Get warmer, more visible in the water, and even faster with our pick of seven of the best swim caps for cold water and open water swimming; including recycled caps, winter hats and options for swimmers with long hair.
Swim caps for swimming in cold water seem like a pretty straightforward bit of kit to purchase. And in some ways, they are – whether you’re into open water swimming, wild swimming or just clocking up lengths in your local pool, you stick them on your head and off you go. But there are more factors to consider than you might realise when shopping for the right cap, including choosing the right material and fit, picking a cap to suit the season, and even choosing a design that works for long hair.
What is a swim cap actually for? Beginner swimmers sometimes think caps keep your hair dry, but most swimming hats won’t stop your hair from getting saturated if you’re putting your head under water. Instead, they do a few other jobs – they keep your hair out of your face and offer it some protection from sea water or chlorine, and they keep your head warmer in cold conditions.
They can even actually make you go faster. A swim cap makes you more streamlined and eliminates drag, which may not matter much to a recreational swimmer but could shave seconds off a competitive swimmer or triathlete’s training time.
Swim caps can also keep you safer – open water and wild swimmers should always make sure they’re as visible as possible in the water, and a brightly coloured (usually orange or pink) cap helps you to be more obvious to boats, lifeguards and other swimmers. Some pools and lidos request swimmers wear a cap, so it’s always useful to have one in your kit bag.
Swim hats are usually unisex and one size-fits-all since they stretch, but there’s also the problematic issue of long hair. If you’ve got enough hair to stick in a ponytail, you’re likely to find that stretchy swim caps are very uncomfortable to pull on and off, or don’t have enough room to tuck your hair in. Luckily, there are some designs especially for long hair with extra room to fit a bun or a ponytail, designed to be less painful to pull on and off your scalp. Neoprene caps for winter are more likely to come in different sizes, as they are far less stretchy.
There are a few different materials to choose from when you’re shopping for a new swim hat. Silicone swim caps are durable and provide decent insulation, so they’re ideal for open water swimmers. Latex caps have similar properties but are more breathable, so they’re a cooler choice for summer swimming or if you’re doing laps for fitness. Lycra caps are breathable and very comfortable, and ideal if you find silicone caps uncomfortable to pull on. They’re less close-fitting and aerodynamic, however, and may slip. Finally, neoprene and the more sustainable yulex are the warmest materials for swim caps and swim bonnets – great for winter and ice swimming.
Swim caps don’t need much care, but it’s a good idea to wash them in fresh water and leave to dry out of direct sunlight.
Best swim caps for cold water swimmers
Zone 3 Silicone Swimming Cap
If you want a simple, functional swim cap that will suit lots of different swimming adventures and won’t break the bank, look no further than Zone 3’s unisex silicone cap. It does what it says on the tin, using durable, stretchy silicone to protect your hair and fit most head sizes, although swimmers with large heads or lots of hair may find this too tight a fit.
We like it because it’s available in various acid-bright colours that will make you more visible in open water, including pink, yellow and orange. And at under £6, it’s a no-brainer of a purchase, especially if you don’t already own a brightly coloured hat.
Colours available: black/yellow/pink/orange/red
Sizes: One size
Pros: Good classic silicone design, great bright colours available, great price point
Cons: Does pull on hair when you’re popping it on and off, doesn’t fit larger heads
Price £5.99 (RRP £5.99) $7.99
Speedo Recycled Cap
Speedo have made choosing recycled easy with this simple, affordable and effective cap. Constructed with recycled instead of new silicone, this cap is warm, protective and durable. It’s also a tad easier to pull on and off than your average silicone hat thanks to a wide bottom band. The material feels thicker and warmer than some silicone caps, so it’s a good all-rounder if you like to swim both indoors and out in all seasons. This one-size-fits-all design is stretchy enough to work for most heads (and most hair lengths), and we like the minimalist grey speckled colourway, although this isn’t a hat to choose if you’re looking to be more visible in the water.
Colours available: grey
Sizes: One size
Pros: A good choice if you want to pick a recycled design, warm and durable silicone, doesn’t tug on hair
Cons: Neutral colourway won’t improve visibility outdoors
Price £9 (RRP £9) $12
Decathlon Mesh Swim Cap
If you’re on a budget we recommend a browse through Decathlon’s range of swim caps, which are all functional, hard-wearing and brilliantly-priced, mostly under £5. Our pick of the hat pack is this comfortable mesh fabric design, which is very easy to pull on and off with no tugging at all – great if you find rubbery hats uncomfortable. Once on, this cap has a surprisingly snug fit that doesn’t budge but also doesn’t feel restrictive to wear.
Unlike most swim hats, two sizes are available, but the ‘small’ seems aimed at children, and most adults will need to try the large for size.
Colours available: blue/black/pink/blue and yellow
Sizes: small and large
Pros: Two sizes available, comfortable mesh fabric doesn’t pull on hair, great affordable price point
Cons: Not as warm as silicone and lurex designs, not splash-proof
Price £2.99 (RRP £2.99) $3.99
Zone 3 Neoprene Swimming Cap
If you love swimming all year round, you might be in the market for a swim cap you can swap to when the winter draws in and the water temperature plunges. Neoprene is a favourite with surfers and swimmers as a wetsuit material for its heat-trapping and flexible properties, and it works just as well on your head, keeping you comfortably in the water for longer without the dreaded brain freeze that winter swimming and ice swimming can otherwise cause.
