Written by Keri Ouellete, Field Test Expert
Zone3 is a British triathlon brand, founded by former pro triathlete, James Lock, in 2007. Lock used his engineering background to design a line of wetsuits and tri apparel using the latest technology with a focus on creating a high performance product. Lock’s designs went through extensive testing by elite athletes before the launch of the company’s first product line in 2009. Since then, Zone3 wetsuits have continued to win awards and top reviews, including the “Best in Class” award from Triathlete magazine for the 2016 Vanquish. While the company has focused on wetsuits and tri apparel, it has recently launched a swimwear line and is looking to expand the brand to include apparel and products for running and cycling as well.
In purchasing my first triathlon wetsuit several years ago, I assumed that they were generally all the same. After trying a few different brands and styles, most recently the Zone3 Vanquish, I can tell you that styles, fit and quality of triathlon wetsuits can vary quite a bit. The 2016 Vanquish is considered by Zone3 to be the company’s “best ever wetsuit.” It has been designed for speed and comfort with improved overall flexibility and added buoyancy in the waist, hips, and upper legs.
Materials and Construction
When comparing wetsuits, prices vary widely, anywhere from $100 to well over $1,000. This price difference is largely due to the variation in the quality of materials used. Less expensive wetsuits typically use Yamamoto 38 neoprene, while higher end wetsuits use Yamamoto 39 and 40, accounting for the higher price points. The Vanquish stands out in its use of high-end materials and how these materials are constructed to maximize their benefits. The Vanquish is made of a combination of Yamamoto 39 (best flexibility) for the lower body, Yamamoto 40 (best for durability for thinner panels) for the upper body and also uses the highly buoyant NBR panels at the hips. The greater durability of the Yamamoto 40 neoprene allows for a super thin and supple 1.5mm panel wrapping around the chest to the shoulders and back. The thinness of the shoulder panel allows for a very natural range of motion, almost like swimming without a wetsuit. The core and legs of the wetsuit consist of 2mm, 3mm, and 5mm panels (the thickest allowed by USAT) of varying materials to maximize buoyancy and support of the hips and legs.
Comfort First and Foremost
The Vanquish is, by far, the most comfortable wetsuit I have swam in. In addition to the flexibility of the materials used, the Silk-Fit liner is super soft and adds to the overall comfort of the suit. One of the features I was looking for in a wetsuit is a lower neckline, so as not to feel constricted around the neck when swimming. The Vanquish has an ideally low neckline and uses the 1.5mm neoprene panel around the neck for improved comfort and flexibility in this area.
Flexible and Buoyant
Even though the wetsuit was a little tighter than I would have liked, especially in the shoulder area (I’m probably in between sizes, but prefer to size down), I still felt very comfortable swimming in the suit and did not feel any restriction in arm movements. The women’s Vanquish is designed to be wider at the hips for a better fit. With swimmers’ bodies in mind, a bit more room in the shoulders may be preferable for some, but with the flexibility of the material used, the suit stretches to fit all body types well. For most triathletes, the added buoyancy around the hips and lower legs is ideal. However, for some that may already swim with the hips high in the water, it may require a slight adjustment in body positioning to make up for the added buoyancy.
The other features of the Vanquish that the company promotes include the “cool-spot” forearm catch panels and the “Pro Speed Cuffs.” I was skeptical of the effectiveness of the catch panels before trying the suit, but I found that I appreciated being able to “feel” the water a little bit more during the pull phase. It’s hard to compare how much the “Pro Speed Cuffs” help in removing the wetsuit compared to other wetsuit brands, but I did not have any trouble getting the suit off. I also noticed that, despite the thinness of the material, it seemed quite durable and able to hold up for many quick T1 transitions of ripping the wetsuit off in a hurry. Additionally, I should note that the Vanquish is one of the more fashionable wetsuits available. The purple cuffs (red for the men’s suit) are a nice accent that stands out in a sea of all black suits.
The color and style and other added features are nice, but overall, the Vanquish is most notable for its innovative use of materials to improve comfort and flexibility to make for a fast, smooth swim. The noticeable benefits of comfort, buoyancy and durability make the Vanquish a worthwhile investment.