Ease of Getting On and Off:
Due to weather, I only got to use my wetsuit twice before the race. Wait, that’s a lie. I did use it the day it arrived. In the bathtub. Go ahead, label me “dork” and tell me to “get a life.” It doesn’t hurt me:
I can’t say I love the feeling of putting on a wetsuit. It is similar to stuffing a swollen foot into a too-small shoe or a beefy sausage into a straw.
Chris from Polar USA gave me a good tip that made things slightly easier: put plastic bags over my feet before putting my legs into the wetsuit. This made it slide on much easier, but then there is still the struggle of pulling it up around your crotch. I always felt like I couldn’t get it high and snug enough, kind of like a saggy pair of panty hose. That is my malfunction, not Xterra’s.
I was always careful to put Body Glide on my ankles, wrist and neck so stuff would not rub and the wetsuit would hopefully peel off my body easier. I actually watched some videos on You Tube about how to remove a wetsuit quickly, and this helped. The Vortex is actually quite easy to get off in a hurry.
Getting a wetsuit on is a pain regardless of brand. I don’t think the Vortex performed any differently than other wetsuits of similar style.
Fit and Appearance:
The Vortex 4 is a full wetsuit. I debated weather to go sleeveless, but in the end decided I’d rather have the sleeves for increased buoyancy as well as warmth if I ever do a colder climate race (hint, hint). I’m glad I went with the full, even though the day of the race was very warm and the water temps were 74 degrees. I was worried I would sweat like a prostitute in church, but I never felt hot, probably because the air temps were still cool at 6:45 a.m..
I ordered the size small, which at 5’5” and 110 lbs. is a good fit for me. I ordered it online without trying on first, but found the manufacturers’ size charts to be spot on. I actually ordered the Vortex 3, but was sent the 4.
It is slick in appearance and highlights my boyish figure. I like the bold yellow “X’ on the front. It screams, “I am tough, don’t mess with me.” I think I scared a lot of people.
Performance and Comfort:
Being my first wetsuit, I cannot do much of a comparison with other brands. I can say, however, that the suit was comfortable and performed well for me. I also never noticed restrictions to my arm stroke while swimming. Flexibility in the arms and chest was good. Mind you, I am not the most stellar swimmer, but I found the suit very easy to move around in. Buoyancy was noticeable due to the suit’s 5mm layer of neoprene (the thickest layer available that is still legal in races) that extends from the neck to the ankles on the front side of the wetsuit. While I did not need it, I think this thicker layer would also provide extra warmth if necessary.
I cannot say if this is an issue with Vortex suits, or just wetsuits in general, but I was surprised at how easily the suit got nicks in the neoprene. I only wore it twice before I noticed two small gauge marks which I assume came from my fingernails (see fingernail shape below). I had been exceptionally careful when putting it on and taking it off, so this was surprising. It is frustrating because I had deliberately cut my nails short, so I am not sure what else one can do to avoid this. I’m thinking about total fingernail extraction.
Cost: $400 with free shipping. This is for the Vortex 3. I could not find pricing for the Vortex 4, but am assuming it is comparable.
A good quality wetsuit is not cheap, and the Vortex 4 is no exception. Having only been able to train in it twice and race in it once, I cannot attest to how the quality of the suit holds up over time. I can say, however, that Xterra suits have an amazing track record and that they perform well. My experience was that it was a comfortable and flexible suit that provided exceptional buoyancy. I am eager to train in it more consistently and to test it in colder conditions.
Xterra, thank you for your generosity in sending me the suit. I’m excited to put it through some tough training in the future!
Fine Print: Xterra Wetsuits sent me this item free of charge in exchange for my unbiased review.