“What Should I Wear?”

Every single time, before we head out the door for an open water session, my other half inquires, “What should I wear?” You’d think he was dressing for a night out! Normally, my reaction (and he asks this question even before we step out for any errand on any day) is “How should I know what you must wear?”

But swimming in cold water is a tad more complicated than taking the dog for a walk on a drizzly morning.

For those of you new to open water swimming or feeling a bit hesitant about taking the plunge (pun fully intended), I’ve compiled a little guide based on my experience.

Before we dive in, let me add that some of these tips are essential for your safety and enjoyment, while others are just my personal preferences. Ultimately, you should go with what makes you feel comfortable in the water

1. Wetsuit

Some folks swear by not wearing a wetsuit, claiming it’s more invigorating to submerge directly into cold water. However, if you’re new to open water and a bit unsure, I highly recommend wearing a wetsuit, especially in cooler temperatures. It provides insulation and buoyancy. For beginners, a full-body wetsuit is the way to go. Opt for one specifically designed for swimming – even better, one tailored for your stroke style.

Personally, I oscillate between a full-body neoprene wetsuit, a long-sleeve swimming costume made of yulex, and a traditional swimming costume (or as we say, I swim in skins). If the water dips below 16 degrees Celsius, I go full-body; anything above that, and I start peeling off the layers.

2. Goggles

Clear vision is vital for safety and navigation. Open water goggles differ from pool goggles as they offer a wider field of view and are often tinted to reduce glare from the sun. Anti-fog and UV protection features are bonuses. Test different models to find a pair that fits comfortably and seals well around your eyes.

3. Swim Cap

Always sport a brightly coloured swim cap, even in summer. Should you encounter difficulties, you’ll be easier to spot. In winter, consider a neoprene hat, which wraps around your ears and chin.

4. Tow-Float or Safety Buoy

A tow-float is crucial for beginners. This inflatable device attaches to your waist and floats behind you, providing buoyancy if you need a rest and enhancing your visibility to boats and other swimmers. Some floats also have dry storage compartments for your valuables. During swimming events, I stash my flip-flops and essentials in the float, avoiding a barefoot trek back to the starting line.

5. Neoprene Accessories

In colder waters, neoprene gloves, socks, and caps can significantly boost your comfort. These accessories offer additional insulation and protect your extremities from the cold, allowing you to swim longer without discomfort. Neoprene booties are also excellent when entering water on a pebbled beach or slippery surface. I mix and match these accessories, usually starting in spring with a swimming costume paired with gloves and boots, gradually acclimatizing to fewer layers.

6. Swim Bag or Changing Mat

After a swim, especially in winter, you’ll need something to change on and cart your wet stuff in. There are all sorts of bags and mats out there, but to save a few quid, I recommend a flexi tub (a bucket you can snag at B&Q for £6.99) or a large bag (those iconic IKEA blue bags are surprisingly popular).

7. Changing robe – or as some know it Dryrobe

This is the Rolls-Royce of post-swim attire and, while not necessary and I would not want anyone to spend even more money, it’s one of those indulgences that makes life infinitely better. These marvellous garments come in many varieties, from simple towel versions to those with a snazzy waterproof outer layer. If you’re serious about outdoor swimming, sooner or later, you’ll find yourself daydreaming about one of these.


Embarking on open water swimming can be a thrilling adventure with the right preparation. Investing in the proper gear enhances your safety and comfort, allowing you to relish the joy of swimming in the great outdoors. Remember to start slow, familiarize yourself with the water, and always prioritize safety. And don’t hesitate to ask anyone in the Triswim community “What should I wear?”, without fearing the withering look I give my partner! Happy swimming!