Open water wetsuits
Cold Water Swimming,  FEATURES,  GEAR,  Gear Advice

Choosing an open water wetsuit: thermal or non-thermal?

Digital journalist Abi Whyte explores the differences between thermal and non-thermal wetsuits from Orca, and the benefits they offer open water swimmers

Sponsored content

If you’re looking to train for longer in the open water, or take part in a long-distance swimming event, you might want to invest in an open water wetsuit.

While they can cost a pretty penny, a good quality wetsuit can be a staple part of your outdoor swimming kit, providing you with insulation in cooler waters, and buoyancy that can help conserve your energy on longer swims.

Thermal or non-thermal?

The type of open water wetsuit you go for depends on the time of year you like to swim and train outdoors.

If you prefer to train outdoors in the spring and summer months or take part in events that allow wetsuits during the main open water season, then a wetsuit like the Vitalis TRN would be your best bet.

This lightweight and flexible wetsuit is made from Yamomoto neoprene – widely recognised as the thinnest, lightest, warmest neoprene available in the market.

It has 3mm panels in the torso and legs for neutral buoyancy, and lots of flexibility in the shoulders and under-arms for an unhindered stroke. This wetsuit can also be accessorised with neoprene gloves, socks and a hood if you wanted to swim in cooler temperatures, so it’s extremely versatile.

Watch Abi trying Orca’s thermal and non-thermal wetsuits for a lake swim

Filmed by Colin Nicholls at Escape to the Lake

Colder temperatures

If you’d like to take your training into autumn and winter, or enter a winter event, then the Vitalis Thermal would be the wetsuit to go for.

The Thermal X lining and 5mm panels provide extra insulation in cold temperatures, and the batwing hood prevents water entering the zipper area. While warmth and buoyancy are key features in the wetsuit, no compromise has been made with flexibility – it feels like a second skin.

Orca’s latest offering in their thermal wetsuit collection is the Zeal Thermal. This is the next level up in terms of heat retention and flexibility, with its Thermal X2 lining, close-fitting leg and arm cuffs and 40X+ Yamomoto neoprene for maximum elasticity.

This is a wetsuit for swimmers who want supreme thermal comfort, flexibility and buoyancy in really cold temperatures. Read more of Abi’s thoughts on the Zeal Thermal here.

Want to find more about Orca’s range of thermal and non-thermal open water wetsuits? Head to

Written in partnership with Orca

Stay up to date with The Dip, our free weekly outdoor swimming newsletter.

Abi writes swimming news stories and features for the Outdoor Swimmer website and manages the social media channels. She loves to swim, run, hike and SUP close to her home in Herefordshire. While she’s a keen wild swimmer, Abi is new to the world of open water events and recently completed her first open water mile. She has previously written for The Guardian, BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC History Magazine and Ernest Journal.