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Cold Water Swimming Gear: The Ultimate Guide For 2024

best cold water swimming gear

What gear do you need for cold water swimming? Well, that depends. Cold water swimming is accessible to almost everyone, and in terms of gear, you can get away with very little and still enjoy an icy dip. I am slightly obsessed with cold water swimming gear, but even I prefer not to be encumbered by too much kit and I do my best to keep to the bare minimum – sometimes just some swim shorts and a change robe are all I have with me.

Yet, there are a few essential pieces of gear that can transform your cold water swimming escapades from ordinary to extraordinary, ensuring both safety and enjoyment.

Protection from the cold is paramount, whether it’s maintaining your warmth during an extended swim or finding comfort in the post-swim chill. Equipping yourself with the right gear eliminates any anxiety or discomfort that might arise from venturing into cold waters unprepared.

This comprehensive guide isn’t just for cold water swimmers; it caters to anyone with a passion for open water swimming or wild swimming. Even during the summer months, wild waters retain their chill, and that’s where this guide becomes indispensable, providing you with everything you need, all year round.

The Ultimate Guide to Cold Water Swimming Gear: Embrace the Chill with Confidence

From swimsuits and wetsuits to goggles, gloves, and more, I’ll explore the most vital gear categories, shedding light on their significance and how they enhance your cold water swimming experiences. Whether you’re a seasoned enthusiast or a curious beginner, this guide is your trusted companion, empowering you to embrace the chill with confidence.

Dive in with me as I share the secrets to comfortable, safe, and unforgettable cold water swimming adventures. Let’s equip ourselves with the tools to embrace the icy waters and savour the raw beauty of open, wild waters, undeterred by the cold’s embrace. Get ready to take the plunge and discover the perfect gear for your cold water swimming journey!

What to wear for cold water swimming

Navigating the world of cold water swimming gear can feel like a bit of a conundrum. On one hand, you want to embrace the exhilarating cold and let it work its magic, but on the other hand, you’re wary of a traumatic experience that leaves you hastily retreating from the water after mere minutes. Striking the perfect balance between feeling protected and confident while maintaining unrestricted movement is key for maximum enjoyment. So, what exactly should you wear for cold water swimming?

The answer largely depends on whether you’re going for a leisurely cold-plunge or if your ambition is to conquer some serious distance in chilly waters. If you’re merely seeking cold exposure and content with a quick submersion, you might require less coverage than those aiming for a more extensive swim. Even so, if you’re a newbie to cold water, it’s still wise to acclimatise with at least some insulation at first, even for those brief dips.

In my own experience, erring on the side of staying protected tends to be the wiser choice. You’ll still feel the invigorating cold, and it’ll certainly have the desired effect, but with proper insulation, you can enjoy longer, more satisfying swims.

Trust me, there’s no need to impress anyone by plunging into an icy lake wearing nothing but tiny trunks or a bikini and then forcing yourself to endure an uncomfortable swim for the sake of bravado. It’s not big and it’s not clever.

Admittedly, your choice of swimwear may vary between the frosty winter months and the milder summer days. However, keep in mind that regardless of the season, the open waters always carry a refreshing chill. Embracing longer swims becomes all the more enjoyable when you’re well-prepared, allowing you to fully relish the experience no matter the time of year.

Swimsuits, shorts or jammers

The bare minimum you will be swimming in (unless going for a cheeky skinny dip!) is a standard swimsuit. In the summer months, this will do just fine, especially if your swim isn’t too long. You’ll often find me in just a pair of shorts or jammers on hot days.

You don’t need special swimsuits for cold water swimming, but I recommend buying swimwear that is durable and built to last. After all, you will be swimming in wild open water with sea salt, sand and rocks, so your swimwear needs to handle those tough environments.

Buoyancy shorts can be great for keeping you swimming in a horizontal position and can help with your technique. Some buoyancy shorts, like these Zone3 shorts, are designed to aid hip rotation.

Best Swimwear For Cold Water Swimming

O’Neill Men’s Pm Cali Shorts Boardshorts

o'neil swim shorts - cold water swimming gear
Speedo ECO Endurance+ Jammer

speedo jammers - cold water swimming gear
Zone3 Neoprene Buoyancy Shorts 

zone3 buoyancy shorts - cold water swimming gear
Speedo Women’s HyperBoom Flyback Swimsuit 
speedo swimsuit - cold water swimming gear
Speedo Women’s Fastskin LZR Ignite Kneeskin
speedo lzr - cold water swimming gear


During those cold, winter months between November and April here in the UK, I would always advise a good cold water wetsuit. Let’s be honest, if you’re braving the winter water, you’re certainly committed, so buying yourself a good wetsuit should be a no-brainer. I advise a full-length wetsuit for winter swims to get as much coverage as possible.

