Acclimatisation for Winter Swimming

“Winter is Coming”

The Summer is over and Autumn days are upon us, spectacular sunrises and sunsets, a chill in the air and in the water. If you have still to catch one then come and join us over the next few weeks as the sunrise swims are around 0730 0830 from now until the Winter Solstice. Read about our 202o Winter Solstice celebrations in collaboration with Lovefoodandmore here and view our Gallery here. It would be wonderful to have you along to celebrate this special time of year and our 1st anniversary. Booking link here.

We have loved swimming multiple times in one day. Sharing our knowledge and tips on safe and enjoyable swimming in the open waters of Scotland. We have continued to her many of our swimmer improve their confidence and techniques in the varied open water environments and ever changing conditions.

We have had many swimmers join us as “newbies” who are now swimming regularly with their own little pods. Many of our Swim Experience participants have exchanged contact details and now swim regularly together. This was a target for Maree when she envisioned the business, it is slow but steady progress. It allows individuals and small groups to learn the “tricks of the trade” in a structured environment. Meet ups can then remain within these confines or made with people who are known to have similar goals and acclimitisation.

We are looking forward to continuing to work with our swimmers who want to experience their first Winter swim season. We have had many swimmer manage to extend their swimming into the Autumn months already, using out trial Autumn Support Programme. With safety and enjoyment always a priority the next few months should be fun.

So here are some of our top tips on how to acclimatise yourself for the Scottish Winter.

Be Prepared 

Carefully research each and every swim. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because you have been swimming in that venue all Summer. Every swim is different, affected by how you feel, the weather – especially the wind, the air and water temperatures and the tide.

Do your research the day before into the known variables. Make an early call if conditions are not right, it might be you choose to go later in the day because the tide is more favourable. Or earlier because there is a good weather window. Or even to a different venue to shelter from the wind. 

On the day of the swim make considered choices, for example, if there has been a strong wind and rain during the previous days, the water quality will be poorer. Will you decide not to swim or go anyway? If you do decide to go, you should note that the temperature of the water will be lower. Other precautions might be to cover any cuts or grazes and choose not to submerge your head.

Arriving at your swim venue, having considered all the known variables, you then need to assess what is presenting itself to you – there and then.

If it is not right, don’t go. You can always have a windy walk, pick up some shells, make a bit of beach art, drink your coffee and go home. The cob webs will still be blown away, but safe and sensible decisions will have been made.

Swimming in the Scottish Winter is “Baltic”!!! The wind being the key element in a cold and unpleasant experience. However, some of the best swims are the short unexpectedly beautiful Winter ones with zingy skin and frozen feet. So what can you do to mitigate the cold and stay safe?

Swim Regularly

Over the Autumn months you really need to keep swimming outdoors once a week in order to remain acclimatised. So planning more than one swim a week is essential, as cancellations will occur. If you swim regularly – whether in skins or wetsuit, you should use the gradual drop in the water temperatures during the Autumn, to become aware of how your body is coping. This mindful practice will allow you to develop an ability to note key signs that are personal to you and your red flag signal to “get out”. 

It might be that your body feels heavy in the water as the blood is pulled from the extremities to the core. As this occurs the legs work less effectively and drop lower in the water causing drag. This is the start of cold water incapacitation. Perhaps you can use this little exercise to test the function of your extremities as you swim – well breast stroke at any rate!

“Can I touch my thumb to my middle finger on the same hand, easily and quickly?”

If you can’t then you are experiencing another classic tell tale sign to get out. Your hands begin to feel stiff and claw like. If you are a Reynaulds sufferer, you will be aware of this progression already. However, we all must ensure we are able to exit and still have the ability to dress afterwards. So be aware and take care, neoprene is not easy to remove at the best of times and zips and buttons are fiddly things.

Finger Testing at Sunrise
Post Swim Precautions 

We cannot recommend highly enough the value of lots and lots and lots of layers!!! The Autumn is the time to build these back into your routine, or add them if you have not started yet. We regularly put seven layers on our top halves after a swim. How? I hear you ask!! Try this list out next time you swim.

  • Bra – but only if Swim- Walking
  • Vest – easy to put on as you remove your swim suit.
  • Thermal long sleeved top
  • T-Shirt – sometimes only to advertise Wild Swim Scotland!
  • Fleece
  • Down Jacket
  • Gillet
  • DryRobe or Windproof Jacket if Swim-Walking

Our bottom halves get a double layer of an easy to slip on pair of trousers and then over trousers. (Pants might be added if we are lucky)

With extremities getting double layers as well, wool socks and thermal or sheepskin lined boots for the feet and wool or thermal gloves and handmade wool wrist warmers to protect the hands.

All topped off with a cosy handmade neck warmer and wool and fleece lined hat – Mitchelin Man springs to mind, or maybe the Weebles or even the Teletubbies!!!!😂😂😂

Urban Mermaids layered up and ready for cake!

However, you can always take them off as you rewarm. Seriously, you are trying to prevent the effects of “after drop”. This is a normal experience after a cold water swim. The severity of the effects depends on the precautions you have or have not elected to take, as well as the length of time you have spent exposed to the Winter weather and cold water. Your body will continue to cool down after you leave the water and it takes two to three times the length of your swim time for you to return to a “normal” feel. So to prevent the discomfort and occasionally scary feelings brought on by a severe case of after drop, you must; exit with reserves and the ability to dress quickly. Don’t be beguiled by the wonderful feeling the cold water imparts.

  • Stay aware
  • Swim with the zing
  • Depart with strength
  • Rewarm with joy
  • Return renewed.
Luxury Equipment 

As you swim with different people, you will pick up some super little tips to help you deal with the Winter cold. Many of us are already Outdoor enthusiasts and know to seek shelter and find places to drop out of the bite of the wind. Many of us have the inherent ability to organise and structure people and things, this ability stands us in good stead. Making organised piles of kit on the shore, ready for your exit will reduce the faff time and allow you to dry and dress more quickly. As residents of Scotland we are familiar with the ever changing weather and conditions, so ensuring that the essentials are covered and remain dry will make for a much more pleasant hot chocolate at the end of the swim experience.

So what luxury equipment might you add to your already expanding swim kit, its not just a “bathing suit and towel” anymore is it?

Do you have a bigger bag than this – I expect not!!! Swim Feral Turtle Bag
  • A large waterproof bag to leave your kit in whilst you swim
  • A bottle of warm water to pour over frozen feet and maybe even a tub to stand in
  • A set of reusable hand warmers left in shoes whilst you swim – cosy shoes!
  • A hot water bottle – contents can eventauly be used to rinse off kit
  • A mat to stand on and get your feet of the cold earth / sand
  • Hot Drink and Cake – Obviously!!!!!!

You will note I have not yet mentioned the H word. Do your research, make good decisions, swim within yourself, exit with reserves, dress quickly, put on many layers, stay vigilant, have fun, support each other, look out for each other, take care, be aware – get where I am coming from?

This is an OUTDOOR PURSUIT with risks factors which can and should be mitigated – you should not put yourself and others at risk – with due care and attention you will have safe and enjoyable swims, dips and dooks year round but maybe not every day.