Beat the chill – how to swim comfortably in cold water

The last few days I got a lot of questions how I stand swimming in very cold water. It was a perfect subject for a blog post. Note that I am a former HUUB ambassador and have mostly equipment form them. Other products may, of course, be just as good.

There is a two option you can go for swimming in cold water;

  1. Harden the fuck up! – Just jump into the freezing water and curse the immediate pain that comes with it. There actually exists swimmers who swim 1 mile in water colder than 1 degrees C without a wetsuit(!), so called Ice Zero Swimmers.
  2. Use proper clothing – yes, you can put enough clothing on to be able to swim comfortably in very cold water.

As a rather skinny guy who cannot stand the feeling of freezing I go for option nr. 2.

What equipment needed is the following:

  • Wetsuit – rather obvious, but most important is that it is really thigh fitting, not letting new cold water down the neck. There is wetsuit especially for cold water, like my HUUB Aegis 2 Thermal. That is preferable, but the only difference is a thermal inner lining, which can be substituted by adding a thin wool jersey underneath your regular wetsuit.
  • Balaclava – This is the most important equipment for a cold water swim after the wetsuit. I cannot go without one and asked HUUB to create it for years. As an alternative, you can use a balaclava made for surfing, which I did in Norseman 2015, before the HUUB balaclava existed. The water temperature was 10 degrees.
  • Neoprene cap – The neoprene cap does not cover more than the balaclava, but gives an extra layer of insulation. In the extra cold water, I use two, in addition to the balaclava.
  • Neoprene socks – To cover up your feet I use the neoprene socks from HUUB. They are rather good and does work in very cold water. When I used them for swimming in 3 degrees I had an extra pair of wool socks underneath.
  • Neoprene gloves – I got the neoprene gloves from HUUB, but for me, it does not cut it. They are not thick enough and does not cover the wrist. That’s why I turned to diving equipment and got myself 6,5mm thick diving mittens. The feel for the water is obviously long gone, but by the time you lose the feeling in the fingers, the feel for the water is lost anyway.
  • Neoprene mask/vaseline – The only bare skin left is the face. It will probably not do a lot regarding your core temperature, but it can be very painful. I asked a pro triathlete friend, who is a former windsurfer, known to go out to surf when all the other went inside. He suggested to try out a neoprene mask. It reminds you of someone you have seen in a horror movie, but who cares (note that other might care, so wait to put it one until you are putting on the rest of the gear). Another alternative to the neoprene mask is vaseline to give an extra fat layer between your tender skin and the cold water.
I have a HUUB Aegis 2 thermal, which is preferable when it gets really cold. In this case, it was 3 degrees C.
HUUB Albacore is not a great wetsuit for swimming in cold water. The super flexible shoulders are flexible for a reason, a thin layer of neoprene. With a thin wool jersey with long arms underneath it becomes much warmer.
In my swimming project where I had a 11-minute swim in 3 degrees cold water I found my weak spots. The face and the hands. For the face, I tried a neoprene mask (originally for use in kiting/downhill skiing) and cut a larger hole for the mouth. I was not satisfied with the solution since the breathing hole was too small and I did not place it high enough under the balaclava to stay in place. Still, I believe it is a very good solution when done right. When it comes to the hands the 6,5 mm thick diving gloves named Arctic Explorer 3-finger kept my hands warm, but I would have prefered a tighter fit around the wrist and may use an extra band to ensure a secure fit.

I have found that you can swim comfortably in surprisingly cold water if you have the proper equipment. That enables you to get in the wetsuit sooner, which can be very beneficial. Especially if you live in a cold place and have an early season race. Swimming in the sea with your wetsuit is not nearly the same as swimming in the pool without a suit, and the differences need to be trained on for an optimal result.

Note that the weak points and need for equipment vary a lot between the different persons. Some have cold feet, other hands or someone cannot stand the cold water against the face. My advice is to swim and feel where you are getting too cold, and then dress according to it.

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I am a 33 year old PRO triatlete. My goal is to swim, bike and run as fast as possible, and enjoy the journey. All my adventures and triathlon related stuff is well documented on this blog.

2 kommentarer til “Beat the chill – how to swim comfortably in cold water

  1. Takk, veldig nyttig lesing for en som bor i Tromsø og aldri har svømt med våtdrakt. Planlegger å debutere i Triatlon i sommer med sprint i Senja, samt Olympisk distanse I Lofoten.

  2. Det er dessverre helt umulig å oppdrive Huub Varme Thermal Balaclava str. M. Jeg har ventet og ventet, men Huub solgte ut M på kort tid i høst og det er jo litt skuffende.

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