get on and off and doesn’t let water in. The buoyancy patterns are spot on, with 1.5mm in the arms and upper, merging into 5mm in core and lower and 4mm at the feet to promote a smoother swimming style. It has SCS coating to prevent damage, but we just found that you can get more for your money elsewhere. blueseventy.com
Verdict: does the job, but check the neck sizing 75%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
For a budget suit designed for first timers, the Hydron performs as expected. There’s restriction in the shoulders, which doesn’t allow natural movement in the water, and the flush guards are uncomfortably tight at the wrists. Yet there are quick-release stretch panels in the lower leg, and it’s easy to remove. The neoprene is soft and supple, and the low neckline keeps water out effectively. Although it has 3mm smoothskin panels over the chest, which raise body position slightly, the buoyancy in the lower is poor. Overall, the Hydron has a good price and features, but it’s let down by a lack of flexibility where it’s needed most. wiggle.co.uk
Verdict: attractive price, but lacking in flexibility 67%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
Orca have made some serious upgrades for the 2018 Sonar. It has Yamamoto 39 neoprene, which is flexible, durable and non-absorbing. But what makes it so comfy is the super-soft infinity skin on the inside, which also makes it very quick to remove. It’s a fast piece of kit in the water and glides like a swim skin with absolutely no restriction, and it provides greater buoyancy to keep legs afloat with Aerodome2 technology in the lower. The upgraded tech has upped the price, but it’s an attractive performer and worth the investment for athletes looking for performance kit. It does size up a little large, so check before you buy. orca.com
Verdict: impressive upgrades make this a top racing contender 92%
Buy from www.simplyswim.com
The final verdict
In our personal experience, the tighter a wetsuit feels on land, the smoother it performs in the water. The Roka did just that. On the beach it felt tight on every limb but, once in the water, the pressure was removed and the tech revealed itself. This is a seriously fast suit… if it fits your body shape. The £287 price here is buying the suit direct from Roka in the US, which is oddly £70 cheaper (including postage) than buying in the UK.
The Aqua Sphere warrants serious consideration when picking your next suit, and would’ve scored even higher if it produced an easier T1. The Orca, meanwhile, has a healthy claim to be the best performing suit on test. The material holds the spotlight and it’s the thinnest and most flexible on test. But if you’re between sizes we’d suggest sizing down.
While still being flexible, the Zone3 stays true to its size. It’s also the greatest bargain to be found here and is the swiftest to remove, making it yet another Best on Test wetsuit accolade for the Brit brand.