top of page

Dip your toe in - 'wild dipping' for runners

Credit; Hannah Shaw/Jaguar Landrover

Whilst wild swimming offers all the health and fitness benefits of an aerobic, full body workout, cold water swimming and 'wild-dipping' usually involve a couple of minutes in the water at best. Why then has this become one of the biggest health trends of the last few years, with over 4.1 million people taking to lakes, lochs, rivers and sea each year?

The answer lies in how great it makes us feel and how little spare time you need to make this hobby a part of your lifestyle. Even the shortest of dips inevitably involve getting outdoors and enjoying some fresh air, while regular dips can positively impact poor mental health by reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Part of this effect is due to the social element and sense of community that comes from wild-dipping with pals. Sharing a little hardship or excitement brings people together and immersion in cold water can improve mood and kickstart your metabolism by way of an intense dopamine hit (dopamine is our 'feel good' hormone)!

Middle photo credit; Hannah Shaw/Jaguar Landrover

At Girls on Hills we're all about walking and running as a way of getting into wild, upland landscapes. But these same landscapes are also fabulous places to try wild-swimming or wild-dipping, as the swim spots are often clean, natural, quiet and remote. Running in the hills in summer can be hot and sweaty work, so a quick dip can feel even more refreshing and invigorating! Dipping in a chilly loch or river pool lowers heart rate, reduces inflammation and facilitates recovery of tired muscles (helping prevent DOMS!) Getting back into easy running after a dip is a great way to warm-up again and get the blood flowing to cold extremities. It's a good idea to do a little stretching first through, and start slowly with a walk, then into a jog. On our events, the emphasis is on wild-dipping rather than cold-water immersion. Remote or high-level locations (with mountain weather) are not the best places to be getting into very cold water (especially as a beginner)! Our Run Wild Dip Wild events take place in spring or summer with a qualified and insured swim coach in attendance, as well as a Mountain Leader qualified run guide. If you're a trail or fell runner who has never tried wild-swimming before, Run Wild Dip Wild events from Girls on Hills involve minimal kit and no prior-experience. You will have to run with a slightly bigger pack than usual (to carry your swim stuff and extra layers), so we always take a very relaxed and sociable approach to the running, with lots of easy jogging and walking built-in - as well as plenty of snack stops.

These events take place in the Glencoe area, which has become justifiably famous for it's roadside swim spots, where the obligatory mid-dip selfie has become a right of passage. But at Girls on Hills we don't do roadside! Our local guides know all the secret spots and hidden gems - and we trust you not to tell!

Here we speak to certified Swim Coach (Level 2 Open Water Safety) and Girls on Hills guide Hannah about her views on combining her two passions of trail running and wild-swimming:

What do you enjoy about wild-dipping and how does it make you feel?

Wild-dipping is brilliant for reminding you to be in the moment! When you're in the water you are focused on the sensations of the water and your surroundings. All the normal noise in your head is turned off. If we get into cold water regularly, our brains recognise this feeling of discomfort. Then in other stressful situations our brains are likely to think this isn't so bad, and it helps us to regulate stress in every day life. 

I love the fact that every day in the water is different - depending on how I am feeling (the weather, the season, my mood etc). It's a great way to explore new places as adding a dip into your walk or run encourages you to head off the beaten track in search of stunning swim spots. 

What equipment do you need to get started?

To get started you simply just need a swimming costume, something to wear on your feet, a towel and plenty of warm, cosy clothes for afterwards. It is worth having something on your feet for rocky areas - this can be specific water shoes or neoprene socks/boots or an old pair of trainers. 

For colder weather, neoprene socks/boots and gloves make a big difference but aren't needed when you first get started in milder conditions. For swimming in a busier area, especially one with boats, then getting a tow float is definitely a worthwhile investment so you are seen more easily.

Any towel will be fine for getting dry/changed. Dry robes are great for cold weather days and for changing but you don't need one to get started. Clothing wise, any lose fitting, warm layers work well and make it easier to get dressed quickly afterwards. It is always worth bringing more layers for afterwards than you think you'd need, as our body continues cooling for around 20 minutes after getting out the water. A warm drink and a snack for afterwards will also help you warm up more quickly too.

What if you struggle with feeling too cold or have circulation issues?

As an open water swim safety coach and regular all season cold water dipper, I actually have Raynaud's myself and I have found that the cold water has massively helped my symptoms. 

