A Basic Water Temp and Open Water Swim Guide

A Basic  Water Temp and Open Water Swim Guide

What gear to bring and what to expect for your next open water swim.

Knowing what swim equipment to bring to your open water swim or triathlon can be a bit confusing. Here is a basic (and totally unscientific!) chart  to help you prepare for a variety of water temperatures.  


Temperature Recommended Gear Initial Reaction 500 yd into your swim 1 mile into your swim
55ºF (13ºC) wetsuit, booties, thermal neoprene cap, ear plugs Damn, I shouldn't be here. This is freaking cold. I'm ready to get out. 
60ºF (15.5ºC) wetsuit, neoprene cap, ear plugs, booties optional This is really cold, lets just get this over with. Hands and face are cold, but not as bad as I thought. I'm cold but feel better than expected. 
65ºF (18ºC) wetsuit, neoprene cap optional, ear plugs optional Pretty cold, but lets do this.  Huh, this isn't so bad at all.  I'm feeling good but grateful for the wetsuit. 
70ºF (21ºC) wetsuit optional Feels colder than my gym pool, but not bad.  This is nice! Perfect wetsuit swimming temp. I feel great, if maybe just a little warm with this wetsuit on.
75ºF (24ºC) no wetsuit needed About the same temp as my gym pool. Feeling a bit warm already in my wetsuit. (without a suit I'm feeling great) I'm ready to get out of this wetsuit. (without a suit I could swim all day)


As as basic rule of thumb, small stature swimmers are more likely to be cold (i.e. small women and/or people with low body fat). Beginner swimmers also tend to be more affected by the cold- maybe due to generating less body heat while swimming or needing to stop more often.


If you have a very cold swim (below 60ºF) coming up, we recommend doing at least two short acclimation swims the week of your event. These acclimation workouts can be short, as short as 10-15min if that is all you have time for. These quick swims in preparation for your event will make a significant difference in perceived comfort on race day. 


Are you doing a race in warmer water? At 71.5ºF an Ironman race will not allow professional athletes to wear a wetsuit. Amateurs athletes are given up to 76.1ºF before wetsuits are deemed illegal. You will still be allowed to swim in a wetsuit if the water temp is above the threshold, but your results will not eligible for competitive awards (age group wins, World Champs slots, etc). 



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