Is that a polar bear swimming next to me...?

Open water swimming this winter?  Packa Shack offers you shelter, warmth and privacy wherever you're getting your bits out...! 

Make sure you’ve covered all the bases before taking the plunge. Thanks to the Opendoor Swimming Society for the following tips.

The following is the Opendoor Swimming Society pledge to 'embrace the rejuvenating effects of cold water' is a valuable mindset change for any open water swimmer. At first it may seem inconvenient that British waters are not warmer, but you may soon find you're addicted to the fresh feeling of natural water.

The good news is that it's relatively easy to acclimatise yourself to water temperatures in the UK, by nothing more complicated than swimming regularly in them.

The human body acclimatises to cold water so well that hundreds of swimmers cross the channel every year (at around 16 degrees, for 10 hours or more, any untrained swimmer would get hypothermia). Over seventy swimmers have done the Ice Mile (one mile in water at 5ºC and below wearing only a swimsuit, hat and goggles). A few swimmers have trained themselves to swim in the Artic.

Getting yourself into a situation where you enjoy summer swimming, particularly if you're prepared to start out with a wetsuit, should not take long.


First a note of caution; if you have a heart condition or asthma, see your doctor before taking up swimming outdoors. And ensure you read the section by Dr Mark before leaping in. Then...

  1. TAKE THE PLUNGE! Much of the acclimatisation process is mental - knowing the moment of immersion will feel cold, and embracing it anyway. Don't jump into really cold water unless you're acclimatised.
  2. EXHALE AS YOU GET IN. In cold water the ribcage contracts, which leads many swimmers to feeling they can't breathe. Exhale and the next breath will come naturally in. Shrieking, grunting and fwaw-fwaw-fwawing for your first strokes are perfectly natural accompaniments to a wild swim.
  3. WAIT 90 SECONDS. The pleasure of open water might not be immediate. Give your body a little time to react, and soon your circulation will start charging around and you'll feel alive. 
  4. FIND A ROCK OR TREE TO SWIM TO. Don't just jump in and think about how it feels, as the answer is likely to be 'cold', even unpleasant (particularly in wetsuits, where the expectation of warmth makes the cold dribble in around the zip particularly cruel). Set your intention (to swim to x), and then get in and do it. You'll feel good once you get moving.


The main safety risk you face as a wild swimmer is getting too cold. 

You get in, and after a few minutes of feeling uncomfortable the water feels pleasant. As a novice swimmer, you then attempt to cross the lake, but half way across start feeling cold again.  Your body continues to lose heat, blood shunts to the core to keep organs warm, muscles slow, arms and legs become weak, and swimming becomes increasingly difficult. i.e. you are "in difficulties" and are in imminent danger of drowning.

The media often report water related deaths as if they are mysterious, as if we can't predict what will happen when we're in it, and therefore we should just stay out. This isn't true. We know how cold impairs swimming, and we can moderate our risk by:

  1. Wearing a wetsuit, silicon hat, maybe even booties and gloves depending on the time of year 
  2. Swimming close to the shore
  3. Acclimatising