Table of Contents
- Swimming Gear Checklist
- The Rise of Outdoor Swimming
- How to Prepare for Your Swim
- How to Organise Your Swimming Gear
- How to Keep Warm When In the Water
- How to Keep Safe When In the Water
- How to Keep Warm When You Leave the Water
- How to Avoid Hypothermia
- Choosing a Changing Robe or Poncho Towel
Are you diving deeper into cold water swimming and looking to kit yourself out like a pro?
Here we’ll explore all the best cold-water swimming gear you need to keep you visible, safe and warm in the water.
Swimmers spend approximately £200 each on swim-related kit when starting out (Outdoor Swimmer Report). Here’s a surefire checklist to know you’re investing in the right stuff.
A Checklist Of Essentials You’re Going To Need For Your Open Water Swim:
- Woolly Hat
- Warm Shoes or Socks
- Tracksuit Bottoms/ Cosy Hoodie
- Phone/ Radio
- Lock Box
The Rise of Outdoor Swimming
Cold water swimming interest has risen dramatically, especially after the Covid lockdowns. People are more keen than ever before to get wet and try this new much-loved activity that is a combination of self-care, fun, exercise, and adventure, all in one.
Outdoor swimming can be anything from open water swimming in the sea, swimming in rivers, swimming in sea pools, wild swimming, marathon swimming, and winter swimming.
Immersing our bodies in natural water has an abundance of benefits, and reports show that outdoor swimming improves our physical health, plays a big role in keeping our mental health in tip-top shape and contributes to a healthy social life when swimming in groups.
Swimming outdoors has erupted in popularity, with swimmers undeterred by chillier water temperatures.
75% of outdoor swimmers said they wanted to continue swimming outside through winter - which is a glorious finding, but seasonal temperature difference means you have to be kitted out with all the essentials to be safe and get the most fun out of your time in the water. (Outdoor Swimmer Report )
Preparing for Your Swim
Preparation Empowers Your Performance & Enjoyment!!
Packing all your bits and bobs for your swim the night before ensures that you won’t leave in a rush and forget any important must-haves.
There are some super handy apps on the market that are designed to make your entrance into the water smooth.
What 3 Words is a locations app that has made it beyond the valley of easy to ping your swimming buddies with the coordinates of exactly which bush, bank, valley, or sand dune you’re going to be swimming from.
Exact postcodes aren’t practical for wild swimming spots when you’re planning your routes and water entry points. What 3 Words is a loophole through the logistical nightmare of screaming down the phone, with no signal about what trees you can see near you whilst trying to locate your friends before a swim.
Simply use the 3 words that the app gives you and you’re good to go.
Wild is another app essential for all adventurers, dreamers, thinkers, and doers. You can discover swim spots near you, access real live weather forecasting, explaining rips, tides and currents. This app allows you to send messages to fellow open water swimmers too.
Organising Your Cold Water Swimming Gear
When it comes to personal essentials and preparation, put the work in the day before to avoid unwanted surprises on the day of your swim.
Get your wetsuit or swimming costume ready to go, dry and turned in the right way, because, chances are, it could be cold or wet weather before you take the plunge and limiting any barriers to getting in the water is a solid gold plan.
There is nothing worse than turning a sandy wet wetsuit or costume in the right way before you get in the water. Do it the night before, you’ll be oh so smug.
A good tip is to bring along a bucket to put all your dry, pre-swim kit into - a designated zone for your wet bits and bobs. You only ever end up travelling back in a changing robe anyway! No more dragging wet towels behind or leaving your swimming kit on the beach.
Another pro tip is designating a predetermined place for your car keys. Lock boxes are great for keeping your vehicle safe so you don’t need to worry about security when you’ve got your head under the water. Have a look at one of these bad boys…
Keeping Warm When You Get into the Water
Having the right cold water swimming gear and staying warm when you swim is akin to putting your thermals on before going skiing on a cold day. Without this base layer of preparation you’re more likely to lose excess heat when stripping off and diving in for your swim.
What you’re going to need before you start cold swimming:
Swimming Cap or Swimming Hat
Dry head vs. a wet head, wins. Pick a neoprene cap, swim cap or a woolly hat to wear before, during and after your swim. A neoprene swim cap is the pro choice as it serves the double function of keeping your head both warm and dry. If you’re not swimming competitively and are unlikely to get your head wet, then a beanie will do just fine. If you’re made of stronger stuff and like to get your head under those waves and be completely at one with the water, then a swim cap might be the best option for you. And if this does sound like you, don’t forget your ear plugs!
In a US Army Survival Manual it was quoted that you, “lose 40-45 percent of your body heat from your head” so our advice is protect your bonnet!
In harsh environments our extremities; fingers, toes, ears, feet and hands lose heat the quickest, in order to prioritise the vital organs.
