Outdoor pools can be wonderful to swim in and a great way to mix up your swimming routine, particularly if you swim indoors in the same pool all year around.
I recently started visiting many outdoor public pools in the UK (called lidos), and I noticed a significant difference in the swimming experience.
As a general rule, it can be harder to swim in an outdoor pool as the water and air temperature will not be as predictable as when swimming indoors. In addition, dealing with variable sun and wind conditions means that your swim is not as repeatable as with an indoor pool.
Currently, I am loving swimming in outdoor pools and I am considering joining a new swim club just because they have an all-year outdoor heated pool.
To mix up your swimming, it can be lots of fun to try a few days a month in an outdoor pool. In this article, I want to share what I have learned about outdoor swimming pools and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about outdoor pool swimming.
Is It Harder To Swim In An Outdoor Pool?
It is generally harder to swim in an outdoor pool as the weather and water conditions are variable.
With indoor pool swimming, typically the water temperature is maintained at a consistent temperature of around 26°C – 28°C (78°F – 83°F). In addition, with an indoor pool, there are no external influences from the bright sun, strong wind or cold air temperatures.
As a result, swimming in an indoor pool is far more consistent and comfortable than swimming in an outdoor pool.
That said, there is something exhilarating about swimming in an outdoor pool, particularly in the summer.
The Pros & Cons Of Swimming In An Outdoor Pool
Below, I summarise the pros and cons of swimming in an outdoor pool.
|Outdoor Pool Feature||Pros Of An Outdoor Pool||Cons Of An Outdoor Pool|
|Weather Conditions||Can be beautiful when the sun is out||Harder to swim in the rain and wind. Thunderstorms will close the pool.|
|Air temperature||Can be refreshing to move from cold air to warm water||Can be dangerous to move from warm air to cold water.|
|Air Quality||Fresh air outdoors is a big win, unlike stuffy indoor pools||–|
|Sun Burn||–||Can easily get sunburnt|
|Swimming Goggles||–||We need mirrored or smoked polarised goggles to reduce sun glare.|
|Changing Facilities||–||Typically, getting changed in an outdoor cubicle can be cold.|
1. Weather Conditions
Swimming outdoors in a heated pool is a wonderful experience. It is even more beautiful on a hot summer day, or a sunny and cool Autumn evening.
On the one hand, this experience of the great outdoors is a benefit of outdoor swimming. However, when the weather changes to less favourable conditions, it quickly turns into a disadvantage.
Although most outdoor public pools will open in the rain, if there is any sign of a thunderstorm within 5 miles of the pool, they will close. This is because of the high risk of a lightning strike and is a precautionary measure.
Many open water swimmers, who spend their summers swimming in the rivers, seas and lakes, will transition to an outdoor pool for the winter. For open water swimmers, any adverse weather such as rain or high winds is not a problem when swimming in an outdoor pool, as they are used to it.
Indoor swimmers who are used to a calm and temperature-regulated pool will find any adverse weather a bit of a shock when first swimming in an outdoor pool.
2. Air Temperature
Swimming indoors, the air temperature and humidity of the building are carefully maintained. For larger pools, in particular, this is essential to ensure that the high levels of humidity do not cause damage to the interiors of the building. [source]
As a result, large indoor pools have humidity and ventilation control that keeps the air temperature the same as the water temperature or between 1°C-2°C warmer than the pool water.
When stepping into a heated indoor pool, it can be a very nice and warm experience and takes seconds to adapt.
When swimming outdoors, cold air will reduce the surface water temperature and make the pool colder.
In addition, transitioning from hot air to a cold outdoor pool can be very uncomfortable and even dangerous if the pool water is too cold. Cold water shock can result if water temperatures are too cold to swim in.
I have covered the impact of cold water in greater detail in this article, “Swimming In Cold Water (What to expect as a beginner)“
3. Air Quality
The air quality while swimming in an outdoor pool is much better than swimming indoors.
Many public indoor pools are known for being stuffy, and the air often feels recycled and not fresh. This is because of the dehumidifying and ventilation systems needed to keep the air temperature slightly warmer than the pool water indoors.
While swimming in an outdoor pool, the air is fresh. This is one of my favourite aspects of swimming in an outdoor pool.
4. Sun Burn
If you are swimming in an outdoor pool, particularly on a sunny day, you should be conscious of the sun.
As someone who has skin that burns easily, this is a problem for me as I must protect my skin.
Personally, I dislike slathering on sunscreen all over my body as:
- It is a lot of effort to get full coverage.
- It will contaminate the pool or just wash off.
This is one of the added hassles and considerations of swimming in an outdoor pool.