Zone 3’s neoprene swim cap for cold water is a well-designed pick, adding welcome warmth but without much extra bulk. This bonnet-style hat has a Velcro strap under the chin so you can get a snug fit, and extra coverage of the ears and neck really help to keep things cosy. Choose from small, medium and large sizes.
Colours available: black
Sizes: small, medium, large
Pros: 4mm of neoprene acts like a wetsuit for your head, trapping in warmth well, the Velcro strap allows an adjustable fit, still reasonably hydrodynamic for a neoprene design
Cons: Neoprene is not as sustainable as yulex, design is not as aerodynamic as silicone or latex hats
Price £29 (RRP £29) $12.34
Bubble Swim Cap
We love the retro looks of the Bubble swim cap from vintage-inspired brand Fine Saratoga, which is delightfully easy to pop on and off your head. This thick latex cap is warm and comfy to wear and has a bit of stretch, so there’s room for long hair or a larger head. Latex is usually more breathable than silicone, but this design is quite thick and the ‘bubbles’ work as added insulation, so it works in colder conditions. The bubble cap fully covers the ears, which adds warmth but reduces how much you can hear above water.
If you want something functional but fashionable (well, as fashionable as swim caps get!), this is a fun choice.
Material: latex rubber
Colours available: nine available
Sizes: One size
Pros: Fun retro looks make this design stand out, warm and insulating, room for long hair
Cons: Heavier and not as streamlined as a classic silicone hat would be, not everyone will want their ears covered
Price £11.99 (RRP £11.99) $15.99
Soul Cap Large Swim Cap
Long-haired swimmers, unite! If you’ve got curly locks, luscious plaits, a gorgeous afro or a man bun, you probably already know that your average swim cap is not designed with you in mind. Luckily some brands do cater for you – and our favourite is Soul Cap. Their large swim cap does what it says on the tin, with more room to fit your hair. It’s also designed to limit pulling or catching your hair, and doesn’t feel tight or restrictive once it’s in place. Like other silicone caps, it’ll help protect your hair from salt water or chlorine, so if your hair is your pride and joy it’s a sensible choice. XL and XXL versions are also available for the biggest of barnets.
Colours available: eight available
Sizes: medium, large, XL, XXL
Pros: This large design has plenty of room for long or afro hair, silicone protects hair and insulates, range of sizes available
Cons: Won’t keep delicate hair 100% dry and chlorine-free, but then no cap will
Price £16 (RRP £16) $21.34
Patagonia R3 Yulex cap
Neoprene is a brilliant swim cap material for swimmers and surfers heading out in cold conditions, but this petroleum-based fabric is less good for the planet. Luckily there’s a new material on the block that wetsuit makers and swim cap designers are now using in their kit: yulex. This renewable, plant-based rubber is more sustainable than neoprene, but still has heat-holding properties, so it’s ideal for winter water and for ice swimmers. Our pick of the pack is Patagonia’s R3 cap, which is really well shaped to keep your head snug and protected – we like the peak for protecting your eyes when you’re swimming in the elements, and the soft thermal lining.
This hat doubles up nicely for surfing, so if you love both swimming and surfing it’s a worthwhile investment.
Colours available: black
Recycled: 68% recycled
Sizes: small, medium, large, XL
Pros: Made from yulex, a more sustainable alternative to neoprene, warm heat-trapping properties, lovely soft thermal lining
Cons: More expensive than some similar designs
Price £30 (RRP £35) $40
What we look for in the best swim caps for cold water
- Material: Most swimming caps on the market are made with silicone – this rubber/plastic hybrid is durable and provides insulation, so silicone caps work for most seasons. Latex has similar properties, but tends to be more breathable, and is cooler for summer swimming. Both materials are stretchy and will fit most head sizes, but can tug and pull on long hair when you put them on and pull them off. Lycra caps feel like stretchy cloth, and are more comfortable than silicone and latex, kinder on hair and easier to pull on an off, but they don’t provide much warmth and can slip in the water. In general, silicone and latex are ideal for dedicated sport swimmers, and lycra is a nice choice for more casual swimmers. Finally neoprene, and newer and more eco-friendly yulex, are both great at trapping warmth, so they’re the best choice for winter swimmers.
- Size: Swim caps are usually unisex designs and one-size-fits-all – if you have a larger head or need a smaller size, such as for teenagers, a stretchy silicone hat is more likely to fit than lycra.
- Hair type: Got a full head of hair? Look for a hat specifically designed for long hair with extra room for a bun. Swimming hijabs made of chlorine-resistant fabric are also available, such as this Adidas design (https://www.adidas.co.uk/swim-hijab/GT5078.html).
- Ethical materials: Some swim caps are now created using recycled materials such as old silicone. These work just as well as newly-minted materials, so they are an easy ethical purchase to make. Neoprene has traditionally been the warmest and best material to choose for winter swim caps, but as this material is petroleum based, it isn’t an environmentally-friendly choice. Yulex, a renewable plant-based rubber, is a good alternative that is starting to be widely used to make caps and wetsuits. If you’ve got a swim cap that’s reached the end of its life, you can also recycle it with schemes such as Sea And Stream’s initiative (https://seaandstream.co.uk/pages/recycle).
- Colour: The colour of your cap doesn’t matter much indoors, but if you’re an open water swimmer it’s a good idea to make sure you’re as visible as possible in the water. Pick a bright orange or pink swim cap (and couple it with a brightly coloured tow float) to make sure you stand out and stay safe.
You can read more about cold water swimming gear in our other articles:
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