I hate cold water so much that I’d rather stay dirty than have a cold shower.
I know it seems like everyone you know has got into wild swimming in the last few years. Nonetheless, seeing people swimming in lakes or the North Sea still sends shivers down my spine.
But when I moved to Sicily in southern Italy a few years ago I realised I had to get over my lifelong fear. I live right by the beach and decided that I needed to get used to swimming year-round, if only to make the most of the free gym on my doorstep.
So I set about researching how to enjoy swimming when the water doesn’t feel like a warm bath. I learned that it’s all about insulating all the parts of your body that might get cold. Then, in warmer water or weather, just remove layers.
Starting at the top, let’s walk through all the parts of your body that you need to keep warm to enjoy your swim.
For your head
You lose 50% of your body heat from your head, so this is the body part to focus on in the coldest water.
Orca Thermal Neoprene Swim Cap
I can never wear polo necks or scarves because I hate feeling restricted around my neck. So I was dubious about this cap as it comes down over your ears then fastens under your chin. It’s a snug fit, for obvious reasons, but I barely thought about it once I was in the water. It’s only 3mm think but it provides way more insulation than just a swimming cap does. If you only buy one piece of kit for cold water swimming, make it this one.
SwimTech Silicone Swim Cap
I generally find silicone swim caps a bit of a pain. Getting all your hair inside them then making sure they don’t ping off your head can feel like a warm-up in itself. But this one is a breeze to get on and off. It’s reasonably priced but the material feels thick and durable.
Top tip: layer up by wearing a normal swim cap with a neoprene one on top. When I go for this combination so little water reaches my head that my hair doesn’t even get wet.
A bobble hat
If you’re the sort of swimmer who never puts their head below the surface of the water, you could also opt to wear a bobble hat.
If it’s one from your existing collection, make sure it’s one that you don’t mind getting splashed with sea water or that's washable. Fleece lined hats will also keep your head extra cosy on those cold winter swims.
For your eyes
Whether wanting to keep the chlorine out in a pool or see where you’re going in open water, goggles are fairly essential whether in cold or warm water. After trying out a few pairs, I’m a total convert to spending a bit more on a pair that will last.
Orca Killa 180º goggle
These are, quite simply, the best goggles I’ve ever owned. They tick all the boxes - they only started to fog up after a year of use, they don’t slip down the back of your head and they’re so light and well-fitting that you forget you’re wearing them.
I have the mirrored lens and they’re perfect for keeping the sun out of your eyes, both in and out of the water. Like the first time I bought expensive sunglasses, I wish I’d invested in a pair of these goggles years ago.
For your body
Orca Openwater RS1 Thermal Women Wetsuit
I’m an occasional scuba diver and I can’t wait to get my wetsuit off at the end of a dive as they invariably let water in and just feel a bit icky. This Orca wetsuit couldn’t be more different.
The inner lining is specially designed to keep you warm when open water swimming. The outer layer is really smooth, making it easy to pull on.
It’s a snug fit so I do have to breathe in when I’m zipping it up. But don’t make my mistake and think this means you’ve got the wrong size - you want it to be a tight fit so that it doesn’t let any water in.
This is an investment piece but if you’re serious about open water swimming regularly, you’ll get years of use out of it.
RubyMoon Sorphea Gym To Swim One piece suit
I decided to invest in a good swimsuit after years of thin lycra going see-through. This one is an investment at €95 but it’s got two layers and is a lovely fit.
I also felt good about spending money with RubyMoon as you’d be hard pushed to find a more ethical swimwear brand.
It is a social enterprise, so instead of taking profits they convert 100 per cent of their proceeds into micro loans for women entrepreneurs - so far they have helped to lift 1,200 women and their families out of poverty.
On top of that, they work according to circular, regenerative and slow fashion principles, creating products with 42 per cent fewer carbon emissions than similar swimwear.
Billabong Salty Dayz Long Sleeve Springsuit
Made from 2mm neoprene, this is perfect for when it’s too cold for a swimsuit but not cold enough to need a full wetsuit. Or if it’s really cold, you can layer it with a swimsuit for extra warmth or support.
