A cold breeze blows and water temperatures have dropped down into the low single digits, so it is, of course, the perfect time to strip off and take a dip!
I’ve been quite vocal about my love for wild dipping and just because winter is here I see no reason to stop. It evolved from a passion for wild waters and a love of open water swimming, which was nurtured through triathlon then grew to include swim only events such as the Dart 10K. However, lately I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity of a wild dip, where the focus is less about covering distance or movement through the water, and instead about simply being in the water and enjoying its effect.
In many ways, the benefits you get from a good winter dip are exactly the same as at any other time of the year, perhaps even greater. There are a number of scientific studies looking at the exact biological impacts, but a weight of anecdotal evidence and my personal experience suggests these range from a burst of good endorphins and mental clarity to improved circulation and an immune system boost.
Cold water can thrill you, but also, if you let it, can kill you…
Cold Water Dip Safety Rules
When the water is properly cold, and by that I mean single digits, a little more care must be taken to ensure that you take a dip in a safe manner. Cold water can thrill you, but also, if you let it, can kill you, so here are some guidelines for safely approaching a winter dip…
Choose a safe swimspot… It is best to err on the side of caution when selecting a safe winter dip location; now is not the time to mess with strong currents or steep sided quarries. The location should have a very easy access, ideally a shelving beach of some sort, and no risk of you being swept away by the water. You need to stay in control.
So, whose coming in? Although some say it is a complete no no, it would be highly hypocritical of me to suggest you should never dip alone. However, I do place limitations on myself if I’m going solo, the key one being that I stay in water no more than chest deep. If you have friends joining you this could be relaxed, but if you are taking extra risk be sure that collectively you could get a struggling fellow dipper out the water.
Control really is key to the whole process…
Prepare an exit strategy… Before submerging you need to plan for getting out. When your dip is finished you are going to be cold, potentially less coordinated and need to warm up quickly. So, before I go near the water I like to have my Dryrobe by the water’s edge, my towel and warm clothes accessible and ready to put on and a warm drink prepared. If there is shelter nearby you have more leeway (the Dub is perfect for this) but if you have hiked into your swim spot this process needs extra thought.
I literally have nothing to wear… There are no rules when it comes to what to wear for taking a dip. Some may want a wetsuit, others are happy with only a swimsuit. The middle ground includes augmenting your swimsuit with a woolly or swimming hat, neoprene gloves, booties or neoprene socks, even full neoprene balaclava – whatever you feel comfortable with, you can always take it off if you are overheating!
Time to take the plunge… Except, by plunge I definitely DO NOT mean dive or jump in. You need to be able to control the cold water shock and you can’t do this easily if you are also trying to stay afloat. Walk into the water down the shelving beach and enjoy the growing tingling sensation that is both pain and pleasure at the same time…
…enjoy the growing tingling sensation that is both pain and pleasure at the same time…
Times up… A winter dip is a short dip. That message your body is sending you, urging you to get out – listen to it. Winter dips are beneficial even if they only last for one or two minutes at a time. It is possible to acclimatise if you dip often, but even then the general accepted wisdom is that somewhere between one and two minutes per degree of water temperature will be your maximum tolerance. The best way to acclimatise is to regularly dip from autumn into winter so you slowly get used to the cold, but similar effects can be achieved by taking gradually chillier cold showers.
I’m just warming up… As soon as you exit the water dry yourself, wrap up warm and get moving! Even if your skin feels warm and you’re proudly displaying a ‘cold water tan’, you need to beware of the ‘after drop’. This is where your body continues cooling even after you’ve left the water, causing shivering and a feeling of deep cold. If you’ve followed my advice you have a plan, just don’t delay in executing it. Definitely don’t have a hot shower or bath until you’ve warmed up though.
You will notice that the theme of ‘taking control’ or ‘staying in control’ runs through most of the above advice. Control really is key to the whole process, from having the self control to enter the cold water in the first place through to making sure you benefit from the experience rather than suffer through it.
Follow the tips, have a fabulous, exhilarating cold dip and then spend the rest of the day on a high, trying to convince your friends and family that you haven’t lost your mind!