One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Wild Naked or Wild Wetsuit?

Having been struck down by flu, I’ve been lubbing around on dry land and pondering the most contentious issue among OSS members which – it might surprise you to know – is: Wetsuit or Non-Wetsuit?


Some wild swimmers wear wetsuits year-round, others only in winter. Wetsuits have some big advantages; in particular they add buoyancy and increase your endurance in colder water, while also providing some protection from scrapes and bruising if you’re swimming in rocky waters. They allow you to spend time exploring without getting cold. Those new to Wild Swimming might find that a wetsuit gives them confidence, and allows them to acclimatise to colder water by spending longer in it. Many of them will undoubtedly ditch the suit at least some of the time as they become more experienced. All of us who swam around a stormy Burgh Island on Christmas Eve wore wetsuits; the swim takes around and hour, and there is nowhere to get out once you’re committed so it seemed daft to risk hypothermia and death, not to mention wasting a Christmas Dinner. I was pretty cold by the time I’d finished, despite swimming regularly in chilly waters. I’m sure there are a few people out there who could tolerate this swim non-wetsuit in winter, but I suspect they are few.


Devotees of Non-Wetsuit swimming tend to be even more evangelical than your average Wild Swimmer. The first thing that struck me on noticing the repeated use of this term was the the negative phraseology; that aficionados of this habit prefer to define themselves against those who in the view of some are the lepers of Wild Swimming – the wearers of wetsuits.

Swim in budgie-smugglers or a bikini, or naked, and you feel the water rippling along your body with no barriers to your enjoyment or the chill.  Be like a fish! Over time, and with regular exposure, you will acclimatise to low temperatures, although your endurance will be limited by comparison to those who use neoprene. Eat heartily and maintain a layer of bioprene (body fat) and you will further increase your ability to withstand low temperatures. I admit to sympathising with the view that this is a big part of what Wild Swimming is all about, and I have a deep respect for those people who swim year-round in the nuddy or near-buff.

What’s Wild Swimming About?

So how do we bridge the river? The key factor for me concerns why I love Wild Swimming, and the ways in which I benefit from it. Wild Swimmers are a disparate bunch of people. They encompass all ages and backgrounds. Some of them like swimming flat-out for five miles, others like bobbing around in the shallows, and a few like swimming out to sea in storms, exploring sea caves, or shooting the rapids in fast-flowing rivers. I share something in common with all of them – we love the water and the outdoors, although we experience it in different ways and are passionate about different aspects of it. We meet up for all kinds of swims all over Devon and Cornwall, and we choose which ones we’d like to do. There are no rules, no directives saying what you should wear, or whether the conditions are too cold or too dangerous, or too silly. You should see some of the hats! This semi-anarchic freedom defines Wild Swimming.

My own approach to wetsuits is that I will wear one when I feel like it, or when I feel the need for a longer swim and conditions are cold or difficult. Sometimes I wear surf shorts and a rash vest. I revel in the touch of wild water on my wild naked skin, but I’m also hugely attached to being thrown around in a winter sea for an hour, or spending five hours descending the Double Dart on a cloudy, windy summer’s day without getting hypothermia or leaving acres of skin behind on a boulder.

I’d like to propose that we stop worrying, and simply wear what makes us happy and confident. The other day I listened to a radio broadcast featuring my buddy JJ, where the presenter had misunderstood the concept of Wild Swimming and coined the term Wild Naked Swimming. This, I feel, is infinitely more descriptive than Non-Wetsuit Swimming and holds an appropriate literal and metaphorical frisson. I’m sure someone will start on swimsuits next, but what’s a sliver of lycra between water and skin? So I’d like to formally abolish the term Non-Wetsuit. At the risk of making a rule, you are into either Wild Naked Swimming or Wild Swimming, or both. Nobody minds! Dare I ask for comments?…



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16 thoughts on “Wild Naked or Wild Wetsuit?

  1. Having done wetsuit, swimsuit and naked wild swims, nothing beats a wild swim naked in water temperatures that are not hyperthermic….Did a wonderful long swim all round some islands in the former Yugoslavia back in the 1980s and hoping to repeat this in Dubrovnik this year….

  2. I tend to be one of the few who doesn’t wear a wetsuit, amongst a group of people who would never be seen without their wetsuits. They refer to me as going Cold Turkey – a reference to how my legs look when I get out. I like your term better, lol.

  3. Photos of me in a wetsuit are all over the place on fb, Flickr, picasa and other nooks and crannies of the net. I’ve become more acclimatised, so rarely wear one, but i do not live by the sea. And if I did I would rap up in neoprene to explore the inlets, caves and swells of the sea throughout the winter months. Some people can go up mountains in just a t-shirt, but most know that it is wise to take some extra layers.

  4. I think you’ve said it all really, and eloquently. I’ve toughened up, but will still wear a wetsuit when required. And if I lived by a rocky, estuarine coastline, I’d be exploring the nooks and crannies with a wetsuit on in the winter months too. Long live difference.