I really like the half zip as I have it up in the water then when I get out, I can pull it down to cool off.
While I’ve been focussed on function over style for these products, the ‘cheeky bikini cut’ on this Billabong suit is really flattering.
For your hands
Orca Openwater Gloves
Like many women, I tend to get cold hands and feet in cold weather. The Mediterranean doesn’t really get cold enough to need gloves for swimming, but these are a godsend in cold water.
They can be worn with a wetsuit to give you maximum coverage.
For your feet
Orca Hydro Booties
These booties have a really soft orange lining which feels lovely and snug and makes them easy to pull on.
The design separates your big toe from your other four toes. This did feel odd at first but I didn’t notice it once I was swimming.
They’re the perfect partner to wetsuits as you tuck them under the leg to keep your feet dry and warm.
SwimTech Pool Socks
I hadn’t seen anything like these before but they’re actually really useful. They’re essentially neoprene trainer socks. They have silicone grip on the bottom so they’re perfect for around the edge of the pool or if you’ve got a rocky entrance into open water. They can also be worn under booties or flippers to add an extra layer of protection.
How to warm up when you’re out of the water
It’s really important to make sure you start the warming up process as soon as you get out of the water.
Don’t make the mistake of diving straight into a hot shower or bath though as it could make you feel unwell. Instead you want to warm up slowly and wait until you’re back to a normal temperature before getting in a hot bath.
Red Insulated Travel Cup
A great way to start warming yourself up is with a hot cup of tea. If you keep the lid shut, this cup really will keep your drink piping hot for hours on end.
Plus, because it’s double insulated, it won’t burn your hands.
SwimTech Parka Robe
Every outdoor swimmer needs a cover-up to throw on as soon as you’re out of the water. Not only are they cosy, in really cold weather they could prevent you from catching a cold or worse.
SwimTech’s parka has a really cosy, fleecy lining and the outer layer will protect you from wind and rain. I also like its zip up pockets, very handy for keeping your phone, keys and valuables safe and dry.
Red Long Sleeve Pro Change Robe Evo
This is another option if you’re looking for a post-swim robe. It comes with a premium price tag but it really will keep you warm, whatever the weather.
I'd advise you size up with this robe, that way you can get changed inside of it and the long length means you won’t accidentally flash anyone on the beach.
If you’re soaking wet, it has a reversible zip so you can wear it inside out, keeping the fluffy lining dry for later. Once you’ve dried off a bit, turn it the right way round and adjust the velcro cuffs to really trap in all the warmth.
Skin Republic hand repair masks
Dry skin is an occupational hazard of cold water swimming so it’s important to stay moisturised. These hand repair masks are gloves covered in intense moisturiser that includes collagen, shea butter, vitamin E and 10 plant extracts.
You leave them on for 15-20 minutes - don’t rinse afterwards. And voila, you have lovely soft hands, rather than the prunes you emerged from the water with.
How to stay safe swimming in cold water
If the water is really cold, don’t jump in. Instead, enter the water slowly. If you jump in too fast, your body’s natural reaction is to gasp and you could end up inhaling lots of water into your lungs.
Once you’re in, it’s likely your breathing might be a bit shallow or irregular due to the shock of the cold. Take a few moments to relax and breathe deeply until your breathing is back to normal before you start swimming.
It’s good to go swimming with a buddy, that way you can both monitor each other for signs of hypothermia. If someone’s teeth are chattering or shivering uncontrollably, they should get out of the water immediately. Other signs to look out for are slurring of words or movement becoming less coordinated.
Cold water swimming is something you need to get used to. Don’t force yourself to stay in for ages on your first go. Start with a couple of minutes in the water and slowly build up the time with every outing.
Though many people report experiencing immune system and mental health benefits from cold water swimming, it’s very important to note that if you have any heart or blood pressure related medical conditions, you should speak to a doctor before taking the plunge.
Watch the video above to learn more about cold water swimming.