Battle of the Thermals

Not wanting to wear a thermal suit because you think it’s going to make you too buoyant to do breast stroke? Or maybe it’s just that you prefer to have your cold immersion therapy?  

I’m one of those outdoor swimmers who loves to be able to feel the water and enjoys the tingle of the cold water but this winter I’m setting myself a different challenge. Having had a partial knee replacement earlier this year I’m working to get my fitness back. My challenge this winter is to push myself with distance and increase my cardiovascular fitness. As the temperatures are starting to drop I thought it would be a great opportunity to put the thermal wetsuits we stock at Tri Wetsuit Hire to the test. We often receive feedback that thermal wetsuits are too buoyant so I thought I’d do my own test so that I can provide our customers with my results.

And don’t forget wearing a wetsuit isn’t a sign of weakness – you can always do your cold immersion therapy after your swim – take your wetsuit off whilst still in the water and relax for a couple of minutes or do a short swim to get your fix. Pure bliss. The most important thing to remember is know your bodies limitations, listen to your body. You will soon learn your bodies own signs of when you are getting cold, whether that be that your little finger separates from the rest of your fingers, your muscles feel cold or just that if you are enjoying it too much, that’s often the time to get out of the water and get warm.

I’ve reviewed the Orca Vitalis Thermal and the Blue70 Reaction Thermal suits. Here are my results

Orca Vitalis Thermal (RS1)

The RS1 was remarkably easy to get on, even with the batwing which I have now mastered! It’s easiest to get the wetsuit fully into position first and zip up before pulling the batwing over the head and tucking it in.

The thermal panels are on the core and thigh/buttock areas, therefore keeping your largest muscle groups and core area warm without the suit being too bulky. Again, like the Orca Zeal with the batwing, there is minimal water ingress through the neck and zip areas.

This suit gave me great flexibility to swim front crawl but because the suit has only thermal panels in the core and thighs it meant that I was able to seamlessly switch to breast stroke as well which is great if you aren’t wanting to do heads-in strokes when the weather is super cold. You really do get the best of both with this suit – thermal properties and neutral buoyancy.

The suit, along with my gloves and socks, kept me warm enough to do 1k in 7.5 degrees and I felt fab after my swim.

 Ali’s rating *****

I’d highly recommend this suit for those that want to swap between front crawl and breast stroke. Enough buoyancy to help a little with dropping legs but neutral enough to be able to do effortless breast stroke.


Blue70 Thermal Reaction

The Blue70 was a little more challenging to put on due to the thicker panels. The suit is lined throughout with a fleece type lining. It was, however, surprisingly flexible once I had it on and was in the water.


For front crawl this is a great suit – it’s buoyant and therefore puts you in a great swimming position. However, for a relaxed breast stroke you do have to adjust your stroke and think a bit to keep your legs in the correct position which isn’t necessarily what you want when you are just wanting a relaxing “swimble”.

I must admit that on the day that I trialled this suit I had a bad cold so didn’t swim as far as I was hoping to but the temperature was 8.5 degrees.

I was super warm in this suit – maybe a little bit too warm if I’m honest but I am used to swimming without a wetsuit altogether. In fact, I was so warm some of my swim “family” were using me to warm themselves up after their swims.

I probably wouldn’t suggest it for use by chilled head- up breast strokers due to it’s buoyance but I would recommend it for front crawlers who want to do distance through the winter, especially if they are normally wetsuit wearers the rest of the year.

 Ali’s rating ****

This was a great suit for front crawl but swapping to breast stroke mid-session wasn’t the easiest but is doable. I’d highly recommend this for front crawlers who want to swap layering up to just having a seamless wetsuit.

Not forgetting your feet, I thought I'd test the Blue70 Thermal socks but unfortunately I didn't get on with these.  They were super easy to get on but they didn't keep my feet warm at all.  I do know others who use these all the time and they love them but they weren't for me.

As I usually use the Zone3 Heat Tech socks I decided to put these up against the Orca Open Water Swim Socks as I know the Zone3 socks work well for me.  The results were a real surprise.

The Orca socks were much easier to get on, and off, than the Zone3 socks and stayed in place without them having the velcro around the ankle.   They also had a nice feel on the sole with them feeling more comfortable than the Zone3 socks.  Then the real test, in the water - I must admit I looked a bit silly as I decided the best way to test these against each other was to put one on each foot! But hey, I'm used to looking silly.

As I entered the water, both feet felt toasty and there was little in it.  By the end of my 800m swim my feet still felt warm and the socks were still nicely in place.  If I had to choose one, I'd say that my left foot was marginally warmer so the Orca won, but only just.  The Orca is a great sock which is super comfy and warm and at £35.00 a great price.  I'd highly recommend.  

We offer thermal wetsuit hire - the ultimate try before you buy.  And don't forget your accessories.  We also hire and sell thermal accessories to keep you toasty throughout the year. Why not give them a try!


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