Heated Wetsuit Reviews
"Heated Wetsuits, Vests & Undersuits! A whole new world!"
The Run Down.
My name is Dave Buist, and I was born and raised in Tom's River, NJ. I LOVE to surf, and I don't let cold weather or cold water get in my way of catching an overhead glassy wave. Living in New Jersey, we surf almost year-round in wetsuits. Over the course of the last two decades, I've managed to try many wetsuits. I've read all the reviews, put in a review or two myself, and have always been interested in finding a way to stay out longer in cold water. Many of the best waves on the East Coast are found during the winter. Staying warm in the frigid cold water for more than an hour or two to enjoy it....that's the big challenge.
Battery Heated Wetsuits and battery heated vests are the new crave in the wetsuit industry. The idea is that a wetsuit no longer needs to simply insulate your current body heat, but a wetsuit should also support you and generate heat by itself. Heated wetsuits and heated wetsuit vests generate their own heat, actually giving them the ability to heat you up, rather than you having to heat up the wetsuit. This year (2011), RipCurl, Quiksilver, and Thermalution are all making their own versions of heated wetsuit vests. They all rely on Lithium batteries to heat the vest but each heated wetsuit vest has it's own unique characteristics. I decided to try all three heated vests to see which worked best for me. Below are my findings.
Four Main Heated Wetsuit Products:
RipCurl H-Bomb Heated Wetsuit - The Rip Curl H-Bomb Heated Wetsuit is a full wetsuit, sold as either a 3/2 model or a 4/3 model. The H-Bomb retails around $900-$1200 online, with the cheapest Rip Curl H-Bomb being found on Ebay as a 3/2 heated wetsuit for $699. The suit consists of two 7.4V Lithium batteries and a heating area that encompasses the entire back of the heated wetsuit.
RipCurl H-Bomb Heated Vest - The RipCurl H-Bomb Heated Vest is very similar to the RipCurl H-bomb heated wetsuit, but designed in a vest version, rather than the full wetsuit. Brand new for the winter of 2011/2012, they are priced at $299. The RipCurl H-bomb vest uses only one 7.4V Lithium battery in the vest, rather than the two used in the H-Bomb Wetsuit. The heating area is spread out over the entire back with four thin strips that head out in four directions across the back.
Quiksilver Cypher Heated Vest - The Quiksilver Cypher Vest is a heated wetsuit vest with or without an attached hood. The suits range in price from around $180 to $250, depending on the model of Cypher heated vest that you choose. The Quiksilver Cypher Heated Vest has only one 7.4V Lithium battery, similar to the H-Bomb vest, but its heating area covers only the lower portion of the back. The quiksilver cypher vest uses a rubber heating pad inside the vest, rather than a heating wire like the other suits. The vest can be worn with any wetsuit and is designed to heat the kidneys, and therefore heat the blood traveling throughout the rest of the body.
Thermalution Heated Vest - The Thermalution Heated Wetsuit Vest is also a heated wetsuit vest. Thermalution heated wetsuit vests are unique, being powered by not just one battery like the other vests, but two 7.4V Lithium batteries. The heating area covers both the upper and lower portion of your back. The Thermalution has a separate controller unit from the batteries. This adds one more piece to the heated wetsuit vest, but also allows for smaller sized batteries of the same power level. The vest is designed like the Quiksilver Cypher vest and RipCurl H-bomb vest to be worn underneath any of your wetsuits, making any wetsuits a heated wetsuit.
I was a bit limited on funds and simply couldn't justify spending $2,000 on all four different heated wetsuit products to test out. So, naturally, I scratched the Rip Curl H-Bomb Heated Wetsuit, simply because of two main reasons. Number one, it was the most expensive. At around $1000, I simply couldn't justify spending this amount of money on a wetsuit that I only use during the coldest conditions. Number two, wetsuits only have a certain short life expectancy. I've grown up surfing in wetsuits my entire life, and I know that wetsuits simply don't last more than three years even with great care. The neoprene eventually starts to lose it's elasticity and starts to break down. As a result, I purchased only the Thermalution, Cypher, and H-bomb vests, which I could wear with various thicknesses of wetsuits, depending on the time of year.
Quiksilver Cypher Vest Vs. Thermalution Undersuit Vs. RipCurl H-Bomb Vest
Testing all three heated wetsuit vests, I learned a lot about the different products. Below you will find a comparison of the three top selling brands of heated wetsuit vests. My reviews come from wearing the vests during harsh NJ winters. Our water temps get into the 30s in the winter. I set out to answer a few simple questions. Do heated wetsuits really work, or is it just hype? Will a heated wetsuit vest let me surf longer in the winter when the swell is going off? Which heated wetsuit vest is the best? My reviews of all three vests are below. I hope it helps you all to stay warm this winter season!
Quiksilver Cypher Vest
All three heated wetsuit vests have slightly different heating areas, all located on only the back portion of the vest. The Quiksilver Cypher vest uses a large rubber heating pad, which only heats the lower portion of your back. The heating area is designed to heat the kidney region, and the idea is that this heat will then be distributed through the blood stream.
