My (cold water) kit!

Occasionally, I get asked about my swim kit and rewarming practices. I've been pointing folks to for a while now, but hey, why not actually take the time and write up my own post? So here we go! (If you haven't checked out lone swimmer- do it now! Or after you finish here 😉)

A note on the timing of this post: it is late January and the river is pretty chilly at this point, between 42-39, so these are the things and practices I use at ice swimming temperatures (below 41 F/5 C). I use most of these things on warmer swims too, but wanted to speak to the context of this post. 

Additionally, I want to preface this by saying that everyone's physiology is different and it's taken me years of trial and error to figure out what works for my body in the conditions I swim in. Depending on the conditions and how my body feels I'll use different combinations of my gear. Things I take into consideration when packing for a swim include: the combined air and water temperature (if it's under 100 F I bring most of my kit), weather (is it sunny, windy, rainy?), and how I'm feeling (Did I get enough sleep? How's my stress level?)  

The first thing I do when packing is to get the water boiling. I pack two insulated bottles. Morning swims get one bottle of instant coffee with maple syrup, cinnamon, and soymilk in it and the other with plain hot water. In the afternoon I swap the coffee for hot Tang aka Yeti Tea (PDX cold swimmers cult beverage of choice). I drink my hot beverages from a ceramic mug so that the mug can warm my hands as I sip. For snacks, I like to pack homemade treats of the gluten-free variety, but I keep a box of gluten-free fig bars around for backup.

While the water is boiling I fill up the bottles I use for my foot bath. The clear one gets room temp tap and the insulated one gets warm tap water. I started using the footbath this year when the water got below 50 and it seems to help a lot. Word of caution- fill the foot soak tub cold water first and gradually add warm water, plunging icy feet into warm water can be suuupper painful! The shoes on the left are the ones I wear after swimming and the pink ones are what I wear down to the water. The earplugs are included because, well, they were in the bag with my footbath. Oh! The small dog in the back is a regular fixture of the kit too. She's the best kind of hot water bottle, one that doesn't need reheating, likes to cuddle, and fits in my DryRobe. 
After the drink bottle comes the rest of the hot water bottle kit. I pack both bottles and the Snappy Heat hand warmers for most cold swims. The koala belt was an Amazon find by IceWolf and the cover for the pink bottle is a homemade gift from my friend Lars. 
Okay! Those are the accouterments. Now on to the rest!

Hats! I love hats! Some days it's not a Yeti swim, some days it is. A hat for both. The hat goes on asap while swim cap is still on. I take the cap off once I've finished changing. Masks go too, because, well COVID.

I bring four top layers. They are laid out from left to right in the order that I put them on. First is the black fleece vest, I put this on when I'm still down by the water and cover up with my dryrobe. Once back at the car I put on the long sleeve fleece jacket, then the hooded down vest, and put the dryrobe back on. Somewhere in there, I put on my pants...usually. On warmer mornings I sometimes forget and stand with my feet in the footbath drinking coffee and watching the sunrise.

Pants! I wear two pairs. The fuzzy ones go inside the joggers when it's cold and/or windy. The fleece socks are the last thing to go on before I put my feet in my fuzzy boots. 

I've kind of danced around painting a picture of what actually goes on once I get out of the water, but have completely failed to mention what I do to get in and what the format of a swim looks like for my pod. When the water goes below 50 we make sure there is at least one person on the shore watching the water, they can call 911 if needed, but most of the time they shoo away ball dogs that get too close to swimmers more than anything else. Okay, right gear! Generally, there are two different setups I use. If it's an early morning swim I'll leave most of my stuff in the car and dash up there to change since it can be hard to see on the beach in the dark and the parking lot is fairly well lit. 
When I swim during the day I like to bring my kit down on the beach and lay everything out on a blanket. I like having a camp chair around to sit in on the beach while putting my pants on, it helps with not flashing bystanders.

Either way, I double cap and always use earplugs (I've noticed some vertigo when I get cold water in my ears), and baby shampoo my goggles to keep them from fogging up. I get all the head gear on before taking my clothes off. I also blow up my buoy in the parking lot, when it's dark (like it usually is) I put a light in my buoy so the person on shore can see me. I keep my dryrobe on and my pink faux Crocs until I get to the water, they're the last thing to come off. Lately, I've started putting hand warmers in the pockets of my fleece vest and leaving that on the beach in a shopping bag with a towel and my dryrobe while I swim. I think the heated vest has really helped me this winter and is something I recommend trying. 

Getting in! I leave my shoes at the water's edge as I get in. I've gotten pretty good at walking into the water with determination until it hits my belly button, then the cursing and yelling starts. Usually something about questionable life choices or comments on the wetness of the water. I'm famous for yelling and cursing, but eventually, I get my head in the water (mental cursing continues). Then I swim. 

Getting out! I like to take my time standing up so that my body can adjust as the blood sloshes around to different parts of my body. There is a real risk of getting light-headed, so I go slow. Once I'm out- I am out! I take my top off or roll down my suit on the beach, dry off, and put the heated vest on. I wrap the towel around my belly and shrug on my dryrobe before hauling a$$ up to the car to finish getting dressed. The first thing I do is put on my fleece jacket, kola bear hot water bottle belt, then the hooded down vest, then my Yeti hat, and finally my dryrobe. After getting dressed up top I do a cold foot bath and gradually add hot water. While my feet thaw I drink some coffee before drying my feet and putting my pants on. Sometimes I put my shoes on right away, but here lately I put my feet back in the water. Once my shoes are on its either time to do a few parking lot laps and reverse lunges or take my turn doing shore support.

And there you have it! My kit, getting ready, getting in, getting out, and rewarming. Have a great time out there, listen to your body and be safe. 


Feel free to comment, I'm happy to answer any questions. 

*Note I may have someone edit this post at some point. I kind of rambled a bit 😉


  1. You have built up a great & elaborate system over the years!

    My process is not as elaborate, and here I'll just comment on a few things that I do differently (and I think I prefer my way, though I'm open to trying alternatives too sometime).

    - Rewarming: My highest priority is to get my fingers into some lukewarm water. I've had too many experiences where I can't operate zippers, or undo buckles, or put my socks on properly, due to lack of finger dexterity. So, I prep the foot bath as soon as I get back to the car, and put my hands in first. Once my fingers feel okay, then I step in for my feet & toes to defrost. It's nice to stand in the foot bath while drying off etc.

    - Heat packs: I don't use any, but I know they feel great. I have been known to borrow a heat pack from time to time (maybe my fellow swimmers think I'm so cold and miserable that I need one?), but I don't feel they are essential and they would just add more time for preparations. Moving around, after getting dry & dressed, seems to be the most impactful thing. The foot bath is awesome, and quick, and is all I seem to need.

    1. So interesting! My hands rarely bother me, they get cold but I've only lost dexterity a few times and not at all this season. While I always pack the hot water bottles I don't always use them. For awhile while it was in the low 40s (like the 43-42 range) I was using just the handwarmers in my vest pockets, but this week I've really appreciated the koala bear belt!

  2. Thank you so much for this Angie. I have learned so much from you and your process. Now you had me dreaming about a koala belt! And the only thing I would add to this is that after drop seems to hit Pretty exactly 10 minutes after getting out for me so that's the time frame I have for getting myself dry and dressed. If I have overdone it it is easy to get spaced out and lose track of getting dressed. This is where Shore Support comes in really handy to help remind you what needs to happen next.

    1. Great points! I agree that the prime window for change time seems to be around the ten minute mark.


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