The feeling of the cold water on your skin when you first start swimming outdoors never goes away but your body and brain simply normalise the feeling over time. 

My top tips for a safe and enjoyable dip are: 

1. Make sure you are well hydrated and have eaten fairly recently, as this helps our bodies respond better to the cold.

2. Plan or lay-out your kit for afterwards. It is worth having all the clothes, jackets, towel, shoes, hot drink and snack easily accessible, so that when you get out you can get warm more quickly. 

3. If using a towel instead of a dry robe, it's worth getting your top layer dressed first and then legs after, as we lose the most heat from our core. 

4. Manage your expectations and start small. Listen to your body and build up slowly. How about on the first try, only go in up to your waist, as your goal. If you feel up to it, try lowing your body slowly until your shoulders under. That might be your goal for a few times to get used to controlling your breathing. Then you can build up to swimming a little, I always recommend staying within your depth as then you can put your feet down and get out whenever you like. 

5. Focus on yourself not others. Everyone deals with the cold differently. Just because your friend can stay in for 5 minutes in winter doesn't mean you need to. Listen to your body and get out before you feel cold. 

6. Neoprene gloves and boots are great and we have poorer circulation and lots of sensory nerve endings in these areas, so it helps to stop it feeling so icy!

7. Regular cold showers are a great way to get our bodies used to the cold water. 

8. Having Raynaud's myself, I often need to wear more layers than my friends when I get out. And I have learnt to accept my hands going white is very normal for me. Mittens are better than gloves for warning your hands up. 

Credit; Hannah Shaw/Jaguar Landrover

What are the safety considerations?

There are lots of safety considerations to make before getting into the water. Is the water quality okay to swim in, how deep is the water/how fast is it flowing, how easy is it to get in and out, how long should I stay in, how will I feel afterwards etc. 

Attending a Girls on Hills course will help give tips of what to look for a safe swim spot as well as showing some stunning spots to explore as part of a journey in the hills. 

Dipping in shallow river pools or streams with waterfalls is a great way to get your body used to how the cold water feels for you. Loch/lake/tarn and sea swimming spots need to be chosen very carefully, so it's worth doing some research and speaking to other swimmers before jumping in headfirst (punn intended!). Swimming up and down the beach or shore instead of out to sea is a great way to get a more of a swim without needing to go out of your depth. 

You will build-up tolerance over time, so start-off with slightly milder weather/warmer water. Entering very cold water can be a shock to the system and cause rapid breathing, as well as numbness and pain in the hands and feet. It's important to stay calm in the water, then warm up straight away when you get out -staying warm for at least 20-30 minutes after leaving the water. If you're new to wild swimming, build-up the time you are submerged slowly. A couple of minutes is plenty in colder water - don't stay in too long!

How can you spot Hypothermia?

Spotting if someone is becoming hypothermic on the hill is much easier than when they are submerged in water/swimming. Stay vigilant and keep checking on your swim buddies. If someone is experiencing hypothermia, you might notice some or all of the following symptoms:

  • deteriorating quality of swim stroke

  • they look pale and have a blank, lost expression

  • they complain of cold

  • speech is slow and can become labored/slurred.

  • they mumble aor become incoherent

  • lack of reasoning

  • shivering (a swimmer who is experiencing violent shivering should be removed from the water immediately) and teeth chattering

  • reduced dexterity, unable to dress themselves and finding it hard to walk/run normally

Why is dipping with friends or a group so fun?

Wild dipping is a wonderful thing to share as part of a group because it enables you to slow down and enjoy your surroundings. Likeminded conversation whilst organising kit and seeing smiles on everyone's face is a big boost - and of course putting the world to rights after!

In a group, especially on on a good weather day, it's great to sit and enjoy flasks of hot drinks and cakes together, all wrapped-up in layers to cosy. On wet weather days, having others with you is a great motivator to get in the water - and as you are getting wet anyway, it is never as bad as you might expect! Going in alone creates additional safety considerations, so having others around is a more relaxing experience. Keep an eye on each other, both in the water and after you get out.

Our 2024 Run Wild Dip Wild events in Glencoe will take place on July 6th & 7th and also on September 14th & 15th. Join us and dip your toe in...

Hidden location - Glencoe!

Girls on Hills Ltd

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page