The RipCurl Bomb vest and Thermalution Heated Undersuit Vest both use a non-metallic heating wire, which runs through the back of the wetsuit vests. The wire is run through the back of the vests, but in different patterns. (as shown in the pics). Both wires appear to be of the same thickness.
RipCurl is advertising that their vests have twice the heating area of the competition. This actually is NOT TRUE. As you can see from my measurements, the Thermalution actually has a slightly larger heating wire throughout the back of the suit.
Quiksilver Cypher Vest
Battery and Power Source
The Quiksilver Vest is powered by one 7.4V Lithium Ion battery. The Quiksilver Cypher Vest combines the power controller with the battery. This controller/battery is operated by a push button, which vibrates at different intensities, depending on which heat setting you select. The battery lasts around 1-2 hours depending on the high or low heat intensity, respectively.
The Thermalution heated wetsuit vest is powered by TWO 7.4 Volt Lithium Polymer batteries, rather than just one. Using a different power controller, separate from the batteries, Thermalution has managed to make a much thinner and sleeker battery than any of the competitors. The batteries really sweeps the Quiksilver vest in this category, with twice the battery power, thinner batteries, and a 30 minute longer battery life.
RipCurl H-Bomb - Powered by one 7.4V Lithium Ion Battery. The RipCurl H-Bomb vest also combines the power controller with the battery, like the Cypher. The battery/controller is also operated by a push button, which vibrates to distinguish between heat levels.
Heated Wetsuit Product Batteries
Heated Wetsuit Product Batteries
Battery Size and Placement
The batteries in the Thermalution are also placed much higher towards the arm pits and upper ribs, than the RipCurl H-Bomb or Quiksilver Cypher vest, which have the batteries just above the waist.
Many times while I was paddling while surfing, or sending the kite for a large kiteboarding jump, both the Quiksilver Cypher vest and RipCurl H-bomb would accidently activate the controller switch from time to time. This would end up vibrating between my ribs, which was a bit more than uncomfortable. The Thermalution batteries were placed just high enough that my elbows did not bump them while paddling, and they did not interfere with my kite/windsurfing harness. The Thermalution batteries are slightly wider than the RipCurl or Quiksilver, but they are much thinner, which keeps them out of the way when paddling.
Quiksilver Cypher Vest
Quiksilver Cypher Heat Vest - Low/High
Honestly, in my opinion, there is no point even running the Cypher Vest on low unless your suit is completely dry or it is not very cold. If the water is below 50 degrees or your suit has gotten any water inside, you will barely even notice the Quiksilver vest when it is on the low setting. As soon as my suit got wet with the first flush of cold water on the inside, I could no longer feel the low setting at all. I thought the suit was no longer working until I changed to the High Setting, which is warm, but constantly left me wanting a little bit more. I could never get this suit to be "too hot" for me. When surfing or kiting with the Quiksilver Cypher, I have to keep the vest on high. On High, the battery life is only 1 hour, so your use is definitely limited. Though I don't have a picture, the hood on the hooded model is very comfortable and is a nice bonus if you don't have a hood attached to your suit.
Not compatible with a kiteboarding harness. The pressure from the harness pushes the battery into your ribs, and also vibrates, which is a very uncomfortable sensation.
RipCurl H-Bomb Vest - Low/High
The RipCurl H-Bomb Vest also has a low and high setting, and feels slightly warmer than the Quiksilver Cypher Vest. The battery life, however is where this suit really perks up. On the low setting I still could not feel much heat in very cold water or after being flushed. The heating coils extend to your upper back, so I was able to flex my back and still slightly feel the upper coils during these conditions, however. On my lower back, though, where the wetsuit does not fit quite as tight, I was unable to feel anything after the first flush. The battery lasts a little under 2.5 hours on this setting, but if you are in sub 55 degree water, you'll want to stick with the high setting.
On high, the RipCurl H-Bomb Vest lasts on average around 1 hour 45 minutes. This is a huge perk over the Quiksilver vest because you can run the vest on high and actually have a decent amount of battery life on this setting. The heat level on high feels about the same to me on high as the Quiksilver Cypher Vest on High. The heating area covers both the upper and lower back, which you definitely appreciate on those cold offshore wind days.
Thermalution Heated Undersuit - Low/Med/High
The Thermalution has twice the battery power of it's competitors, and 3 levels of temperature control, and the highest price tag, so my expectations were high upon my first test of this suit. My initial reaction turning on the Thermalution on was, "Wow! That was fast!" This heated vest heats up extremely fast and can be felt in less than 10 seconds after hitting the switch. The heating area covers both the upper and lower back, extending all the way to the upper shoulder blades.
The heat produced by this suit is FAR greater than it's competitors. The Thermalution vest gets as warm as you need it to get! The low setting on the Thermalution is easily as warm as the Quiksilver or RipCurl vests on High. The warmth just seems to heat much deeper than the skin, and is far too warm for me on the highest setting, unless I've been flushed with a ton of cold water. Even then, a few minutes later I have to switch back to a lower setting. The Thermalution has around 2 hours 30 minutes of heat on the Low setting, 1 hour 45 minutes on Medium, and 1 hour 20 minutes on High.
