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How to warm up after cold water swimming?

man under ice

What’s on this page?
What to wear after swimming in winter?
FAQs
Summary

Cold water swimming is a thrilling activity for adventure seekers, which involves dunking yourself into ice water. It’s very cold in the water but also cold when you get out!

You may want to consider ways to wrap up warm and increase your core body temperature once you escape the water.

Drink something warm or replenish with a snack, but most importantly, if you want to warm up after cold water swimming get dry, get changed, and get warm! 

Cold water swimming has many health benefits, but you must enjoy the activity safely. Wear a wetsuit in the water and bring insulating thermals to change into after.

Keep reading our article to find the best clothing to get toasty after a cold water swim.

What to wear after swimming in winter?

It’s up to you how you choose to warm up; whether you bring a dressing gown or onesie, it’s your choice. 

However, as cold water experts, we have compiled a list of our favourite clothing to change into after your winter swim. 

It is important to cover all bases, ensuring you heat up and dry off from head to toe.

Wetsuits

First off, a thermal neoprene wetsuit is essential. You wear this in the water to keep your body temperature regulated. However, a wetsuit can also help you sustain the change in temperature as you exit the lake, river or sea. 

Exiting the water wearing just a swimsuit can be dangerous, and your body could go into cold shock, so we advise purchasing a neoprene wetsuit before you take your first swim. 

Don’t get a false sense of security; a wetsuit helps warm you in the water, but make sure to strip off, dry your skin, and get dressed quicker into warm clothes after your swim.

man in wetsuit

Dry robes

Next is a dry robe, one of our absolute favourite post-swim items. The dry robe’s fleeced inner lining is great for drying off and warming up quickly. 

Simply remove your wetsuit and snuggle into your dry robe! The weather-resistant exterior means you can increase your internal temperature, even if it’s still freezing. 

Most dry robes are knee length and come with a hood to help insulate your head – a key spot for heat loss. Cover your head, and you can raise your body temperature and generate body heat.

There are many dry robes available on the market; however, our favourites are the following:

couple wearing dry robe

Towels

Towels can be great for drying off and getting warm quickly. You can wrap one around your wetsuit to start insulating some heat before you can completely dry off. 

Some tow floats even come with storage compartments that can store a small towel. Keeping a source of warmth with you is always important in icy conditions, as you never know when you might need it in an emergency. 

We would recommend a microfibre towel as they are compact and will dry water rapidly. As they are relatively thin, you can easily stow them in your swim buoy. 

If you want a thicker towel for getting out of the water, you might consider Sinlands microfibre range, as they are slightly more thermal than others on the market. 

Thermals

Many winter athletes use thermals to keep their body temperature at a moderate level; for example, thermals are popular with skiers and cold water swimmers. 

Thermals tend to come as long sleeve tops and long john bottoms, but a thermal t-shirt can also help. Our favourite set is the Simiya thermals for men. The Simiya set is ultra soft and acts as a second skin to insulate hot air against the skin; there is also a set for women.

Not only are thermals ideal for before and after swimming in icy water, but you can also wear them under standard clothing in the Winter to stay warm.

Once you are finished with your wild water swim, dry off, change into your thermals, wrap up in your dry robe, and you will heat up in no time. 

Hat and gloves

Hat and gloves might seem obvious; however, insulating your head and hands is important after cold water immersion. 

A lot of your body’s heat is lost through your head, and wearing a woolly hat will help maintain an adequate core temperature in icy conditions.

You could consider wearing a neoprene hood whilst in the water to reduce heat loss, or you could whack a woolly hat – like this wild water swimmer bobble hat – on after your swim!

Thermal gloves are a wise option, too, as your fingers may experience less circulation and a lower blood supply in freezing waters.

So, warm your hands with neoprene gloves and a warm cup of tea. 

neoprone gloves

Socks

Like your hands, your feet must warm up after your icy dip. You should dry your feet off as soon as possible, then slip on some thermal socks.

A lot of your body heat is lost through your feet, especially when swimming in icy water; so, it is essential to warm up after cold water swimming.

A top tip is to bring a bath mat or a changing mat to stand on after swimming, as this helps get warm even when you are still wet. The changing mat from Nanaborn doubles up as a storage container.

