For this weeks blog we bring you a further review from our series on swimming wetsuits. This week we have the Orca 3.8 Wetsuit Review which is a top end triathlon swimming wetsuit from the team at Orca. The 3.8 refers to the ironman distance swim and clearly targeting ironman distance triathletes. I have owned the Orca 3.8 for the past two seasons using it in every race. Its biggest test coming from using the wetsuit to swim across the Solent from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight.
My personal Wetsuit history
I have owned two triathlon wetsuits before buying the Orca 3.8. All of them Orca as I have found that the fit and buoyancy suits my swimming. My first wetsuit was the entry level Orca S2 which I replaced with an Orca S6 after a few years use. Progressively I have upgraded to the higher end of the Orca wetsuit range. The Orca S2 is a legacy version with thick neoprene but is very robust and really suited my early days of triathlon attempts. The S6 has more technology and a promise of more speed. I found the thinner neoprene quick but more prone to nicks and tears. It also suffered a broke zip during its life that I had replaced.
Design of the Core
The Orca 3.8 wetsuit is a full length wetsuit with full sleeves. Straight forward enough. It is far from a basic wetsuit though and has technology and innovation squeezed into every corner. Starting with buoyancy and the Core Lateral Stabiliser system (CLS) with exo-cell. This is a series of panels across your core providing increased buoyancy without compromising body roll. Additional buoyancy comes in the shape of the Aerodome 2 panels that are fitted from the lower back to the calf. I have found this gives more buoyancy than any of my previous wetsuits. For my swimming style this is a real benefit helping with a flat swim position. I gain momentum principally through my arms with my legs really only for rhythm. It can make my core a bit lazy so extra buoyancy across the middle is good for my style.
Neoprene used in the wetsuit Design
Like most rival wetsuits the Orca 3.8 uses Yamamoto neoprene. This is not the top of the range 44 cell neoprene but the second in the range 40 cell. Orca promises little difference between the technology but leaves a gap for their premium Predator range to fill. The wetsuit combines a range of thicknesses of neoprene starting at 0.5mm through to 5mm. The thin neoprene intended to give good mobility and stretch around the shoulder and arms. It uses 1.5mm on the shoulder with 0.5mm in the underarm. I have never felt fatigued across the shoulder from wearing the wetsuit even swimming in distances up to 5km. The buoyancy is certainly apparent and it is a pretty easy wetsuit to put on and off. The wetsuit also uses titanium in the construction intended to provide warmth. I personally struggle with heat loss in low water temps so this is a real advantage to me. Anything below 15 degrees in the water and I am seeking out my surfing winter 5mm wetsuit!
Performance of the Orca 3.8
The swim is my strongest discipline and the one that comes most naturally. I’m not a county level hardcore swimmer but in a triathlon field I am normally top quarter. Any further advantage I can gain as I quickly drop through the field on the bike and run. A good wetsuit that can help me slip through the water is massively appealing. The Orca promises Nano technology to give a smooth skin through the water. It means the surface of the wetsuit is pretty shiny and almost metallic. In the water the wetsuit should be gliding through the water with minimal resistance.
My Olympic triathlon 1500m swim times are normally around 26-28 minutes and the Orc 3.8 fits this time. The slippery finish of the wetsuit helping for sure but not transforming my times. This was my first wetsuit with catch panels in the forearm intended to improve the propulsion through the water. Orca don’t make much noise about this but is a further area of strength. I’m not sure if this suggests they are moving away from the technology or it is so fundamental now it doesn’t merit mention. My Garmin SWOLF scores are consistent with the wetsuit which suggests not a huge impact from this.
Transition efficiency in the wetsuit
Orca have worked hard since the earlier wetsuits and this is one area that the 3.8 feels massively different to the S2 and S6. The insides of the wetsuit are almost like a fleece and super soft. It means that when you are in the wetsuit it is extremely comfy. Even when racing in 30 degree heat and waiting on the beach for the starter gun I feel comfy in this wetsuit. It is also designed to minimise neck chafing. I have certainly found this with only one exception. When swimming in the Solent in a Force 6 storm the salt water did begin to affect my neck. A lesson for me there as I failed to use much bodyglide!
Coming out of the swim and into transition the zip is a traditional top – down zip. With a good degree of flexibility in the neorprene unzipping and removing the wetsuit from my upper body has always been a quick affair. Getting the lower body off is quick and no issues. I haven’t trimmed down the legs and left it full length. Even with this it is easy to remove in transition. It is also handily a wetsuit you can put on without help. Having swum in all sorts of locations many times on my own the wetsuit is simple enough to pull on and zip in.
Fit of the Orca 3.8
I tend to wear a size MT (medium tall) in a wetsuit given my stretched out frame. I am 6′ 3″ and 80 kgs with a 40 inch chest and 32 inch waist. In all my previous swimming wetuits and surfing wetsuits this has been my default size. I found the MT in the Orca 3.8 a bit tight across the chest and shoulders. In defence of Orca my dimensions leave me outside every one of their standard sizes. For the Orca 3.8 I found the Size 7 a better fit. Against their sizing guides this should only be suited to people up to 6′ 1″. I am long in the leg which I think is why I can get away with this. With wetsuits a good fit is absolutely critical so make sure however you buy yours you can try it on.
Summary of the Orca 3.8 Triathlon Wetsuit
I have been an Orca fan for over a decade and the Orca 3.8 continues to cement this. It is an extremely comfortable wetsuit and gives a great degree of buoyancy. If you are looking for a wetsuit to help you swim with a more horizontal swim position then this is a great choice. The buoyancy across the core, bum and upper thighs is first class. Is it the fastest wetsuit on the market? I’m not convinced as I feel there are quicker wetsuits on the market but maybe that is just me getting slower! The Orca 3.8 is an incredibly comfortable highly technical wetsuit and perfect for anyone after loads of buoyancy.
Best place to buy the Orca 3.8 – £449 from Tredz (at time of writing – January 2020)
If you are looking for an alternative to the Orca 3.8 check out our review of the HUUB Aerious II triathlon wetsuit.