Winter in the Northern Hemisphere can be punishingly cold, but whilst pools have been closed, many athletes have found themselves falling in love with open-water swimming. If you haven't taken the plunge yet, here's Zone3's guide to the accessories you'll need to keep the chills at bay.
Just like you, we've had to make adjustments to the way we are training at the moment. Where local government rules allow we've been solo running a bit more, tried running in some different areas closer to home, started trail running for something different and some have even been smashing the miles on the treadmill. Some have been lucky enough to get out on our bikes alone or with those that we live with. Others have been adapting to two-wheeled life in virtual reality and testing the power figures on their smart trainers. What about swimming though? For us triathletes, it's where every race starts.
There's no denying that water temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere aren't what we'd normally be thinking about swimming in. Most of us start to migrate from the pool to open water in May when the water is about 12 degrees. It's March. The water isn't 12 degrees. We're still itching to get out there though, so the decision is, do you add layers, gloves, socks, and caps and dive in when and where it's safe to do so?
In 2019 Tim Don won Patagonman. After jumping off the ferry and into an icy cold fjord in Chile he experienced similar conditions. Tim made full use of the Zone3 neoprene accessories range, wearing a long-sleeve neoprene baselayer, heat-tech gloves, heat-tech boots, and a neoprene cap!
“With the neoprene base layer and accessories alongside the Vanquish wetsuit, you get a really great combination of high performance and warmth. The Vanquish wetsuit gives amazing flexibility and buoyancy, while the base layer adds a layer of comfort and warmth. There were Zone3 gloves everywhere you looked on the ferry!”
We’ve all got a high concentration of blood vessels in our hands, feet, and head. If these are left uncovered during a swim in cold water, you’ll find yourself losing heat at an incredibly high speed. Anything you can wear in cold water, therefore, can be a massive help. We know that finding products that are effective can be a bit of an issue, so collectively we've worked hard to design a range of Neoprene accessories that help you stay as warm and comfortable as possible, even on these colder swims.
Your head is probably the most important part of your body. In milder conditions, you will probably find a simple silicone swim hat will suffice. But, to keep your ears and head warm in colder conditions, a neoprene swim cap is the next step.
Like any clothing made from Neoprene, a good fit is absolutely essential. If the cap has a strap – make sure it’s neither too tight nor too loose. The last thing you need during a swim is for your cap to be too restrictive when it comes to breathing. An adjustable strap, or even no strap at all, is ideal.
Neoprene gloves & socks
If you’re going to experience any discomfort due to temperature, it's your fingers that’ll feel it the most.
Neoprene gloves are your best bet during a swim and as with most items of apparel, a good fit should be the top priority.
Zone3 Neoprene gloves offer an optimal fit, with liquid seal finish seams to massively prevent excess water from seeping into the gloves, aided also by longer cuffs. What’s useful about these gloves is the extra-long cuff and Velcro seal, which solves the issue of water-filled gloves acting as an extra weight at the end of your arms.
Depending on how cold the water is that you plan to swim in, there are a number of different thicknesses of Neoprene and linings to help you stay comfortable. Anything under 8°C, for example, will find you want a little extra thickness, such as 3mm+.
Most will agree that after swimming in cold temperature water, it’s easy to want to be as covered in Neoprene as possible. Zone3 Neoprene Swimming Socks are ideal as not only do they stop your feet from getting cold, they also protect you from cuts and scrapes from rocks and whatever else you find on the waterbed. A good fit will ensure the socks don’t fill up with water, as water-filled socks negate the extra buoyancy your legs will have gained from your wetsuit.
It can’t be stressed enough how a good fit is paramount to the performance of these Neoprene accessories. Make sure you always double-check size guides when buying.
Baselayers, warmth vests & kneeskins
This is one area that shouldn't be overlooked when gearing up for a swim in cold water. Layering up with a baselayer, warmth vest or even a kneeskin adds an extra layer of 1.5-2mm neoprene between you and the elements. They all feature a YKK zip on the back to help you get in and saves that Houdini in a straitjacket moment when trying to remove it when wet. All can double up as single layers for when the weather is too hot to wear a full wetsuit. That feels a long way off at the moment, but it's a dream we all have.
Something no wetsuit user should be without. If you haven’t experienced wetsuit chafe, then you are extremely lucky. Sadly, most of us have finished a race or open water swim and felt the burning sensation of wetsuit rash on the back of our necks. One great way to combat this is to use anti-chafing glide; this forms a protective layer against your skin and wetsuit meaning there won’t be any friction and you’ll come away rash-free. Not just made for your neck, slather some on both your ankles and wrists to help remove your wetsuit faster in T1.
Swim Safety Buoy
It's paramount that you stay safe out there. Even if you are swimming with someone else, we'd highly recommend swimming tethered to a safety buoy. They're brightly colored which means your spotter on the shore can easily see you. With the added bonus of a storage compartment, you'll know your keys, dry clothes, towel and anything else imaginable are easily accessible and more importantly, dry when you get back to the shore.
This is an area sometimes overlooked by open water swimmers. While your normal pool goggles are great, there's a lot of other aspects to think of when open water swimming. Your visibility in the water might not be as good and you're adjusting your stroke to look up at the direction you're going rather than just down at the black line in the pool. We've designed our Vapour and Attack goggles, especially for open water swimming. They have an excellent field of vision and both provide a lens that enhances that vision which is even more important when you're dealing with glare from skies on saltwater.
Polar Fleece Parka Robe
Lastly, what happens when you come out of the water? It's time to warm up in style. Our parka robe-style jacket has been designed to give protection from the elements when you're going to and from the water. Its three-quarter length helps lock in your body's warmth and also provides enough cover to get changed before and after your session.
Words by Zone3