Many swimmers have taken the plunge and turned to swimming outdoors this year. Some made the choice due to restrictions on indoor pools, whereas others have been lured by the numerous benefits of wild swimming and immersing themselves in nature.
As the temperatures outside become lower, outdoor swimming forums are buzzing with people asking what kit is needed for continuing to swim outside in the autumn and winter. During the summer, you can arguably get away with less preparation to help you to swim safely, whereas if you are new to swimming outdoors, the cold water can seem like a whole new ballgame. For this reason, we have put together a list of kit that we think makes outdoor swimming more pleasurable and safer during the winter months. We strongly recommend you read further advice regarding staying safe in cold water and will provide links to some helpful articles at the end.
In the water
Wetsuit or skins?
The choice is up to you. Increasing number of outdoor swimmers choose to swim all year round 'in skins', wearing nothing but a swimsuit, trunks or for the really brave, their birthday suit! If you choose to continue in a minimal amount of swimwear, some swimmers opt to wear a rash vest or long sleeved swimsuit to add a thin extra layer. It is also worth considering how easy it is to get your swimwear on or off with cold hands, to avoid battling in the wind or rain after your swim.
From a sustainability point of view, second hand swimwear isn't something that many would be comfortable with purchasing, however there are many options of swimwear made with recycled fabric. The two main materials used are recycled nylon or recycled plastic bottles. Recycled nylon (Econyl) is infinitely recyclable and significantly reduces carbon consumption, whereas swimwear made with plastic bottles cannot be recycled infinitely although it still saves resources used compared to virgin fabrics.
If you opt for a wetsuit, limestone based neoprene such as Japanese Yamamoto neoprene is more environmentally friendly than petroleum based neoprene. Some surf wetsuits are now available in natural rubber (Yulex), however there are no swim specific wetsuits at the present time.
Neoprene gloves and socks
The addition of neoprene socks and gloves may help you to tolerate colder water by keeping your extremities protected. Footwear also helps you to navigate stones, pebbles and uneven ground. Make sure your gloves and boots fit snugly, but you are able to get them on and off easily with cold fingers.
From an environmental point of view, neoprene manufactured using limestone such as Blueseventy thermal gloves and socks is preferable to petroleum based products.
A silicone swim hat or two will help to keep the warm in and can be topped off with a bobble hat if you are not planning to put your face in the water. Bright coloured swim hats are advised for visibility. Silicone is recommended as it tends to be thicker and more durable than latex swim hats.
Swimming goggles or a swimming mask
As the water gets colder, you many not be planning to put your face in. A mask such as the Aquasphere Vista covers more of your face, reducing the ice cream headache. Don’t forget goggles can be recycled in Sea & Stream's swim hat and goggle recycle scheme.
Tow floats are typically made with PVC or TPU. From an environmental viewpoint, TPU is preferable such as the Puffin Billy Eco15 towfloat.
Out of the water
The priority once you are out the water is to get dry and get dressed as quickly as possible prior to afterdrop. Rachel Andrew's has a brilliant video on how to get changed quickly. You will have a short window of time after getting out of the water where you feel rosy and it is all too tempting to take your time taking selfies and enjoying the moment, but the shivers will soon set in and it is easier to change before they do.
Any old towel will do, many swimmers are preferring to use hammam towels as they pack down small and dry very quickly. We prefer towels with organic cotton that is farmed and manufactured without the use of chemicals.
The most hotly discussed item on an outdoor swimmer's kit list is undeniably the changing robe! It is by no means essential, but spoken about as a game changer by winter swimmers. There are countless options of changing robes and changing towels for wild swimming available to suit everyone’s preferences and budget. The more simple towelling poncho style robes allow you to get dried and dressed discretely prior to layering up in your clothes. They can even be made by stitching a couple of towels together, however many swimmers opt for hooded versions with pockets.
The more technical windproof and waterproof changing robes can either come with a zip or without such as the Fourth Element Storm Poncho. Zips can be fiddly for cold fingers, however swimmers can partially zip up a changing robe prior to putting it on. The way you use a changing robe is dependent on preference. Some swimmers wear their changing robes to get changed in, others wear it after they are changed as a larger style coat.
LayersWearing many layers of clothing is the key to warming up. Many people swear by merino wool base layers due to it's warmth and temperature regulation properties. When considering what clothing to bring, it is a good idea to bring loose fitting clothing that is easy to get on and off quickly.
The trusty bobble hat is a much loved icon of autumn and winter swimming. Hats are a matter of personal choice and it is great to see so many wonderful colours and styles available.
Even in the summer the UK waters can be chilly enough to need a warm flask of drink to warm your core at the end of an outdoor swim. We recommend a stainless steel double walled one for durability and they keep your drink hot for over 5 hours. We love the Qwetch flask which includes removable filters to make a proper cup of loose leaf tea tea. The drink can be drunk straight from the flask, saving you pouring your hot drink into a cup with shaky hands.
Something to stand on
Something to stand on to get changed is a good idea as the ground can often be wet during autumn and winter. It could be as simple as an old camping mat cut into a small square, or an all in one solution such as the Swim Feral Turtleback bag, which includes a luxurious insulated changing mat for you to stand on.
We hope that you found this useful. You really won't regret dipping your toe into cold water swimming as long as you do it safely.
Further information about staying safe swimming in cold water can be found here:
Outdoor Swimming Society
Outdoor swimmer magazine