Review: Wetsuits

Huub Aura

Price: £350

Buy: www.huubdesign.com

As soon as you pick up a Huub wetsuit, you know it’s a little different from the rest. Feather light (my ‘small’ weighed just 816g), the women-specific model is constructed from 3mm neoprene, markedly thinner than a typical 5mm suit. Huub claims that this is because women ‘float better’, with lower muscle density, and if a suit provides too much buoyancy, it hampers stroke efficiency (that said, a version for women with higher muscle density is coming out later this year). While other brands are adding bells and whistles to their suits, British brand Huub has gone for a minimalist approach, which is perhaps why it appeals to those no-nonsense Yorkshire lads the Brownlee brothers – run your hand inside and there’s an absence of overlapping fabric, seams and stitching.

Put it on and it feels like a second skin. I had no trouble with sinking legs in the suit and the extra flexible fabric under the arms gives good range of movement. I had zero chafing after an hour’s sea swim, but I know two other women who suffered quite nasty chafing around the back of the neck, which brings us to the zip issue. Huub’s breakaway zip entails a tricky manoeuvre of pulling the zip up an extra couple of inches, instead of down, in order to open the wetsuit. The plus side is that the suit then simply falls open all the way down to the bottom of the zip, rather than you needing to tug it down. But to protect the top of the neck, there’s an extra high piece of neoprene and a flap at the back - and this seems to be the culprit in terms of neck rubbing. The other feature contributing to a speedier T1 is the exceptionally stretchy fabric on the lower arms and legs which seem to make the suit glide off wrists and ankles.

As far as looks go, the Aura is a winner – it’s a flattering cut with contrast colouring drawing the waist in. Size-wise, it’s quite generous. Most brands recommended me a medium, but the small fit perfectly. 

Sailfish Attack

Price: £360

Buy: www.sailfish.com

After the Huub, the Sailfish Attack felt disappointingly bulky and heavy when I got it out of its handy carry bag. But now that I’ve swum in them both I’m torn as to which one gets my top vote. I’ve always struggled with wetsuit swimming – I seem to ‘lose’ my stroke a bit and often feel constricted. This is the first time I’ve ‘forgotten’ that I’m wearing a wetsuit and just got on with the swimming – which is surely the ultimate compliment. I put this down mostly to a great women-specific fit (there are five women’s sizes) – with ample torso length, flexibility around the shoulders and comfortable ‘Ultra Soft Stretch’ lining extending from the upper arms to the torso. The ‘waffle’ grid on the forearms promises greater traction on the water for a more effective catch and pull, while stability panels (reinforced neoprene) around the hips and thighs aim to help you avoid excessive hip rotation for better streamlining. I didn’t particularly notice this benefit, but I did find that I barely needed to kick in this suit, and my legs sat high in the water. I suffered no chafing after a long sea swim and even the slightly-worrying looking stitching around the neck didn’t rub.

The straightforward zip and Velcro closure offered a quick and smooth removal and there was no sticking over wrists and ankles.

Sizing wise, the Attack comes up quite big – I could grip ‘loose’ neoprene in the upper leg area (maybe it’s designed more for cyclist’s thighs than runners...) And while this ended up being the suit I chose out of all the contenders for a 2.2km ocean race, it wouldn’t win my vote in the looks department.

Aquasphere Pro Series W-Racer

Price: £369.99

Buy: www.aquasphereswim.com/uk

It took some time to get this suit on – the arms and wrists in particular are very tight-fitting - but once on, the W-Racer offered amazing freedom of movement around the arms and shoulders thanks to hexagon-clad 1mm-thick panels (the ‘bio stretch zone’) that fan out from the base of the spine to the upper arms. The suit sits higher around the neck than many, but I had no issues with rubbing. The large Velcro surface area at the zip helps, allowing you to adjust for a perfect fit – and a neoprene tab keeps the zip away from your skin.

