The Ultimate Swim Cap Guide
Along with goggles and a good swimming suit, swim caps are an important part of any swimmer’s gear. Developed in the early 20th century of rubber fabric, swim caps were worn to protect the swimmer’s hair from the water while creating less drag in the water. In the 40s, caps could no longer be made of rubber because that material was needed for the war effort. Since then, caps have advanced and developed from the very basic and standard design of 75 years ago and are available in all kinds of fit, colors, and material. If you’re looking to start swimming competitively, are doing laps for exercise, or are just curious, here is Sunplay’s ultimate swim cap guide to help you get it all figured out.
Like previously stated, swim caps improve your hydrodynamics in the water to make you faster in the water by reducing the drag caused by hair. Caps create a smooth surface area for water to flow over to improve your performance in the lanes. Caps are also commonly used to help protect the hair from becoming damaged in chemical-heavy pools. However, swim caps aren’t designed to keep water out of them—their primary function is to improve mobility in the water and make the swimmer more competitive.
Choosing a swim cap can be an overwhelming experience. There are so many materials to choose from (silicone, Lycra/spandex, latex, neoprene, etc.) that it may become impossible to navigate on your own, particularly if you’re new to swimming. Each material has pros and cons and are appropriate for swimmers with different needs.
Latex is a really thin and tight fitting material that is common in swim caps. It’s much less bulky than a silicone cap and has a reputation for being breathable and retaining less heat than thicker material. This is great if you swim in warm climates, in heated pools, or have a tendency to overheat. Latex is also less expensive than other cap materials.
Because they are so thin, latex caps are less durable and are prone to ripping, particularly if they aren’t taken care of properly. Latex allergies are somewhat common and if you have this, you should obviously avoid this type of swim cap.
Silicone is one of the most common materials you’ll come across when you’re shopping for a swim cap because silicone caps are known for being durable and popular among competitive swimmers. Silicone caps are easy to take on and off without pulling and snagging long hair. The thicker material means that silicone swim caps are less likely to rip when taking on and off. Silicone is also a good choice if you’re swimming in open water with colder temperatures because it maintains heat well.
Silicone caps tend to be more expensive in comparison to latex and doesn’t breathe as well in warmer climates.
Neoprene is a thick, durable, and maintains heat for those who need it like triathletes and open water swimmers. Neoprene is a synthetic rubber that is traditionally used for wet suit material. Neoprene swim caps keep a thin layer of water close to your body for insulation which makes it an excellent choice for open water swimmers who frequent cold lakes, oceans, pools, etc. Neoprene caps are generally used in conjunction with a wet suit; the thermal cap only becomes useful if the rest of the body is properly covered.
Sometimes the benefit of a material can also be its drawback. If you are generally swimming in a heated pool that is 80° Fahrenheit or warmer, you’ll want a cap made of thinner material so your body doesn’t overheat.
Neoprene also isn’t the fastest material in the water compared to silicone or latex; it produces more drag in the water relative to a thin swim cap material.
Lycra/spandex is a synthetic fiber that is very durable and caps made from it will last for an extended period of time if properly taken care of. Lycra is known for being very soft and for not catching or pulling out hair. This is an excellent cap for practices and sun protection.
Lycra is a fabric and WILL allow water to flow through the material while swimming instead of around it like silicone or latex. A permeable material like this reduces drag relative to wearing no cap at all but is not ideal for competition because it’s not as fast as other swim caps made from slick material.
Because it allows water to flow through it, Lycra makes a good practice fabric because it creates higher resistance in the water and come race day, you can perform better by wearing a silicone or lycra swim cap. If your body is accustomed to a higher level of resistance, you will have a better performance when it comes to competition.
Rubber caps are lightweight and relatively inexpensive. It’s a common material that dates back to when swim caps were first popularized and manufactured. Rubber does a really good job of retaining heat for colder climates, especially for a lightweight material.
Rubber caps are not as stretchy and forgiving as its latex counterparts and is known for pulling on long hair. Rubber swim caps are also not an appropriate alternative to latex as people with latex allergies will also react to a rubber swim cap.
Wearing your swim cap properly is an important part of swim cap care. Not having long or unkempt nails is a good way to avoid tears when taking your cap on and off. Remove any jewelry that may catch on the cap, too. If you have long hair, put it in a bun and secure it with an elastic (not pins that could catch on the thin cap material).
Putting On the Cap
You should always put on and adjust a swim cap using your fingertips, not your fingernails. To put on the swim cap, put your hair into a bun if it’s long. Hold the swim cap open with both hands with fingers on the inside of the cap and thumb on the outside. Put the cap on starting at your forehead and pull it over your hair and down towards the nape of your neck. The cap should fit snug, but not feel overly tight. Tuck away any stray hairs with your fingertips.
After you’ve finished with exercise, practice, or a competition, rinse off your cap in non-chlorinated water immediately. The residual chlorine and pool chemicals wear in the material of the swim cap and can make it wear out prematurely.
Dry the cap off thoroughly before trying to store it. A lot of users also add talcum, corn starch, or baby powder into the inside of the cap to help absorb any residual moisture that can cause bacteria growth or further damage. This trick works best inside rubber, silicone, or latex swim caps. This also helps your cap not to pull your hair when taking it on and off. If you keep it in a swim bag, keep it away from sharp objects in your bag that could tear or puncture the cap.
Store somewhere cool and dry. Avoid leaving swim caps in the sun or in a hot car where they can further deteriorate or become misshapen in the heat.
A common misconception with swim caps is that they protect your hair completely from the effects of water. No swim cap keeps your hair entirely dry the way that you might want it to although it does reduce its exposure. Caps are meant to reduce drag, not to keep water out of it. There are no caps that have a tight enough seal to keep hair entirely dry.
With that said, we have covered ways to protect your hair in the pool like using proper hair care products and always showering immediately after getting out of the pool. A few other swimmers’ tricks are to wear two caps over each other to reduce the amount of water that enters under a swim cap. Some swimmers will even cut the crown off of a swim cap to create a thick band that can be worn under another cap to create a tighter seal.
If you have particularly long hair, you can buy hair management specific caps that are structured to handle all the extra hair while maintaining speed in the water.
All swim caps will also fit differently, depending on the type and elasticity. Most swim caps are one size fits all. Many manufacturers also make swim caps that come in junior sizes if you have young competitive swimmers in the house. If you come across any caps that require you to pick a size, here is a generalized breakdown that will help you get the right fit for adult swim caps:
- SM: 20 ½-21 5/8
- MED: 22-22 3/8
- LRG: 22 ¾-23 1/8