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Wetsuits and cold water acclimatisation

As readers will have seen, in Issue 2 we take a serious look at wetsuits. As someone whose route into open water swimming was via triathlon I’ve often worn a wetsuit for both speed and warmth but I’m full of admiration for those swimmers who appear to thrive in cold water. Earlier this year, I watched, but didn’t take part in, the Cold Water Championships at Tooting Bec Lido. The water temperature was 3.5 degrees. I didn’t see a single person dip their toes in and refuse to go further. Every swimmer appeared to embrace the cold and love it.
I’ve also been following various blogs and open water news feeds. As spring arrives in the Northern Hemisphere, swimmers are venturing back into the water and reporting on the temperature, describing 12 degrees as comfortable, for example. Mark Robson at reported on a 10 degree swim at Ellerton Lake, and his success in persuading some wetsuited triathletes to give up the rubber. Several people have left comments on the Outdoor Swimming Society’s Facebook page about their early season swims, and their wariness of swimming at organised venues that insist on wetsuits. And, of course, some swimmers have continued throughout winter, breaking the ice where necessary.

Some of us find the cold more difficult. I swam at My Sporting Time’s lake in Reading ( at the weekend. It was 15 degrees – a temperature many experienced cold water swimmers consider luxurious. Even with a wetsuit I was gasping and whinging with the best, especially when I put my face in the water and it felt like I’d put my head in a clamp. However, after 1500m or so I’d warmed up sufficiently to consider taking a dip in just my Speedos.

Interestingly, entering the water a second time without the wetsuit was distinctly easier than the first and I was able to swim without any trouble for a couple of minutes. I wonder therefore if this is a way forward for those of us who want to increase our tolerance to the cold: first swim with a wetsuit and then without.

What do other people think?

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.