When temperatures drop in open water, many triathletes will head back to the pool. But that’s a shame, because cold-water swimming has many benefits for our physical and mental health – you just need a good thermal wetsuit for swimming.
Plus, if you can swim through the winter you’ll boost your skills ready for next year’s race season. We won’t sugar-coat it, though, UK winter swimming is a different beast. It gets cold in there. Very cold!
Expect to do shorter swims and prepare to take care of yourself to avoid cold-water shock, hypothermia and the after-drop. Helpfully though, many brands are now offering thermal-lined swimming wetsuits which make a huge difference.
220‘s editor (an experienced cold-water swimmer) ours in UK lakes ranging tested from 3°C to 9°C. She also added gloves and bootsplus a neoprene cap. Bring on the freeze…
Best thermal wetsuits for swimming
Orca Openwater RS1 Thermal
You’ll notice from the photos that the neckline sits a bit higher on the Orca. That’s thank to an inner ‘batwing’ layer of neoprene inside the suit that sits across the back and pulls over your head to add extra protection against trickles through the zip and provide a snug fit to stop water ingress down the neck.
For us, this was a touch of genius as it did make a difference to warmth in the water and, as the neck area is very sensitive to the cold, we welcomed the protection. Overall this suit became a fast favor in testing, too. Warmth is provided by a soft-touch ‘X-thermal’ lining which, though warm, didn’t feel restrictive and was easy to pull on.
Orca use 5mm in the torso to help, too, though more flexible Yamamoto 40 neoprene is used in the arms of the suit, which made for a more natural-feeling swim experience.
Verdict: The Orca Openwater Rs1 Thermal is a warm and flexible suit with an innovative extra layer to avoid chilly water ingress.
Zone3 Thermal Aspect
Earlier in the year Zone3 introduced the first breaststroke swimming suit to the market and it’s that which forms the basis of their new thermal suit. As such, it retains a high-stretch nylon panel across the crotch and thighs. Although this allows a good range of leg movement, it did lead to a bit of a chilly area once we entered the water!
The buoyancy levels in the suit are also tailored to the breaststroke position and for winter swimmers who swim breaststroke (or don’t want to swim front crawl in the cold) it’s a great product to have on the market. Body warmth is added thanks to a ‘Heat-tech’ thermal lining and once swimming, we did find that this kept us much warmer than a standard wetsuit.
One word of warning – this is quite a rigid suit and took a long time to get into, though the fit was good once it was on.
Verdict: It’s great to have a warmer suit on the market for breaststrokers and the Zone3 Thermal Aspect comes in at a good price point, too.
Blueseventy Thermal Reaction
This is this tester’s second thermal Blueseventy suit – our thermal Helix lasted us several cold swim seasons and the Reaction features an upgraded version of the zirconium jersey liner, which has a wool-like feel (leading to this suit being christened the ‘teddy bear’ at home!).
On dry land this felt the thickest suit but it was easy to pull on and that flexibility translated through into our swim with a 4:5:4 buoyancy profile giving a good body position for front crawl. That said, as with our earlier version, we did notice a little more fatigue through our shoulders on longer swims.
Blueseventy markets this suit for swims down to 8°C water, but we found it the warmest on test and the best choice for our chillier swims in waters down to 3°C . From experience, these suits last well, too, so are worth the investment.
Verdict: The Blueseventy Thermal Reaction is the toughest suit on test and is worth the spend if you plan to keep swimming in the cold.
Huub Alta Thermal
The Alta is Huub’s entry-level open-water swimming wetsuit and this new thermal version shares the same 2:4 buoyancy profile, designed to give a good horizontal position for those new to open water. We found the suit comfortable and easy to swim in, even though we initially thought it’d be bit snug (our pre-production sample was a medium, while the size chart put this UK12 tester in a medium/large).
The suit had plenty of stretch, though, and was easier to get in/out of than the more rigid Zone3, the other suit at a similar price point. The thermal lining did a great job of keeping us warm while the ‘arms neutral’ design gave good flexibility through the shoulders. We asked a slimmer swimmer for a second opinion on sizing and she reported feeling warmer than in her normal suit, with no water ingress.
Verdict: The Huub Alta Thermal wetsuit is warm and offers a good body position. Plus, a good price point for a second suit purchase.
Deboer Women’s Ocean 1.0
If we thought the Zone3 was tricky to get into, we thought again when we tried the Ocean 1.0 – it’s a rigid suit with very tiny, tight cuffs! Once on, it gave a toasty swim experience thanks to a ‘ThermaFur’ lining and close fit.
We found it speedy as well, knocking a minute off our usual 1km time in the lake. We did experience a cold trickle down our neck, though. Deboer tells us this suit is for use down to 8°C water, or you can add the Polar gloves, booties and hoodie (sold separately, see p85) and use it down to 6°C.
We actually managed relatively long swims without the hoodie at 5°C, with the caveat being our tester is well-acclimatised to cold water swimming and every swimmer is different. Finally though, there is that price tag. Unless you’re seriously into winter marginal gains, it’s pricey!
Verdict: The Deboer Ocean 1.0 is a fast, warm suit, but it’s hard to get into and we can’t ignore that sky-high price.