"Don't go out in the cold with Wet Hair"-A Lesson we learned as a child -Value of Good Swimhat


In cold water swimming - 
  wearing a good hat is vital to your health. 
Take your head and the heat seriously-it may prevent your body from getting cold. 

For many cold is what prevents us from staying in the water and cold after our swim-

Maybe it's not about losing heat from the body-but it's about slowing the speed that the cold can get in and take hold...  
If keeping your head warm can slow down the cold you feel? 


"From a surface body area -the head itself is small and only contributes about 7% to the surface area of the body when immersed" according to Giesbecht and Pretorius 2005.  

Do we need to worry about the heat and the head? -the head is only 7% of total surface area of the body.
Having cold hands and cold feet is that the same as having a cold head?
Is there a reason as a child we were warned to keep our heads warm and not go out in the cold with wet hair?

One hat, two hats, neoprene swim hat, diving hood and no hat? the choices of many swimmers are more often than not born from the environment from which we swim and live. There is so much talk about swim hats that I wanted to questions a few areas after my years of swimming and travel to 0 degree Ice.  If you swim in cold water but have good heat post swim-it's different from swimming in Ice and having a - 20 deg air and wind chill. 

The contribution to the overall heat loss from the head, mathematically, as a result of being immersed in cold water is not that great on the scale of a body surface area immersed -it's only 7 % of the body surface. Not a huge heat loss.
Tyumen 2014

All our lives it was always "Don't go out with a wet head" "Get dressed from the head down after a swim"  "Make sure the back of your neck is covered" It was driven into us. I come from a fishing family and as a child I was allowed out without shoes but never without a hat.

Why do we need to know this?

The science shows us that heat loss or core cooling is the opposite side of the same coin-

It is the effect and impact to the body of having a cold head and if that could impact our ability to swim and our health?



Importance to have a hat that comes down over neck
 There is so little research done on this area but let us try and follow logic with what we actually do already have.

Some studies say that a cold wet head can contribute up to a 40% increase on the cooling of the core temperature- we get cold quicker.

That is working the research on Giesbrecht and his fellow scientists. This does not include “whole head submersion”

Research on submersion of the back of the head/neck in ice water as low as 0-5 degree, showed that the cold wet back of the head may contribute as much as 250% to the cooling of the body-again on research by Giesbrecht and his team. That is the statement.
Whether it applies to you or not it has a part to play-that is a huge variable. 

I was fascinated when we travelled to Siberia-in 2012 in Russia at 0 degree water, air temps was at - 33 degree -just breathing was a nightmare!!!
Once we got into the water the pain in the head area was intense-face in the water was cruel searing pain-my first time in water under 6 degrees.
Edward in Tyumen air - 33 deg-hair and eyes
frozen but he is so comfortable with
these temps. 

Many swimmers wore both neoprene diving hoods, neoprene hats with straps and also wool hats instead of standard swimming hats of silicon. It intrigued me and many times I just thought they were causal swimmers. But then they were clocking up distances to 1000m swimming in just a wooly hat-breast stroke, keeping their heads above the water so they were not casual-they were serious.

I was driven to understand the value of the hat and why as swimmers we make the choices we do. I know when I wear a bad hat. 

Over the winter period in our water in Ireland I train with 2 hats (for reasons of heat) that don’t slip -it is so important that hats come low to your lower neck.

Strong Silicon Hat is vital and ensure ears are covered-
relay in Tyumen 2016 WWSC









The area at the back of the head/brain is responsible for the heat regulation of the body this is called the hypothamlus and this regulates the body temperatures. This a vital area. 

We have more experience of the dangers of being overheated in a swim/dive and it's risks, it would appear much less attention to the information on factors to cooling and the minutia that we need to manage as swimmers, now in an frequent and extreme environment.
Alexander Brylin after 1 hr at 0 deg - 33 Air temp 2,100m 

I firmly believe that swimming without a hat for any distance front crawl in competition in cold water is not advisable-so I investigated some information. Many Russians who are acclimatised often do swim without a hat.
2 hats-I would have worn 3 we were so intimidated
 by the cold
First time swimming at 0 deg-Air temps MINUS 33 deg

Dr Irina Zhidkova is one of the most knowledgable medical doctors at the forefront of documenting Ice Swimmers, in my opinion, in the field. So much study is done in clinical environment and also on research-Doctor Irina and Doctor Nataliya Fatyanova have been at the cold front (excuse the pun for the last four years with us) - having two medical doctors also being our friends has allowed me to ask so many questions on a curious level.
Dr Irina and Dr Nataliya on the Bering Strait Relay
Irina started with us in Tyumen and she maintained contact with us through Murmansk and then onto the the Bering Strait Relay from Russia to the USA and since then in the Ice. She has entire Cardiac files on me and their ability to practically apply the information is stunning.

As competitions now become more and more frequent the majority of swimmers -wool hats and neoprene have transferred to silicon and I was curious as to the usage of neoprene and wool hats.