When choosing gloves make sure you select neoprene wetsuit gloves, which can range from 7mm to 1mm. The thicker the neoprene the warmer they are, simple.
Sometimes you see people with white fingers and toes when they have been swimming outdoors in cold water, this is a form of Raynaud’s.
Keeping your feet protected in a pair of neoprene boots is a foolproof way to stay in the water for longer. These are a good idea to have year round when you're swimming in natural bodies of water as they protect your feet from sharp rocks and pebbly beaches.
Here are some specialised swim socks that might be right up your street…
Wetsuit or Costume/ Swimming Trunks
Ah the age old debate. Do I wear a wetsuit? What length wetsuit shall I wear? What thickness of wetsuit shall I buy? How cold is the water I am going in? Should I wear a swimming costume to swim or a wetsuit? What do you get more benefit from; swimming in a wetsuit or swimming in just a costume? Here are some helpful differences in your options:
Thicker neoprene, up to to 7mm. Designed for doing watersports or activities in very cold waters. Used by swimmers, surfers, sailors, windsurfers, kite-surfers, paddle boarders and kayakers.
Men —Whether you’re off for a bracing sea swim, or a plunge into a crystal lake, the cold will be a distant memory in the right full wetsuit..
Women — A nice, thick wetsuit is built for thriving in icy water and can make a huge difference to making you feel comfortable in the water if you’re new to open water swimming.
Shorty wetsuits can have long legs, and short arms, and vice versa. Shorty wetsuits range through the thickness of neoprene too, and can be chosen based on the temperature of where you are swimming.
Women — Made from rubber tyres, for colder water this Linda reversible shorty wetsuit
Is as warm as toast and as cool as it gets.
Men — Here’s a helpful side-by-side comparison of some of the top men's shorty suits for those special spring days
To make the best wetsuit choice for cold water swimming, it is worth checking the temperature of the water at the site you’ve chosen.
Swimming Costume/ Trunks
Wearing just a swimming costume/ trunks when you are swimming outdoors is exhilarating because you get the full frontal effects of the cold water exposure to the body with no added layer of protection from the wetsuit, meaning the full list of benefits are unapologetically yours for the taking.
If you are prone to getting cold, pop a long winter wetsuit on to start with and then see if you can decrease down through the scale of neoprene mm, and end up in something like this.
Mens Kit —Try these lightweight, eco mens board shorts.
Or alternatively, try these men's neoprene swim shorts from Lomo.
Womens Kit —
Linda Reversible Wetsuit
A nice, versatile shorty wetsuit with long sleeves is an ideal choice as it keeps key parts of your body warm without feeling too cumbersome or hot. This Linda Reversible Wetsuit, in particular, is especially handy with a fully reversible style, so you can feel like you have two wetsuits in one.
Or, eventually maybe even just a Vivida stay-put, recycled bikini… Made of recycled post-consumer plastic, these suits are made to stay-put in water, allowing you to enjoy yourself while in motion, without anything becoming loose or untied in the process.
Keeping Safe When You’re in the Water
Goggles help you to see with clearer vision underwater, particularly if it’s murky. Crucial to making sure you can see hazards like boats, rocks, other swimmers and water users.
Try some of these water goggles or take a look at some reviews to compare.
You may have seen wild swimmers with neon floats - these are tows or tow floats.
Tows are waterproof bags filled with air to make them float. They trail behind swimmers to increase visibility to other water users.
If you’re out of your depth and you need a breather, they act as a support as well. Some even have an integrated whistle to alert attention if needed.
Here is a top notch eco friendly tow float you’re not going to want to unattach yourself from.
Phone / Radio in Waterproof Bag
Keeping a charged phone or a radio in a waterproof bag or dry bag whenever you’re on the water is the safest thing you can do. This way, there is a surefire way of calling for help in case of an emergency. Also who doesn’t love an underwater selfie? Need to store your car keys? Sorted. Here’s a helpful review of some of the top options on the market for swimmers.
Warming up When You Leave the Water
Wet clothing rapidly increases heat loss through conduction and evaporation, so don’t hang around in wet clothes for a second longer than necessary, particularly if the air temperature is cold as well as the water . Utilise a changing robe or towel poncho for getting dry, changing, and keeping warm. Here are some great ones:
Hiding your dignity whilst getting changed when your hands are too cold to do up tricky zips, and wriggle into your underwear is hard. That’s why you need a towel poncho. This bit of kit has revolutionised waterside changing.
What do towel ponchos do?
It is a wearable, super absorbent towel, meaning you can cover yourself from head to foot with toweling material, and dry off completely before getting back into your clothes, which can also be done within the poncho. The poncho towel has become a bit of a fashion statement too, because they look so darn good.
