Friday, August 12, 2011

Xterra Vortex 4 Wetsuit Review

Xterra sent me a wetsuit to train in and use for my 70.3 race. It’s a good thing they did because I otherwise would have donned my green bikini, spray painted myself black and called it good.


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.

Bottom Line:

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.


  1. I put a couple nics in my suit after only wearing it about 4 times. I think it's pretty common with wetsuits. I've seen people wearing gloves to put them on...

  2. First off, you should be grabbing the material with your fingerprints not your finger tips when you are hiking it up in your crotch, that way no finger nail cuts.

    It's alright, all newbie mistakes haha.

    We never get mesh bags with our wetsuits either, if you have a Tri-bag, there is a compartment on the bottom for them typically.

    I always wear full suits. We live in Cleveland, its COLD most of the time haha.

    Make sure you rinse it off after your workouts too, keep it clean.

  3. Xterra offers a great rental program as well!

  4. Last weekend at a race, a couple of standing next to me in the porta potty line and they were swearing by PAM to get the suit on and off easier. First I thought they were joking, but then I actually seen her carrying her can of PAM around. I am so going to try that next time.

    I have an XTerra suit myself and the regular price is (well) pricey, but they have tons of coupon codes floating around on the interwebs. For example, if you are a member at, they have a coupon code for 50% (I believe).

  5. I HATED wearing mine! Mine was a zoot and it felt so thick. Hot? Let me tell you between the feeling of that thing on my arms as I swam and the fact that I was hot as hell in it I honestly kept thinking, GET THIS DAMN THING OFF! Yes I was thankful for the bene's it gave me but maybe it was the brand? Mine was a small too and I look like a fatty next to you :)

  6. Matty's comment is spot on with the fingertips.

    Kathrin - PAM works great as does Tri-Slide from SBR.

    SUAR - I am thrilled to see that there is a reference to another race which means that there is no one and done---SUAT it is!

  7. I've had teh XTERRA Vengence full sleeve for about 3 or 4 years. I has held up extremely well. I also have an ORCA sleeveless for 6 years and again--held up well all this time. Even with teh frustrations of nicks & cuts, they still work well.

  8. Colder climate. I'm sure that means a trip to Calgary. We have a nice 70.3. Or Penticton for ironman Canada. Right?

  9. I've found that grabbing the wetsuit from the inside to pull up the crotch is easier and prevents nicks.

  10. This is one time where my awful fingernail chewing habit comes in handy!

    I recently ordered myself a Vortex 3 (sleeveless) and they sent me a 4. I LOVE IT! Yeah, not so fun or flattering to get on but I love how it feels in the water and it comes off quick!

  11. I've only worn a wetsuit for surfing but I have to admit, I love it because it makes me feel safer. I am all covered up and more buoyant. They are a pain the rear to get on though! Blech!

  12. I was gonna say fingernails but its already been said. Here's a tip for the sleeves: Pull the sleeve inside out and get the cuff of the sleeve fit to where you want it on your wrist. And then when you "push" through to get he suit up and over your shoulders your suit should be on your arm perfectly and there is no need to hike anything up.

  13. I would imagine nicks could also happen in al that thrashing around while swimming in the pack. Frenzied swimmers are probably not thinking 'o shit…better not nick that chick's freakin awesome Xterra!'

    It is quite becoming on you, Beth…boyish figure? I think not ;-)

  14. Get some TRISLIDE! This stuff is awesome. Spray on and the wetsuit just easily slides up!

    I haven't worn my wetsuit since April (the water temps are 90* here) and have gained 12lbs - gonna need a shit load of TriSlide to get that sucker on in a couple of weeks!

  15. I use those cheap magic gloves from Target...they're like 1.00 for 2 pairs. Anyways, that prevents the nicking and you can really get the suit where you need it.

  16. I've had my xterra volt sleeveless for 4 years and just now had a tear that I found at IM Boulder. Not bad for the abuse I've put it through.

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