Getting ourselves into cold water!
Immersing ourselves in icy water is becoming less of a novelty and more of an everyday norm. More and more adventurers are looking for spots to strip off and have a cold water swim. Cold water swimmers are at every beach and river bend - and it’s fantastic!
The improvements to mental and physical health when we swim in cold water is well documented, but it's important to stay safe out there. Discover our top safety tips plus specialist gear advice for warming up after that icy plunge.
- Health benefits of cold water swimming
- Health risks of cold water swimming
- Cold Water Shock
- How to safely start your journey to cold water swimming
- 10 cold water safety tips
- What to wear when swimming in cold weather
- The benefits of a changing robe before cold water swimming
- The benefits of a changing robe during cold water swimming
- The benefits of a changing robe after cold water swimming
- Does it matter which changing robe I use for cold water swimming?
- All Weather Changing Robes
Health Benefits of Cold Water Swimming
Cold water swimming increases our physical health by improving our cardiovascular function, reducing cholesterol, and boosting our white blood cell count.
Cold swims increase our mental health by giving us that post dip “high” where our brains are flooded with chemicals like endorphins, l-theanine and dopamine. Swimming in cold water can also contribute to a sense of community and encourage unlikely groups of people to get together when they meet up for a cold water swim.
Health Risks of Cold Water Swimming
The health benefits for cold water swimmers are endless, but swimming in cold weather and being exposed to cold water doesn’t come without risks, and precautions should be exercised at all times.
There are dangers aside from accidentally falling from clifftops, tumbling unexpectedly off a boat into cold water, or injuring yourself on beaches. Here we will outline some of the associated risks of swimming in freezing cold water even if you have planned to do so.
Cold Water Shock
Cold water shock should not be confused with the physical and emotional shock of being exposed suddenly to sub 15 degree cold waters. Cold water shock is an involuntary auto immune response that can happen when your body goes into shock when immersed in cold water. This can lead to an uncontrollable breath rate and increased work load on the heart, which can lead to loss of limb coordination, hypothermia or drowning.
Hypothermia can happen when your body drops below 35 degrees for 30 minutes or more in duration. It can happen merely in cold weather, not just from a cold water swim. Hypothermia is diagnosed by the display of symptoms like, confusion, halting of shivering, loss of limb coordination, bodily fatigue.
The biggest danger of cold water swimming isn’t just when you’re in the water, it can be when you’re changing before a cold swim, or after a cold water swim.
There are occasions when things can go badly wrong on journeys home from cold water locations. There are times when people crank the car heating up, assuming that they are ‘superficially warm’ and ready to get behind the wheel of a car, when in fact they could be in the early stages of hypothermia.
Learn the signs and look out for them when you’re swimming alone and with groups.
Important side note: we do not advise going on cold water swims alone, the risks increase by magnitudes when you are exposing yourself to the cold elements without another person with you.
It is imperative you take as many safety precautions as possible before you embark on your journey to become a serious cold water swimmer.
How to safely start your journey to cold water immersion
Right, enough doom and gloom. We want to get in the cold water, so how do we safely immerse ourselves in freezing conditions?
10 cold water safety tips
1. Wear the right gear
This is the ultimate preparation.
You will need a towel poncho to change beneath and a changing robe to shelter you, without question. You'll also benefit from a beanie hat to keep head heat in, waterproof or wetsuit gloves to keep the hands and fingers functioning at maximum capacity, and wetsuit booties to protect the feet from potentially rocky or sharp sea, lake or river beds.
2. Prepare all the gear
Get the gear ready the day/night before. Make sure you have a left and right of each boot and glove, (we know if you get to the beach lacking one it's tempting to just go in anyway, which equates to risk). Make sure the towel poncho is turned the right way round to reduce any time the hands are needlessly exposed for, and make sure your kit isn’t already wet. The body requires a hell of a lot more power to heat up something that's already cold and soggy.3. Know your exit strategy
How are you going to make a quick and measured exit to a place where you can warm up gradually? Have your car keys in a safety pocket, easily accessible and not locked away behind any awkward zips. Have your socks tucked away in a warm, dry easily reachable pocket. Ensure you know the route out of where you are, either rock pools, river beds, cliffs, wherever you have decided to cold water swim. Make sure you know best how to leave, i.e. don’t arrive low on petrol.
