The number of eco-friendly robes on the market has increased in the last few years, and swimmers now have a good choice of weatherproof changing robes made from recycled materials with eco-friendly finishes.
Which ones stand up to a soggy autumn day and keep you warm and dry? Our crack team of OSS experts took a selection of eco-friendly changing robes to a cold, muddy riverbank in November 2022 to put them through their paces. This is what they found…
A blustery November day by the river at Farleigh Hungerford swimming club saw Kate Rew, Rosie Nottage and Arron Collins-Thomas test a selection of eco-friendly robes. We selected robes which are readily available in the UK, have solid environmentally friendly credentials and were sent in to our testers. We included our own Red, Fourth Element and dryrobes which showed how older products perform.
We tested waterproofness (a mug of water fresh from the River Avon slung at them from a foot away), comfort when wet (a mug of the Avon poured over the inside, checked after ten minutes) and fit while wiggling about. For comfort when wet, we wanted to see how well the robes would draw water away from the skin and how dry they would feel after 10 minutes (less formally, we also observed how long the robes took to dry when home). The inside of a robe naturally comes into contact with a lot of water from skin and wetsuits and we wanted to see how they felt once the inside was wet.
People use their robes in all sorts of ways, so all of them are best for something – style, economy, compactness, skin feel, size available or coming in the particular colour you want.
In terms of functionality, some people now use their robes just as coats and never get the inside wet: they dry off in a towelling robe then put their robe back on. Those swimmers have a greater choice of robe available to them than those of us whose robes will get wet – because we put them on over wetsuits when we haul out after a swim, or sit on them in damp sand still in our costumes, or do change in them (drying off with a towel). Almost all the robes did well in terms of outer waterproofing, but inner fleece turned out to be one of the great dividers of the robes: in some the fleece repels and wicks away moisture, leaving them feeling dry enough to put back on over clothes 10 minutes later, others still feel damp 24 hours later as the fleece seems to trap moisture in it.
But if you want the quick answer to: which is best (on those criteria, plus sustainability) dryrobe advance was the clear winner, closely followed by the Fourth Element Storm Poncho (a very different robe, practically up there with the dryrobe but not quite so sustainable), the Robie Robe dryseries, and after that Charlie Macleod (more economical too). But if the thing you care about is compactness and fleece softness then your vote may go to Red Original (at 10L, noticeably lighter, and the fleece is super soft), and if you want a women’s cut and original style, there are some great new offers from Cape Cove.
SUSTAINABILITY: dryrobe now have great eco-credentials: as well as being B Corp rated (score of 110) the advance has one of the highest percentages of recycled material on the market with both the outer shell and the synthetic wool lining made from 100% recycled nylon and polyester. They are carbon neutral (working with One Carbon World to offset any unavoidable emissions that still cannot be reduced) and use plastic-free and recycled packaging.
PRACTICALITY: By the end of the day, a clear winner in this test: the fleece inside functions in a different way to all the other products, sucking water in then wicking it away, so 10 minutes later it feels dry enough to wear (others were still holding water 24 hours later, hung up indoors). We like the comfort – the batwings give room to move and get dressed – and the high bashability factor of this robe. It feels like one you can sit on pebbles, in puddles, in mud, use as a rug, go out in storms, and throw in the back of the car and it won’t get damaged, and will still function. Felt warm, insulating, and has some of the silkiest pockets. A secure pocket to the inside for valuables and separate stuff sacks are available. In our water repellency test the water slid off like the proverbial ducks back, though our own 4 year old one absorbed water – possible in need of reproofing for a sustainable repair.
BEST FOR: Lots of things: there is a reason it’s the market leader.
SUSTAINABILITY: In manufacturing terms, semi-sustainable: the fleece lining is made from 37% recycled S.Café® polyester – using recycled plastic bottles AND recycled coffee grounds, and a flourine-free DWR water-repellent is used on the shell, but the shell itself is doesn’t feature recycled materials. However, we did find that one of our testers robes – which has been getting drenched from Scotland to Somerset for the last three years – still scored a 5 on water repellancy, while used versions of some of the fleece robes needed recoating despite being less than a year old. Comes in fully water soluble, compostable and biodegradable packaging , all run from their solar powered headquarters in Cornwall.
PRACTICALITY: Known and loved by scuba divers everywhere, the Storm Poncho is different from other weatherproof robes and has been an OSS favourite for some time. Why? Because it’s light, small (the most compact of all the robes tested), fits into a towfloat, withstands a storm and has multiple uses – it dries as well as a towelling robe (this is the only one in the test you can dry yourself with, and has a microfibre lining rather than fleece), withstands storms as well as the weatherproof robes, and doubles up as a storm poncho (hence the name). A smaller neck means it’s harder to pull clothes in from the top but this is one of the most nimble robes.
BEST FOR: Being lightweight, compact, multipurpose and fitting into a towfloat for A to B swims.
SUSTAINABILITY: The Dry-Series has a 100% recycled nylon outer and a 100% recycled polyester lining – all GRS certified, and also use eco friendly DWR waterproofing. Not B Corp but signed up to 1% for the planet (they’ve committed to donate 1% of sales to support non-profits focused to preserving and restoring the natural environment) and as part of the sustainability of their products they offer repairs for a ‘nominal fee’ to ensure their products longevity.
