Fourth Element Thermocline
Neutrally buoyant wetsuit is stylish alternative to Neoprene
Fourth Element’s blue water wetsuit system uses know-how from the thermal undersuit ranges.
When diving abroad, choosing the right suit can often be difficult. What’s the water temperature at this time of year? Will the dives be deep and cold? How warm will the air be topside? And when I stuff the suit in a bag to fly home again, am I about to pay a king’s ransom in excess baggage charges?
The Thermocline from Fourth Element addresses these issues. It’s billed as neutrally buoyant, which means less lead on the belt and greater comfort through the water. Different people feel the cold to varying degrees so comparing the suit to rivals is difficult, but Fourth Element refers to a 2mm neoprene equivalency.
the image is distinctly low-profile, almost cat burglar-esque
My test version was the Thermocline Explorer, which differs from the full suit by having no arms or collar. Short of ultra-tropical bathwater conditions it’ll need to be paired up with the Thermocline long sleeved top – also supplied in my case.
First impressions are good: the parcel landing on the mat was indeed lightweight. Unwrapped, the garments themselves bear strong resemblance to Fourth Element’s Xerotherm drysuit thermals, albeit with an extra ultra thin shiny outer layer. Indeed, shoppers on a real budget could feasibly wear the Explorer in place of drysuit thermals on a UK weekend and save themselves a bundle.
As it’s so thin and light the Thermocline can be stuffed into a backpack of modest size for use at the local pool – try THAT with a 5mm neoprene suit. In Egypt in August it was ideal for sea diving, keeping the sweat at bay in 40-degree sunshine and providing excellent thermal insulation in 28-degree water. I would take issue slightly with the ‘neutrally buoyant’ tag, as in common with most fabrics, it has a positive reaction to water. Expect to stick a couple of kilos on the belt at least.
If you’ve got the figure for it, the Thermocline’s image is distinctly low-profile, almost cat burglar-esque. It probably won’t appeal to those with excessive bioprene to cover, although many of them are often seen diving in a shorty or t-shirt and trunks anyway. Meanwhile for George Clooney, Brad Pitt and myself, the Thermocline is figure-huggingly cool in an understated way, with reinforcement on the knees and subtle badging on the extremities.
This is not a wetsuit in the conventional sense and flushing is an issue: before buying a Thermocline, make sure it fits as snugly as possible to prevent cold water ingress. Down at 35m in the Med it started to get a bit parky, a problem greatly alleviated with a decent hood. With gloves and booties doffed, temperature ceased to be a problem.
As for comfort, the Fourth Element Thermocline is hard to beat. The materials used in its construction are flexible and breathable yet tough enough to survive repeated dunkings in brine. They also dry quickly for the return flight home, and can be cleaned in the washing machine alongside your weekly laundry.
There are two other reasons to consider a Thermocline: worn while swimming it offers a level of warmth and protection against unpleasantries like jellyfish stings, unseen coral protrusions and suchlike. Secondly, since it’s not made of neoprene the suit won’t irritate skin and can feasibly be worn for hours on end without sending the wearer into anaphylactic shock.
Together, the Fourth Element Thermocline Explorer (suit and top) weigh less than a kilo. They’re available in a range of men’s and women’s sizes, from Small-Short to XXX-Large, or Size 22 for women. Expect to pay around £130-140 for the suit and £80-90 for the top at the usual Fourth Element retailers.
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