5. Outdoor Swimming Goggles
Sun glare is a big problem while swimming in an outdoor pool.
To protect and cope with the sun rays while outdoor swimming, it is best to use either smoked polarised or mirrored swimming goggles.
I have covered polarised swimming goggles and mirrored swimming goggles in much greater depth in this article, “What Are Polarised Swim Goggles?“ and “Why Use Mirrored Swim Goggles? (Here’s what to know)“
6. Changing Facilities
Many outdoor public pools, particularly in the UK, provide outdoor changing facilities.
This can be as simple as a row of cubicles on the pool deck.
In cold and wet weather, this can be a big disadvantage of outdoor pool swimming as changing in these conditions is not comfortable.
Alternatively, you may have indoor changing facilities. Although this is usually much more comfortable, it still can be a discomfort walking to the outdoor pool if the air temperature is cold.
Are Outdoor Pools Warm?
Outdoor pools are warm if heated correctly. The temperature between outdoor pools varies considerably.
As a general rule, outdoor pools will feel cooler than indoor pools because of the influence of ambient air temperature. However, a heated outdoor pool should feel comfortable to swim in.
If a public outdoor pool is not heated, then this should be advertised on the pool website or the water temperature advertised either at the pool or again, on their website.
If you plan to visit an outdoor pool that is not heated, it is worth contacting the pool to ask what the water temperature is. Water temperatures below 20°C (35.6°F) can feel very cold for those who have not experienced it before.
Even on a hot summer’s day, an unheated pool can feel exceptionally cold.
It is important to understand water temperatures if swimming in an unheated pool and how it can affect your body. Water temperatures below 21°C (70°F) should be treated with caution as our breathing can be affected.
To learn more about cold water and the water temperatures that are dangerous, check out my article, “How Long Should You Stay In Cold Water? (When to get out)”, which covers this in much greater detail.
Can I Swim In An Outdoor Pool If It Rains?
It is safe to swim in an outdoor pool if it rains unless there is a risk of a thunderstorm.
If there is any sound of thunder or any sign of lightning, then you should not swim in an outdoor pool. This is because of the increased risk of a lightning strike because of the electrically conductive properties of water.
Here in the UK, outdoor public swimming pools will close if there is a sound of thunder or reports of a thunderstorm within a 5-mile radius.
Otherwise, swimming in an outdoor pool in the rain can be really beautiful and immersive. As you are already wet, it feels like you are looking out into the rain, while being surrounded by it.
What Do I Need For Outdoor Pool Swimming?
The equipment needed for an outdoor pool swim is similar to indoor pool swimming, but with a few adjustments. I have a slightly different swim kit for outdoor pool swimming.
1. Mirrored or Polarised Swim Goggles
Even on an overcast and grey day, the sun can cause glare on the water or cause you to squint.
Having a pair of mirrored or polarised swimming goggles is a great option to deal with the sun while outdoor swimming.
2. A Dry Bag
Although most outdoor pools have changing facilities and lockers for storage, having a dry bag is a great way to ensure your belongings remain dry.
Therefore, if you have to store your gear on the pool deck, it will remain dry. The Pack Wolf Company has great dry bags, and this is the dry bag I use. I recommend the larger 20-litre bag for a bit more space.
I have covered dry bags, and the difference in sizes in much greater detail in this article, What Is The Difference Between A Dry Bag & A Wet Bag?
3. A Bright Swimming Cap
When swimming in open water, swimmers usually wear brightly coloured swim caps to ensure that they can be seen in dark waters or by other water users.
I have adopted this philosophy for outdoor pool swimming also, as a lot of outdoor pool users have reduced visibility because of sun glare.
In addition, most outdoor pools in the UK are 50m in length, which is large. Wearing a brightly coloured swim cap will allow the lifeguard to see you more easily in case of an emergency.
4. A Changing Towel
As most outdoor swimming pools will have outdoor changing facilities, this can feel uncomfortable and cold, even on warmer days.
Using a changing towel, also known as a dry robe, will help you keep warm as you change.
So, are indoor or outdoor pools better?
There is no definitive answer whether indoor or outdoor pools are better. Each has its own set of pros and cons.
Outdoor pools in the UK are often larger, which can provide a more immersive and less crowded experience. However, any outdoor pool that is not heated can feel very cold.
Additionally, outdoor pools can provide a more challenging swim because of the wind and minor surface waves that can be present. For many, they can add a more interesting dynamic to their swim.
Although it is harder to swim in an outdoor pool, it is an exhilarating experience and one I truly recommend if you have not already experienced it.