Cold Water Swim Gear – 50F and Below

Here’s the set-up I use this time of year when the lake temperatures start to dip below 50F:

First layer

  • Tyr swim jammers with dri-fit underwear
  • ONeill 13 Ounce Thermo-X Short Sleeve Crew

I can’t say enough about the ONeill Thermo-X. Candidly, I think this is the most critical piece of equipment in this set-up. This “rash guard” is built for surfers who are out cavorting in 50F water, but it works great for swimming. Not only does it allow for a full range of swim motion, but it also keeps heat in my core and wicks water away from the surface of my skin. This is especially important for me since I have very little body fat. Consequently, the Thermo-X shirt gives me that extra layer of “seal blubber” that I need!

Second layer

  • Full body triathlon wetsuit
  • Deep See neoprene diver gloves
  • Deep See neoprene diver booties (7mm)
  • Deep See neoprene diver hood (3mm/7mm)
  • Aqua Sphere swim goggles or a Cressi Minima freediver mask
  • Petroleum jelly

Ideally, the only exposed areas of your skin should be your forehead, your mouth, and the lower part of your face. This is where you will want to apply the petroleum jelly to protect yourself from the cold water.

The diver hood covers your head and neck, and I usually tuck it into my wetsuit to add an additional layer on top of my upper torso. Some of the other swimmers prefer to swim with it outside. Regardless, it makes a HUGE difference in preserving the heat in your core.

So far this set-up is working great for me. I prefer to use the goggles over the freediver mask since the goggles are much less cumbersome – and I still do a fair amount of breathing through my nose. However, I may switch to the mask in the lower temperatures.

That’s it! Now you have no excuses for missing any of our meetups…

7 Replies to “Cold Water Swim Gear – 50F and Below

  1. I thought you were talking about winter swimming. In Russia we wear just swim shorts in 33F water. See the pictures at my web site (

  2. That’s why I don’t swim in pools…I think the last time I swam indoors was when I was in grad school back East 12+ years ago. I love being outdoors, and today was sunny and gorgeous. On Sunday’s swim there was a bald eagle perched high in a poplar tree that overlooks my swim area! Then there was the day a pair of seals came towards me to see who I was, which kind of freaked me out a bit, but they never got too close- so all was well.

    I got some merino wool sock liners which when worn with a pair of smart wool socks and the swim socks from ProMotion my feet are quite toasty.

  3. The dive booties really weren’t much of an adjustment for me since my lower body tends to sink. So the extra buoyancy was actually quite helpful. If you have neoprene foot covers versus booties, that should keep you pretty warm in 52F temps.

    As far as indoor swimming goes, I personally view pool lanes as analogous to a cage at a zoo. And whenever you go to the swim clubs, there are usually 5-6 people occupying each lane.

    People raise an eyebrow about us swimming in the cold water, but I can’t see how you could stay calm and sane with 5 other people scrambling over you all the time…

  4. Hi Steve-

    I tucked them under my wetsuit (after not, and ending up with the aforementioned Bozo the Clown syndrome!) The fit is good and my feet stay nice and toasty, but the buoyancy of the booties really throws off my balance. I wonder if you found that to be problematic when you first started swimming with the booties?

    After swimming a labored 1/4 mile in them I took them off and swam with my normal ease & speed- but the water was too cold for bare feet. I’m thinking of trying some thermal socks under my 2mm swim socks this morning since it’s sunny in Seattle and I have the morning free.

    Oh why can’t I be content with indoor swimming?

  5. Hi Ethan! The big challenge with these booties is preventing them from filling up with water and becoming “Bozo the Clown” shoes in the water. The trick is to create a tight seal that lets in enough water to warm things up but not a whole bootfull.

    I make sure and tuck the boots under my wetsuit, but I’ve also been improvising with some duct tape around the top edges as well. So far this is working out pretty well. Also, it’s a good idea to get them in a size smaller because you want them to fit as tight as possible against your skin.


  6. Do you have any advice about swimming with the 7mm Deep See neoprene diver booties? I just got a pair and tried to swim with them today and found it very difficult. (btw Lake Washington is still a balmy 52ish degrees…so I feel like a wuss compared to your 36 degree swim.)

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