While out in Krasnoyarsk at the scientific conference-I asked Dr Irina and others what the opinion was on the medical ramifications on hats and the potential injury areas are to the swimmer.
It is very difficult to swim distance in a neoprene hood because of the buoyancy and the restrictions on the neck( in front crawl)  so why were so many Russians choosing neoprene to swim in?
Why is the head so important when it only covers 7% of the body surface area?
The Medical test at Krasnoyarsk

The answers regarding the neoprene hoods and hats was simple- to the point that it was basic.

Majority of Russian swimmers swim daily over a period of 4-6 months in air temperatures of possible - 30 degree to - 40 degree. 

It is crucial that the head and the neck and most important the lymphatic system are protected from extreme temperatures of -10 deg upwards.

A silicon hat does not offer heat, coverage and protection against these extreme temperatures on a daily basis.

It's not just the impact of the ice water-its the air temperature and the wind chill and the freezing water in the ears.

It's the speed of freezing of splashes of water on the skin and hair as we swim-that can impact the cold of the body.

I had not thought about that, at extreme temepratures-if water splashes on your neck, and your hair is wet at 0 degree water within seconds ice would form at those temps.. a frozen head must be a lethal combination to the health-to what degree there is no research-there are no answers I know.

One day, one swim -is not every day-we can all survive one day one swim with one hat-of course and of course people swim without any hats-for short course distance. Info is important ...

There is so much unknown about freezing the blood at the head but what is known is the value of keeping it warm-lets work to keep it warm.
Many are acclimatised to these
temps for short distance


  • My suggestion is 2 hats is better than one-if you are swimming in a very cold environment and exit the water-make sure you get dressed from the head down-wind chill.
  • Make sure that you wear a swim hat that caters for your hair-if you have long hair-make sure you pony tail the hair so it creates an air pocket and not strings out where your hair can get wet..
  • Make sure you have a seal on the hat and make sure your ears are covered and sealed.


Theories as to why we lose heat through the head-or why cold can impact, some include that the blood vessels do not constrict on the scalp due to the need for blood flow to the head -Blood flow on other areas of the body like arms and legs constricts and is slowed to prevent heat loss- not the head.
An Ice Cream headache is a searing pain when we swim without a hat to begin with.

The value of wearing a significant hat for swimming in the ice is further impacted by the results of the study where it listed by Hertzman (regional difference on maximal blood flow to the skin-1948) that the blood flow to the region of the head is 4-10 times greater than seen in the trunk or the limbs. 

Keeping the blood warm is crucial to prevent the brain cooling. 
As swimmers we should be looking to keeping the safety and the cognitive responses of the swimmer on our radar all the times. 

But there is much more research needed here to understand the tissue and blood responses to the cold. 
When I asked Dr Irina why we should work to keep our heads warm?

"The use of caps and earplugs are important for the prevention of early (freezing and infection) and late (meningitis, cancer and autoimmune inflammation) complications that can occur in a few months and years!!!" Dr Irina.

There is a value... Health Health and Health...

I think is it real to accept that swimming in cold water takes an enormous toll on the physical of the body-and the cold depletes the system to a point of incapacitation. The cold will take us.. so if we can in any way assist the body.. 

  • Look for a good quality silicon hat for competitions that require one hat. 
  • Be mindful that it covers your ears and lower on neck. 
  • Does not slip and mostly is the heaviest silicon you can get- (some is very slight and will rise off your head) 
  • Do not use a new hat for the first time at a long distance event. 


My small question has morphed into a key vital area that I feel as we spend more and more time swimming in the winter and in the Ice-we need to think about this. We need to protect our head.. Surfers are ahead of us here-they already risk assess for the cold water and cold wind chill. 

 
Photo Taken at Murmansk by
Shamil Tanna for Red Bull-swimmer
with chin strap 
Finally I asked Dr Irina about the Neoprene hat or hoods used by swimmers with chin straps. 


Obviously for protection and security of the swimmer, the use of neoprene caps, top rubber. Better to use hats that cover the neck and the chin (lymph nodes/lymphatic system-vital for colds and flues and infections). They do not slide-like some swim hats which fall off. It is possible to swim without a swim hat short distance and also without ear plugs if you swim breaststroke. 

Irina continued: 
" Maybe it is acceptable to allow in conditions to swim without a neoprene or swim hat beanie, if a temperature of air is +10 deg and no wind..maybe in these conditions no hat is ok"  

Short Distance without a hat.

So if the people who live and extreme conditions follow this practical advise-and our parents and grandparents drove the same information... let us believe there was a reason for it..

Always have good quality thermal hats for wearing in and around the Ice pool /sea and outdoors before and after the swim. 
If in very cold swims-please take the time to dry your hair and do not walk about with wet hair in freezing temps. 
Wet hair on your neck can cause a chill. 


Just my advice from my experience and my learning.. 
it's not about the heat loss.. it's not about preventing the loss of heat, it is all about preventing the cold from getting in..The risks of a cold head and a cold blood supply are real-from there we should start from. 
We can create best practice..by keeping the head warm. 




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