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Choosing a Swim Cap

When it comes to swimming caps, there are almost too many choices. You might be wondering if the extra cost of the silicone caps are worth the expense, which cap is most likely to keep your hair dry, and, which swim cap you should buy.

Here is a brief run-down of swimming cap facts, followed by some considerations to weigh when deciding which swim cap is right for you.

A Quick Primer on Swim Caps

Swim caps come in several materials, but the vast majority (and most popular) are made of latex or silicone. Latex caps are inexpensive and relatively thin. Silicone caps are thicker, longer-lasting, and more expensive. A few swimmers prefer the old-school spandex caps, while Olympians these days wear molded silicone caps, which are designed to be wrinkle-free (and thus, hydrodynamic)! But before we go any further, let’s get one thing straight: regardless of the material, no swim cap will keep your hair completely dry.

Choosing a Swim Cap Material

Consider these four factors to decide which kind of swim cap might best suit your needs.

Swimming Frequency

If you swim every day, you’ll want a cap that is durable. And if you swim infrequently, you’ll want a cap that can survive a long, lonely, possibly damp week (or four) in the bottom of your swim bag. In either case, silicone may be your best bet. It’s stretch-resistant, and thus more durable for daily use. And it’s more forgiving when it gets forgotten in the bottom of your bag for weeks at a time. Latex caps, on the other hand, when left for long periods of time (even when completely dry), eventually turn into a sticky, plastic-ey goo that bonds permanently to goggle lenses and bathing suits.

Thus, if durability is your main concern, then silicone is the way to go. Of course, this begs the question: why would anyone buy a latex cap anymore? Well, the short answer is: because durability isn’t the only thing to consider…

Water Temperature

Do you swim in a pool that is used for swimming lessons or water aerobics? Is your pool temperature more than 81 degrees? If you answered yes, you might want to think twice before purchasing a silicone cap. The extra thickness of silicone is durable…but also nice and warm. Latex caps, thanks to the fact that they are relatively thin, will keep you from over-heating as quickly as you would in a silicone cap.

On the other hand, if your pool is on the cool side (80 degrees F or less) you may need a warmer cap. And in that case, go for silicone.

Workout Intensity

Pool temperature is not the only thing that determines how comfortable you are in the water, however. If you are swimming hard in a pool that is 80 degrees F, pretty much any cap (latex included) may have you feeling a bit toasty. So, it’s a good bet that if you are working out with a Master’s team and spending an hour or more swimming with your heart rate in the upper end of your aerobic zone, you’ll want to use a latex cap. (And then see below for how to prevent goo-formation!) On the other hand, if you are swimming nonchalantly or doing water aerobics or just learning how to swim, the added warmth provided by a silicone cap may be welcome and/or necessary.

Hot Tip: Caring for Your Swim Caps

Latex swim caps (especially the super-cheap ones) have a tendency to degrade when left to their own devices in your swim bag. You’ll prolong the life of your caps if you pat them dry – inside and out – after every workout, and hang them somewhere so that they can completely dry out between uses.

Team Membership

If you belong to a team, you should definitely sport your team logo on your head! It’s more fun when everyone at practice is wearing team colors. And at a meet, it makes it easier to pick out your teammates, whether they are in the warm-up pool or on the blocks in the next lane over! And if you go with the team cap, the only thing you’ll have to decide is whether you want to cover your head with silicone or latex.

Special Occasion Swim Caps

Finally, there are some “special occasion” swim caps, which you may find useful at some point in your swimming career.

If you are doing any open water swimming in cold water, don’t leave home without a neoprene cap. (Neoprene is the material used to make wetsuits.) Try it once, and you will probably find that cap to be an essential piece of equipment, especially if you are swimming sans wetsuit. If the water is really cold, you may want to sport a silicone or latex cap under the neoprene one.

If you are participating in a “Turn Back the Clock” event, you’ll need a rubber-looking "bubble" cap! You can get them with or without a chin strap, and they come in classic white or hot pink (see left). Celebrating Earth Day with an open water swim? You can sport one of these retro caps covered in flowers. Although, fair warning: the flowers are not in earth tones.

If you are swimming in the Olympics (or your own personal equivalent), you deserve the best that money can buy. Splurge on a wrinkle-free molded silicone cap, and watch those tenths of a second melt away from your best times!

Choose What's Right for You

Now that you know the pros and cons of latex and silicone swim caps, make sure you know the proper way to wear your swim cap, and how to put it on without pulling all your hair out.

Which type of swim cap do you use, and why? Do you still have questions about what swim cap is best for you? You should leave a note in the comments below.

When it comes to swim caps, there are almost too many choices. Here is a brief run-down of swimming cap facts, and some considerations to weigh when deciding on a cap.
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