4. Bring a radio or a phone
This is a big yes on the tip list. A phone is your get out of jail free card before, during and after a cold water swim. A plethora of things can go awry and it’s undoubtedly best to have a tool to call the emergency servies or a friend for help if you need it. Not to mention if you see another swimmer in trouble and it’s too dangerous for you to assist. Bring a phone or radio, and place it in a waterproof bag, then you can decrease the risk further by having it physically on you whilst you’re swimming.
5. Never swim alone
Never swim alone. Enough said. Bring a friend, family member, even someone you’re not that keen on. Anything is better than braving the unchartered waters unchaperoned.
6. Swim in safe and well known spots
Never launch from breaks where you aren’t 100% familiar with the tides, currents, rips, swell height, and water temperature. Don't swim too close to high tide at places that get cut off from land with rising waters, and don’t swim in the dark. Research where you’re going to swim, talk to the RNLI, local swimmers etc. Always swim close to the shore, as you never know when danger may strike.
7. Tell someone on land you are going in the water
In addition to the friend you brought with you to cold water swim, also ping a text to someone on land to let them know you're going for a swim in a certain place, and roughly outlining what time you will be back. If the worst happens, and you don't return when expected, someone on land will have a rough idea of where you are.
8. Physical fitness
Being as physically ready as possible helps you perform in extreme weather. The fitter you are, the more your heart will cope in the temperature changes. The stronger you are, the more powerful your strokes will be if you get caught in currents and rips in the sea. Also, the stronger you are, the more you will enjoy your time in the water, because your brain can relax whilst your body does all the hard work it’s been trained to do.
9. Know your limits
Oh, and it may seem obvious, but just in case: make sure you are a competent swimmer for the level of your desired location. Don’t go out of your depth if you never have before. Remember this isn’t just “going for a swim”, the body responds DRAMATICALLY different in freezing cold water. Even olympic level swimmer can get into difficulty if the temperature of the water isn’t something they are used to. There are also no prizes for staying in the water longer than your body can handle.
10. Reduce risk of injury wearing boots
Wear shoes down to the waters edge to protect the bottoms of your feet, and extend that protection during the cold water swim by ensuring every swim is completed with wetsuit boots. Even small cuts on feet can lead to the body going into shock, and then you have real problem.
What to wear in cold weather
The benefits of a changing robe when swimming in cold weather
Making your changing robe an essential on the packing list comes with an infinite list of benefits:
- You will always be sheltered from the elements
- You will maintain as much body heat for a maximum time as possible
- You have the comfort of changing without exposing yourself
- You will be warmer and able to enjoy the scenery for longer
- You will reduce your risk of going into cold water shock or exposing yourself to hypothermia
- You will feel and look like the pro who has prepared
How to use your changing robe before and after cold water swimming
Your body temperature will be adjusting to the outside elements now, even though you’re still dry. You can still slip into early cold shock stages when you’re dry. It’s often the most dangerous time, because you think you’re safe.
Your changing robe can be your entire outfit before your swim. You can leave your method of transport in just your swimming costume/shorty wetsuit with the changing robe as full body, full thermal, full waterproof protection.
If you're not a fan of this option, you can of course use your robe to change underneath at the water's edge. A good quality robe will protect you from any adverse cold weather conditions like, wind, rain or sea spray.
Your body will now be fighting to keep you swimming and keep you warm, but during your swim you can float peacefully knowing your changing robe is waiting to warm you up on dry land.
Your body temperature will now be dramatically dropping, and will more than likely already be below satisfactory due to the swim. This is when to put your changing robe straight on. Pop it straight over your soaking wet wetsuit, soggy costume or swim shorts. Put it on, cover yourself up and get your naked skin out of the wind and the sup-optimal temperatures.
