Friday, July 19, 2024

Review: Orca Mantra Recreational Freediving Wetsuit

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The Mantra recreational freediving wetsuit arrived in late September. 

Night temperatures edged into 2-3C / 30F, and most open water was around 12-13C / 55F.  Not 2mm/one-piece suit territory, but I was excited. Whether that excitement and the suit were enough to overcome the cold remained to be seen.

First Impressions

The Orca Mantra is the recreationally oriented stablemate of the competition-tuned Zen.  It’s described as embodying a balance between durability and performance.

Orca Mantra Description

After checking out the Zen, I talked with Orca about going a size up on the Mantra – to make it a little easier to get into.  They explained that the Mantra is cut more generously since it’s not a competition suit and advised me to stick with the same size.

During the initial inspection, it was easy to see the emphasis on durability.  The arms are Yamamoto 39 sandwiched between l robust and flexible nylon layers.  The stitching along the arm seams is very stout, and the armpits, a frequent point of failure in most wetsuits, are well-reinforced and avoid seams at crucial stress points.  The rest of the suit is the same SCS-coated smoothskin as the pricier Zen except for the shin/knee panels, which are of a more damage-resistant textured neoprene.

Reinforced nylon-out arms, and textured panels over the knee and shin, give the Mantra greater durability.
Reinforced nylon-out arms, and textured panels over the knee and shin, give the Mantra greater durability.

Another common wear point on thin wetsuits is at the ankles.  This area gets a lot of stress when pulling the suit over your feet and often develops small tears. Orca has addressed this with a  reinforced stretch panel extending around each ankle.

Ankle reinforcements help prevent tears in this often-stressed area - note the sparkly, textured shin/knee neoprene panel on the front of the leg (right side).
Ankle reinforcements help prevent tears in this often-stressed area – note the sparkly, textured shin/knee neoprene panel on the front of the leg (right side).

The Mantra and Zen share Orca’s innovative top-down zipper, double neck seal, and insulating back panel.

The zipper and neck seal configuration almost completely eliminates flushing (inside-out view)
The zipper and neck seal configuration almost completely eliminates flushing (inside-out view)

This combination prevents the zipper from slipping down during swimming and channels any water that flushes at the back of the neck and out four vent holes at the base of the zipper.  Combined with the Mantra’s physiologically precise fit, this design very nearly eliminates water ingress at the neck seal and zipper and channels any that occurs away from your skin.

In The Water

Breathing up in the Mantra recreational freediving wetsuit
Breathing up in the Mantra recreational freediving wetsuit

The morning of our photo shoot/first swim did not present us with the conditions for which this suit is intended.

  • Air Temperature: 8C/47F
  • Water Temperature: 16C/61F

It was, however, sunny.

Orca told me that the suit is cut slightly larger than the Zen.  I’d say incrementally larger – but with no noticeable reduction in compression.  The legs and arms are a bit easier to get into, the outer fabric layer making it much easier to cinch up the arms in particular (This suit comes with cotton gloves to prevent damage from fingernails – they also greatly facilitate the passage of your hands through the very snug sleeves).

The feel of this suit is wonderful. Compression enhances kinesthetic awareness, while the Yamamoto neoprene and precise fit make it warmer than expected.

This...is going to be COLD!
This…is going to be COLD!

At 16C/61F, I’d have noticed if flushing was an issue.  There was almost none – and what there was confined to the tops of my shoulders (all tests repeated in a pool – without the 3mm hood I used in open water – same results).

The 'Wall of Cold' - Time to Turn!
The ‘Wall of Cold’ – Time to Turn!

Hard sprints and fast surface entries failed to force any significant water ingress.  I even managed a few forays into the face-hurting thermocline that lurks perpetually in the depths of this spring-fed lake.

Up from the cold and into..the cold..
Up from the cold and into..the cold..

Out of the water

My main concern with the Orca Mantra was the fabric-covered arms and shoulders. Fabric on the outside of a wetsuit increases the surface area, greatly amplifying heat loss in cool air. This can be a problem during breath-ups even in much warmer air and with a thicker suit.

When I got out of the water in the Mantra, I was shivering but quickly began to feel warmer. This was slightly less true of my arms, but they were getting warm a little more slowly.  By comparison, I would expect to get colder fast in such air temps, even in a 3mm two-piece suit with wet fabric on the outside.

For the record – I plan to use this suit recreationally at temperatures above 22C/72F.  I think monofin training will be fine down to 20C/68F if the pace is brisk.

Although I do caveat that I’m accustomed to cold water and like being cold.

Final Thoughts

The Orca Mantra has reset my expectations for this type of suit.  It combines performance, durability, and comfort to the degree that exceeds any other one-piece suit I’ve used (other than the Zen) and does so at a price that competes with wetsuits that do not approach its standards.  The Mantra is competitively priced with other suits in its class while exceeding many in performance and durability.

Features

  • Very well thought-out design – tuned for a balance of durability and performance with minimal compromise.
  • Excellent hydrodynamics.  The Mantra’s durability enhancements greatly enhance the suit’s longevity with only a minor penalty in parasitic drag. (The Mantra outperforms my other suits in terms of hydrodynamics – however, the Zen provides at least a meter of additional glide in a 25-meter swim)
  • Enhanced Kinesthetics: The cut and materials of the Mantra enable whole-body compression – enhancing comfort, circulation, and efficiency of motion.
  • Perfect fit: Tailoring and materials combine to make this suit extremely comfortable  – even for those not easy to fit.
  • Minimal to no water entry: A double neck seal, insulating back panel, top-down zipper, and precise fit combine to minimize or eliminate water entry, even during hard sprints.

Price

  • Orca Recreational Freediving Wetsuit – $399USD / £299GBP / €349 EUR

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REVIEW OVERVIEW

Performance
Comfort
Durability
Price
appearance

SUMMARY

The Orca Mantra embodies a balance of durability and performance with very little compromise in either area. It largely mitigates the main disadvantage of one-piece suits with an innovative anti-flushing zipper and neck closure, while retaining the kinesthetic enhancement enabled by this design.
Christopher Morey
Christopher Moreyhttp://www.michiganfreediving.com
Christopher Morey has been free diving since age nine. He has trained with Eric Fattah, Emma Farrell and Will Trubridge and is a RAID advanced instructor and Master Freediver. He lives in Traverse City, Michigan with his wife, son, three monofins and seven (7) Spheras.

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The Orca Mantra embodies a balance of durability and performance with very little compromise in either area. It largely mitigates the main disadvantage of one-piece suits with an innovative anti-flushing zipper and neck closure, while retaining the kinesthetic enhancement enabled by this design.Review: Orca Mantra Recreational Freediving Wetsuit