The key to wetsuits lies in getting the perfect fit, like a second skin. Don’t just guess your size; take the time to measure yourself against the provided sizing guides. A wetsuit should feel snug, almost hugging your body. If you’re unsure, remember it’s always better to go for a size smaller than larger. A wetsuit that feels too big will leave gaps for icy water to sneak in, diminishing its thermal benefits.

When you slip into your wetsuit, it should feel like it was tailor-made for you. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t settle for less – take advantage of return policies and get the right size. Finding the ideal fit may require a bit of effort, but it’s a game-changer for your cold water swims.

Best Wetsuits For Cold Water Swimming

Orca Openwater Core TRM
orca cold water wetsuit - cold water swimming gear
Orca Zeal Hi-Vis Open Water
orca zeal thermal wetsuit - cold water swimming gear
Blueseventy Thermal Reaction
blue seventy cold water swimming thermal wetsuit - cold water swimming gear

Rash Guards

Rash guards, also known as rash vests are also an excellent and versatile addition to your kit. They can provide an extra layer of insulation when worn under your wetsuit during those particularly cold days, and when the weather warms up, can provide a great transition between a full wetsuit and your standard swimming costume. A high-neck rash guard is best to help prevent wetsuit chafing.

They are also great during those warm summer months when you need protection from the sun and don’t want to slather sun cream all over yourself, with most offering UPF 50+ protection.

Best Rash Guards For Cold Water Swimming

O’Neill Men’s Basic Skins UPF 50+ Long Sleeve Rash Guard
O'Neill mens rash guard - cold water swimming gear
O’Neill Women’s Basic Skins UPF 50+ Long Sleeve Rash Guard
o'neill women's rash guard - cold water swimming gear

Swim socks, shoes & boots

Protecting your extremities from the cold is vital when you’re swimming in cold water, especially for extended periods. Swim socks can give you much-needed insulation to help keep those toes from going numb. Swim shoes, or boots, also give you extra warmth while protecting your feet from painful rocks and pebbles. I prefer boots rather than shoes as they are less likely to fall off during your swim.

For especially cold days, socks and boots can be worn in combination to really keep out the chill. I highly recommend wearing at least neoprene boots while cold water swimming. You will find you enjoy your swim much more and won’t hurt your feet while in the water or when getting in and out.

You might also consider flippers (fins if you prefer) if you’re going for long distances or need to keep up with faster swimming friends. You might find them helpful when swimming in stronger currents to give you extra propulsion. I personally find them a little awkward when getting in and out of the water and only occasionally wear them if I’m snorkelling.

Best Footwear For Cold Water Swimming

Seac Anatomic Thermal Neoprene Socks
Seac Socks - cold water swimming gear
Seac Basic HD 5 mm Neoprene Boots

seac boots - cold water swimming gear
Seac Speed-S Training Fins

seac fins - cold water swimming gear


It’s the same story with your hands as with your feet when it comes to keeping them warm. Your extremities will get cold before anything else, so it makes sense to wear gloves. I find myself wearing gloves mostly in the winter and often swimming without them in warmer months.

However, they do help on longer swims when your hands would otherwise be first to succumb to the chill, meaning you can still operate zips and clips when you’re getting changed. I highly recommend wearing gloves if you’re wearing a wetsuit on a cold day, as a wetsuit can be tricky to get off at the best of times, not least when you’ve lost all feeling in your fingers.

I favour 5mm gloves as they are much better at keeping your hands warm than the standard 3mm.

Best Gloves For Cold Water Swimming

Gul 5mm Power Glove
gul 5mm cold water swimming gloves - cold water swimming gear
O’Neill Psycho 5MM Double Lined 
o'neil psycho 5mm cold water swimming gloves - cold water swimming gear

Swimming caps & woolly hats

When it starts to get really cold, a hat is an absolute necessity. You lose a tremendous amount of heat through the top of your head, so a hat is very effective for keeping you warm. Wearing a hat while you swim will help you stay in the water for longer.

Neoprene swimming caps are tight-fitting, much like a wetsuit, which helps with insulation. They can take some getting used to, but it’s worthwhile persevering for the benefits. Caps with adjustable chin straps give you the best, most comfortable fit.

