Product Review: Xterra Vortex 3 Fullsuit

Back in May 2009, my 5-year-old Ironman Instinct finally ended its useful life for my purposes. So I went to a number of Chicago-area multi sports stores and tried out a variety of brands including Zoot, BlueSeventy, and Orca. While they all looked great and had some really neat features, none of them seemed like much of a departure from my Instinct.

As chance would dictate, I received an email ad from Xterra Wetsuits about their Spring 2009 special on their Vortex 3 and Vector models. I had seen Xterra’s wetsuits at a number of triathlons and swim events, but I had never had an opportunity to try one out. This is because the company has a direct order business model that doesn’t use distributors. So the only way to get one is to order directly from Xterra or to visit their factory outlet store near their San Diego, CA headquarters.

Given an attractive price point ($199), I decided to give the Vortex 3 a shot.

Appearance and Fit

I ordered the fullsuit version of the Vortex 3 directly from Xterra’s website. The company shipped out the product the same day, and it arrived four days later. Also included in the package was an Xterra mesh wetsuit/swim bag and an Xterra latex swim cap – both unexpected surprises.

As you can see, it’s a pretty sharp looking wetsuit:

Probably the most significant visible feature of the Vortex 3 is the 5mm layer of neoprene that extends from the neck to the ankles on the front side of the wetsuit. This maximizes swim buoyancy – especially in your lower extremities. The 5mm (versus the 3mm-4mm used by other companies) really made a difference for me as my lower legs tend to sink and drag if I’m not swimming at a fairly brisk pace.

This thicker layer also provides a high degree of insulation against colder water temperatures. In fact, I delayed writing this review until I could test the Vortex 3 in our winter swim conditions. And I am happy to report that the wetsuit provides very adequate thermal insulation even when the water temperatures fall below 40F (4.4C).

But my favorite feature is undoubtedly the fully-body X-tra Stretch Liner:

This highly flexible inner liner covers the entire inside of the wetsuit. Not only does the X-tra Stretch Liner provide excellent flexibility and range of motion, but it also makes the Vortex 3 very easy to get on and off.

Performance

As mentioned earlier, I recently field-tested the Vortex 3 in icy Lake Michigan, and I was very pleased with how the product held up under these extreme conditions. I wore it over my thermo shirt and neoprene dive hood, and the wetsuit provided plenty of insulation without causing constriction around my neck or letting in excess cold water. I also had a full range of swim motion in my arms and shoulders despite this rather snug set up.

During my numerous training and event swims in 2009, the Vortex 3 performed exceptionally well in terms of buoyancy, swim ability, and thermal protection. There are, however, a few minor issues I had with the Vortex 3 that definitely warrant mentioning.

First of all, given Xterra’s direct sales model, you can’t really try on a Vortex 3 before you purchase it. You have to rely on the detailed sizing chart on their website and hope that you choose the right size. I was actually on the border between two sizes, so I chose the larger one. This proved to be a mistake, and I had to go through the return/exchange process to get my correct size.

Second, the Vortex 3 fullsuit is a very well-insulated wetsuit that retains a LOT of heat. And while this is highly desirable in colder water conditions, I could see this becoming a problem during longer swims in warmer water temperatures. In fact, there were a couple of times that I interrupted my swim to take off my Vortex 3 as I was feeling somewhat overheated.

My final critique of the suit involves its outer lining. For some reason, it seems more vulnerable to fingernail gouge marks than other wetsuits I have used. So you have to be extra careful putting it on or you’ll easily end up with one of these:

The Bottom Line

Overall, I am very pleased with the quality, fit, and performance of the Xterra Vortex 3 fullsuit. I think it’s a great all-around wetsuit that you can use for both training and competing. It’s priced at $400 on their web site, but the company occasionally runs time-limited promotions where they offer the wetsuit at a 50% discount.

So if you’re in the market for a new wetsuit and feel comfortable with ordering one directly from the manufacturer, I highly suggest you check out what Xterra has to offer. You’ll get a really high quality wetsuit for a price significantly lower than that of a comparable – or even lower quality – wetsuit at a local retail outlet.
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** UPDATE – 5/5/10 **

I have to be honest here. This wetsuit has not lived up to my expectations since writing this review in January 2010. It turns out that the suit is much more vulnerable to rips and tears than I expected. In fact, despite being very meticulous in putting the wetsuit on and applying copious amounts of Suit Juice during the process, I still somehow managed to develop very frustrating rips and rents in numerous places.

And let me tell you something, folks. It is NOT pleasant to have cold water rush in through rips located near some of the more, er, “delicate” areas of the human anatomy.

Here are a few pics showing the rips and the repair jobs I had to do (I used both Black Magic and Aquaseal)

I don’t have long fingernails, so that’s not the issue here. I think that the wetsuit just has a shorter shelf life – especially when exposed to more extreme temperatures. And once it reaches a certain point, it just starts to deteriorate where it’s thinner (forearms) and where you place the most stress putting it on (legs and crotch).

So I cannot, at this point, strongly endorse this product.

** UPDATE – 5/25/10 **

Many of you have read this review, and a few of you have contacted me directly about it. Let me just clarify a few things.

First, I purchased this wetsuit in May 2009, and it did perform quite well for an entire year. I deliberately waited until January 2010 because I wanted to see how the suit performed under extreme cold water swimming conditions. And as I had originally reported, the Vortex 3 did indeed perform quite well even under the most extreme swim conditions.

My primary issue with my Vortex 3 was that the softer outer neoprene layer seemed to be much more prone to tearing after having to endure three months of sub-40F water temperature exposure. And to be fair to Xterra – these are not typical swim conditions that most triathletes practice in or face on race days.

