Kit Review: Weatherproof Changing Robes

Cold-adverse Kate Rew single-handedly puts eight changing robes through their paces. Read her verdicts along with a comprehensive guide to what to look for in a changing robe.

Kate Rew & Kari Furre, Chasing The Sublime.

It’s October 2020. Storm Alex is howling around Great Britain, with 38mph winds and meaningful rain. Where I am swimming, the water is 8 degrees: perfect for a weatherproof changing robe test. There’s a simple process: swim till fingers are cold and slow, get out, change in the driving rain, begin again. I generally hate the cold, but with rain pouring off different storm hoods and the ability to generate my own microclimate within, a full review is managed.

All these robes have fans within The OSS team, so while the pandemic ruled out sharing robes in a group test, comments from a range of perspectives are included. 

Ultimately the best robe will always be the one you prefer: it’s a personal choice, like a wetsuit or goggles. That said, see the ‘buying tips’ below to work out what you, individually, should look for. Robes in the review are ordered from the cheapest to the most expensive, with prices correct at 10th October 2020. Stock availability is not included (right now, many are out of stock). 

Changing robes you do and don’t change in

There are two main varieties of weatherproof changing robe:

TOWELLING OR MICROFIBRE INNER, WITH A WEATHERPROOF SHELL. Finisterre, Palm and Fourth Element all make ones like these. The weatherproof outer means that they will not dry as quickly as a pure towelling or microfibre changing robe – but they will resist wind and rain, and keep you warmer, while you change. 

FUR-LINED CHANGING ROBE: made by dryrobe, Charlie McLeod,  Alpkit and Red Original, among others. A surprising number of swimmers don’t change in fur-lined robes because the fur is not absorbent, and – especially when swimming in salt water – can stick to the skin. It’s not uncommon to change in a towelling robe and wear the furry robe as a giant swim-appropriate coat that goes on over your clothes as an extra insulating layer, or as a temporary-layer over swimming costumes or wetsuits when waiting on the bank or beach, marshalling, or on a boat. Big plus of this over an actual coat: you can then put down on any surface without worrying about wrecking it, as that’s what it’s made for.

OSS Buyers Guide: What to look for in a weatherproof robe

  • Size. Storing big fur lined robes can feel like housing a small pony, so before investing consider: can you store it? Can you carry it? Is it wide enough for you to change in it? Compression sacks are given away by brands such as Charlie McLeod, and can be bought from dryrobe (£30), but even then you are looking at a 30L bag just for this item and your goggles. Swimmers who do longer walk-ins may want lighter, smaller options. 
  • Weight. Heavier robes can feel more of a struggle to change in, and are more to carry. In the ones tested here, weight varied between 0.85kg-0.9kg (Finisterre and Palm Equipment) to 1.8-1.9kg (Charlie McLeod and dryrobe Long Sleeve). This may not concern swimmers with a short journey from car to shore – but it’s a different picture for swims with walk-ins. What are you prepared to carry? 
  • Eco credentials, sustainability and ethics. Where is it made? What is it made from? What happened in the supply chain? It is beyond the reach of this review to comparatively evaluate each company’s credentials but headlines include the Charlie McLeod eco-robe being made from recycled plastic bottles, and Finisterre and Alpkit having B Corp status. 
  • Branding. Most of these robes carry a huge brand name on the front and the back – which is either what you’re looking for, or a deterrent. (‘I feel like I am wearing a sandwich board’ says one owner). Palm Equipment, Red Original and Fourth Element have not branded the back of their garments. 
  • Sleeve length, warmth, tightness on wrist and what you need for your purpose. Some brands come in a short and long sleeve option (eg dryrobe). Some have velcro fixing, some have nothing. The Charlie McLeod has inner wristbands with thumbholes – great draft excluders, but not so good for longer arms and activities where hands get wet.  
  • Width. What you need varies on your own size and width, and whether you intend to change in it or wear it as a warm coat. 
  • Length. Some people want a big furry robe that comes down to their ankles, the longer the better, weight no object. Others want something more agile. 
  • Activities you intend to do in it. Weatherproof robes are built for purpose – not just swimming, but the misuse they are likely to suffer around your swimming: living in car boots and puddles, being thrown on muddy riverbanks, waiting for you in a hedge. But if you are also a paddleboarder or intend to do physical things with boats and roof racks when you’re wearing it, a shorter roomier, breezier model might suit you better than the all-encompassing long ones.
  • What will you do with it when you swim? Small items may pack up into towfloats and can be packed into waterproof bags on the beach (for example) if it’s raining. Larger versions often feel less secure left lying around because of their value, and many therefore leave them in cars.

HOMESPUN SOLUTION £0

The most economical and most sustainable option will always be the items you already own. OSS Team alternatives include: Djellaba’s (hooded robes from Morocco), dressing gowns, towelling changing robes (‘I’m currently using one made of of two Asda bath sheets and a hand towel’ says Beth Pearson) and winter coats. OSS Swiss Envoy Swimstaman wears his dad’s actual sheepskin coat. “These days I wouldn’t normally choose to wear an animal product but this was my dad’s, from the 70s and, as well as keeping me warm, reminds me of him. No point buying something else when I have something sentimental that works too.” The only thing homespun options may lack is the ‘throw it on over wet wetsuits and muddy kit’ feel of purpose-built weatherproof robes, which lend themselves to being put on and thrown down anywhere.

