I’ve heard of Buell wetsuits for a while but until this year I had never taken the plunge. A few of my friends swore by them–the brand with the funny smiley face on the inside of the knees–but I was suspicious of other brands for some reason. I think I was so enamored by my honeymoon phase with Xcel that I just couldn’t leave that relationship. Well, with the quality of Xcel suits decreasing a bit in the past few years and the fit slightly changing, I had to start seeing other wetsuits.
First was Feral, which I wrote about here. And now that Feral and I are on solid ground with a fantastic 3/2, I needed a trusty 4/3 to brave the Southern California winter. With the Feral suits stuck on a freighter off the coast of Long Beach, I was forced to consider some other brands. I was looking into getting an O’Neill Hyperfreak, but then my roommate mentioned that the Buell women’s hooded 4/3’s were on sale for $153. Yes, you read that right. $153. I ran over to my computer and ordered one immediately before they ran out of stock.
I have never used a hooded 4/3 before. Not because I don’t like them but simply because finding a women’s hooded 4/3 is next to impossible. Only a scant few brands make them. I love hoods, and I frequently use an O’Neill Psycho 1.5mm hood with my 4/3’s. But an attached hood? I couldn’t wait to give it a try. (Yes I have actually used hooded 5/4’s on Long Island in the winter, but a 4/3 with a hood seemed like such a novelty).
When my suit arrived I noticed that…it was way too small. I am 5’6″ and about 118lbs, and according to the Buell website I should have been smack in the middle of the size 6 range. However, this was clearly not the case. So back the suit went in favor of a size 8. The return process was quite smooth, and Buell even sent me a friendly email letting me know they got the suit back and my refund was on the way. The size 8 I got instead fits absolutely perfectly, almost as if it was tailor made for me. I dare say that the fit (for me personally) is the best I have ever had in a suit. (To be completely fair – I still have to test the Feral in a size 6T – they were out of stock for my review).
Getting in and out of the suit is a breeze. I don’t feel as if I need to contort myself. Peeling the suit off seems much easier than previous 4/3s I have owned. This is a bonus as I hope this translates into longer lasting seams from less yanking on the suit.
The hood fits snugly, if a bit chokingly. However, water doesn’t get into the hood too easily. My hair is frequently dry after a session. Water does seem to seep in from somewhere in the chest zip on duckdives and when swimming – this is the only downside of an otherwise fantastic suit. I can’t tell why it’s coming in there but it seems that the zipper is not as water tight as it should be and there’s no panel to have the water flush out the side instead of into the suit itself.
Flexibility seems to be a non-issue. I honestly don’t feel like this is the typical stiffness and resistance that a 4/3 usually has. Whether this is due to the size being Goldilocks perfect for me or just the arrangement of the seams and stitching is still a bit unclear to me. However, I have to say I hardly notice I’m actually in a 4/3 which is…amazing.
The suit drys out fairly quickly. Not quite as quickly as the Feral due to a more porous neoprene, but still fast enough that I don’t feel like my suit is still soaking wet the next day. This is quite a positive. Older suits from even 5-10 years ago seemed to dry quite slowly.
So how warm is it? It is VERY warm. Despite a bit of flushing from the zipper on those duckdives like I said, there’s not a lot of flushing going on at all thanks to the hood. I can stay out in the 58 degree water without booties or gloves and be perfectly happy. The hood has a lot to do with this – keeping your head and neck warm keeps your core warm (which is why I recommend hoods for optimal sessions in cold conditions). After 5 sessions the seams are water tight and feel good as new. I will update this review as time goes by to give a report on the durability over the course of a season.
The prices of the suits cannot be beat–these are VERY nice suits for the price. They are not designed to be luxury suits, but for the cost + comfort I can honestly say that Buell has become one of my new favorite wetsuit brands.
I actually look forward to putting my Buell on – which is the first sign of a damn good wetsuit. There are very few suits in my life that have made me stoked every time I put them on – the Feral and now the Buell. There’s no struggle, there’s paddling comfort, and of course the most important: Warmth.
Check out Buell’s full line of suits at Buellsurf.com!