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What To Wear For Open Water Swimming In Winter

Posted by Alex Clasper

As winter creeps in, the prospect of open water swimming may seem more daunting than ever. Most of us will stick to swimming when the water is at its warmest throughout summer and early autumn, but those brave enough to face the cold are in for a rewarding and thrilling experience over the winter months.

If you do have a year-round passion for the water, winter is simply the time to adjust your wardrobe rather than put a pause on your hobby altogether. This handy guide reveals everything you need to know when it comes to what to wear for open water swimming in winter so that you can stay warm, comfortable, and ready for a frosty plunge

In The Water

First things first, think about what you’ll need to wear when you’re actually swimming. This part of your wardrobe is crucial as the temperature of the water can be quite a shock to even the most advanced swimmers and the risks of cold water shock are both very real and potentially very dangerous. Having the right in-water clothing will keep your attention focused on the benefits of taking the plunge.


Some swimmers prefer to stick to just a swimming costume all year round, but there’s no denying that a wetsuit will undoubtedly keep you warmer and more comfortable. Wetsuits come in different thicknesses depending on the type and level of insulation you desire, with 5mm the optimum for the winter months. A 5mm wetsuit should offer the right balance between flexibility and warmth, enabling you to power through the water without having your movement inconveniently restricted.


However, one key area of your body that a wetsuit will not cover is your hands. Your extremities are most susceptible to the cold and hands particularly require adequate protection. We suggest investing in a pair of neoprene gloves with sealed seams and a similar thickness to your wetsuit. These will keep your hands warm whilst providing the dexterity essential for swimming. 


Just as your hands need protection, so do your feet! With your gloves chosen, next on the list of what to wear for open water swimming in winter is a pair of neoprene boots. Once again, the thickness should be chosen based on the water temperature and the level of flexibility that you find most comfortable so be willing to try a couple of pairs on to find the right fit. Your boots should be snug but not too tight and we suggest choosing a style with reinforced soles to keep your feet protected from any hazards and rocks that may be hiding in the water when visibility is low.

Out Of The Water

The clothing you wear in the water is just half of what you need for open water swimming in winter - don’t forget to think about what you need to stay warm when you’re back on shore too! A hot drink in an insulated bottle or flask will go a long way towards keeping your body temperature up but it’s the right clothing that will really make the difference.


Particularly in winter, the conditions on the shore can be little better than the temperatures in the sea and it’s vital that you take steps to prevent your body temperature from dropping further when you have exited the water. Popping on a beanie hat like our Voyager Beanie is a great way to give your body temperature a bit of a boost back to normal. The snug but comfortable fit will hug your ears to offer protection from the wind and all-around cosy warmth as you dry off.

Merino Wool Headband

Alternatively, you could opt for a merino wool headband to keep your head warm when you have finished your swim. Unlike a beanie, a headband will leave some of your head exposed but this can be more comfortable if you are worried about overheating or aren’t the biggest fan of your head being completely enclosed. Merino wool is particularly suited for winter swims as it has naturally insulating properties and wicks away moisture to keep you warm even when wet. 

Changing Robe

And how could we create a list of what to wear for open water swimming in winter without giving changing robes a mention? A changing robe is one of the most vital pieces of equipment you could invest in if you regularly spend time in and around water, providing privacy and warmth when exposed to the elements. In the winter months, go for one with long sleeves and a fleece lining like the Red Pro Change Evo. The oversized design and waterproof exterior will keep you cosy and dry both before and after your aquatic adventure.

Kit Bag

Last but certainly not least, don’t forget your kit bag. Okay, you don’t wear it quite in the same way as the other items on our list of what to wear for open water swimming in winter, but it’s certainly just as important. Go for one that is 100% waterproof like our 40l waterproof kit bag which offers plenty of room to carry everything (even your changing robe) with the added bonus of a detachable wipe-down changing mat to keep your feet sand-free when changing post-swim.