While plenty of people espouse the benefits of swimming without a wetsuit, some of us are just not designed to stay warm without a little help from our gear.
Wear a Wetsuit
If you are frequently going swim in cold water, buy a wetsuit. There are different kinds of wetsuits for different kinds of cold water activities. Some are made for surfing, some for diving, and some for triathlons. Get one designed for triathletes—they will minimally restrict your shoulder, hip, and knee movement.
The added bonus of a wetsuit: it will make you more buoyant. Added buoyancy, by definition, means you will ride higher in the water, experience less drag, and be able to swim faster. And, the faster you get to the end of your swim, the less time you’ll have to spend in that cold water!
Hot Tip: Rent or Buy a Wetsuit
Wetsuits can be expensive! Luckily, swimming in a surf or dive wetsuit is entirely possible. Find a local dive shop, and you can rent a wetsuit. Keep in mind that the thicker the suit, the more it will restrict your shoulder movement and the more likely you are to chafe. If you will be using your wetsuit regularly, the expense is definitely worth it. Rental fees can quickly add up.
Cover Your Head
Wearing a cap can help your body retain heat. A neoprene cap is the warmest. (Neoprene is wetsuit material.) And silicone, thanks to its thickness, is warmer than standard latex caps. Many, many people wear “double” caps: two silicone, one latex cap under a silicone one, or two latex caps. Wear a cap (or two!) when you’re headed to swim in cold water, and you will never have to roll your eyes at the sound of your mother saying, “If you think you are going to swim across the English Channel dressed like that….”
Consider Wearing Booties and Gloves
We’ve covered (pun intended) probably the biggest heat sink on your body: your head. But what about your hands and feet? Well, you can buy neoprene booties and gloves to keep those extremities warm. If you’ve ever jumped into a pool with shoes on, you know that at first it will feel weird to have your hands and feet covered. Then again, if the water is cold enough, you probably won’t care.
Hot Tip: Two Old-School Strategies
Some open water swimming enthusiasts swear that ear plugs not only help them stay warm, but also improve their perception of balance. And, for decades, open water swimmers have insulated themselves from the cold by smearing a layer of petroleum jelly on any exposed skin.