In our opinion, the fluffier, the better! Our go-to pair of open water socks are by Jeasona – the branding says these are women’s socks, but they can fit men too.

Thick wool locks in the heat to keep your toes toasty even in arctic temperatures. Always dry your feet off before putting your socks on because, let’s face it, no one likes wet socks.

Fur lined shoes

Thermal socks are great, but fur-lined shoes will take your comfort levels one step further. Fur has insulating properties that trap hot air, leaving our feet snug. 

If you have the cash to splash, we recommend Ugg boots, which are great for keeping the heat in after a cold water swim. If you are looking for a cheaper alternative, we recommend the Camfosy snow shoe for women and the Polar winter boots for men. 

Another option which is becoming quite popular for its versatility is the Croc boot. Crocs can be worn as is in the water to protect your soles or with a fur lining to warm up your toes after. 

Hot water bottle

While you heat water for your warm drink, why not heat some extra to fill a heating pad? 

Hot water bottles are great for warming yourself up after your open water swim; we always keep ours handy. Many hot water bottles come with fluffy linings which prevent you from burning your hands. 

We would recommend purchasing a heating pad with a cover, as transferring from ice-cold water to high temperatures can have adverse side effects on your body. 

It is important to warm up slowly after cold water swimming, so we advise changing into dry clothing before using your hot water bottle. The same goes for having a hot shower or a hot drink; warm up slowly!

FAQs

How to warm up after cold water swimming

coffee on a log

Here are our top tips for warming up after cold water swimming:

  1. Get out of any wet equipment and change into dry, thermal clothing – preferably starting with your top half. 
  2. Put multiple layers on, including a bobble hat, gloves, and socks. 
  3. Drink a warm beverage, such as tea or hot chocolate.
  4. Have a snack, such as a protein bar or a complex carbohydrate.
  5. Sit in a warm environment, such as your vehicle, with the car heater on. 
  6. Get moving again by going for a walk. 

Open water swimmers must raise their body temperature and slowly generate body heat. Avoid hot beverages, such as hot tea or water, until warmed slightly.

How to avoid after drop

After drop is when you exit the water and your core temperature drops, making you feel nauseous, faint, or generally unwell.

Here is how to avoid after drop:

  1. Avoid long swim times!
  2. Get dry as soon as you exit the water by removing any wet layers. 
  3. Layer up with hats, gloves, scarves, etc.
  4. Put thick thermal socks on – heat escapes rapidly from your feet!
  5. Slowly sip a warm drink – this will warm your body gently.
  6. Eat more cake! Sugar will raise body temperature and blood pressure.
  7. If you feel nauseous or unwell, take a seat somewhere warm.
  8. If you feel okay, then you can go for a slow walk to increase circulation. 
  9. Avoid hot water bottles or baths – soak in warm water until you can withstand more heat.
  10. If you are growing faint, shivering violently or feeling unwell, seek medical help.

What is after-drop?

The key to avoiding after-drop is to warm yourself up slowly. You shouldn’t go from cold to boiling, as this is what can make you feel even more ill. 

When you swim in icy waters, your body prohibits warm blood circulation to your skin and peripheral blood vessels; instead, it directs warm blood flow to your core. This allows you to keep swimming in cold water for longer.

When you exit the water, cold blood starts to return to your core, which can cause you to feel ill as your core temperature drops even further. 

So, it is crucial to warm up as soon as you exit the water without shocking your body with a too dramatic temperature change.

If you start feeling unwell or growing faint, you should sit in dry clothes in a warm environment until you feel fine again. 

Summary

It is important to warm up after cold water swimming to ensure your well-being and safety. 

Our article has recommended the best items you cold water swimmers can slip into once you have dried off and our top tips on how to avoid after-drop. 

If you are shivering violently, you must completely dry off, change thermal clothing, and stay somewhere warm until you feel fine. Don’t wait in the cold for your friends who faff!

Save boiling baths and bare hot water bottles for later on, as you don’t want to overheat, or you may feel faint! Once your temperature has adjusted, then you can consider a hot shower.

Fellow swimmers can enjoy winter swimming safely all year round, provided you follow our good tips on how to warm up properly. Open water swimming has amazing benefits for your physical and mental health. 

So, now you know how to raise your core temperature – happy swimming!