One other FYI – when I informed Xterra recently of this issue, they immediately sent me another Vortex 3 as a replacement. So while I may have had some frustrations with my Vortex 3, this doesn’t necessarily imply that you will have the same experience. And even if you do, Xterra has definitely demonstrated that they are willing to go above and beyond to make their customers happy.

I hope this further clarifies everything for everyone. If anyone has any other questions, feel free to send me a quick note at srhernan [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks!

14 Comments

  1. Cory
    November 16, 2011

    My Vortex Sleeveless in year 2 torn across the abdomen. I as not doing anything unusual to the suit. I had used it many times in the ocean and it wasn’t ever exposed to any extreme temperatures. Xterra refused to replace it but did give me a significant reduction the price of a new one. While I like the suit, I think that after paying twice (once for the original and once for the replacement) I would have been better off purchasing a single, higher quality wetsuit.

    I think Xterra should have replaced mine for free

  2. Angie
    April 18, 2011

    Great review. I was wondering rather to trust a direct only buy….but this and a few other reviews I’ve read have helped me make my decision. Putting in my Vortex order today. 🙂 Happy swimming to all.

  3. Peyton
    December 14, 2010

    Thanks for the review. Just signed up for the Florida IM and need to purchase a full body suit and leaning this direction. My conditions (KY) are not as extreme as where you are and probably will not break it out in the open water until late winter early Spring. I fell confident it should hold up and it seems as if XTERRA has tremendous customer service which means a lot in my book.

  4. Kelli
    November 18, 2010

    Steve-
    This is a very through review of the Vortex 3 Fullsuit. This is one of our most popular wetsuits. A large part of the popularity of the Vortex is derived from it’s durability. Of course the durability of a wetsuit is markedly changed with the amount of use a wetsuit sees in a lifetime, the environment the wetsuit is primarily used in, and the care of the suit over time. It sounds as though you have taken very tender care of your Vortex but it was not able to endure the stiff Chicago weather conditions. We here at XTERRA appreciate all athletes especially those who are willing to endure extreme conditions in order to continue their exercise regimen. I wanted to thank you for this report and the support you have show our product! Our 30 day return policy and 3 year warranty are in place for situations such as this. I’m glad we could accommodate you! Please let us know if there is anything else we can do to keep you happily swimming in the future!
    Thanks again!
    XTERRA WETSUITS

    • Steve
      November 19, 2010

      Hi Kelli! You’re welcome. Thanks for writing!

  5. ron arthur
    September 27, 2010

    NOT FAMILIAR WITH REACTION HOWEVER IM VERY HAPPY WITH MY VORTEX 3 FULL SLEEVE. MOST COMFORTABLE ON NECK THAN ANY OTHER SUIT IVE TRIED (AQUAMAN, ORCA) I RECENTLY BOUGHT A VORTEX 3 SLEEVLESS AND IM VERY HAPPY WITH IT AS WELL. XTERRA SUITS SEEM TO HAVE MORE ROOM IF YOU HAVE A BIG UPPERBODY. HOPE THIS HELPS.

  6. bryanr
    September 16, 2010

    Need some advice in whether to but Xterra Vortex 3 vs Blue Seventy Reaction. I can get them for close to the same price. Anybody familiar with these suits andwhat was your experience?

  7. ron
    July 21, 2010

    can anyone compare the vortex 3 to the qr hydrofull?

    • Steve
      July 28, 2010

      I’m not familiar with the hydrofull myself. Can anyone out there shed some light on this?

  8. srhernan
    May 26, 2010

    Just to clarify, I purchased this wetsuit in May 2009 and it did perform quite well for an entire year. And to be fair to Xterra, when I informed them recently of this issue, they immediately sent me another Vortex 3 as a replacement.

    I just posted another update above. I hope this further clarifies everything for you or for any other reader/swimmer!

  9. Lycn
    May 26, 2010

    oh wow, Did this suit only have a 4-5 month life ( from Jan 10 to May 10)? That sucks 🙁 i was about to purchase one,, but will now reconsider. thank you for your review

  10. Allison
    March 27, 2010

    Thanks, Steve, for your terrific review. I’m seriously considering ordering one of these for cold-water swimming, and seeing such a detailed critique gives me confidence that this suit has what I want.

    P.S. Great site!

    • srhernan
      March 28, 2010

      Hey Allison! You’re welcome! Glad you found this helpful!

  11. diver dave
    January 18, 2010

    OUT OF BOREDOM I VISITED ELEMENT MULTISPORT TO SEE THE QUINTIANA ROO 2009/2010 COLLECTION. I HAVE THE ULTRA FULL 2007 AND IT IS IN NEAR PERFECT SHAPE. THE MORE EXPENSIVE MODELS HANGING ON THE RACK LOOKED LIKE THEY WERE SPANKED WITH BARBED WIRE. THEY ALL HAD FINGER NAIL TEARS. WHEN I ASKED ABOUT THE DAMAGE I WAS TOLD THAT THE HIGHER PRICED WET SUITS WERE MUCH MORE DELACATE AND INTURN DAMAGED EASILY ! ! ! WHEN I MENTIONED HOW MY SUIT HAD SPENT A LOT OF TIME SWIMMING THROUGH BOTH ICE AND HEAVY SLUSH WITHOUT ANY DAMAGE… HE AGREED THE ULTRA FULL Q.R. WAS A VERY GOOD PICK… SO IT SEEMS THE MORE YOU PAY THE WETSUIT IS NOT AS DURABLE …YES, SAD BUT TRUE…
    P.S. STEVE CUT YOUR FINGER NAILS ! ! !


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