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To robe or not to robe…

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

The first part of this article reflects on what draws Wild Swimmers to the robe; the second part offers thoughts about, and experiences of, some of the available options.


Having too much is a theme that runs through modern society, the desire to accumulate what we think we need being deeply etched into our psyche, rippling through our playful and demanding ancient hearts. Sinister undertones now work with this to distort our perspective on the natural world, creating powerful projections that we mistake for the truth.

The culture of Wild Swimming has developed its own unique and accepted norms, such as dress codes and equipment. The burning itch and desire to ‘wild swim’ is in itself one new-found socially accepted modern example. Yet within the culture and sub-culture of this past time, we witness an ever-expanding offering of commercial products associated with this wild activity.

Just for the record, Wild Swimming used to be called ‘swimming’. In the past, swimmers just swam in lakes, rivers, oceans and seas simply with the intention to feel connected with the surroundings and within themselves. For the love of swimming. Just because it felt good. Now even this simple activity has a brand associated with it: The Wild Swimmer, Wild Swimming...

The Wild Swimmer. The name has given birth to a new identity of swimmer: the adventurer swimmer, a person who treks to the farthest corners on this globe to find new un-swum places.

These are exciting times to be a Wild Swimmer, to be in the midst of this newfound passion and love of the unflattering harsh landscapes and watery conditions. What comes to light is that it is this harshness has become the attraction. This very hearty, gutsy, gusto attitude has made the once deep dangerous lakes and vast oceans appealing and very acceptable places for the trained and experienced open water, Wild Swimmer.

The much-loved robe has become a paradigm that has captured the minds, bodies and souls of the Wild Swimmer. There’s a dazzling array of choice, colours and prices, all elusively offering exceptional durability, comfort and protections from the elements. We have even seen the raise of the anti-robe-re; they stand firm in harsh wintery conditions with minimal clothing, if any clothing at all, other than an old towel and flip flops.

There is a paradox: the desire to suffer the cold conditions associated with open water Wild Swimming (especially in winter), and yet embrace the comfort, warmth and security of our much cherished and loved robes. Don’t curse the darkness, create light.

Let the wild yearn for a robe that really is ultra-warm and completely waterproof; that stops the wind whistling up the legs and down the sleeves; a robe that fits well and packs down tight, plus being super lightweight and not a huge bulky item. All the things the outdoor-wild adventurist swimmer needs. Something for the long-haul to the remote places they are destined to explore, with only what is carried in their packs – or in the back of the car.

Whatever robe you’re in, a feeling of security pampers the individual into a cosy illusion of contentment and acceptance. Just as long as you buy a robe that is slightly different in colour or style or brand to your wild-swimming peers – individuality! (Or buy a robe with the same plumage and markings as your family, group, clan tribe…)

Please consider; the earliest robes were never intended for swimmers in the first place. This was a creative evolutionary leap from wild surfers, who used them along the coast line of Cornwall; the Jurassic coastline with its links to our ancient history. However, robes for non-swimmer’s agasp??? Why would you wear one if you are not a swimmer? Witnessing robes in urban city centres feels so very weird and wrong (not passing judgment!).

The world’s history is blessed with a great many traditions of divinations; the practice of seeking knowledge/wisdom of the future or the unknown by supernatural means. The oldest book in printed history is exactly one of these; the I Ching. This book is over four thousand years old and has an unknown history of many more thousands of years spent in the act of observation, not to mention the eons of time spent in data collections and collating the universal sequencing to arrive at your hexagram number. The question to ask is?

By what means will you choose your robe? Or not choose a robe! Our fundamental choice of which robe to buy may be driven by our emotional centres, the oldest part of the brain, the Limbic system. Or perhaps it is driven by the weight of customer reviews, or from peer pressure for acceptance into Wild Swimming groups?

This multifunctional item of clothing is intended to keep you warm and dry, as an addition to your usual kit, or clothing. Like an over-overcoat. Robes are a wonderful asset, and can be used continuously in a variety of ways, far beyond Wild Swimming, or even just swimming; no need to mention the wild (or urban) with these robes.

Let’s say, robes actually are wonderful; and thank heavens for their invention we cry. Go nowhere without one.

But which robe?

Before you buy, think about the swims you do and how (if) a robe will enhance those swims. Loads of people have one - but do you need one? People have swum for years without and you can definitely use the layers you already have to keep warm - base layers, jumpers, gilet then down coat. You don’t need one; but do you want one? If so, what for?

Perhaps you like to walk upstream then swim back to your dry kit. A robe you can wear over your swim kit to walk in, but neat enough to fold up and tuck into your tow float, is pretty handy.

Some robes are bulky and heavy, so think about how far you walk with your robe and how to store it at home.

Also, where will you leave it while you swim?

Can you stow it away?

Would you like something agile and light?

Do you want changing robe or something more like a coat?

Are eco credentials important to you?

And aesthetics, for example, do you like loud branding or something more subtle?

Here are some choices seen amongst Lock to Lock swimmers, with the unanimous decision that long sleeve is best!

Prices as found on an internet search, updated January '23.

Dry Robe Advance long sleeve (£160)

Most popular in the wild swimmer community (and beyond) with a wide variety of bright colours and versions, big logo on both sides. It is wide and weatherproof, excellent insulation for changing and hanging out, but think about where you will stow it – quite heavyweight and an investment.

Passenger Escapism Recycled Sherpa Lined Changing Robe (from £119)

These robes are really good value but feel generous - they have outstanding comfort with a soft sherpa lining, and feel flexible, but not bulky. Big plus is they pack down easily, can even be stowed in a tow float and come with a neat bag. Lovely colour and pattern choices too.

Red Change Robe EVO (£159.95)

Toggled hood is a winner here as is the impressive array of updated features, worth checking out for its very well considered and compact design.

Charlie McLeod Eco Sports Cloak Long Sleeve Change Robe (£129.95)

Solidly constructed, impressive array of inside and outside pockets, welcome slit side seams when you have to move yourself faster than a cold shuffle. A very well made solid contender, good value.

Moonwrap (£99)

Waterproof, thick and durable with wide variety of colours and sleeve options. Good value.

Zone3 Polar Fleece Parka Robe (£99)

This robe is an elegant alternative overcoat with fleece-lined interior and good overall insulation and warmth. It is not so roomy to be a comfortable changing robe but has good features for stowing stuff water-side. It’s also slightly shorter in the leg than the big robes. A good looker pool-side.


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