The great wetsuit test
Not sure what you need in a wetsuit? Outdoor Swimmer editor Jonathan Cowie and contributing editor Alice Gartland tested a range of suits from under £100 to over £500 to find out the best wetsuits on the market for any budget
We headed down to
Tooting Bec Lido to test
a range of wetsuits. The
water temperature was 11
degrees Celsius so we were able to test
for warmth as well as performance, fit,
buoyancy and faff factor (how difficult
it is to put on and take off the wetsuit),
plus our overall impression.
What should you look for in a
wetsuit? It really depends on what you
want to use the suit for and your budget.
We tested suits from under £100 to over
£500. Some suits are designed for open
water swimming, while others are more
triathlon-specific. Innovations this year
include Orca’s two-piece suit – no good
for a triathlon, but a real contender if
you are looking for something just for
swimming. Other brands like Selkie
and Alpkit produce suits specifically for
open water swimmers, concentrating
on feel for the water and a more natural
swimming experience rather than just
getting you to your bike in as quick a
time as possible.
Different suits offer different levels
of warmth and buoyancy, and the
more expensive the suit gets the better range of movement you will have as
high-spec flexible neoprene is used on
the arms and shoulders. Other features
on high-end suits might include catch
panels on the forearms, breakaway
zips and stability panels. Cheaper suits
might not have thinner and more flexible neoprene, but they can often be more durable – sosomething to consider if you want your suit to last a long time or you plan on taking it out on wild swimming adventures and not just racing in it.
Wetsuits help you
swim faster by reducing
drag and improving buoyancy,
but only if you fit them correctly. Put
one on incorrectly, and it can seriously
hold you back. A wetsuit should fit
like a second skin, practically vacuum-
sealed. Do a simple test: with the suit on and well-fitted all over, hold one arm
out horizontally and check the material
underneath. If there are folds of rubber
or an air pocket, there isn’t enough of
you to fill the suit.
We would recommend you try on a
suit before buying if possible.
Look at the size guides
and make sure you
get a suit that fits you as snugly as possible – if you are on the cusp of two sizes, go for the smaller. Whatever you choose, get into the open water as soon as possible – especially if you plan on racing in the suit later in the season. We will be using the suits over the next few months to see how they stand up to a summer of racing and wild swimming adventures – and will report back with our long-term reviews later this year.
Women’s Wahine 1
They say: Aquafit buoyancy panels
in the lower core and rear, to raise
hips to put body in most efficient
swimming position. SCS coating
on chest and thighs to reduce
friction and increase speed.
Style: Fun but with a focus on
Fit: Snug and comfortable, with
strong supportive core.
Performance: Perfect for racing
and outdoor swimming adventures
Faff Factor: Low
We say: Part of Zoot’s new 2017
range, the Wahine had a great
balance of buoyancy, flexibility
and support. Good flexibility on
the shoulder and the neck was
comfy. I liked the fun designs on
They say: FLEXback design for
for full range of motion and
reduced shoulder fatigue. SCS
Nano coating all over, to reduce
friction and drag. Proarm panels
on the arms allow for stroke
feedback and 0.5mm neoprene on
the arms for a top combination of
flexibility and speed.
Style: Cool design.
Fit: Like the Wahine, snug, flexible
and comfortable. It feels speedy.
Performance: Fast and
comfortable in the water. Great
Faff Factor: Medium
We say: I had never worn a Zoot
suit before and didn’t know what
to expect. I loved this suit! Not
only did it feel amazing on but I felt fast in the water. The style is funky and a welcome step away from more boring men’s wetsuits. Mesh catch panels are meant to give you greater stroke feedback, but they also give you a connection with the water as you aren’t covered head to toe in neoprene. The 0.5mm neoprene on the arms gave brilliant flexibility with no restriction on shoulder movement. The only downside I could find was that my hands were a bit big for the cuffs so I had trouble getting out of the sleeves. At £500 this was one of the most expensive suits we tested, but if you have the money it is definitely worth blowing the budget.
Women’s Explorer 3.2.2 / Men’s Explorer 3.2.2
They say: Created from very light
elastic material, well suited to all types of swimming, with “no stitching in the critical areas”.
Style: Fluorescent and highly
visible, we’ll be honest, when we
took it out of its packaging we
thought it looked more like a
surfing wetsuit. Certainly great for
visibility and actually quite fun.
Fit: Doesn’t have the snug fit of the other wetsuits we tried, but comfortable and allows a full range of movement
Performance: Very easy to put on.
Faff Factor: Low
We say: We liked the bum loop
below the zip to help with
hoisting the wetsuit on. It didn’t
feel as buoyant as other suits. It is
a versatile low cost suit, which is
great for a splash and exploring
summer water spots, but if you’re
looking for that snug feel to boost
your performance at a swim
event, there are stronger choices.
Women’s Pursuit SL
They say: Designed for the
weekend warrior and beginner
triathlete looking for good value.
Style: Athletic and simple design.
Fit: Comfortable – snug but not
Performance: Felt fast in the water
without any shoulder restriction
Faff Factor: Low
We say: This is the first time I’ve
tried a sleeveless wetsuit and I’ll
be honest; I thought I wouldn’t
like it and that it would feel
imbalanced. Happily I was wrong.
I enjoyed the range of movement,
and it also provided nice bust
support without squashing me.
Men’s Orca Open Water RS1 top and bottoms
Price: top, £145; bottom, £145
They say: “The perfect option for the openwater swimmer,” the innovative two-piece design is designed specifically for swimmers – this would be no use in a triathlon. A velcro seal system joins top and bottom, and 3mm neoprene gives greater buoyancy in the chest panel. No zip.
