The triathlon training blog of Phil Barnes

XTERRA Vortex 3 Sleeveless Wetsuit (preliminary review)

The long awaited debut of my new wetsuit was last Friday.

Venue - 1000 meters worth of 61*F frigidness of the St. Lawrence River.

Initial assessment - fun.

The history - I bought this suit in December, during a sale event: $99. The price just couldn't be beat.

The Quality - Based on price alone, I expected the quality not to be on par with other suits - but I was very impressed. There's no noticeable lack of quality between this suit and my Orca, or even Guylaine's Nineteen brand. If I may go so far as to say, that quality wise, the liner, stitching and seams appear even a tad superior.

The sizing - Mail order suits are tough to nail for sizing. Despite a reputable return policy, I didn't want to be stuck with a suit that didn't fit. At 5'10" and 165, the sizing chart put me at the low end of medium. Deep down I knew I wasn't the same suit size as someone 180 lbs. On top of that, I was fine with a tighter fitting suit... the fit chart suggest sizing down for "race fit" and I took a chance on a "Small/Long". (for 5'10" 150lbs). Bingo! Perfect size. Snug but properly snug. (Perhaps a tad long -- which means extra time to put on to ensure all the rubber goes up my legs).

Sleeves vs Sleeveless - The great debate. For me, the price settled the debate. Owning both types of suits gives me the freedom to choose. But, even though the water was still pretty cold - I honestly didn't feel cold. The fit is snug and tight around the neck and arms, there was no leakage. I was pretty surprised. Yes, I felt better range of arm motion. And okay yes, I did feel somewhat less buoyant.

The bottom line - I don't know if I was faster or slower in this suit. But frankly, I'm at a point in my "career" where I couldn't care less. I like swimming, I like open water swimming; and this suit is fun to swim in. I can't put my finger on it, maybe it was the newness, but I do feel it was more fun than my full-sleeve suit.

Online ordering guilt - Ah, a good debate. I can rationalize it this way. No local stores carry $99 triathlon wetsuits. The next closest price point is $300 ish at a Triathlon store in Ottawa. The money I saved goes towards local race fees.

And you know what - The Wetsuit (after the bike) is the second most expensive piece of triathlon equipment. For the average swimmer, wearing a wetsuit is as good as upgrading a mountain bike to a road bike. Not using a wetsuit is a performance limiter (for sprints+). The fact that XTERRA is putting out suits that are affordable deserves some praise and thanks from the triathlon population. Maybe next they'll start working on the $499 triathlon bike.

Vortex 3 sleeveless - good enough for Teri Hatcher.