Gear > Swim

Winter open water swimming: 9 essential pieces of kit for chilly temperatures

If you want to stay swimming into winter, a collection of thermal products is essential. But which are best? Matt Baird and Helen Webster test a selection



Yes, you’ll be mocked by your non-triathlete friends whenever you wear the chinstrap swim cap, but it’s a vital kit addition for the UK’s open-water shoulder season of late April and May, October and early November (for anything colder we’ll definitely be using the Huub Balaclava). Bar the logos, the Dhb is identical to the Blueseventy swim cap we’ve used for years… only it comes in a tenner cheaper. The 3mm neoprene kept our head warm and the silver print across the top is a smart touch for added visibility in the water. We personally had no problems with the fit, but a chinstrap with a Velcro fastener (Orca, Zone3 and Huub do one) for just a few quid more will
ensure you find the best fit. MB 

Verdict: Cheap and durable, but there are techier options 76%

Buy from



Zone3 warned us that the Neoprene Warmth Vest was hard to get off, and they weren’t wrong: it took three people to wrestle this off us at the Long Course Weekend. Yet this is a fantastic contender for cold-water swims, sitting tight to the body (aim to try before you buy if possible) but staying warm and unrestrictive for extended swims. The high neck helps prevent wetsuit zip rub and, for 40-quid plus, you’re getting a titanium-coating to help maintain the body’s warmth. Like the Orca, this doubles as a 2mm single layer for warmer swims and also adds some buoyancy for pool sets. MB 

Verdict: Ultra tight but a formidable cold-water option 87%

Buy from



Okay, it doubles as an executioner’s mask, but the innovative Varme Thermal Balaclava is the real deal for swimming in truly cold water. Unlike the trad neoprene swim hat (see Dhb), the Varme sits under a wetsuit to offer full head and neck coverage, preventing any wince-inducing water intrusion down the neck. Our big concern before swimming was any lack of movement, but these worries proved unfounded and we’ve since experienced plenty of unrestricted, comfortable and chafe-free swimming in the Varme. The quality neoprene adds to the warm package. MB 

Verdict: Cutting-edge design makes this a warm winner 

Buy from



Comfy, warm and practical, the original Dryrobe was launched in 2010 and quickly became an essential garment for open-water swimmers around the UK, including the Brownlee brothers. We’ve reviewed the Dryrobe glowingly in the past, so how does this similar product from Zone3 fare? For a start, it’s £40 cheaper and, due to a thinner fleece lining, packs smaller than a Dryrobe (our only complaints of the original). Yet there are plenty of great features, with two internal pockets (one zipped and with a MP3-entry) and two outer for keeping the hands warm. We had a little trouble with the double zip with shivery hands but the five sizes (compared to Dryrobe’s three) is a massive plus. And we love the long sleeves. MB

Verdict: Not the original but plenty to recommend it 85%

Buy from



We’re usually big fans of Dhb’s unfussy approach to producing functional and affordable multisport kit, but we became really unstuck with the Swim Gloves from Wiggle’s in-house brand.
While the Orca gloves here were nimble due to an extra thumb
panel in the construction, the 3mm Dhb’s remained cumbersome throughout and we were all too conscious of having what felt like paddles on our hands for the entirety of our open-water swims. Which is a shame, as there are plenty of neat additions here to go with the welcome £16 price tag, including non-slip palm prints for climbing onto pontoons or jetties, hi-visibility spots and a tab for easy removal. And you could never accuse them of not being warm. MB

Verdict: Warm but just too bulky for cold-water swims 57%

Buy from


Daily deals from top retailers

We'd love you to add a comment! Please login or take half a minute to register as a free member

Back to the top