I swim in an unheated outdoor pool in Spring (in the UK). It's cold enough to be uncomfortable but not dangerous (today the water was 14°C, and if it's below 10°C they close the pool). After a length or two, I'm used to the water temperature and my body doesn't feel so cold any more, but my head still feels as if I've been eating ice-cream too quickly.

Would wearing a swimming cap reduce heat loss through the head while I'm in the water? (I'm not worried about after I get out: I make a beeline for the hot showers.) If it makes a difference, I wear my hair about an inch long.

5 Answers 5


It's not the heat loss through the head that you are feeling(The whole 90% of heat loss is through your head thing is a myth), it's the cooling effect of the cold air on wet skin.

A cap will help prevent that, but it's not going to do much for actual heat retention until you start getting into the neoprene caps, which are designed to be warmer than traditional latex caps.

So yes, they will help some, but if you really need a warm cap then look at some of the thicker, neoprene rubber caps.

  • I'm pretty sure it's the water and not the cold air. If I dive in (so my head is wet) and then swim breast stroke, keeping my head out of the water, it doesn't feel so cold. It feels cold while keeping my head in the water like I should. If it were just heat loss through evaporation, bobbing my head in and out of the water like that would feel coldest.
    – Dan Hulme
    May 22, 2013 at 23:43
  • 1
    I swam competitively for 17 years. :) I've had some workouts where my hair would freeze if we waited too long between sets. I know it's weird how it feels, but it's an air effect. I used to get it really badly on my arms doing butterfly. Even a latex cap will help (At least it did for me), and if it's really cold then you might need a neoprene one.
    – JohnP
    May 23, 2013 at 3:32

I am Swimming too, in cold water. Wearing a neoprene cap is very good, if you buy one, make sure you get your Money back, when not satisfied. It must fit very tightly, no Exchange of water!! I put a rubber ring around the cap, to avoid seepage when breaststroking. I use a cap, material thickness 2 mm.The chin-strap is not very strong, not to be overstretched! You may get them with , 4 mm. Or put two on your head. A bit thinking and Trials are recommended. I swim around 2hrs, when cold, less than 20°C, putting on a wetsuit, too. I am Swimming in a lake, if you swim in a pool and doing a Kind of professional turn at the end of the lane, the loss of your cap could happen.

  • Very unclear syntax... and I really don't know that it answers the question.
    – Sean Duggan
    May 15, 2014 at 16:08

I tried swimming with a rubber cap at the start of this season, and it really does help! It didn't keep me much warmer overall, but it did help avoid the ice-cream feeling. The reflex to gasp when cold water hits your head had been a problem for me when starting a cold swim, but I didn't feel it at all with the cap.

A neoprene cap might help more for even colder water, or might keep you warmer overall, but I found the rubber one quite adequate for 14℃ water.


I'm currently researching the same thing and the most common answer is a neoprene cap. Also: When the cold water hits your face, the shock causes your lungs to contract causing breathing problems. Blow bubbles before taking off on your swim. Go waist deep into the water and submerge your face to blow bubbles. This helps alleviate the shock of the cold water.


I was told a good tip to overcome the initial gasping for air when using freestyle/front crawl is to breath out into the water during your first few strokes, then breath normally after that. It works for me. My personal guide temperature for donning a latex cap is less than 16 degrees C, which will happen later this week at Brockwell Lido!

  • 1
    "breath out into the water during your first few strokes" I don't quite follow. Isn't that how you usually breathe?
    – Dan Hulme
    Sep 18, 2017 at 14:41
  • @DanHulme - I'm confused too. I'd like to know what "breathing normally" after that means. I suspect it means a rescue crawl type of stroke, or a breaststroke with a non immersed head.
    – JohnP
    Sep 18, 2017 at 15:04
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    Also, the question wasn't about breathing...
    – user13787
    Sep 18, 2017 at 15:39

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