Not only will a swimming cap keep you warm, a brightly coloured one will keep you visible – great for safety in high-traffic environments. For those who get competitive, you’ll be more streamlined in the water if you wear a cap, so you can improve your times whilst keeping warm.

A good cap will also stop cold water from getting into your ear canal, preventing swimmer’s ear from developing. You won’t always notice the benefits of wearing a cap until you realise how much longer you’ve been able to stay in the water compared to without one.

You might even want to go the whole hog and get yourself a wetsuit hood, which will give you fantastic protection and keep your whole head insulated from the cold water.

Woolly hats are a good option and much more comfortable, so preferable for some. I’m not a fan of wearing them in the water, but some do quite happily, especially when only dipping. They are also fantastic for putting on after a swim to help with any after drop. I use my Seashell beanie hat along with my Seashell changing robe for this very purpose. Plus, they look awesome together!

Best Caps & Hats For Cold Water Swimming

ORCA Neoprene Swimming Cap

orca swim cap - cold water swimming gear
ZONE3 Neoprene Heat Tech Warmth Swim Cap
zone3 thermal swim cap - cold water swimming gear
Osprey Wetsuit Hood

osprey wetsuit hood - cold water swimming gear
Seashell Beanie

seashell beanie - cold water swimming gear
Charlie McLeod Knitted Bobble Hat – Fleece Lined
Charlie McLeod bobble hat - cold water swimming gear
Swim Secure Luxury Bobble Hat

swim secure bobble hat - cold water swimming gear


Goggles are one of those highly personal things. People tend to search and search for the perfect pair and then stick with them once they’ve found what they like. It’s all about finding the perfect fit for your face.

Of course, not everyone likes wearing goggles. But if you’re serious about swimming in open water, you’re going to want to invest in some. A good pair of goggles is vital, so it’s not worth skimping and buying cheaper ones that will leak and perish over time.

Whilst many goggles manufacturers will claim anti-fog properties, inevitably the coating won’t last, so you will probably need to use a drop or two of baby shampoo to prevent fogging after a while, regardless of how much you spend.

What’s important for swimming in open water is protection and good visibility. Open water swimming goggles generally have larger lenses than pool goggles, giving you a wider range of vision. It’s also a good idea to have lenses that protect your eyes from the sun.

I love my Huub Aphotic Photochromatic Goggles because the lenses react to different light conditions. They are also super comfortable.

Best Goggles For Cold Water Swimming

ZONE3 Vapour Swim Goggles

zone3 goggles - cold water swimming gear
Speedo Fastskin Hyper Elite Mirror Goggles

speedo goggles - cold water swimming gear
HUUB Aphotic Photochromatic Goggles
Huub goggles - cold water swimming gear

What other cold water swimming gear might you need?

Tow Floats

A tow float is a very useful bit of kit that helps keep you visible in the water. Jet skis and boats will be able to spot the brightly coloured tow float easily, so accidents are avoided and boat wakes won’t affect your swim. They can also be used to signal for help and are buoyant enough to support you for short periods while you rest.

The integration of dry bags into tow floats has been a game-changer. Not only can you keep your valuables with you while you swim rather than leaving them unsecured on the water’s edge, but you can also bring snacks, water and other emergency gear, meaning you can extend your swims.

Many swimmers take a towel and dry clothes in their tow float for point-to-point swims without the need to return to where they started. GPS tracking with your phone becomes possible with tow float dry bags, and it’s a comfort to know you have your phone with you in case you run into trouble when you go exploring.

You can read more about the benefits of tow floats for open water swimmers here and you can check out our list of the 5 Best Tow Float Dry Bags here.

Best Tow Floats For Cold Water Swimming

Ultimate Floats Tow Float Dry Bag
best tow floats dry bag - ultimate floats - cold water swimming gear
Ultra Dry Adventurer Tow Float Dry Bag
best tow float dry bag ultra dry adventurer - cold water swimming gear
Swim Secure Tow Donut
best tow float dry bag - swim secure tow donut - cold water swimming gear

Waterproof Changing Robes

Dryrobes are everywhere these days, and for good reason. They are an invaluable bit of kit for warming up after getting out of the cold water and enabling you to change easily while maintaining your dignity. I use a waterproof changing robe every day after my swim.

They are fantastic in the summer and an absolute necessity in winter. Knowing you have a way to get warm quickly after a swim helps you relax into the cold and stay in the water for longer.

