Drop the Dryrobe, this is how to fend off the damp this winter

Kate Bussman wearing a Wylding suit - John Nguyen
Kate Bussman wearing a Wylding suit - John Nguyen

I was sure I wouldn’t like it. I’d seen someone in a Wylding suit last January – a fleece-lined, waterproof boiler suit designed to be worn after outdoor swimming – and she was thrilled with hers, but to me, it looked faffy and gimmicky. And, having resisted the already ubiquitous Dryrobe so far, I could not see why this new cover-up would be any better than tracky bottoms and a sweater. A Dryrobe with legs? That is what the Wylding suit seemed to me. I needed to see what all the fuss was about.

I have to admit, as one of the ever growing hordes of outdoor cold water swimmers, I have accrued an awful lot of kit, much of it not cheap, but all of it essential. Especially the type that keeps body temperature at a healthy level. Last week, Parliament Hill Lido in north London issued a warning to swimmers after seeing “at least one hypothermic incident every day for the past week”, with one employee telling The Telegraph that “not everyone is experienced and undertaking proper acclimatisation”.

Apart from the much-vaunted benefits of cold water swimming, it’s a whole new category to shop. Now that it’s below 9C I’m layering a shorty wetsuit over a long-sleeve swimsuit, with neoprene socks and gloves. Some wear neoprene hats, even the type that do up under the chin. Many splashed out on a changing robe – even in 2022, John Lewis is reporting a 50 per cent uptick in sales of them.

Kate Bussmann - John Nguyen
Kate Bussmann - John Nguyen

Leader of the pack is the Dryrobe, a tent-like hooded thing with a waterproof outer and a fleece inner. Between 2019 and 2021, sales increased a whopping 600 per cent at £160 a pop, proliferating on beaches, poolside and at triathlons across the country (fans include Harry Styles, Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington). It’s simultaneously an in-group/out-group signifier: hideously unflattering to the non-believer, it broadcasts to those in the know that you’re in the cold-water club.

New kid on the block is the Wylding suit. It came into being during Lockdown, the brainchild of Daniela Bohling, who has a background in product design, and Millie Dornan, a musician, composer and former actress (and wife of Fifty Shades star Jamie).

Wild swimmers both, their lightbulb moment came in September 2020, when getting dressed after a dip in the river Teifi. Having come in a loose-fitting boiler suit, Dornan was dressed in a flash, while Bohling noticed that putting a fleece on her wet skin dried her off “surprisingly fast”. “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a boiler suit with fleece inside?” said Dornan. “We could make one,” replied Bohling; and they did. Priced identically to the Dryrobe, the first batch went on sale last July, selling out by November, and then again in the new year.

Millie Dornan and Daniela Bohling - Chris McAndrew
Millie Dornan and Daniela Bohling - Chris McAndrew

“I’ve got one and I love it – I can cycle in it, and people are always asking me where it’s from,” insists my editor, who I often see at the lido. I tell her that I’m not convinced. Still, on the day it arrives, unrelenting rain is causing floods across the country, and I have a school run to do and a neighbour’s dog to walk. So, reluctantly, I whip off my jeans and put the suit on. It’s far less bulky than I’d expected, so would squash into my bike basket while I swim, but it doesn’t look warm enough, with only a thin microfleece lining.

However, once I’m outside in the cold and rain, I remain perfectly toasty and completely dry; a very welcome change from damp jeans. And, as I soon discover, it is, as Bohling and Dornan claim, faff-free after a swim and quickly dries my damp skin (although I do need a thermal top underneath for extra warmth). And while the bottom half has what Bohling and Dornan describe as a “relaxed fit” with a drop crotch for ease of dressing (ie it’s very baggy), the top is more fitted, so I don’t feel quite as Michelin Man as I’d expected. Even my son, who’s brutally honest about my fashion choices, gives his approval.

Last year, I braved the water when it was 4.9C. The water burned, I only managed two laps, and it took hours to properly warm up afterwards, but I did it. Why do we do this to ourselves? Like many, I took up the habit in Lockdown, when it was pretty much the only form of exercise permitted bar jogging. Converts will tell you all kinds of things about its physical and psychological benefits, like that it supposedly wards off winter colds, but much of it is unproven. What is true is that after the rush of adrenaline and cortisol from plunging yourself into freezing water you experience a high, and that “cold water shock” lessens with repetition.

Kate Bussmann - John Nguyen
Kate Bussmann - John Nguyen

It’s also true that anything cold is welcome if you suffer from hot flashes in menopause, but I suspect that the real reason so many midlife women like me have become such cold-water bores is that it’s non-competitive. In a yoga class, I feel inferior to the women twisted into binds; in a freezing cold pool, it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. It’s a win that I even get in – however many lengths I manage after that.

So am I fan of the Wylding suit? I have it until next week, before it has to be returned. There are spring bulbs to be planted in the garden before then - a damp, mucky job, it will definitely come in handy. This weekend, I’m off for a muddy walking weekend in the country, staying with friends and their two big dogs. The Wylding is coming with me, that’s all I’ll say.

Try these

Wild swimming products
Wild swimming products

Water bottle, £35, Ocean Bottle (oceanbottle.co); Orca Neoprene hat, £23, Sigma Sports (sigmasports.com) Neoprene gloves, £29, Zone 3 (zone3.com

Wild swimming products
Wild swimming products

Swim change bag, £110, Walpole & Stone (walpoleandstone.co.uk); Alpaca knee high socks, £34.99, Pairs Scotland (pairs-scotland.com); Shearling and suede shoes, £160, Birkenstock (birkenstock.com)

Would you wear the Wylding suit? Tell us in the comments below