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Why are wetsuits important for cold water swimming?

How to look after your wetsuit

If you are considering taking up cold water swimming, you probably want to learn more about what equipment you need to keep you safe. 

Perhaps the most important equipment you must invest in is a high-quality wetsuit, but why are wetsuits important for cold water swimming?

Well, there are many benefits to wearing an open-water swimming wetsuit, and this article will cover every advantage so you can have the full picture. 

Wild water swims can be dangerous if you are ill-equipped, so educating yourself before taking an ice-cold plunge is crucial.

So, let’s dive in and explore why you need to buy an open water swimming wetsuit now!

Benefits of wearing a wetsuit for open water swimming

How does your body react to cold water?
Swimmer by a cliff

There are several benefits of sporting an open water swimming wetsuit for any wild water swim. 

Whether a competitive swimmer or a newbie, you must invest in quality equipment to safely participate in the wintery activity.

Properly maintaining and cleaning your wet suits is also important to prevent damage or wear.


A thermal wetsuit’s primary benefit is regulating your internal body temperature in cold water. 

Quickly submerging into icy water can cause your body temperature to drop rapidly, which could cause you to go into shock. This can be extremely dangerous, particularly if swimming alone or in a small group. 

Wetsuits trap a layer of water between the skin and the Yamamoto Neoprene material, keeping you insulated and warm, even in the coldest waters. It will keep you warmer when you exit the water, as a great wetsuit will help retain body heat after swimming.


Most open water swimming wetsuits are made from neoprene. Neoprene is extremely buoyant as the foam sponge-like material traps air bubbles, which helps you stay afloat. 

Increased buoyancy is incredibly important for outdoor swimmers, as a buoyant wetsuit means you can exert less energy when treading water. You can even buy a tow float for additional buoyancy.

The extra buoyancy provided by Yamamoto Neoprene allows swimmers to sit higher in the water, meaning there is less resistance as you swim. More buoyancy will reduce drag, so you can enjoy longer swims without tiring out quickly.


Many competitive triathletes favour neoprene wetsuits during their swimming events due to the lower resistance, which can help them speed through the water. 

So, if you are a triathlon enthusiast, wetsuits can improve your time in the swimming race and help you preserve vital energy that can be exerted in cycling or running events.

Specific wetsuits designed for competitive events have a special coating that helps to streamline the suit by acting as a second skin, making the swimmer up to 10% faster. 

Check out our top ten best wetsuits to find amazing wetsuits designed for triathletes and competitive swimmers.


Wearing a high-quality wetsuit can give amateurs and professionals the confidence they need to push themselves further. You know that you have added insulation and buoyancy, so you will be ready to dive in head first, even in the Winter, as you know you have considered health and safety. 

We understand that open water swimming can be daunting, especially if you don’t know much about it. However, as with every sport, provided you have prepared and have the required equipment, you can enjoy this thrilling activity.


Wetsuits can protect you from a range of hazards you might experience in the open waters. Firstly, neoprene wetsuits come with UPVC shielding, reducing the risk of serious sunburn or skin damage. 

Swimming in open waters can be risky, as you don’t always know what might be below the surface. Wild swimming means entering waters you might not have explored before, so you might end up on barnacle-covered rocks, coral reefs, sharp edges, etc. 

Having a high-quality thick wetsuit will prevent any cuts or grazes. It will even defend you against jellyfish stings and sea lice! You never know what perils you might face in wild waters, so a wetsuit is essential to ensure you reduce the risk of serious injury.


Finally, wetsuits give swimmers automatic compression to their joints and muscles, meaning they can function in cold waters for longer. 

Just like a knee compression, a full-body wetsuit gives you the support to push yourself to your limits, crawling harder and faster than you might without a wetsuit. Natural compression is one of the features of a wetsuit that aids with insulation, as the tight fit keeps a thin layer of water directly next to your skin.

