Outdoor swimming survey findings

Trends in Outdoor Swimming 2023

Do people change their swimming habits in winter? What is the most common motivation for swimming outdoors? And is our interest in dipping in rivers, lakes and the sea growing or waning? We share preliminary findings from our recent Attitudes to Outdoor Swimming Survey.

Outdoor swimming is growing and it’s not a fad, says data from Outdoor Swimmer Magazine’s latest Attitudes to Outdoor Swimming survey.

In fact, 14% of survey respondents started in the previous 12 months, showing that growth has continued since the easing of lockdown restrictions that pushed thousands of people to try swimming outdoors for the first time three years ago. At the same time, 42% of swimmers have been doing it for more than four years, since before the Covid pandemic.

Love of summer dips

The most popular outdoor swimming activity is “wild swimming or dipping in summer”, with 84% or respondents saying this is an activity they’re interested in doing. This was closely followed by “wild swimming or dipping in winter”, which 75% of people in our survey are interested in.

Both of these far outstripped the desire for “recreational or fitness swimming in a pool”, which only was of interest to 51%.

The most popular time of year for outdoor swimming is summer, followed by autumn. Winter was the least popular time of year to swim but it’s not unpopular: 65% of respondents said of winter swimming “I love it. I get a real buzz from it and do it as often as I can.”

But people do change their swimming habits in winter. Half of respondents said they switched to fun dipping outside rather than trying to swim long distances. Meanwhile 36% of people do more indoor swimming while fewer than 2% stop swimming completely.

Better mental and physical health

The most common motivation cited for outdoor swimming is for mental health and general wellbeing, which was the first choice of one third of respondents. A further 22% voted that reason as their second choice (out of six options). The next most popular was for physical health and fitness, which was the first choice of just under one fifth of people and the second most important reason for 26% of people.

Sewage pollution and water quality is seen as the biggest barrier to continued growth in outdoor swimming, with 41% of people ranking it highest. Access to water, legal restrictions or overbearing health and safety culture was seen as the second biggest barrier.

Swimming aspirations

Regarding planned swimming activities over the next year, 80% definitely want to wild swim in their own country, and 52% definitely want to swim at a supervised venue. Just under a third of people say they definitely want to wild swim in another country with a further 32% saying it’s quite likely that they would.

Finally, growth in outdoor swimming continues to be driven by women, who made up 77% of our survey sample, up from 73% last year. A quarter of respondents are age 40 to 49, just over a third are 50 to 59 and a fifth are in their 60s. 

Source: Outdoor Swimmer, Attitudes to Outdoor Swimmer survey, December 2022/January 2023.

The total number of responses was 2792 – a big thank you to those that took part. We will release a full report once the data has been analysed in detail.

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Outdoor Swimmer is the magazine for outdoor swimmers by outdoor swimmers. We write about fabulous wild swimming locations, amazing swim challenges, swim training advice and swimming gear reviews.