The Thrill of the Chill - 8 tips on getting ready for swimming outdoors in the autumn and winter

There is a distinctly autumnal feel since moving into September and the anticipation of swimming outdoors in colder water is here. If you plan to swim in the sea, loch, lake or river through autumn and winter, here are 8 tips to help you prepare for the exciting season of cold water swimming ahead.

1. There's no time like the present

Water temperatures are still relatively warm in September. Sea temperatures in particular are often at their warmest in the UK.  If you are thinking about 'taking the plunge' and trying wild swimming for the first time, this is a great time to start. More information about starting outdoor swimming can be found in our blog post Getting started with wild swimming

2. Just keep swimming

If you have already been swimming through the Summer, the best strategy would be to keep swimming regularly as the water gets cooler to allow your body to acclimatise.  Observe how you feel in the changing temperatures and how your body reacts to each swim and make adjustments accordingly.

3. Reduce your time in the water

Autumn and winter swimming are more about dips and not distance.  The benefit of winter swimming is the endorphin rush which happens after a matter of minutes in the water, therefore prolonging your time in the water to get that extra buzz is unnecessary and can be dangerous.

Frosty grass next to a still river with two trees in the background

4. Prepare for cold water shock

Cold water shock can happen at any time of year in the UK.  It is the response of  your body within the first 30 seconds to 2 minutes of entering colder water causing you to take a large intake of breath and increase your breathing rate. Enter the water slowly and control your breathing before starting to swim.

5. Know how to spot the signs of hypothermia

Hypothermia is the lowering of the body's core temperature below 35 degrees. Hypothermia can catch swimmers out making it more important than ever to swim with other people and keep an eye on each other. The 'Umbles' is a good way to remember what to look out for.

- Mumbles - slurred speech
- Fumbles - loss of fine motor control making it hard to put on clothing 
- Stumbles - uncoordinated, difficulty walking
- Grumbles - complaining more than usual
- Crumbles - collapse

For further reading about cold water shock and hypothermia, there is an excellent blog by Straight Line Swimming and Dr Heather Massey

6. Plan your kit

There is a mind boggling array of gear that people invest in for outdoor swimming but it is important to remember that everyone is different and what works well for one swimmer, may not be so suitable for you. It is quite common for swimmers to wear wetsuits in the summer (for longer swims) and go 'skins' in the winter with only a swimsuit or trunks as it is too much faff getting into and out of a wetsuit for a short swim. You can start with relatively basic items before getting kit suitable for your requirements.

The basic kit for swimming outdoors

Swimming costume
Lots of warm layers
Warm coat or changing robe
Warm bobble hat or beanie
Flask with warm drink

    For further reading take a look at Outdoor Swimming Kit for Autumn Winter

    7. Practice getting changed as fast as humanly possible

    Getting changed after a swim in the summer months can be a reasonably leisurely activity as the sun does it's work to warm you, whereas with colder outdoor temperatures, it is important to prioritise getting dry and dressed as speedily as you can.  You will probably feel glowing and amazing after getting out of the water, but don't be fooled as your temperature will continue to fall after you have left the water.

    8. It isn't a competition

    Everyone is individual with regards to how long they can swim for in cold water. The length of time a person can spend in the water can depend on so many factors. Don't feel pressured into spending longer in the water because everybody else in the group is staying in.  

    Most importantly enjoy it. Happy Swimming!