The majority of outdoor swimmers stop swimming once October arrives, but for many, the winter season brings an entirely different element to their swim. With water temperatures plummeting and weather conditions dramatically changing, especially for sea swimmers, the benefits come with several challenges to be aware of. So, how should you prepare for the cold weather?
What should you wear?
Before you consider taking the icy leap into the winter swimming season, make sure you have the right kit. Here are a few items that will make a big difference to your chilly swims this season.
- Wetsuit – winter wetsuits range from a thickness of 5/3mm and 6/4mm and wearing one will keep your core temperature up during your swim.
- Earplugs – these are particularly useful for keeping your temperature up as they stop chilly water getting to your core. Everyone’s ears are different shapes but moldable earplugs are especially good. These silicone earplugs are easy to use.
- Swim caps – a neoprene cap is designed to be warmer than traditional latex caps. Wearing two is particularly good if you enjoy wearing a cap but are looking for the extra warmth.
- Wetsuit diving hood – hoods are an alternative to swim caps and can provide a wider coverage of your skin, as they normally cover part of your face and neck as well as the head. Choosing a neoprene hood, in particular, will keep you warm for longer in the water than any other headgear. You can find some good ones here.
- Neoprene boots and gloves – wearing neoprene products on both your hands and feet help keep your circulation and warmth maintained throughout your swim. Neoprene gloves come in different thicknesses, shapes and sizes; as do boots.
- Goggles – wearing goggles can significantly reduce the feeling of ‘ice cream head’ which is common with winter swimmers. Having goggles when plunging your head into icy waters can help stop the initial shock, whilst also being able to see any threats on your route. Swimfreak goggles are fantastic quality; they have an anti-fog technology and have been tried and tested in a variety of conditions, making them perfect for the more daring and adventurous swimmer. Find them here.
- Changing robe – A changing robe can make such a big difference to your whole swimming experience during the winter months. From maintaining body heat before or after your swim to staying warm whilst getting changed from your swimming kit to warm clothing, and vice versa. There are many out there and they come in a range of colours and prices.
How to stay safe when winter swimming
Winter swimming comes with many new challenges and dangers that swimmers must always be aware of before, during and after a swim in cold conditions. Here are a few tips for keeping safe whilst enjoying swimming this winter.
- Always swim during the day – whether you are swimming in the sea, an outdoor pool, lake or river, swimming during the day means you are eliminating a vast array of dangers. Never go for a swim when it is getting dark or when the light is poor, especially if you are a lone swimmer. The temperature of the air and water dramatically drops when it gets dark, meaning conditions become more dangerous than ever.
- Get in slowly – never jump or dive into icy waters. It is very important to acclimatise to the water before a swim as plunging straight in can send the body into shock. This is especially dangerous when you are not used to the colder water.
- Know the depth of the water and where you can get out – understanding where is shallow and where is deep is very important before you get into the water, as knowing where you can get out is crucial. During the winter months, and with cold waters in particular, short swims of no longer than two-three minutes are advised. Therefore, knowing that you can get out of the water quickly is vital.
- Understand the impact of the weather – The weather has a huge impact on swimming conditions, especially when you’re swimming in the sea or lakes. Strong winds can be especially dangerous in the sea, as big waves can make swimming very difficult and tiring for even the strongest swimmers. Heavy rainfall can also cause conditions to change dramatically in lakes and rivers as water levels rise. You should never swim in dramatic weather conditions if it feels remotely dangerous.
- Research the tide times, rips and currents – Always be aware of tides, currents and rips in any swimming spot. They can change quickly and you can find yourself in dangerous situations very quickly.
- Warm up slowly after a cold swim – it can be tempting to get straight into a hot shower after a particularly chilly swim. However, it is better to get changed into warm clothes quickly after a swim and have a hot drink to slowly bring your body back to a normal temperature. A hot shower will cause your core to cool down and can be extremely dangerous.
When you take the necessary requirements to keep warm and safe when swimming this winter, you can start to enjoy the fantastic benefits the cooler temperatures provide. From combating depression to helping with circulation and boosting the immune system, there are plenty of reasons to take the plunge this winter.
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