PALM PONCHO GRANDE £69.95, 0.9kg

The Palm Poncho Grande is the lightest, most economical weatherproof robe tested here, and one of the best for drying yourself with (not just in). Has a microfleece towel lining, handwarmer pockets, and ripstop outer shell that is windproof and weatherproof (not waterproof). Con’s: the black outer is shiny and crinkly (don’t think of bin bags), and the cut has a very pointy hood and starship enterprise shoulders. Palm Equipment.

ALPKIT HAVEN, £79.99

In 2020 Alpkit achieved B Corp status which means that you know that the most economical fur-lined weatherproof changing robe on the market doesn’t come at a social or environmental cost. This knee length jacket is notably shorter than other models, operating more like a coat, but with a back long enough to sit down on damp beaches and wet rocks. Has non-fleece arms and an elasticated storm hood. No velcro on the sleeves, and the first version was a little tight-fitting for changing – a roomier version 2 is coming back in stock soon (October 2020). Alpkit.

CHARLIE MCLEOD ECO SPORTS CLOAK LONG SLEEVE, £119.95, 1.8kg (S/M)

The Eco Sports Cloak feels made for bare skinned swimmers venturing out in sub zero temperatures with nothing but a skimpy costume underneath. This swimming coat is the most all-encompassing of all the robes and capable of producing it’s own microclimate: it’s very long, with a slightly snugger fit on the arms, and an inner cuff with thumbholes. The only warmth factor it’s missing is fleece that goes all the way to the front zip – there’s a wide fleece-free strip down the belly when it’s done up. The length means the zip feels a long way down when you come to get dressed, and a combination of its weight, length and slightly tighter fit under the arms makes it more wriggly to change in. Huge rear logo. Good eco credentials: made out of plastic bottles. Charlie McLeod. Short sleeve and children’s sizes also available.

FINISTERRE TEGO £135, 0.85kg

With the deepest storm hood of them all, the Finisterre Tego feels made for changing on exposed beaches in the lashing rain. It’s light and roomy with short sleeves which means you can get dressed and undressed fast inside it – and sometimes (when your fingers are fumbling, the air temp is low, and afterdrop is coming) changing speed is a more crucial factor in staying warm than thickness. Packs away small, and suitable for four season swimming. Because it’s breezy, would work on a SUP or for a cycling swimmer too, it’s simply an indestructible and waterproof layer to go over the top of your other gear. Great eco credentials: Finisterre are a B Corp. Finisterre.

FOURTH ELEMENT STORM PONCHO, £143.50

The Storm Poncho is a robe to be reckoned with for nomadic swimmers – I loved it’s subtle branding, compact size and inner space. It is like wearing a changing room (useful at open water lakes nationwide right now):  it provides space to fumble about with cold clumsy hands, which means on days you can’t undo your velcro or free your hands, things are a little less desperate. It’s superabsorbent – you can poke your hands out of the sleeves and pat yourself down from the outside (rather than using a towel within). Good eco-credentials, works on a bike, and as a huge waterproof cape in a storm. So nice that I wear it in the house for cold days’ Lance Sagar, OSS Team. Comes in Burgundy and Black, and 6 sizes, XXS-XL.

Fourth Element.

DRYROBE ADVANCE, LONG SLEEVE M, £140, 1.9kg

‘I trust my dryrobe in all conditions, like a walkable bivvy’ (Lance Sagar, OSS Team). ‘A dry robe is effectively a cuddle inside a storm shelter’ (Anna Morrell, OSS Team). The size of the dryrobe fanbase reflects their position as the iconic, authentic, original weatherproof changing robe. Comes in child sizes, short and long arm, and have a ‘bashing about’ quality that means they feel made to survive downpours and neglect. Superwarm and indestructible: the inner fleece meets at the zip and runs down the arms – a vital detail to avoid afterdrop. Comes in 10 colours – personally, I never, ever, tire of the camo. dryrobe. Short sleeve robe and children’s sizes also available.

RED ORIGINAL PRO CHANGE ROBE, £144.95, 1.4kg

The Pro Change robe has a quality feel unmatched by other items – the fur lining belongs to teddy bears and all the details are just so – storm flaps, and fleece that not only meets at the zip but goes behind it make it very cosy. The zip has a ‘wind baffle’ which keeps wind and sand out of the zip, and it packs into a 10litre bag. There will be four colours by Christmas 2020. The Pro Change is lighter weight with a more active feel than the other fleece robes on the market – it’s the one Tim Bridges from the OSS Team chooses as he’s often shunting boats, hot tubs and paddle boards about. The Pro Change manages to keep you warm but also ventilate if you’re moving about.  Has a great storm hood and velcro arms cuffs, short sleeve and kids versions available. Also: no back branding, which many of swimmers are looking for in an item. Comes in Men’s and Womens. Children’s robe and short sleeve robe also available.

Kate Rew