Say goodbye to the days of accidentally flashing the flesh, and farewell to the moments of getting your t-shirt stuck round your head whilst your bum pokes out. A toweling swim robe is like a magic carpet taking you from wet to clothed in seconds.
Take a look at these towel ponchos. So many colours, so many patterns, so many opportunities to drop your pants in carparks with no eye witnesses!
So are changing robes really worth the money?
A changing robe for a swimmer is a non-negotiable bit of kit and certainly worth the investment.
A changing robe is a thicker, more insulated, more delightful addition to the towel poncho, post-swim range.
Robes are long length waterproof shelled jackets with quilt or fleece lined interiors to fight back from harsh elements like wind and rain. Making it more bearable to access entry points of the water without freezing to death on the way in or out.
The Vivida All Weather Changing Robe is truly active life changing.
This changing robe is the only changing robe on the market to feature a unique fully quilted interior for extra warmth
It’s the world’s warmest changing robe. In fact, GQ named it the “Most Premium Change Robe” of 2022!
The downside is that you will never want to take it off. It’s so stylish, people will ask you if you’ve got a new winter coat, but don’t let the sublime style distract you from its high-tech features.
Featuring a full length front zip for optimum heat protection, moisture controlled interior and fully waterproof outer lining for staying dry. Read more about all the unique features here.
Here is a video from Outdoor Swimmer Magazine, as their swimming experts test out the Vivida Puffer - All Weather Changing Robe
What people are saying about Vivida’s changing robes:
“My all weather changing robe has changed all my outdoor activities for the better, there’s no other robe out there that is fully quilted, it actively creates heat instead of just keeping the heat in. It’s so comfy I wear it as a dressing gown around the house as well as in all extreme weather conditions. Its the perfect change robe for swimmers, surfers or dog walkers. Force 7 gale? This robe can take it. Sheeting rain? Whilst everyone else is wet as an otters pocket you’ll be dry as a daisy! It’s so high tech and looks cool as hell. ” - Kate Ocean
Get a thick, trashy old hoodie and use it to brave the elements. Arriving in trackies and a hoodie with swim kit underneath, plus a changing robe, is the go to outfit that all the cool kids are sporting before their wild swims.
A beanie hat is good to wear as soon as you leave the water, as it will keep your ears and your head warm so you can think straight!
Socks for the win! Get those toes warm as quickly as you can. We’re talking old school Ugg Boots, the fluffy socks you got for Christmas but thought you’d never wear - this is their time to shine! The sport of open water swimming is what they were made for. Warm feet = warm heart.
Get organised and treat yourself to a hot drink to tuck into as soon as you’re done swimming. Ideally select a flask with a watertight lid, so you can balance it on beach breakers or in wobbly rock pools without risk of spillage.
Think about switching to herbal and avoiding caffeine directly after cold water exposure as caffeine thins your blood and makes you lose heat quicker. Pukka have some naturally derived teas that will warm the cockles of your heart.
Yeti have some beautiful mugs as well.
Know your limits.
Hypothermia is no joke.
We’ve all casually remarked “It’s so cold, I’m going to get hypothermia!”, but actually having it isn’t so funny. Hypothermia sneaks up on you unexpectedly and it doesn’t always happen whilst you’re still in the water. It can happen post swim, or even worse, when you’re travelling or cycling home.
So, what’s the difference between being very cold and being hypothermic?
Post swim is normally when you feel the symptomatic response of being cold and your body temperature decreasing; whereas being hypothermic is when your core body temperature drops below 35 degrees, and your body can’t produce heat to warm itself up.
According to expert medical advisor Dr. Mark Harper of Brighton and Sussex Medical, your swimming performance and efficiency will be affected if your core temperature drops below 36 degrees celsius.
What are the symptoms of hypothermia?
Signs you are at risk of hypothermia:
- Sluggish limb movement/feeling weakness in the body
- Shivering uncontrollably
- Slurred speech
- Decrease motor skill capacity (ie, swimming with clenched hands, feeling like your sinking, unable to kick with feet)
- Slow, shallow or laboured breathing
- Drowsiness / Confusion
If you or the person you’re swimming with becomes confused or does not remember simple facts then this is a big sign of early stages of hypothermia.
How can you prevent hypothermia?
- Wear warm layers.
Layers are your friend. Air gets trapped between the clothing and your body to create pockets of heat to keep you insulated more efficiently.
- Wear a hat
Put your hat on before you enter the water, keep it on during and after the cold water swim if its dry.
- Dry clothes
Change into dry clothes as quickly as possible, you see lots of people travelling home in wetsuits and swimming costumes, but get your warm clothes on as soon as possible, and put a Vivida All Weather Changing Robe on to keep the heat retention up to max.
Need help choosing a changing robe and poncho towel?
You can get your cold hands on a poncho towel, AND the mighty all weather changing robe for £270 instead of £305.
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.