Does it matter which changing robe I use for cold water swimming?
If you’ve bagged yourself a cheap changing robe, chances are the zips are going to get stuck and you won’t be able to do them up with cold fingers; your pockets won’t be deep enough to cover your wrists; the hood will flap up and down exposing you to sharp winds and rains; the outer shell won't be waterproof and you will become drenched as well as cold, which is the perfect storm for hypothermia. It also probably won’t have fully dried out from the last time you used it.
Ahh! What a nightmare.
Deep breathe, we have a solution for you.
The Vivida Lifestyle All Weather Changing Robe collection. Uh huh, hear that? All weather.
** breathes deep sigh of cold water relief**
Let us talk you through the sea-life-changing changing robe collection for cold water swimmers.
All Weather Changing Robes
Vivida's All Weather Changing Robes are technologically advanced, eco friendly, fully insulated, windproof and waterproof changing robes. They are equally innovative in performance and style - I've not yet found another brand that marries these two elements so well.
Ooh, just look at them…
How to make use of the additional features on the Vivida All Weather Changing Robes for cold water swimming situations
Each Vivida robe has been fitted with well thought out features that might be the difference between having a safe and an unsafe cold water immersion therapy.
We personally never go anywhere near the water without one.
Keeping water out is paramount to safety for cold water swimming. The All Weather Changing Robes have high-performance waterproof, yet breathable outer shell, so you’ll be dry but not sticky or sweaty when you get out of the water. Remember we said, getting warm when you're dry is one thing, but getting warm when everything you need to put on is wet, is another.
The puffer and sherpa designs of the changing robes feature a peaked cap hood to truly shelter the face and neck from harsher conditions and this is a major benefit to wearing the robes after cold water swims. The sherpa changing robe hood is even fleece lined to retain this hood shape more easily in bad weather.
Vivida's changing robes pack down into an a multitasking travel bag / pillow, meaning you can carry your dry robe too and from your cold water swimming locations without adding the risk off carrying too much kit up and down cliff top and slippery watersides.
The changing robes have inner and outer pockets, and both are waterproof. Meaning your life saving phone that's been waiting for you hasn’t been drenched to death and you can still call for help.
Zipped outer pockets allow easy access to the stuff you need while keeping your hands warm and gadgets dry. There is also a large interior stash pocket to store any keys, inhalers, epipens or first aid kits.
Seems trivial put good pockets might just end up holding the life saving first aid items you really need in a bad weather situation.
Cold hands, sandy zips, and salty air. Not a good combo for zips. Vivida robes incorporate oversized two-way zippers, so you can unzip the top and the bottom simultaneously, easily pull the toggle and open the bottom for a wider stance if hiking or moving dynamically, especially if your hands have slipped into cold territories. Quick and safe access to things you need most.
The puffer robe has concealed wrist gators to lock in the warmth and keep dirt and water out of the sleeves. Another essential for icy water entrances and departures. Never get your hands out for longer than you need to.
“I Belong to Tag”
Probably the most underrated safety feature on the Vivida changing robes. A designated space for you to write important and potentially life savings personal details; Name, address, next of kin number, and any allergies or illnesses.
This might sound extreme, but if you are suffering with any medical issues in the water and a passerby locates your robe, you can be easily identified and personal info is easier to get hold off. Obviously you can decide what you etch into this section, but it’s certainly safer to have the choice.
It may seem trivial raving so much about how a changing robe can save your life, but in those moments where things have gone even a little bit not to plan, they really are life savers.
Indie Bornhoft is a personal trainer and watersports coach, who encourages her clients to make movement their mantra. She has coached every ability in wakeboarding, paddleboarding, SUP fitness, and windsurfing for over ten years, and is highly qualified in all disciplines. Discover more about her drive to just keep moving and be inspired to connect to the raw power of body & spirit through fitness.