The best changing robes for finish-line warmth and post-swim cosiness
Once a niche item, the changing robe (often referred to as a 'dry robe', though that is the name of arguably the most well-known changing robe brand) has gone mainstream.
Ubiquitous at obstacle course races, winter finish lines and rugged outdoor swim spots, its oversized silhouette is unmistakable. But what exactly is a changing robe? And why would you need this expensive piece of kit?
What is a changing robe?
Weather-proof on the outside, roomy on the inside and usually featuring a warm, fleecy lining, the changing robe emerged more than a decade ago to keep surfers warm and sheltered from the elements while they changed out of their wetsuits. Intentionally oversized, their spacious design creates a portable changing room for the wearer, allowing them to slip their arms out of the robe sleeves and discreetly remove wet kit from within it – all while staying cosy and protected from the wind and rain.
Although a long-time favourite of winter obstacle course racers, the boom in wild swimming put the changing robe on the mainstream radar, and since then, they’ve become a mainstay of the outdoor enthusiast thanks to their brilliant versatility. Post-swim cosiness? Tick. Race changing station? Tick. Marshalling in a hailstorm? Pre-training warmth? Side-line spectating? Tick, tick, tick. Bung one in your boot, and you’re good to go.
What to look for in a changing robe?
As with most sports items, much comes down to personal preference and intended use; a heavyweight robe suited to winter swimming might be overkill for a fair-weather runner seeking finish-line warmth on a dry summer’s day.
That said, here are some things to consider.
Short-sleeve or ¾ sleeve robes allow greater arm movement (helpful when removing a wetsuit, for example) and are better for milder days, but if you want your robe for the coldest, wettest weather and require max warmth, longer sleeves offer greater coverage and protection.
Poncho or traditional style
If you find tackling zips with cold, numb fingers frustrating, you may prefer a simple over-the-head poncho. However, traditional zip-up robes are often simpler and less faffy to put on and take off.
Changing robes are intentionally oversized, so you can change beneath them. If warmth is your only requirement, many brands suggest sizing down. However, check individual size guides; most are based on height rather than dress size, so you may need to rethink your usual choice.
For maximum protection from wind and rain, opt for full-length robes with details such as waterproof outer shells, taped seams (which keep water out of the stitching), moisture-wicking linings, storm flaps, adjustable hoods and cuffs and two-way, reversible zips, so you can unzip your robe from the bottom and the inside. Meanwhile, fleece-lined outer pockets will help keep your hands toasty and warm.
Most brands we’ve featured include an element of recycled or sustainable materials, with some others pledging to move in this direction. Dryrobe and Finisterre are both B Corp certified, meaning they are recognised for high standards of social and environmental performance. In addition, Vivida, Red, Dryrobe and Finisterre use eco-friendly durable water repellents (DWR), which are better for the environment.
How we tested
Our team of testers put these robes through their paces in the Peak District during a freezing January and February. Think: icy winter dips, minus-temperature trail runs and hours spent spectating sports in the cold and rain. We considered their warmth, protection from the elements, thoughtful features and, where relevant, absorbency.
The best changing robes for 2023
Best robe for torrential downpours: Gill Aqua Parka
Sizes: XS – XL
With decades of wet weather expertise behind it, we suspected this Aqua Parka from waterproof clothing specialist Gill would set a high bar, and we weren’t wrong. Looking more like a waterproof coat than a changing robe, its slimline outer shell has an almost rubber-like texture and includes welded seams for a permanent waterproof finish. To put it to the ultimate test, we sprayed it at close range with a powerful hand-held shower for several minutes. Impressively we remained bone dry inside. On the changing front, it’s spacious, stretchy (it includes four-way stretch fabric) and easy to manoeuvre inside. The cuffs adjusted tight on narrow wrists, and we felt warm in the furry high-loft thermal fleece lining. Pockets-wise, there are four, including two soft-lined hand-warming zip pockets and a large internal zip valuables pocket. Our meagre grumble? The rubbery outer material feels a tad cold if it touches bare skin.
