GRTW CEO, Rachael Woolston, shares her essential kit guide to open water winter swimming.
I started swimming in the open water five years ago, when I first took up triathlon. One of my first open water triathlon events was early in the season in the river Arundel. I was so worried about the cold, I ended up purchasing a lot of different bits of kit. Something that I now REALLY need.
I’ve been through a lot of different kit, and these are my pick of the best, as tried and tested in rivers, reservoirs, lakes and the sea.
When the usual latex swim cap is not enough (which for me is from October or from March if starting in Spring!) it’s on with more neoprene to stop the ice cream head.
This has served me well. Nice colours, good strap to keep over your ears, although I wouldn’t want to be photographed in one. Those straps are not that flattering for a forty plus athlete.
My one negative about this cap is it’s not that big if you have lots of hair.
For the very cold part of the season (I’m going to be pulling out this baby from January) it covers your neck, shoulders and chin. Apparently, it’s been used by athletes in the notorious Norseman triathlon. Me? I’m happy to.be using it for my little winter 500m in the UK.
it’s nice and soft, doesn’t push on your ears and keeps your neck (ooh, that little bit at the back can get so icy painful!) and chin covered from the cold exposure.
I’ve tried A LOT of booties. Mostly by virtue of the fact that I tend to lose them all the time, buy a new pair and then re-find the old pair. But, it means I know which ones are good. And these are the biz.
At 3.5mm they are slightly thicker than most socks and have a titanium lining to reflect the body’s heat and improve warmth. Not sure about that to be honest, but they are definitely better than anything else I’ve used. A definite winter must-have.
Again, I’ve tried so many different gloves and I love these. I wouldn’t say they keep my hands ‘warm’ as such but they mean that I can swim without my hands turning into claws. And you can still ‘feel’ the water without it feeling like you’ve got a brick attached to your hand like so many other gloves can feel.
These gloves go right up past your wrists, with a velcro tie that wraps around your waist to keep it in place. It means that they fit underneath your wetsuit for a better fit. Just be careful you don’t leave your GPS watch on the beach when you strip off because you need to wear it outside the glove for the swim, which means taking it off – in a hurry when cold – to get the gloves off.
As I live by the sea, it seems like DryRobes are the chosen wardrobe of most women, particularly during lockdown. But while we are at the risk of looking like a cliche, every winter swimmer should have a changing robe.
And this is the important definition, it is a changing robe not a coat. By that, I mean make sure you buy one that is big enough to get changed under. I’m 5ft 7 inches and a size 12 and mine is large. It is big but it means that I can use it as a tent and get my wetsuit off and all my clothes back on underneath it. Without flashing or having the wind whip against my cold skin.
There are other changing robes now being produced. But in my opinion, these are still the best.
‘What do goggles have to do with keeping you warmer in winter open water swimming?’ I hear you mutter. Well, psychologically, I love these goggles because the tinted orange lenses make it feel sunnier and warmer, even when the clouds are grey. Any little bit of help!
Our Top Three Post Swim Accessories
Waterproof gardening clogs – you won’t win any style awards but fleece-lined, easy to slip on shoes when you’re wearing big woolly socks are the best! Your feet are still painful but much better than trainers or anything else. (My recommendation are these).
Woolly hat – put it on your head asap! Our Girls Run the World trademark beanies available to buy now in our online store
Mittens – get some woolly mittens to put on as soon as possible. Forget gloves, they’re impossible to get on your hands.
Never swim in the winter on your own, and be aware of the guidelines for entering cold water.