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If the Suits Fits

There’s nothing like the smell of neoprene in the morning. Craig McKenzie tests five super suits from the main players in the Australia’s wetsuit market.

The suits I tested were all top of the line suits from 2XU, Blue Seventy, HUUB, Orca, and Zoot. Each was tested over two weeks in the same 50m pool, at the same time of day, with the same protocol to help determine in the most objective way, which suit was the best fit.

Each was tested for the following:

1: Fit, flexibility, float and feel – How well the suit fits, how much perceived movement, buoyancy and comfort the suit provides in the water.

At 183cm and 72kg, I have a few sizes to pick from. Finding the right one might take some groundwork, but it’s time well spent you find your ideal fit.

2: Ease of removal – How quickly and easily the suit came off in a test to simulate a run to T1 after a hard swim. This becomes more important for short races and those swimmers at the pointy end looking to optimise their ability to get on the bike quickly.

3: Value for money – What you get with the suit and pre/post purchase service.

4: Swim performance – these are the average times rounded to the nearest 0.5 seconds over a total of 16 x 100s, done in two sessions on the 1.25 cycle along with one other suit per session, and then repeated the following week with another suit. Swim times for the same set without the suits averaged 1.14. This aspect becomes increasingly relevant as the length of the swim segment increases.
 
In this article I focussed on the factors I found most beneficial. One consistent theme in most of the high-end suits today is that they are made from a mix of 39 and 40 cell Yamamoto rubber. The specifics of each type would be best extolled by Mr. Yamamoto, but simply put, it is thought that 40 is more flexible – but also more fragile and less buoyant – than 39. The flexibility of the Y40 is mostly seen in the arms and shoulders, with the durability and buoyancy of the Y39 used in the body and legs, allowing greater floatation without the excessive stretch.

Suit-2XU

2XU – X:2

If Batman did tris he would wear this suit. The X:2 was the most expensive of the five tested, with an RRP of $1200, but it comes with a good list of features. It felt different to the other suits in that the body seemed a little more rigid. The arms were quite flexible and the buoyancy was great throughout the suit, giving me an equal feel of floatation from the torso to the legs.

One thing I didn’t like as much was that the back of the neck seemed less forgiving than some other suits when looking up for sighting.

This suit came off quite easily. It has a traditional pull down zipper with a single Velcro fastener which works well. The only downside to this design is the possibility of getting the cord pulled prematurely, although having the cord underneath the Velcro strap lessens the likelihood of this during the swim. Practice getting the plastic forearm panels off on the run to transition is crucial as well so I would suggest several test runs before your first race. The legs came off quite well, which is the most important part of the removal process.  
Being the dearest suit, one has to weigh the benefits over the other less expensive suits. A suit style travel bag to store the suit in and a nice key ring as a constant reminder of your choice in swimming rubber are a great little perk. Buyers are urged to try the suits on before hand with their expert fitters, and 2XU having a hire program to see what suit feels the best is ideal for those athletes wanting to try a suit for races or get a feel for various models. At around $400+ more than the other suits though, it doesn’t stand head and shoulders over the other suits tested here.

I had false start with this suit and had to change sizes as the suit I originally chose fit on the height charts but not on the weight chart, meaning I went down a size to be in the weight range. I’m glad I got the right size as the time differences between the suits were about 2 seconds per 100. Times were very consistent and, most importantly, good with the right sized suit. I averaged about 1.10.5 per 100.

Suit-Blue-Seventy-Helix

Blue Seventy - Helix

The Helix suit was great performer all round. Unlike the other suits, this one fitted best in my height range and not as close on the weight range. It felt very buoyant in the legs with great range of movement in the arms due to the 1-1.5mm arm thickness. My legs stayed quite close to the water in this suit, which aided in keeping my head down. The neck closure was comfortable and kept excess water from entering the suit. This was also the only suit containing a forearm panel that I was aware of while swimming. It’s made from a porous material called Aquafeel to enable you to still “feel” the water on your forearm, even while wearing a wetsuit. I’m not inferring that the other suits forearm panels do nothing, but it is the only one that gave me feedback during the swims.

The removal of this suit was also very fast. It’s worth nothing that this was the only suit tested with a reverse zip. For me this has one distinct positive for open water swimming over standard zip designs. The chance of someone pulling the zipper down during the hectic mêlée that is a tri swim is lessened immensely as the zip can’t be pulled down any further, and therefore can’t be undone while swimming. Also, undoing the zipper requires you to pull up, meaning you can continue on to pull the suit off one shoulder in the same movement. This won’t necessarily save time in transition as the suit should be off the upper body by the time you get to your bike, but it may prove easier to start the removal process with lactate filled shoulders and arms. The only downside to this zip configuration is having to ask someone to help zip you up prior to race start if you’re lacking in the arm flexibility stakes.

Overall, this suit was excellent value in my opinion. At $649 it is the least expensive suit, but came with plenty of features and top notch customer service. When purchasing a Blue Seventy suit you will be professionally fitted and schooled in the art of wetsuit application. As mentioned above, sizing was a little different for me so trying suits on is always recommended. Post sales care is premium with Blue Seventy dealers as well to ensure the suit is the right one for you.

The fit reflected my speed in the water as well. With this suit I averaged just on 1.09.5 times through the test swims. Arm movement was least impeded with this suit and there was no perceived tightening up as the swim session went on. This suit proved the fastest of all suits, a touch over the Orca. I now know why Alistair Brownlee has this suit as his swim garment of choice.

