Oh Whimp That I Am
That is the best way to describe me under the water. With over 7600 dives throughout the world mostly in the tropics, I’ve been completely warm on about 10 of them. I consider a 7mm wetsuit standard operating procedure for any dive where the temperature drops below 85 degrees and there is no such thing as a 3mm in my arsenal except if it is to be used strictly for snorkeling. Yep, whimpy comes to mind again doesn’t it?
So when Matt Patton, the President of heatedwetsuits.com asked me to demo and review his new product, I was only too pleased to jump in on this one.
Matt explained to me that a large portion of the target market are women like me, divers who can’t shake the chill that creeps in as the water quickly drains the body’s heat stores. Beginning scuba divers learn that water pulls heat away from the body 25x faster than air so while logically you would never think you would become cold in 80 degree water, it can happen rather fast.
Heated wetsuits are also becoming popular with surfers as well as climbers and while I don’t surf, I will be interested to see how the product holds up under the rigors of the mountain climate on our upcoming expedition to the summit of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America. You know it’s seriously cold up there!
Heated Wetsuits thermalution undersuit is a product designed to combat the cold by using two 7.4 Lithium batteries which operate two series of heating coils built within an undergarment that’s basically a rash guard. The heating coils sit across the back of the suit helping to warm the core body temperature. The beauty of this is that no longer do I need to rely on my own body’s ability to warm itself through warming the water inside my wetsuit but I have an external source of heat that I can add at any time during my dive.
The battery charger is dual meaning you can charge both batteries at one time and the charge indictor shows the level of both batteries current charges by was of red/yellow and green lights (and yes, dual also meaning 120-240). Once fully charged, the batteries are connected to the controller built into the suit and sit in small pockets under your arms.
The suit has an easy to operate control attached by a cord to the back of the suit. I simply allowed the control device to hang over my right shoulder for easy access. With three color coded settings low/medium/high I could control the amount of warmth during my dive.
Battery life varies depending on how long you use each setting.
Testing of the Heated Wetsuit
The first day I showed up with the heated undergarment, the other divers said, “Really? it’s like jumping into the bathtub with a toaster!” Are you really going to turn that on underwater?” I laughed, assuring them it was completely safe and tested but the damage was done. I fondly nicknamed my new suit, “the toaster!”.
Putting the shirt on the first time was a bit bulky because, honestly, how many times in your life have you put on a battery operated shirt? I was concerned that the placement of the batteries along my side would impact my movement underwater but it turned out not to be the case. I barely noticed them all all.
I tested the controls on the surface and found that the suit heated up very quickly. I noticed the warmth almost instantly and within a minute I had full strength. At this point I quickly turned the suit off since it was over 90 degrees in the boat! My wetsuit zipped up easily over the suit and I was ready to go.
I put my complete faith in this suit, opting not to bring my 7mm suit but only an old 3/5/3 without much life of it’s own left in it.
You would think I would test out this puppy in 60 degree water but since I get so cold in warm water, I backrolled into the 81 degree Caribbean off the coast of Mexico and hoped for the best. I dove without using the heater for the first 45 minutes of the dive. Once a chill started to set in I turned it on to the low setting. Even at 70 feet underwater, I was easily able to discern the color coding on the simple to use controller. Immediately it began to heat my back like a warm heating pad on a three dog night.
After a few minutes, I noticed that my arms and legs actually became colder as my core heated up. Each time I used the suit, I noticed this and it would take 5 minutes or so for my extremities to catch up with my warming core.
I used the suit for about 20 minutes at the end of the dive and then surfaced. My fellow divers were happy to see the smile on my face and that I hadn’t actually “toasted” myself underwater.
It’s important to remember to turn the suit off in between dives to both save the battery and not overheat in the warm sunshine of the tropics.
On the second dive I turned the suit on immediately to the medium setting. One drawback to using an outside source of heat is that I became used to having it and once I had the crutch I didn’t want to give it up. About halfway through the second dive I turned the control up to the high setting to finish the dive. For my own thermal needs I preferred the medium and high settings and quickly bypassed low.
Even though these suits have the largest heating area on the market, I would like to see heating coils across the stomach as well. I would welcome “surround sound” type heat enveloping me through out my dives.
I mentioned this to the company and they explained to me that in 5-10 years time, they hope the technology to be at a point where they can put coils both in front and back but at the moment it would take a battery double in size.
I recommend having two sets of batteries charged up and along for the ride. If the water is cold and you use the heated suit on the first dive you won’t be happy not using it for the second. As well, there’s no reason to freeze your tail off on the first dive in order to save the batteries for the second. If you do dives over 60 minutes you’ll want the comfort of knowing you have back up batteries. Changing them in between dives is simple and starting each dive with a fresh set ensures that you won’t run out of juice. If Heated Wetsuits develops a battery with a longer usage time, I would buy them.
Conclusions of the Benefits of Diving with a Heated Wetsuit
I loved the heated wetsuit. I passed it around to other women in my dive group who chill easily and they also thought it was a fantastic addition to the arsenal of dive gear. After the first dive day I was hooked. Besides, who wants to think about thermal protection while filming this:
You might think it’s just one more thing to haul along on a dive trip. I think it’s very well worth hauling. Like me, you might even be able to travel with a thinner wetsuit which will save weight and bulk when you travel. I’m looking forward to giving the suit another test run in colder water and also seeing what it can do up on the mountain top. Stay tuned….I’ll let you know how it goes.
In the meantime, check out www.heatedwetsuits.com and let me know what you think.
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