Best does-it-all changing robe: Dryrobe Advanced Long Sleeve
Sizes: S – XL
Dryrobe’s pioneering changing robes were originally designed for founder Gideon Bright to use after surfing, but more than a decade later, they’ve saved the bacon of many a hyperthermic obstacle course racer and are loved by outdoor enthusiasts and cold-water swimmers alike (including Ross Edgley, who wore one during his Great British Swim challenge). Uber-warm, the recycled synthetic lambswool lining includes long fleece fibres designed to draw water away from the body, and it certainly kept our testers from becoming cold in damp kit. 'It’s like being cocooned in a giant fleecy shelter,' said one. There’s ample changing space, two-way, reversible YKK zips, an internal waterproof chest pocket, fleecy zip hand warmer pockets and an internal poacher’s pocket. The robe is made from 100% recycled fabrics, and the DWR coating is PFC-free. This isn’t a robe for packing light, but otherwise, it ticks every box – for swimming, sports, spectating and beyond.
Best waterproof poncho: Gorilla Robes Eco Recycled Waterproof Dry Changing Robe
Sizes: S – XL
Hate tackling zips with cold fingers? Enter the Gorilla Robe. This waterproof poncho incorporates all the must-haves of a traditional robe (deep pile Sherpa wool, recycled waterproof outer, fleecy hood, Velcro cuffs, taped seams) without the zip-up middle. Instead, long toggle side zippers allow you to pop it over your head for easy changing. After an ice-breaking winter dip, our tester was impressed by its warmth and wind protection: 'Chatting in minus temperatures after a freezing swim, I felt cosy and warm. The zip at the neck makes it easier to remove top layers, it’s roomy, and the mid-shin length is spot-on.' In a genius move, the huge front pocket fits a hot water bottle for post-event warmth and there’s a fleecy zipped kangaroo pocket beneath it to keep your hands warm. It is hefty, and the poncho style might not suit everyone, but at under £90, it’s excellent value.
Best streamlined changing robe: Red Original Long Sleeve Pro Change Robe Evo
Sizes: S – XL
If bulky robes turn you off, this one from watersports specialist, Red, is for you. Made from soft-drape recycled fabric with recycled lining, it feels lighter than most (almost blowing away when one tester took a windy dip outdoors!), yet its snuggly-soft, thick-pile Sherpa fleece and waterproof outer offer substantial warmth and wind protection. The considered features impressed us, too: a zipped waterproof outer chest pocket, magnet-close fleece outer pockets (because zips feel cold against cold skin), wind baffle, furry toggled hood, adjustable cuffs, side stretch panels for easy changing, taped seams and one of the softest linings we encountered. It was a pleasure to wear for a myriad of activities, including hockey coaching, boot camp, and a swim in zero temperatures. We suggest towel-drying before wearing it, but otherwise, thumbs-up all around. We didn’t want to take ours off.
Best for spring/summer races and adventures: Saltrock Festival Poncho
Sleeve: ¾ length
Not every occasion calls for a heavyweight changing robe. This budget-friendly, water-resistant poncho is just the ticket for post-race warmth, camping, and hiking in milder weather. Its one-size, unisex design is reversible, teaming a lightweight, insulating fibre-filled padded outer with a soft microfibre fleece lining. The snug adjustable hood is good for blustery days (it’s small, though, so lose the bobble hat), and there’s a kangaroo pocket for hand warming, plus a huge zipped pocket in front of it for valuables. Being one-size, there’s ample room for changing, aided by the ¾ length sleeves. 'It’s soft and lightweight with poppers down the side for easy adjustments – brilliant for the finish line or around a summer campfire.' Better yet, you can open the whole poncho up, so it doubles as a picnic blanket.
Best Dryrobe alternative: Wild Moose Changing Robe
Sizes: XS/Teen – L. Also available in S/M+ Curvy Moose
When a changing robe is favoured by ice-plunging Peak District swimmers, you know it’s a good sign. During testing, we bumped into several ‘Moose’ who raved about the thick sherpa fleece lining and the cosy hood, which passes the bobble hat test. Taped seams, Velcro cuffs, a two-way, reversible YKK zip with handy pull and wide sleeves combine for a comfy changing experience, even when it’s blowing a hoolie. It’s also impressively absorbent. Like the Dryrobe, it has two external fleece-lined zip pockets, a waterproof zipped internal chest pocket and a large internal open pocket. In addition, the sizing is thoughtfully inclusive – although generously roomy as standard, for curvier 5” to 5”5 folks, the S/M+ option provides extra width but crucially without the extra length most robes deliver. We’re also happy to hear that a move to recycled materials is on the cards.