  5. I very much agree with your sentiments and Carl’s too. Not sure that I’ve done much “wild” swimming but I am certainly very keen on Open Water Swimming, rivers, sea, lido, lakes …. Thanks to Carl I can add ‘Pots’ to my list too.

    Happy 2012

  6. Great to get a positive response from the Well Hard Aquatic Ape! I hear you met my friend Pauline in your Lido…

    • Yes, I think she’s in a relay team with one of our members Pip. He’s hardcore too and very chatty.

    • Thanks for the comments, swimmers!
      Clarissa your island swims sound amazing, and I’m with you on the feel of not-too-cold water.
      Carmen I’m immediately adopting the ‘Cold Turkey’ term, great name for a festive swim.
      Open Water Bryn – another difference in terms – I’m wild and staying that way! As Carl says, long live difference…

  7. For me wild swimming is about getting out there into the wilds, mainly swimming in the places most of my friends would never even consider for a swim. With the influence of people like vanessa daws and Lynne roper my partner and i have been exploring sea arches, rivers, lakes, streams,waterfalls, coves and beaches. (although he is more daring than I )!! Most places we don’t encounter encounter any other swimmers. We love to jump from bridges, rocks and piers. We make our own coasteering routes. Depending on the weather and activity we are doing, we may or may not wear a wetsuit. Wild swimming i a bit like poetry. It means different things to different

  8. Chatty?
    Not sure about Hard Core?
    I do own a wet suit, it was tried on in a shop when buying 5 or 6 years ago but it has never touched water.
    Anyone want a never used wet suit? Size is probably odd as it must have fitted me once
    Swim hats are a big no no They are classed as ½ wetsuits and I have decided enough is enough I must get my hair cut tomorrow as it is also close to becoming classed as a ½ wetsuit .
    You should wear what you like but someone will always be there to make fun
    Are Triathletes wild swimmers now there’s a question with an easy answer.
    Soon the will all be wearing a submarine or some other boat for a swimming costume
    It has been noted that it’s now too cold for wetsuits at tooting lido they seem to be summer only apparel
    We do have a few exceptions to prove the rule that it’s too cold for wetsuits.
    And Like the penguins they aspire to be, they have been left behind to face the winter cold in miniscule numbers, patiently waiting for their flock to return in the warm summer months.
    Now It may have been in a lido and therefore not classed as wild swimming but a few weeks ago it iced over at Tooting you would think this perfect conditions for aspiring penguins however one such animal (Its human name Ian) Took one look at the refreshing Iced water and said I don’t like the look of that you swim in front of me and break the Ice.
    The moral of the story is when the swimming gets wild it’s the wild naked that get swimming
    PS did you know that I can speak Penguin this is a real hidden talent that is a requirement for having friends that wild wetsuit
    Cheers Pip

    • Well Pip, I shiver at the thought of attempting a winter dip at Tooting Bec, home of the iced nutters of the outdoor swimming world. Wild and naked is the way to be! I’m glad you speak English too or I wouldn’t understand, I only speak English, Devonian and a smattering of dog. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  9. I can concure that wild swimming naked is the way to go. I have planned a wild swimming holiday with my son and his girlfriend for later this year and have chosen a good selection of sites to sample. Most of them we will swim naked, even taking a dry bag with us to one location to spen a wild night on a remote island

    • Nev I think that is the ultimate wild swimming experience and undoubtedly the best way to experience the water unmitigated by modern ‘necessities’ like swimwear. I hope you all enjoy your holiday!

  10. Robert Evans on said:

    Why cant we have the freedom more to swim wild in the nude, Nudity should be more socially acceptable providing of course you are behaving yourself. The freedom of no clothes is just exhilarating, The freedom is really wonderful, I just wish it was more accepted it is not against the law to be naked in public it only become’s a problem if someone complain’s to the police and even then im sure they would just simply ask you to remain covered however discretion must be practiced particularly where children are present. I love swimming nude and sunbathing nude however I as a responsible person would be mortified if my nudity was to upset or offend anyone that is the last thing I would want it would upset me too If I knew I had upset someone else. I often swim nude wild I always say to other people I would like to skinny dip however I dont wish to offend or upset you and not once has anyone objected…..Be brave go on do it like me !!!!!

    • I agree Robert, and I do swim naked quite often, usually when I’m by myself but sometimes with friends. It’s a common sight in the summer to see naked swimmers on the moorland Dart as you can see from my blog https://wildwomanswimming.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/hot-naked-men-and-cool-dartmoor-water/
      Interestingly, having written this blog I found myself banned from my own blog by EE when I tried to access it from my ipone – it transpired that the Hot Naked Men joke had gone astray! Says a lot about our cultural attitudes to nudity.
      I have friends who lived in Sweden for a time, and their boys are completely unconcerned by nudity in adults as they have shared many saunas with adults and children wearing no clothes. Completely natural, and nothing whatsoever to do with sex.

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