What clothing do I need for cold-water swimming?


What should you wear on your head? Do you need a changing robe? Outdoor Swimmer editor and ice swimmer Jonathan Cowie answers some frequently asked questions about what clothing you need for cold water swimming.

If you have been tempted to try swimming through the winter this year, you might have a few questions about what clothing you do and don’t need. After ten winters of outdoor skins swimming, here is what I have learned over the years.

What should I wear on my head?

We would recommend two silicone swimming hats, or a neoprene hat, especially if you are going to be swimming front crawl. If you are only going to be swimming heads-up breaststroke then a bobble hat is the traditional winter swimming hat. We don’t recommend bobble hats for front crawl!

Am I allowed to wear a wetsuit?

Of course! You can wear whatever you want. I just wear my swimming trunks, two hats and a smile but many swimmers also wear neoprene gloves, booties, hats, shortie wetsuit or a full wetsuit.

Knickers or not?

There is nothing so difficult as trying to fumble your way into your pants, one-legged with numb feet and fingers, while trying to preserve your modesty and not topple over. Be bold, go commando!

Brave a bra?

See above. But if you must wear a bra then it might be easier to ask a friend to do it up for you. Or a front-fastening bra is much easier to put on with cold fingers.

What trousers should I wear?

Gents, doing up flies and jeans buttons can be tricky if you can’t feel your fingers – and it might not be something you want to ask your swimming buddy to help you with. And if you have chosen to forgo your pants, trying to zip up your flies while everything is a bit numb could result in a painful injury! Tracksuit bottoms are a much safer, warmer and more comfortable option and also much quicker and easier to put on.

What should I wear on my feet?

Easy-to-put-on shoes or boots are the best option – you don’t want to be struggling with stiff leather or complicated laces. A pair of Crocs or flip-flops are good to walk to the water in. Swim shoes or neoprene booties can be useful if you are unsure of what is underfoot or you need a bit of extra warmth.

Do I need a changing robe?

A robe is not a necessity but will help you get dry and keep warm. You can get changed underneath it too so less risk of flashing your bits to all and sundry. A decent winter coat is essential.

For more cold-water advice, check out our 5 essential bits of kit for winter swimming. More cold-water advice can also be found in our cold-water swimming section.

If you have any other questions, please drop me an email at editor@outdoorswimmer.com.

01 Cover October

Issue 54 October 2021

  • We Swim Proud: The LGBTQ+ experience of swimming outdoors
  • Autumn Adventures: The best places to wild swim this autumn
  • Crowning Glory: Courtney Paulk’s historic Double Triple Crown
  • Cassie Patten: What is the best style front crawl stroke for the open water?
  • Access All Areas: The problem of making lidos more accessible to disabled swimmers

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