Best Puffer Changing Robe: Vivida Puffer Changing Robe
Sizes: S – XL
Oozing understated luxury, this waterproof Puffer looks and feels like a high-end coat but offers the warmth, protection and space of a changing robe. Uniquely, it uses a synthetic down fill to trap in heat and includes a recycled honeycomb fleece lining. The cosy quilted toggle-fit hood kept us feeling toasty and cocooned in freezing temperatures, and there was unanimous love for the soft wrist gaiters among our testers. There’s also a draft collar, Velcro cuffs, easy-grab two-way zip and six pockets for squirrelling away valuables. On the changing front, we could have done with little more arm wriggle space, but otherwise it’s roomy. This isn’t the robe for sitting around in wet kit, but for warmth, wind protection, and a luxurious lightweight feel, it impressed us. It also squashes into the free lightweight reversible pack-away bag, which doubles as a travel pillow (soft side) and change mat (water-repellent side).
Best ‘pro athlete’ aesthetic: Zone3 Recycled Heat-tech Changing Robe
Sizes: XS – XL
With its streamlined aesthetic, you’ll look every inch the pro wearing this sleek changing robe from triathlon brand Zone3. Featuring a 100% recycled outer shell and inner fleece, it’s one of the lightest and most comfortable robes we reviewed. It also has one of the softest fleece linings: moisture-wicking Heat-Tech thermal fleece, which feels incredible against bare skin (tester tip: towel-dry first). The stretch side panels allow easy manoeuvrability (helpful when wrestling with a wetsuit), while the shin-length design, breathable outer shell and neck guard lend protection from the elements. Although not fully waterproof, it kept us dry during January showers. Stash your energy gels in one of two phone-sized zipped pockets (internal and external) while your hands stay toasty in the fleecy outer ones. Our one gripe is the draughty wrist cuffs – we couldn’t adjust them tight enough.
Best heavyweight robe £100 and under: Dhb Hydron Changing Robe
Sizes: M-L (available in Junior/Small - £80).
Whilst the Hydron doesn’t have the bells and whistles of some of the tech-packed robes here, it gets the basics of warmth and weather protection right. 'The thick Sherpa fleece and chunky water-resistant outer make it feel cosy after a chilly trail run, and the large, looped pull on the two-way YKK zip is easy to manage with cold fingers,' said one tester. Handily, the zip is also saltwater- and freshwater-resistant. The outer shell is bulky but feels robust, so you’ll have no problems chucking it in mucky car boots after an event. On top of the internal zipped valuables pocket, there are two outer fleece-lined zip pockets. However, our testers did report that these seemed set unnaturally far back.
In dry January weather, the ¾ sleeves weren’t a problem with layers underneath, but after a cold swim, we’d plump for the long-sleeve version, which launches in March.
Best for travelling light: Finisterre Tego Changing Robe
For days when a heavyweight robe would be overkill, there’s the Tego from surf brand Finisterre. This lightweight, streamlined robe has no bulk to it and is easy to pack down for races and adventures overseas. The sleek, shin-length design includes a thin yet warm honeycomb fleece lining (ideal for milder temperatures), an adjustable hood and a water-resistant outer for protection from the elements. The fit is roomy but not tent-like, the cuffs adjust super tight, and the reversible zip allows you to unzip from inside the robe during changing. Pockets-wise, there are two fleece-lined external ones, although these are non-zip, so stash your valuables elsewhere. Verdict: A super choice for packing light.
Finisterre takes sustainability seriously: the Tego is made from a recycled nylon outer material and 100% recycled fleece inner. It uses fluorocarbon-free DWR (durable water repellents), and it arrived in a water-soluble, ocean-safe, biodegradable bag designed to break down into non-toxic biomass.
Best beach to brunch robe: Cape Cove Snuggler Waterproof Changing Coat
Sizes: XS – XL
Standing out in a sea of sporty-look robes, the Snuggler’s stylish design will take you from beach to brunch without looking out of place. Our testers liked the high-quality finishes (N.B. it’s the most expensive item here) and the stylish print design. The robust recycled polyester outer is fully waterproof, there’s a warm Sherpa fleece collar, adjustable hood, and two external zip pockets. Although the recycled Sherpa lining wasn’t the softest, it won points for absorbency, with one impressed tester describing it as drawing water away ‘like magic’ post swim. We could have done with a tad more room to slip our arms in and out, but otherwise, its oversized design had room for changing. An internal drawcord pulls in the waist area to lend it shape, which is a nice touch, as is the pink lining and heart-shaped internal zip pocket, which includes a nifty sunglasses arm holder.
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