Suit-Huub-Archimedes

HUUB – Archimedes 3:5

HUUB wetsuits not only bring a new name into the triathlon wetsuit market but also new features not seen on some of the more common brands in Australia. This top line suit has two different rubber configurations: a 4:4 model for efficient swimmers with a more balanced body position and the 3:5 model aimed at the majority of triathletes who are buoyancy challenged in lower limbs. I tested the latter, which has 3mm upper body and 5mm lower body. The flexibility, buoyancy and feel was very nice, and was a good fit in the lower two thirds of my body, however the ultra flexible neckline let in a little too much water for my liking. I must add that this occurred mostly when streamlining off the wall, which won’t happen in the open water apart from diving or porpoising, but some laxity at the back of my neck during normal swimming remained. The closure system behind the neck is nicely constructed however, with an extra piece of material that wraps over the Velcro to reduce neck chaffing. The 4:4 might be a better choice for my swimming style. HUUB does have a sizing guarantee so getting the right fit for you is made easier. Interestingly, this was the only suit I wasn’t personally fitted in.

The HUUB suit ranked above the others in the removal test. This suit has a breakaway zip design first seen in QRoo suits, where it does up like a standard suit, but with a pull up and across the zip splits; continuing the motion starts removing the suit from the shoulder. Additionally the zipper resisted the premature release test very well. Not only did the breakaway work perfectly, but the arms and legs slid off like a dream.

The value of the suit is impressive as the customer service was fantastic with really helpful advice on the garment’s features. The only downside is the lack of national stockists. This will change soon as the company makes their push into the Australian market.

Despite the suit not being the best fit for me, swim times were still quite good. My 100m times averaged around 1.11.5 which was about two seconds slower than my best times. At the start of the swims my times were nearly comparable to those in the faster suits but were less consistent as the set went on.

Suit-Zoot

Zoot – Prophet

Zoot’s top of the line suit, the Prophet reminds me a lot of the Orca 3.8. The suit has a similar distribution of rubber and very similar feel in the water. The only differences I noticed were that the sizes seem to overlap a little less than the Orca. Overall, the suit was a very good fit, with fantastic flexibility and feel, although the leg buoyancy felt less significant than some other suits.

The only let down of the Prophet came when removing it. The zip is quite short which in itself is fine, however the cord is equally short meaning less flexible types will struggle with locating or pulling the cord to remove it. The zipper is supposed to flex with body movement to aid a more natural stretch, but those looking for the fastest suit to remove may want to test if this one hits the mark. Once the standard design zipper is pulled down the removal process was quite good.

Value for this suit is great with one of the least expensive tested at just under $700. The customer service from the Zoot distributor was great with customers again urged to try before buying. The slight mark down I gave this one comes from the fact that there are limited dealers in some states, which will be remedied as the brand continues to grow in Australia.

Speed through the water again mirrored the fit of the suit, with very good times versus other suits around 1.10.5, a little over a second per 100 slower than the best average. Shoulder movement was great and I can’t fault the way I felt swimming hard

Suit-Orca

Orca - 3.8

When this suit first came out I thought it was just for long course athletes, but found it works great for all distances, a claim Macca would agree with.
I bought this suit when looking for a new one a season or two ago due to how well I was fitted with it. Similar to the Helix, this suit has thin 1.5-2.5mm Y40 rubber arms with Y39 through the body and legs ranging from 3-5mm. This gives flexibility, with floatation where it is needed. Of all the suits tested, this one feels best through the body and helps promote good body roll.

Removal of the suit was quick with a standard zip and Velcro design similar to the 2XU. For peace of mind it may help to keep the long cord strap fastened under the Velcro to lessen the chance of it being undone. Once the zip is down, the suit came off the arms and legs very swiftly.

The value of the Orca comes not only from the price respective to other
top shelf suits, but from the professional fit advice provided by Orca stockists. Along with 2XU and Blue Seventy, Orca are the leaders in the Aussie tri market. You also get some added extras such as a set of gloves to assist with getting the suit on without damaging the rubber. Check with the dealers that have test programs to ensure you can try out the type of suit that meets your needs.

As I came to understand throughout the testing, fit and performance seem to go hand in hand. With the best fitting suits come the fastest times in the water. Times with the 3.8 were just sitting around the 1.10s for the tests which was just above half a second behind the Helix. Knowing the 3.8 fits well and being used to this model, it came as no surprise to me that it was fast.

If-the-suit-fits-table-1

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Summary

The overriding theme of this test was very clear – the better the wetsuit fits the more chance you have of swimming faster. This obviously depends on variables such as the type of body position you have and the qualities of each wetsuit. The best suits for me not only fit well but assisted my swim stroke to enable me to help maintain my form throughout a swim and not fatigue as much as the set progressed, which I saw during the control session. Also keep in mind that the different companies have a variety of suits depending on your needs and what will best match swimmer X may be the polar opposite for swimmer Y.
The best approach is to do your homework, identify the qualities that are important to you and try them on under the guidance of an expert fitter. I would strongly suggest test swims in your favourite suits to confirm what works when wet. Also take into consideration how much you value the after sales care with respective dealers. Getting bang for your buck doesn’t just involve buying a fast suit, it may be critical to rely on your dealer for repairs and warranty claims, so developing a good relationship with your local shop could save you time and money in the long run.

The overall results for me were quite clear in what suits aided my performance the most. For you, choose a suit that has the particular qualities you desire from fitting, customer service and of course performance in the swim through to transition to make up the best value package. Happy shopping!

If-the-suit-fits-McKenzie