Style: Fun and funky
Fit: Minimal feel with great
Performance: A natural
Faff Factor: Low
We say: Gimmick or revolution?
To be honest, we weren’t sure. But
actually this is a great idea. With
no fighting with zips and no need
to have someone else to help you
on with the suit, the two-piece
suit is a great option for outdoor
swimmers who appreciate the benefits of neoprene. Buoyancy is limited to the chest panel so
your swimming feels natural and
the neoprene is light and flexible,
so you swim normally rather
than being lifted and propelled
by strategically placed buoyancy
panels. All in all it feels a very
natural experience. Plus, the suit
is so light that it can easily be
stowed and carried around in its
own bag (included).
Women’s Sailfish Attack
They say: The “all rounder”, with
SCS Nano skin in the chest area
and SCS #39 neoprene elsewhere,
it provides a combination of
sturdy and supple, with an ultra
soft stretch inner material in the
shoulder and arm areas.
Style: Simple, sleek and fun with
the Sailfish logo on the bum.
Fit: Comfortable, supportive and
Performance: Fast strong, supple
and versatile – this wetsuit delivers.
Faff Factor: Low
We say: Love it. Seven years
ago when I started open water
swimming I got a second-hand
Sailfish Attack wetsuit, which got
me through my first open water
mile and three Dart 10ks. Seven
years on, this new suit still has the
balance of buoyancy, flexibility, support and streamlining that
provides versatility and fantastic
confidence in and out of the water.
They say: Sailfish’s flagship wetsuit
promises a swimming experience
beyond compare. Zero Resistance
Panels allow greater movement
and flexibility, Nano Space Cell 2
Neoprene gives minimal resistance
in the water and ergonomic panel
management gives improved hip
stability and better propulsion.
Style: Simple, sleek and
Fit: The G-Range immediately feels
great on – flexible and supportive
Performance: As you would expect
with a high-end suit, you feel as
though you are about to nail a PB.
Faff Factor: Low
We say: Like Alice, I have worn
Sailfish Attack suits and really
rated them, so was interested to
try out their top of the range suit.
Like Alice, I love it. Unlike some
suits, you don’t feel constricted in a
Sailfish – the neoprene is soft and
flexible. Although designed for
triathlon, it feels like a swimmers’
wetsuit – very comfortable with
great feel for the water. The
flexibility gives a more natural
They say: Designed specifically
for women athletes, allowing
the swimmer to maintain an
effective kick and waterline
position without being lifted too
high out of the water. X-O Skeleton for body alignment and buoyancy, four-way stretch lining for greater comfort and a break-away
Style: Serious, compact, ready to compete – I felt like Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games – totally badass.
Fit: A go faster, snug fit.
Performance: Excellent. Felt supported and streamlined in the water. Definitely something I’d want to be wearing for a serious race or nailing a PB.
Faff Factor: Medium – you’ll need
someone to help you put this on
and zip up, but the quick zip release
makes it super speedy to take off.
We say: A serious suit for smashing a PB – great for racing. This suit empowers – you want to work hard to make it deliver on everything it promises. Totally streamlined – my bust was on
lock down, but not squashed
and my stroke felt smooth and
Men’s Aerious II
They say: Huub
prides itself on the Archimedes having a ‘non-suit’ feel – it is designed to be so flexible that it doesn’t feel as though you are wearing a wetsuit. 1mm neoprene panels aim to help achieve this feeling while the X-O Skeleton delivers structure and control toreduce snaking, power loss and directional waste by gripping and holding the pelvis and hips.
Style: A serious suit for racing.
Fit: Snug but flexible
Performance: One word: fast
Faff Factor: Medium – you need
someone else to zip you in.
We say: As soon as you put on
this suit you feel like a Brownlee.
It is designed for racing and you
immediately feel as though you
are about to smash a PB. In the
water it performs as expected –
its snug but flexible fit means you feel supported and streamlined
in the water. The low neckline
was comfy with no chafing. Like
the women’s Atana, the snug
racing fit means it takes a bit of
getting on, but the breakaway zip
makes the suit quick to remove.
At this price, the Aerious II isn’t a suit for messing around in your local pond, but for an aggressive racing suit this is a serious
They say: Aquagrip
catch panels, Flexible Matsuda
Neoprene – 3mm on the core for
warmth and 1.5mm underarms for flexibility.
Style: Simple, modest design and
Fit: True to size
Performance: Very good. The
range of movement around the
arms and shoulders was great.
Faff Factor: Low – I could zip
We say: Great value for money.
A wetsuit that incorporates all
the key design considerations of
warmth, buoyancy and flexibility to feel confident on the start
line of your first swim event or
exploring lochs with friends.
They say: ‘Extreme Flex’ material
used for the underarm panels facilitates greater movement. Slightly thicker panels to support the legs and hips; ‘SpeedFlo’ fabric on 70% of the wetsuit to minimize drag through the water, increase speed and improve durability. The remaining 30% made from high quality rubberised smooth skin neoprene. Pro-SpeedCuffs on the lower legs to help increase speed of removal.
Style: Athletic, smart and simple
Fit: Comfortable – snug,
supportive and although thicker
than some other wetsuits around
the torso it didn’t feel overbearing.
Performance: Sleek and smooth!
Faff Factor: Low
We say: With really good freedom
in the shoulder, I liked this a lot.
A confidence boosting feel for
swim events but versatile for a
variety of swim adventures. A great value for money choice. It
looks and feels more expensive