“Exposing ourselves to cold water is a good and healthy thing, if done with care,” says Mark Harper, Consultant Anaesthetist at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals and expert adviser to the Outdoor Swimming Society.
Make sure you have the right kit – it will keep you warm, safe and make your experience all the more enjoyable.
Hat – Wear a woolly hat if you are dipping and a silicone or thermal one if you are swimming. The majority of our body heat is lost through our head.
Neoprene gloves and booties – If you know you particularly feel the cold at your extremities these are essential. Go for quality as my experience of buying cheap is that they make it worse than going without.
Face mask or goggles – If you want to spend time looking at the underwater world (highly recommended!) it’s worth using a face mask as they provide good peripheral vision and keep your face warmer too. If you are swimming distances invest in a couple of pairs of goggles (a second mirrored pair for bright sunny days).
Wetsuit – If you are just dipping you might find a wetsuit isn’t worth the faff for a 10 minute dip. Consider wearing one though if you plan to be in the water for a while. A wetsuit not only keeps you warm but it also provides extra buoyancy and protection against things in the water like rocks and jellyfish.
Tow float – This is an essential item for swimming outdoors. Brightly coloured floats that attach to your waist with a strap and ensure you are visible to others. Vitally they provide somewhere for you to rest if needed. You can write your ICE (in case of emergency) details on the tow float in permanent marker and that way in the event of a rescue you can be easily identified.
Gloves / woolly hat – An extra woolly hat and gloves for when you get out of the water will stop you losing more heat from your head and your hands will be able to function!
Changing mat – A great accessory for standing on when you are getting in and out of the water. There are different types on the market now ranging from a heated mat to a ‘changing bag’ that you stand in while you get dressed.
Hooded towel – Great for popping on as soon as you get out of the water and to hide your modesty while you whip your swim suit off. It’s important not to stay in wet clothes after a cold water dip. Your body continues to cool for some time after you get out of the water so putting warm layers on while you warm up from the inside out is important.
Chamois towel – Great for travelling light when you don’t want to pack bulky.
Layers, layers, layers – The best way to get warm after a cold swim. Wearing a long sleeve t-shirt that sits close to the chest, a looser fitting hoodie or sweatshirt over the top and loose fitting joggers on the bottom half will trap heat and help you warm up more quickly.
Changing robe – another essential piece of kit for the open water swimmer! There are lots on the market and you don’t have to spend a fortune but it’s worth buying quality. They are great over layers and to stand around in while you chat and have your warm drink and they keep the wind and the rain out. I like ponchos because they don’t have a zip which makes it easier to change under and you don’t have to worry about cold fumbling fingers on a zip.
Sensible footwear and woolly socks – Swim spots can be off the beaten track and slippery or sharp underfoot. Consider wearing a pair of trainers or boots down to the swim and a pair of swim shoes near the water’s edge or for the swim itself. A pair of woolly socks eases footwear back on after a swim!
Water bottle – cold water swimming makes you want to pee a lot because the body responds to the cold stimulus by stripping water from the blood so that only concentrated blood flows to the core. It’s important to rehydrate after a swim.
Thermos – for a warm drink afterwards.
Hot water bottle with a woollen cover – a game changer! Use to wrap your clothes around to keep them toasty and then cuddle afterwards whilst you have your drink. Pure wool stays warm far longer than synthetic options.
Cake – eating generates heat in the body. And cake is one of the main reasons we go outdoor swimming!