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How to Stay Warm in Cold Water Without a Wetsuit

Swimming is a recreational sport, a form of exercise, and at times, a survival method. Most of us prefer to swim in relatively warm waters, and usually during the summer months. However, some recreational activities and training require swimming in colder waters.

Usually, a wetsuit is the best way to protect yourself from exposure to cold temperatures while swimming. If you ever find yourself in a position where you need to swim in cold water without a wetsuit, it helps to learn a few tricks to keep yourself warm anyway.


Getting In And Out Of Cold Water

An important part of cold-water swimming is learning how to get into and out of cold water. Avoid diving into the water, as this would quickly cause cold shock. Your lungs would constrict, and you might find yourself gasping for air involuntarily. A better solution is to take your time wading into the water, focusing on your breath. Exhale as you submerge your head into the water to avoid gasping from the cold temperature.

Once you leave the water, remember to warm up slowly. The best method is a cup of a hot beverage (I prefer a hot cappuccino but choose the beverage of your preference) and a warm blanket. Don’t get changed until you’ve relaxed a little bit.


Methods To Keep Warm In Cold Water

Keeping warm when in cold water can be a life-saving measure and depends on conserving body heat.


Animal Fat

This is an old trick that has gained some popularity among cold-water swimmers in recent years. Lathering your body with animal fat before going for a swim provides an insulating layer between you and the water. The idea is that the animal fat works much like the blubber keeps marine mammals warm.

Because oil/fat and water do not mix easily, the effect can last for a while. An added bonus: it will help you avoid chafing. If you’re not up for lathering goose fat or lard all over your body, vaseline is a decent alternative.


Whenever you move your body, your muscles burn energy and produce heat to warm your body up. Start moving from the moment you get into the water, and keep moving. If you stay still for too long, your heart rate will start to slow down as your blood temperature cools. It will get harder to start moving if you’ve stopped. So, don’t stop moving. At the very least, you should be kicking and moving your arms when you’re in the water.

Stay Fully Submerged

When you’re on the beach on a sunny day, it is easy to keep half your body in the water while your chest and head are exposed to the sun for warmth. However, if the water is very cold, staying fully submerged is better because the water on your body won’t be subject to evaporation (which has a cooling effect). So if possible, keep most of your body inside the water.

Acclimate If Possible

You may already know ahead of time that you will be swimming in cold water without a wetsuit. If that is the case, it is advisable to acclimate your body to colder temperatures gradually.

Athletes build up their stamina and endurance level by slowly pushing themselves. For example, you could try sitting for gradually longer time periods in cold water. Also, reduce the cold water temperature every other training session to allow your body to get accustomed to it and not get shocked every time you enter a cold body of water.


Why Do We Need To Stay Warm?

There are arguably many health benefits to shocking your system with extreme temperature fluctuations, such as jumping into an ice-cold lake after a sauna. However, a prolonged stay in cold water can lead to hypothermia. Water conducts heat better than air, so water at 60 degrees Fahrenheit can cause hypothermia faster than air at 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hypothermia is considered a medical emergency because the body cannot produce enough heat to compensate for heat loss. Symptoms may start with confusion but eventually lead to death.

As a precautionary measure, always make sure you are near someone who can help if you feel hypothermia kicking in. Mild hypothermia begins with confusion and drowsiness. A simple way to test for it is to count to ten and back. If you lose your line of thoughts in the process, seek help immediately. DO NOT try to move in an attempt to produce heat and offset hypothermia. Instead, try to keep calm and relax.


How Do Neoprene Wetsuits Help Keep Us Warm Underwater?

You may already know that neoprene wetsuits give us the ability to swim for long distances in cold temperatures (relatively) comfortably. How does this mechanism work? It’s simple: insulation and your body heat.

Neoprene wetsuits also neoprene socks do not keep you dry, but they do not allow new water to contact your skin. They do, however, keep a thin layer of water insulated from the rest of the water surrounding you. Your body heat is able to heat up the thin layer of water, in addition to heat from the sun absorbed by the wetsuit. The result is a comfortable temperature for you that may only change slightly if you are hit by a wave of cold water that replaces the thin layer of water surrounding your skin.


Emergency Situations

If you ever find yourself in cold water and waiting for help to arrive, you should focus on conserving your body heat. Form a huddle when in a group (if not alone) to keep warm by holding each other tightly.

In case you are alone, lie back with your arms crossed over your chest and cross your ankles to bring your knees up towards your chest. Focus on your breathing and relax to avoid heat loss.

As you can see, there are several ways to keep your body warm in cold water, even if you don’t have a neoprene wetsuit. Learning this skill is useful for athletic events, recreational activities, and emergency situations alike.

After learning “How to stay warm in cold water” you may want to know about another frequently asked question. The question is “What constitutes a snorkeling outfit?“. Click the link to find it out.