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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

We’ll happily admit that Lewis Pugh, the man who swims around Antarctica wearing just Speedos, is a tougher character than us. For as soon as October starts, we demand an open-water swim outfit that will keep us warm and prevent chilly water intrusion. 

Thankfully, from thermal wetsuits to base layers and balaclavas, there’s now a huge range of accessories to keep swimming as pleasurable as possible into the winter and beyond. Because, frankly, from the sea to reclaimed quarries and mountainside lakes, cold-water swimming provides an exhilarating surge of adrenaline, and much-needed variation to your training once the UK triathlon season has wrapped up. You’ll also emerge a stronger and mentally tougher open-water swimmer by the time the new season starts.

As always, safety is a key consideration when it comes to open-water swimming, especially in the winter where visibility and staying warm are crucial. So take someone with you, don’t overdo it and ensure you kit out properly, both during the swim and afterwards. 

For us, fit is key to limit water intrusion and for comfort, so aim to try before you buy or exhaustively analyse the sizing charts. As it’s not used for extended periods of time, our cold-water kit has lasted multiple seasons so try not to skimp on spending a quid or two here and there.

Look to cover all of your extremities but aim to find kit that keeps you as flexible as possible. And don’t care if the kit makes you look like a nutter; you’ll get some odd looks swimming in the British sea in November anyway, so embrace it!



Every so often, a piece of kit comes along that makes a genuine difference to our training or racing. For us, over the last year, it’s been the thermal version of Blueseventy’s popular Helix suit.

Thanks to poor circulation, we struggle badly with the cold. Adding neoprene gloves and boots helps, but the Thermal Helix has been a godsend and has meant we could swim in colder waters – and for longer – than in previous years. The zirconium lining adds warmth and limits cold water getting in, but not at the expense of flexibility, which is still superb.

The wetsuit has performed well and is showing no signs of wear and for £50 more than the ‘normal’ Helix, isn’t badly priced for the amount of extra swim time it bought us. HW 

Verdict: A genuine must-have for chilly swims and colder triathlon training into the off-season 95%

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Yes, £35 seems a high price for gloves, but you get what you pay for and, compared to Dhb’s swim glove offering on the facing page, these Orca gloves scream quality. The extra panel on the thumb gives a surprising amount of added dexterity, while the neoprene quality – although also 3mm like Dhb –  and 3D cut just feels more supple and pliable during the swim. The major difference to standard swim gloves is the extended cuff length – also seen on gloves from Blueseventy and Zone3 – which produces more neoprene coverage on the body, and also further limits water escaping up the sleeve. The fully glued and taped seams also enhance protection from the cold, and add durability to an already impressive package. MB

Verdict: a winning creation of warmth and flexibility 84%

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Of all of the garments on this spread, the Orca Wetsuit Baselayer is the one we’ve easily gotten the most use out of. We’re worn it under wetsuits and also by itself as a single layer with a pair of shorts or jammers for warmer sea swims. With 0.5mm underarm panels combined with top-notch Yamamoto 39 cell SCS-coated neoprene, the top is hugely flexible, comfortable and soft on the skin. In terms of warmth, the jersey lining keeps things warm, and the long length and effective gripper on the waist hem keep water intrusion to a minimum. For truly cold swims, we’d opt for the thicker and tighter Zone3 Neoprene Warmth Vest, but this has more versatility and is a damn sight easier to remove. MB 

Verdict: Comfy and warm, and good for use on its own 85%

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The Thermal Swim Socks from Blueseventy use the same soft, water-preventing zirconium liner as their winning Thermal Helix wetsuit, and these socks are also hard to fault for warmth and comfort. They include ankle grippers instead of a Velcro strap to stay in place (we’d prefer the latter), but the textured feet are a masterstroke for running on pebbles or rocks (or to transition if they’re legal in your race) and the multiple panels ensure they don’t feel cumbersome or bulky. The longer ankle length is successful in preventing water intrusion, while the flat-locked internal seams prevented any rubbing. MB

Verdict: Plush and warm. The best swim socks around 92%

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Continue reading our guide to essential winter open swimming kit (2/2) 


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