What goes between your legs is serious business, which is why one of the most important equipment decision you make (should you choose to use one) is that of the pull buoy. And that’s why we are always on the hunt for the best swimrun pull buoy out there and have loved seeing the evolution of these valuable swimrun commodities. In our first swimrun event in 2016, we opted for the DIY pull buoy approach with hardware store bits and bobs and lots of duct tape. I personally believe you should never go anywhere without duct tape, but I digress. Three years of training and racing later, we have experimented with our fair share of buoys…some 100% DIY, some 50/50, and some specifically designed for swimrun. No matter what your budget or level of competition, we wanted to give you an overview of the options out there, so that you may find what fits best between those thighs.
Methods to our Madness
We performed swimming time trials, swimrun transitions, and running with 5 different leg floatation products. Swimming time trials were conducted in a pool to control as many of the variables as possible. Each flotation device was use for 5×200 meters over the course of 5 days (200 meters per day per float) changing the order of the products in order to account for fatigue. The average times per 100 meters are in the chart below. Each of these devices were used in at least one swimrun training session with at least 8 transitions per session. And finally, we ran a combination of wide and single track trail for at least 5 miles with each product. Each was reviewed on comfort during run and swim, functionality in transition, speed in water, dry/wet weight, and additional features (such as race belt attachment). The results are compiled below, with overall impressions for each product, and a final ranking. Remember everyone swims, runs, and swimruns uniquely with their own preferences for comfort, cost, and competitive edge, so please explore these products on your own and be your own judge. We just hope this provides some guidance.
Disclaimer: All products were acquired through purchasing at market value and we currently do not have a business relationship with any of these companies.
The Quick and Sloshy
The Big Picture
Colting Calf Floats
Overall, the Colting Swimcalf SCO2 Extreme Float win the award for most comfort during swim and run. They also may add an extra protective layer for those rocky, technical runs and transitions. However, as for floatation, they are not sufficient on their own and would be best used in combination with a pull buoy. They still require you to kick during the swims, and take on a little more extra water than we would prefer, weighing you down a bit for the run. If you’re racing a swim-heavy swimrun, with lots of slippery and rocky transitions, these may be a nice complement to help float your shoes a bit and protect your shins.
Finis Pull Buoy
While this did not perform as well as any of the other pull buoys in the time trials, we wound’t write this option off if you a) aren’t looking to be that competitive, b) are looking for a cost-effective DIY option, or c) prefer something on the small side while running. We used this our first two years of swimrun and did pretty dang well in competition. We recommend using this for a run-heavy swimrun with lots of single track where small overall size out performs the others for running ease in narrow trail.
Elite Swimrun Pull Buoy
After testing this pull buoy, I was quite surprised to see it used so often in elite competition, such as the Otillo World Championships. I wonder if the Swedes just prefer to support their local “Swimrun Santa”, the man living on a boat, somewhere along the Swedish archipelago, responsible for inventing and making this product. Regardless, it’s significantly heavier than the others, making it quite cumbersome on the runs. But take into account, this is the only pull buoy we attached to the low back rather than the thigh (not our preferred attachment site). So for that reason, transitions may have been a little sloppier as our muscle memory is more prone to the “thigh swing” rather than the “back stash”. It does come with a thigh attachment option, but I’m curious if the thin elastic would be enough to keep it around your thigh on the run. All that said, it does win the wet to dry ratio award with almost no additional water intake.
Oooo. Now this one was a treat. Especially for transition. The pull buoy with race belt attachment made transitions quick and smooth, because when you exit the water, you merely widen your legs and it pops out, requiring minimal handling to get it in place on the side of your thigh. We also found this one to be the most comfortable in the water; however, we’ve heard varying opinions as some people do not prefer the longer length of this one when compared to the ARK Keel. Personally, we found this to fit nicely between the thighs on the swim, and less noticeable on the runs than the ARK Keel due to its slimmer width.
Another oooo, and maybe an ahhh as this one delivers on beautiful design. The aqua dynamic shape appears to hold true, as this pull buoy was the fastest on the time trials (although only by a mere second compared to the Piraya) and is quite comfortable. As for transition, it isn’t as smooth as the Piraya, mostly because it doesn’t come equipped with a race belt attachment. As a result, we devised our own thigh attachment. We did try a swimrun with it tucked under the race belt against our backs and it was hardly noticeable because of its light weight; however, it was little annoying to have to figure out which way was up (due to its asymmetry) each time we transitioned to the swim. I would suggest using this one on swim-heavy swimruns, as it may give you the slight speed advantage to the Piraya. Read the full Ark Keel Review.