5 things you need for cold water swimming

Malcolm Blackwell

When it comes to cold water swimming, the devil is in the detail. Having the right kit and accessories for you will make your swim more enjoyable. Whether that is a wetsuit, neoprene gloves and booties or just a swimming costume and a smile, the important thing is that your kit works for you – both in and out of the water.

Here are 5 things to help keep you swimming throughout the autumn and winter period.


1 - Neoprene

Whether you opt for a head-to-toe covering of neoprene, or choose a couple of accessories to keep your hands, feet and/or head warm, neoprene will help to keep you in the water for longer.

Neoprene is by no means a necessity for winter swimming, but it will undoubtedly make the experience more comfortable.

If you are on the market for neoprene accessories, here are some things to look out for:

  • Thickness, Flexibility and Fit
    In general, the thickness of neoprene accessories can vary between 1mm and 4mm. The thicker the neoprene, the warmer your hands and feet will be, but at the expense of flexibility.
  • Gloves
    If you want to swim longer distances in your gloves, flexibility is key. Thick neoprene can affect your stroke by removing any feel of the water, so choose one of the sleeker-styled gloves. The different movement of front crawl or breaststroke may also influence your choice as the movement may impact on water intake – gloves with wrist fasteners or ‘grippier’ edges are particularly good for front crawl.
  • Socks
    A good neoprene sock will allow you to swim normally and not feel like you’re wearing slippers. A snug fit ensures they work properly as wet socks, allowing a film of water in and keeping it there to warm up rather than flushing through all the time. Most have reinforced soles to provide some protection to the soles of the feet.
  • Hats
    Your body loses a lot of its heat out through the head, so in colder water a neoprene hat can make a huge difference. Again, a snug but comfortable fit is key.

2 - Warm layers

Having warm layers to change into when you get out of cold water is essential for cold water swimming. Taking a warm coat, a few base layers, a wooly hat and a pair of gloves to change into will reduce your risk of after-drop and potentially developing hypothermia.

A popular choice among swimmers is a changing robe: great for keeping you warm after your swim and saving your modesty when changing into warmer clothes.

3 - Hot drinks

Hot drinks will help to-rewarm your core when you get out of the water. It will also keep you hydrated, as it encourages you to drink more than you otherwise might. Hot drinks are also a great morale boost and something to look forward to when you're in the water.

4 - Appropriate footwear

Flip flops are more useful that you might think for cold water swimming. Having something to slip-on when you are walking to and from the water will minimise the time your feet spend in contact with the cold ground.

5 - Headwear

Wearing a swim hat or two is important for keeping your head warm when swimming in cold water. If you don't plan to submerge your head, then you could opt for a woolly hat instead.

Click here to check out our new #SwimWildAndFree swim hats


A few more useful things you didn't know you needed...

  • Thermometer: great for comparing the water temperature between each swim.
  • Doormat: an alternative to the changing mat, a doormat is great for keeping your feet dry when getting changed outdoors.
  • Hot water bottle: What could be more snuggly than a hot water bottle under your coat after a swim?
  • Bucket of warm water. It isn't something we have tried ourselves, but putting your feet in a bucket of warm water is one way of thawing them out!
  • Camera: a waterproof camera or action camera is great for documenting your cold water swims. After all, if you don't instagram it, did it even happen?
  • Cake: some sweet treats will give you something to look forward to when you get out of the water, as well as keep you popular with other swimmers.

Image (c) Malcolm Blackwell

01 Cover November

Issue 43 November 2020

  • The Ice Man - meeting Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof
  • Cold water swimming - why do it, how, and what are the benefits?
  • Our new monthly columnist, Sarah Thomas
  • Olympian Keri-anne Payne on how to make the most of limited pool sessions
  • Elaine Howley on the first Asian woman to swim the Channel, Arati Sah

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