Quiksilver Cypher Heat Vest
The controller switch for the Quiksilver Cypher Vest is combined in one unit with the battery. It has a push button activation, and the unit vibrates 1-5 times to signal on, off, low, and high. The battery rests between your lower ribs and your now heated wetsuit. Sometimes your wetsuit will accidentally activate the push button controller if you are paddling very hard for a wave or send your kite for a large jump. I initially really liked the combination of controller and battery, which gave much more simplicity. It is a strange feeling of having a vibrating battery pressed into your ribs, but this only happens a handful of times each session.
RipCurl H-Bomb Heated Vest
The controller switch for the RipCurl H-Bomb Vest is similar to the Cypher, but a slightly different shape. The battery/controller combination is smaller in size and has a much smaller push button activation. The activation is the same as the Quiksilver Cypher vest, in that it vibrates to tell you its temperature setting. With the RipCurl H-Bomb vest, you press the activation button and hold it down. It will begin to vibrate in pulses and then later a steady vibration. If you let go of the button during the pulsing phase, you get low heat. If you hold the battery button during this phase and let go during the steady vibration, you will get the high setting. The perk of this is that you don't get any accidental temperature changes like the Cypher. The bad is that if you want high heat, you have to press the vibrating battery into your ribs for 3-4 seconds if you want to use this vest on high.
Thermalution Heated Undersuit
The controller unit for this comes out of the suit around the collar bone. The controller is at the end of a rubber leash very similar to the old school phone cords, and can be worn strapped to your arm, or tucked into your wetsuit. This is ideal for chest zip suits, where the conroller can be kept just under the front zipper and accessed very easily. I like to tuck the controller in the front of my suit, in this manner. My close friend who also has a Thermalution likes to tuck his in the back of his neck. The controller is separate from the batteries, so it ads one more part to the suit, but allows the batteries to be much thinner on the body. Tucked into my wetsuit, surprisingly the Thermalution controller is small enough to go unnoticed once surfing or riding.
Quiksilver Cypher Vest
Quiksilver Cypher Vest - Waterproof to 30ft
RipCurl H-Bomb Vest - Waterproof to 16ft
Thermalution Heated Vest - Waterproof to 75ft
All three heated vests seem to be made of a very high caliber construction. The attached hood on the Cypher Vest is a huge plus! I actually have a few friends who wear the cypher vest without the battery, just for the hood. I have tested the Quiksilver Cypher Vest, RipCurl H-Bomb Vest, and Thermalution Heated Vest around 20 times each. I have had no problems with the materials of any of the three suits. The battery connector of my Quiksilver Cypher Vest continues to be full of water after every session it is worn, but as of now, the battery continues to charge just fine. I have heard these batteries have had problems, but despite being full of salt water after each session, my Quiksilver Cypher Vest continues to recharge after every use and work correctly. My Thermalution and RipCurl H-bomb vest have had no problems at all, and continue to function like the first time I used them.
Being in the water when you are cold is miserable, bottom line. No matter how good the waves, if you are shivering with cold, it's not fun. I've tried many top of the line wetsuits over the years, but despite the greatest neoprene and newest technology, when it's frigid out there, your core temperature will eventually drop and you'll be shivering eventually.
After testing the three leading brands of heated wetsuits, Thermalution takes the title as the warmest heated wetsuit vest available! The Quiksilver Cypher and RipCurl H-bomb will definitely turn on and keep you warmer this winter, but nothing like a Thermalution. These suits will spoil you very quickly. The price tag is the only negative thing we really had to say about Thermalution, coming in at $390. But, after having the opportunity to test all three vests, I realized quickly that the $90 price increase over the RipCurl vest is easily worth it.
I am able to surf now all winter in a hooded 4/3 with a Thermalution heated vest. I have tested these vests in water as low as 39 degrees and air in the mid 30s as well. Wearing a 4/3 Hooded Front Zip suit, 5mm boots, 5mm gloves, and Thermalution on low, I was plenty warm on many days like this for more than two hours. Keeping out of the big 5/4mm suit is awesome!
Where to Buy:
If you are interested in buying a heated wetsuit, you can look online in many locations. The Rip Curl H-bomb and Quiksilver Cypher Vests are very easy to find online. You will find many online retailers, as well as a few deals on www.ebay.com or www.amazon.com.
As far as the Thermalution, you really only have two options. You may order directly from the Chinese manufacturer on www.thermalution.com or from the primary US Distributor, www.heatedwetsuits.com. I bought mine from the first US retailer of Thermalution products, www.heatedwetsuits.com. They are a group of surfers, kiteboarders, and divers out of Wilmington, NC. They were very helpful at answering all of my questions and the free shipping still got to my house in Jersey within 2 days.
I'm so stoked on this product! Buy one, and make every one of your winter sessions more enjoyable this year! You won't be dissapointed!