PRACTICALITY: After the dryrobe, this was a strong performer, doing well in all the tests, with great elbow room for changing and feeling cosy to wear. A shorter style with a hint of ski jacket in the styling with lime green piping and black and navy print. The cuffs are not elasticated but there are a lots different pockets; two hand pockets with chunky zips, a Velcro outer pocket, a secure zipped inner pocket and a further open pocket inside.
BEST FOR: Great performance for the price and the best value.
SUSTAINABILITY: Charlie McLeod scores very highly on the eco-credentials. With an outer made of 100% recycled and inner 95% recycled PET plastic (GRS certified) – approximately 110 recycled plastic bottles go into every cloak.
PRACTICALITY: A snug fit which can go either way in terms of whether it’s what you want – feels less bulky as a coat, but the raglan sleeves, tighter armpits and slim fitt means there’s not enough room to swing a bra. Has some unique features, such as inner thumb cuffs giving an added barrier to the wind (the crowd was divided whether this was useful, or whether they’d be permanently soggy from handling wet gear). A drawstring inside and secure zippable pockets for valuables with soft fleece near the face. This robe did a great job of repelling water but the fleece didn’t dry as fast as others.We tested a bright purple robe with obvious branding across the back, but also comes in camo with less obvious branding.
BEST FOR: Long slim fit, pockets – and economy.
SUSTAINABILITY:Both the outer waterproof/breathable shell and the lining are made from 100% recycled fabrics, one of only a few companies managing to use completely recycled materials. Red are working towards making their packaging completely compostable by using soy based inks and corn starch PE replacements. As of late 2022 they’re in the process of applying for B Corp status. Also offers reproofing kits and excellent instructions on how to prolong the waterproof-ness of your robe.
PRACTICALITY: Red robes stand out for a lot of good reasons: subtle and varied colours, fleece so soft you want to stride around naked beneath it even in midwinter, strong attention to detail and design and high quality. Side panels have elasticated joins, pockets have small magnets helping them snap shut and the fleece feels silky smooth. A storm proof hood, waterproof zip and subtle branding. The downside? The fleece retained water longer than any of the robes – neither wicking or evaporating away, but sat there soggy.
BEST FOR: Soft inner fleece, colours, design detail.
SUSTAINABILITY: The showerproof outer is made from 86% Recycled Polyester/14% Cotton and the lining is 54% Recycled Polyester/46% Polyester, with the coat also featuring recycled zips. Cape Cove have B Corp Pending status, and all of their recycled polyester is Global Recycled Standard (GRS) certified. Their pledge of slow, sustainable fashion is backed up by their promise to repair any of their garments free of charge, ‘As long as it is possible to repair it, we will..’
PRACTICALITY: This new (higher priced) offer may be more aimed at swimmers in city/lido conditions, where you want something less sporty than some of the other options as your version of practicality involves also strolling into the office or around the shops. Has a detachable hood, drawstring waist and button up pockets on the front. Practical downsides? Very heavy as an item, the buttons on the pockets are challenging for cold hands, one set of pockets were unlined, and there is no wind proof backing to the zips (to windproof, you need to manage the buttons). The outer surface soaked up some water during the test.
BEST FOR: Looking like a normal coat.
SUSTAINABILITY: Cape Cove have strong eco-credentials across their range – and the Cape has an outer fabric of 86% and inner fabric of 54% recycled polyester, all GRS certified. With their pending B Corp certification, slow fashion ethic and free repairs pledge, they’re a strong new addition to the changing robe market.
PRACTICALITY: The second of the Cape Cove eco-friendly changing robe options, this one is more like a poncho, but with a detachable hood. It’s also reversible and can be worn fleece side out. The cape is deliberately breezier as the sides of the cape are open. Water ran straight off this cape and the fleece is soft to the touch – there are hidden pockets inside for Red Riding Hood comfort when warming hands. This is fairly bulky but could pass for a coat and could easily be worn to swim straight from the school run. It’ll be down to personal taste, but likely to inspire strong devotion in some. The biggest downside is it’s weight: you’d want to know you were going to keep it on, it’s heavy to carry.
BEST FOR: Style.
SUSTAINABILITY: From a brand founded on sustainability, the Adelie scores very highly in recycled content, with 100% recycled polyester water repellent outer and recycled fleece lining. As company they are B Corp certified with a score of 93.2. They’ve been using fluorocarbon-free water repellants (Durable Water Repellents (DWRs)) for their outerwear since 2018, ensuring no leaching of harmful chemicals, and using DWRs which will naturally breakdown harmlessly. Finisterre ‘believe the most sustainable product is the one you already own’ and as part of this have a Repairs Workshop team with a variety of specialist repair services/kits to purchase – including re-proofing of their water resistant garments. For those items which are beyond repair, they offer a trade in service – with credit given towards future purchases when you return an old item for repair/repurposing/recycling.
PRACTICALITY: We were surprised that this was one of the poorest performers in the water repellency test as some of the water soaked into the surface. Conversely, it put in one of the strongest performances in absorbency, with the lovely soft fleece feeling completely dry to the touch ten minutes after wetting inside. Wide and breezy and easy to move around in – short sleeves will always be easier to change in than long ones – but it didn’t feel like a hug in the way other brands did. ‘One size fits all’ meant Arron’s (6ft 2) arms weren’t protected from the elements as it came to his elbows, but the length was perfect on Rosie’s (5ft 4) arms. Two hand pockets are lined though there are no secure pockets for keys and phones. Loud rear branding.
BEST FOR: Simplicity