How to

2 December 2016

Winter Swimming - What You Need to Know

So it’s winter, you’ve winterized and closed up your pool (if you’re lucky enough to have one), but you’ve got that winter depression, with your favourite hobby of outdoor swimming no longer an option. Of course, you could go to a warm indoor pool, but it’s just not the same. Guess you’ll have to wait until next year, right? Think again! Winter swimming is a growing pastime that offers thrills, chills, and even potential health benefits to the hardy souls willing to brave the icy waters of winter. If that’s piqued your interest, then read ahead as in this article we’ll cover what you need to do to prepare yourself to take the plunge.

Img source: Andrew Kalat
What to Wear

If you’re swimming in the winter, you’re bound to experience some water temperatures that are far from comfortably warm. One option is to suit up in a full wetsuit. This will definitely keep you relatively warm, but they are more suited (*ahem*) to longer periods in the water, and can be quite restrictive for swimming. Not to mention, the real winter swimming enthusiasts see them as a bit of a cop out! Nevertheless, if you feel more comfortable with one on, feel free to do so.

If, on the other hand, you’re feeling a little adventurous, you can stick with a normal swimsuit and really feel the water. At least until your skin goes numb, that is. A swimming hat is a good investment for a slight heat boost, and if you’re keeping your head above water, then a woolly hat can actually help keep your head a mite warmer. Wetsuit gloves and shoes can also help insulate your extremities, which tend to really feel the chill.


Winter swimming is not for faint of heart, literally. Those with heart conditions should definitely avoid going in icy water due to the shock to the system it can give. This stands true for anyone with a weak constitution, as it will truly be tested out there. The same goes for weaker swimmers, as winter seas are not the place to learn how to swim, and swimming in very cold water is harder even for experienced swimmers.

In a similar vein, waters can often be rougher in winter, so make sure you pick your spot carefully. If you’re swimming in the sea, beware of riptides or large waves. Wherever you’re swimming, make sure you don’t go too far out of your depth, and that you have an easy spot from which to leave the water picked out before you get in. If possible, it’s best to go winter swimming with other people, both for the camaraderie of mutual suffering excitement, and for safety reasons.

Getting In

With your gear and your gang sorted, there can be no more prevaricating. It’s time to take the plunge! However, plunging in is actually not a wise way to enter the water. It’s best to get in gradually, giving your body time to adjust and avoiding any overly sudden shocks. Jumping in too quickly can cause different people to react different ways, with involuntary inhalation of water being up there at the top of the list of bad ones.

Once you’re in, let your body fully acclimatise, which can take a bit of time. You may find that your body tingles and your extremities go rather numb, but this is normal. Try and savour the experience, and relish that adrenaline rush that will soon help keep you warm. At the same time, don’t feel pressured to stay in the water too long. Winter swimming is a short but sweet pursuit, unless you’ve really built up resistance to the cold. Listen to what your body’s telling you, and get out when you start to get too cold.

Getting Out

Once you’re out, that aforementioned adrenaline may keep you warm for a little while, but that’s not the time to stand around congratulating yourself. Take a warm shower if you can (but not too warm, you want your body to warm up again quickly but gradually), then get a warm towel or 4 around you and dry off before you lose that regained heat, and pile on the layers of warm winter clothes.

Congratulate yourself for having the bravery (or madness) to winter swim, and maybe reward yourself with a hot chocolate, coffee, or best of all, mulled wine!

Sam Franklin

With a master’s in Literature, Sam inhales books and anything readable, spending his working hours reformulating the info he gathers into digestible articles. When not reading or writing, he likes to put his camera to work around the world, snapping street photography from Stockholm to Tokyo. Too much of this time spent in Japan teaching English has nurtured a weakness for sashimi, Japanese whisky, and robot caf├ęs.