On land, I felt a bit like a fish out of water in the W-Racer – breathless and a bit constricted - but as soon as I was swimming, I forgot about my discomforts. Except one. There’s a tight 5mm band – which Aquasphere call the ‘auto positioning sleeve’ - around the elbow area, which aims to promote a high elbow during the pull phase but it really dug into my skin after a while. This same band was a huge stumbling block when it came to removal, too. The wetsuit simply got stuck at elbow height, leaving me straitjacketed. I wouldn’t risk wearing this in a triathlon, because of the issue of removal – but for general open water swimming it does the job superbly – offering good buoyancy and warmth. The main body of the suit features 4.5mm neoprene with an SCS nanoskin coating to minimise drag, while a panel of slightly raised hexagons on the forearm aims to improve traction for a more powerful stroke -  I certainly felt fast and streamlined in the water.

Style-wise, you’ll either love or hate the ‘diamond jumper’ pattern on the arm and leg – but it’s a flattering and well-proportioned women-specific suit.

Blue Seventy Reaction

Price: £299

Buy: www.blueseventy.com

It’s been around a while, but the Reaction has had a revamp this year and looks great (particularly from the rear view, with its flattering hot pink lines!)

The Reaction feels good as soon as you put it on. There is much more give and comfort around the arms and shoulders compared to the cheaper Fusion model. The fabric around this area (orange on the inside of the suit) has 4-way stretch to maximise range of motion. And I had no problems with chafing (the neck height has been lowered on this new version).

The neoprene thickness varies from body area to area for ‘targeted buoyancy’ to improve body position and streamlining. Two 4mm chest panels divided in the centre by an ‘A-flex’ 3mm panel allegedly accentuate natural lung buoyancy to optimise upper body position relative to the legs – I’m not sure about that, but they did alleviate any sensation of constriction in breathing. Thicker 5mm fabric around the torso and pelvis keeps the hips high.

While I don’t have an issue with sinking legs, I found I didn’t need much of a kick in the Reaction, allowing me to concentrate more on my catch and pull. Dimpled rubber on the forearms promotes better ‘feel’ and propulsion.

I also liked the innovative 2mm flex panels around the knee which enable you to run, not shuffle into T1. The suit came off smoothly post-swim – extra stretchy fabric around the lower legs helped, but if need be, you can cut the leg length down without fear of damaging the suit, as the ‘tube construction’ has a taped single seam.

With the lowest price tag of the suits on test, the Reaction punches above its weight in both comfort and performance. Size wise, the women’s suit seems to fit true to guidelines but I know that some male buyers have talked of going up a size.

Speedo Tri Elite Wetsuit

Price: £450

Buy: www.store.speedo.co.uk

There is no shortage of technology on this wetsuit from swimwear giants Speedo. The tech spec lists no less than 17 performance features, including ‘Aqualift’ leg panelling, ergonomic torso panels for 30% more buoyancy, fit point markers, anti-drag coating and a quick release zip. It’s also the heaviest suit I tested (1.18kg) and the priciest.

One of the first things you notice once you’ve got the suit on is the raised flaps or ‘Vortex pockets’ along the forearm – these expand as your arm moves through the catch and pull phase of the stroke. In between the two lines of pockets, the rubber is ribbed for extra traction. I genuinely felt this turbo-charged my stroke.

The suit also put me in a very streamlined position – my legs sat quite high in the water and I got that sensation of ‘swimming downhill’ that so often eludes me, particularly when wetsuit-clad. So in performance terms, it rates highly.

The thing that let this suit down for me was the fit. Despite its fit point markers for optimal alignment, and numerous attempts to adjust where it sat on my legs and torso, I could grab a whole handful of extra fabric around the crotch area. It’s a shame because aside from that it’s one of the most attractive suits I tested. It’s also comfortable once you are in the water and ultra flexible, with stitch-free seams and 4-way stretch. Quick removal is assisted by the quick-release zip (similar to Huub’s breakway zip, so you need to get the hang of it) and a coating to prevent the wetsuit sticking to arms and legs.