For any newbies, putting on a wetsuit for the first time might feel uncomfortable and restrict your movement, but trust us, once you get going in the lake, river, or sea, you will be thankful to have one on!


Do you need to wear a wetsuit for cold water swimming?

You do not need to wear a wetsuit if you are entering cold water; however, we highly recommend buying one.

Open water activities can be dangerous at the best of times, especially if swimming at night, and without a neoprene wetsuit, you could experience shock when entering the wild waters. 

A quality wetsuit will protect you from the elements and reduces the risk of injury. Open water swimming wetsuits will keep the outdoor swimmer’s whole body warm throughout the cold water immersion. 

Whether you choose an open water wetsuit or not is your preference, but if you want to swim faster or stay happy swimming for longer, purchasing one might be a wise idea.

Keep reading to find our top tips on enjoying open water swimming safely.

Which wetsuit to choose for open water swimming?

Here at CWS, we took it upon ourselves the review the best wetsuits around in 2023. 

We took into account a range of factors that constitute a quality wetsuit, such as:

  • Material
  • Thickness
  • Coverage
  • Price
  • Extra features

Our list has a wetsuit for everyone, whether you are a new starter just dipping your toe into open waters or an avid wild water professional. 

You don’t need to buy a crazy expensive wetsuit; there are cheaper suits on the market if you are ready to commit to more expensive wetsuits. 

You also have high-market options if you are a serious athlete looking to participate in a triathlon or a competitive swim.

What thickness wetsuit is best for cold water swimming?

We recommend a wetsuit at least 4mm in thickness for outdoor swimming. 

Open water swimming can be carried out all year round, and if you are swimming in warmer bodies of water, you may only need a 2mm wetsuit.

However, most wild waters will still be freezing, even in Summer. So, if you are looking for a wetsuit that you can use all year round, a 4mm to 5mm wetsuit may be sensible.

What equipment do you need to swim in open waters?

cold water swimmers

There are several pieces of equipment that you should invest in if you want to swim in open waters, one being a high-quality wetsuit. 

You might also want to consider purchasing the following:

We have linked some of our favourite products above for you to consider.

Top Tips for Enjoying Cold Swims

The most important tip we can provide you with for swimming in cold waters is to ensure you have quality equipment, such as a wetsuit, to ensure you are partaking in this activity cautiously. 

Other top tips include:

  • Assess the area before entering the water.
  • Enter the lakes, rivers, or other bodies slowly and carefully.
  • Only swim in open waters with a friend until you are comfortable with the area. 
  • Keep close to the shore. 
  • Wear suitable clothing and have a dry robe to use when you exit the water. 
  • Warm up before getting in.
  • Eat something before and after swimming.
  • Avoid swimming when it is too windy or rainy.


So, we have answered the question of why are wetsuits important for cold water swimming. A quality wetsuit provides safety, insulation, compression, buoyancy, and confidence.

We recommend full-body suits for extra protection; however, even a short-cut suit will cover your legs and upper body, including the torso, shoulders, chest and neck. 

As with any winter water sport, you must engage with it respectfully to ensure you look after the environment and yourself. 

If you are ready to find an amazing wetsuit for your wild swimming trips, read our review of the best wetsuits for wild water enthusiasts. 

Our favourite wetsuits offer warmth and come in various thicknesses, so you can pick based on the water temperature you will be entering.  

Remember, whether you are testing out your open water swimming wetsuits in a lake or river, always respect the nature of your environment and stay safe.

2 thoughts on “Why are wetsuits important for cold water swimming?”

    1. Hi Dave,

      Great question. If your suit is the correct size, wetsuits should not restrict your movement, and the neoprene material will help you remain buoyant in the water.

      Your suit should not be so tight that you struggle to raise your arms, but it also shouldn’t be loose enough that the material feels uncomfortable whilst you swim.

      We recommend any of the wetsuits in our review of the best wetsuits for cold water swimming. You can find details on sizing by clicking through the link.

      I hope this has helped :)


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