Dryrobes are high-quality products and are well worth the money, but there are plenty of other options out there too. We’ve written a full guide on the best Dryrobe alternatives on the market so you can choose the right one for your needs.

Best Changing Robes For Cold Water Swimming

seashell dryrobe alternative
Dryrobe Advance
Gorilla Robe
gorilla robe dryrobe alternative


Cold water swimming can be tough on your ears and it can be painful and cause earaches and headaches if you expose the ear canal to too much cold water. It can also affect your balance and make you feel dizzy, which is not something you want while you’re in the water. You don’t want to have your swim ruined or develop swimmer’s ear.

Swimming caps or hoods can be moderately effective to keep the water out, but if you don’t want to wear a cap or you want to double up on your protection, earplugs are a good idea.

I love my Surf Ears because I can have a conversation with them in and still hear everything pretty well, minimising that claustrophobic feeling you can get when wearing standard earplugs. And because they are attached around my neck, I know I’ll never lose them.

If you don’t like wearing earplugs, there are these fantastic drops called SwimSeal that provide a waterproof coating to your ears and prevents water from pooling in there and causing an infection.

Best Earplugs For Cold Water Swimming

Speedo Biofuse
speedo ear plugs - cold water swimming gear
Surf Ears 3.0
surf ears ear plugs - cold water swimming gear
swim seal drops - cold water swimming gear

Swimming Watches

It can be pretty useful to wear a watch during your cold water swim. Sometimes you can lose track of time in the water, and with cold water especially, knowing how long you’ve been in the water is a good idea. Smartwatches can track all sorts of things, so if you want to time your swim, track your heart rate, map out your swim with GPS, it’s all possible.

My Apple Watch Ultra really is an amazing bit of kit. It can track so much about your swim and it can even accurately detect the water temperature, something you won’t find on other watches. You can make calls whilst out on the water, which is reassuring if you get into trouble. It also has a built-in flashlight and an emergency 86db siren to attract attention.

The Apple Watch Ultra is expensive though, so if you don’t have the budget, Garmin make a great swim smartwatch that’s super popular amongst open water swimmers.

Best Swimming Watches For Cold Water Swimming

Garmin Swim 2 GPS Swimming Smartwatch
Garmin swim watch - cold water swimming gear
Apple Watch Ultra

Apple Watch Ultra for swimming - cold water swimming gear

Other Cold Water Swimming Gear For Your Kit Bag

Changing Mat

It takes up very little room in your bag but makes for a much more pleasant experience when changing on the beach. I wash the sand off my feet and then step straight onto mine. Also great for protecting your feet from painful stones.

We recommend: Ultra Dry Change Mat

Anti-Chafe Balm

Trust me, this is worth having in your kit bag. Wetsuits, sand, wet skin… you get the picture. Prevent chub rub and friction burn with a good anti-chafe balm that won’t damage your wetsuit or swimwear.

We recommend: Huub Sport LUUB


Really useful if you don’t own an Apple Watch Ultra to accurately measure the temperature of the water. It can give you a solid indication of how well you are acclimatising to the water rather than simply guessing.

We recommend: Floating Water Thermometer


You’ll really need a hot drink to warm you up on those chilly days, so coming prepared with a flask makes all the difference.

We recommend: Wild Moose Flask

Nose Clip

I don’t use these, but I’ve wished for one on occasion. If you really hate water getting up your nose, give one of these a go.

We recommend: Smiley Nose Clip

Hand Warmer

The hand warmer I use is a nifty bit of kit that I am so glad of on the coldest days. I will often put one in each shoe to make them toasty for when I get out.

We recommend: OCOOPA Hand Warmers

Water Bottle

Staying hydrated is vital so make sure you carry water. It’s not always the first thing you think of when you’re swimming, but I find having it in my bag gives me a visual prompt to drink. On longer swims, I carry one on my tow float so I can access it on the water. I also use it to wash sand off my feet sometimes.

We recommend: Hydracy Water Bottle

First Aid Kit

You never know when you might need to patch up a scrape, and depending on how wild your exploration gets, it could be an essential piece of kit for you to carry.

We recommend: Lewis-Plast Premium 92 Piece First Aid Kit

Pop-up Tent

When you’re making a day of it with friends or family, a pop-up tent is a really great addition to your kit. It serves as a windbreak, a sunshade and a changing room, as well as a place to keep your bags and convene afterwards for a post-swim coffee.

We recommend: Glymnis Pop Up Beach Tent

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