Pro Steamer $335; Pro Long John $250
Known mostly in the waters of Australia, Lightfoot is trying to gain a foothold in North America by making its suits available over the Internet.
The company, which supplies Australian junior club athletes, believes the key to a good swim is simple buoyancy. To back that statement they make a suit that, except for the underarm panel and the silver arms, is composed entirely of 5mm rubber, and theyre the only suit manufacturer who does it.
It initially looked to be a bulky wetsuit, but surprisingly, the thickness didnt detract from flexibility in the legs in the Pro Steamer tested. Its also nice and snug in the lower back. If youre a poor swimmer and want to ensure proper balance in the water by using a suit with lots of buoyancy, this is a nice safe bet.
Lightfoot has gone to a two-directional neoprene for 2000 on all their suits. The collars have been redesigned as well, being tilted so they sit in a natural swimming position.
They have also enlarged their shoulder panel, moving it further down the back to encompass the entire muscle group involved in the freestyle arm rotation.
For a premium, suits can be custom designed as well, but the company offers 10 stock mens sizes and eight womens sizes.
Triathlon $250; Triathlon John $150
With a history rooted in surfing, ONeill has been producing wetsuits since 1952. They've opted to stick with a tried-and-true suit for 2000, a basic setup with no frills.
Its simple and solid for only a little bit of money. The Triathlon fullsuit is composed of a 4mm torso and front leg, a 3mm back and back leg and a 2mm side and neck for max overhead reach. The Triathlon John has a 3mm frontal area and a 2mm neck and side panel.
The Triathlon John we tested felt as flexible and comfortable as the popular small manufacturers. No bunching, no gaps. You can tell these guys have some experience in wetsuit design.
And for peace of mind, a doubled-up Velcro attachment at the neck assures the zipper leash wont get tugged down during a race, probably the simplest, smartest and most secure zip system one of the lot.
The people at Orca contend that speed in a wetsuit is a byproduct of buoyancy and flexibility. As such, Orcas Predator fullsuit is very form fitting, particularly around the waist, and is mobile about the shoulder.
Their S.C.S. Ultrastrech rubber used in the shoulder and arms provide loads of stretch, the most of any of the other wetsuits from our observations, allowing for a true, full armstroke.
The fit of the Predator was solid. The first thing you notice is the very curvy cut of the thigh while holding the suit up. Suit up and its nearest to a tailored fit in the leg. Very nice.
New for 2000 is a forward-angled cut ankle, designed for easy heel clearance when pulling out of the suit, a simple but intelligent change.
Orca has also raised its neck panel for extra protection from the possibility of Velcro-induced neck rash. There is also a slightly new screened design, adding a splash of white down the leg to give that sleek killer whale look, as well a slightly modified chest logo.
The Predator, available in 10 sizes, can be ordered online at the companys website.
Freeswim Fullsuit $229; Freeswim Sleeveless $159
ProMotion maintains a philosophy that has held fast: Make a suit that fits. As such, they have 21 different sizing options.
Both suits were tested, and both reflected the attention to fit in the design of the suit with smartly-placed panels, particularly in the upper legs and upper chest just outside the ribcage, making for a very comfortable fit that didnt constrict breathing.
The 4.5mm torso and leg fronts are plenty thick for warmth in cold water conditions and max buoyancy and optimal balance in the water for triathletes who arent terribly strong in the water.
For 2000, ProMotion went to a new material in the neck for more comfort. The company's Freeswim Fullsuit has also changed a bit, using a lining on the inside of the shoulder and arm sleeves that are more flexible, making for a free-moving, comfortable arm stroke.
The fullsuits have zippers behind the calves for ease of exit in transition, while the sleeveless version cut the legs short much like Aquaman does, again for quick suit removal.
The small company out of Hood River, Ore., sells directly to the public, giving you savings on that middleman markup and making them the least expensive fullsuit of the brands tested.
For those where cost is a major issue, these guys have the edge by a long shot. ProMotion backs their product with a lifetime warranty on seams and workmanship.
Quickjohn $140; Ultrajohn $180
These guys have pretty much run the show stateside, and for good reason, putting together a wide range of choices and sizes. QR has evolved yet again for 2000, with several new wetsuit changes for the new year.
You'd think all QR wants is people in their suits, but their changes are all about getting people out of them, fast. They've instituted two new changes to make T1 a breeze.
The first change, a first for American wetsuit manufacturers, is a breakaway zipper. No more fumbling and reaching over your shoulder and down your back for the leash. Just grab it, tug it straight up and the zipper breaks away from the zipper teeth.
The suit can then simply be pulled apart and it falls away. And it works. QR also angled the cut at the ankle to allow for clearance at the heel when pulling the suit off.
The necks have been redesigned with thinner material as well, to reduce chafing. Fit-wise, the suits have a great contour at the back of the knee and in the lower back for a snug fit in two areas that often see gaps.
Cosmetically, Quintana Roo has changed from a silver and black front on its hydrophobic suits to a colorful blue front with yellow lettering. They've also screened the yellow "QR" onto the inside of the suit for when the top is down. Available at most local tri shops.