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Why Swimmers Wear Caps - A Useful Swim Cap Guide

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Why Swimmers Wear Caps - A Useful Swim Cap Guide

To a non-swimmer, swim caps can seem uncomfortable, strange-looking, and like an unnecessary hassle. However, having swum for thirteen years myself, I can personally tell you that swim caps offer a wide array of benefits to all types of swimmers.


So, why do swimmers wear swim caps? Swimmers wear caps to keep the hair out of the face while swimming, reduce drag and be more hydrodynamic. Caps help protect the hair, scalp, and ears from pool water, keep the earplugs in, and keep the pool clean. In open water, a cap makes swimmers more visible to other athletes and rescue crews.


It’s not hard to see why swimmers are always wearing their caps proudly. Caps serve many functions that all swimmers can benefit from.


The Purpose of a Swim Cap


Caps serve many purposes. To put it simply – wearing a cap leads to faster, easier swimming. The less hair catching water on the body the quicker the swimmer will move. Competitive swimmers wear swim caps for the same reason they shave their bodies; it’s more hydrodynamic.


When a swimmer is moving through the water, the first part of their body to cut through the wave is their head. Caps help to compress the head, hair, and ears to make the swimmer more efficient. The tight fit and a smooth surface of a swim cap lead to reduced drag and, with a swim cap on, the water has less interaction with the head causing the swimmer to move faster. This is beneficial to both competitive swimmers and leisure swimmers because the swimmer will be able to move faster and further with less effort.


Caps also help the technique of the long-haired swimmer. When turning the head to take a breath, hair can become a nuisance and interfere with the swimmer’s breathing ability. Because wet hair is so heavy, the breath can be stunted and less efficient due to the added weight. A swim cap reduces the weight of the hair while keeping it out of the face and mouth, leading to a more efficient stroke. This is especially helpful to beginning swimmers because it helps them to breathe properly.


Swim caps additionally give the goggles a smooth surface to stick to. Goggles are more likely to stay put during a race if they are given a seamless and sticky surface to adhere to. Some competitive swimmers also put their goggles underneath their swim caps to ensure they will not fall off during races.


Pro Tip: If you are struggling with keeping your goggles on tight while swimming, try wearing a swim cap.  If you decide to put goggles on top of the swim cap and they still fall off, try wearing the goggles under a swim cap, or wear two swim caps with goggles in between.For larger competitions, some swimmers opt to shave their head completely instead of wearing a swim cap. Though a shaved head is faster than a non-shaved head, a swim cap is still the most hydrodynamic option. The material of the swim cap is smoother and tighter than regular skin. Caps also have the additional benefit of keeping the ears tucked in to reduce drag and helping the goggles stay on. 


When it comes to leisure swimming, swim caps can be a useful piece of equipment as well. Most pools do not require a swim cap, so it is completely up to preference if you want to wear one or not. However, I promise you will have a better experience if your hair is not swirling around your face and getting into your nose and mouth.


Swim caps can also help you to keep the earplugs in your ears. If you have ear problems, you may find yourself having to wear earplugs. It can be a really frustrating experience since the earplugs can fall out and the water will get into your ear. With the use of a swim cap, you can prevent earplugs from falling out.


Even bald or short-haired swimmers can benefit from wearing a cap. Swim caps help to keep the ears compressed while also keeping the goggles on nice and tight. Though rec swimmers can choose to not wear a cap, I would always recommend wearing one.


Pro-Tip: Always use a swim cap when lap swimming to get rid of distracting hair, prevent your goggles from falling off, keep your earplugs in, and to improve stroke technique.In open water swimming, caps are used to make the swimmer more visible to others. A neon swim cap will allow the swimmer to be seen by other athletes, boats, and rescue crews. 


Additionally, there are special swim caps made to keep the head warm. These caps are used for open water competitions in colder climates. The average daily beach-goer, however, should not worry about wearing a swim cap unless they plan on exercising in open water.There are many different types of swim caps for every occasion. From caps made for Olympic swimmers to children, there is a swim cap made to fit the needs of every swimmer.


The Different Types of Swim Caps


Just like there are many different types of swimmers, there are many different types of swim caps. Each cap is made for a different purpose.


Silicon Caps: A thick, durable and long-lasting swim cap. Used for rec swimming and competitions alike.  Silicon caps are one of the most durable types of swim caps. They are made from the thickest material and are easiest to put on and remove. Silicon caps offer the tightest seal on the head and will keep the most water out. They slip on and off effortlessly while pulling the hair less than other types of caps.


This, however, can become an issue during races because a silicon cap will be more likely to slip off than a latex cap. They are noticeably more comfortable due to the stretchable and soft material. Silicon caps also do not have as many folds in the material leading to less drag in the water. They usually range in price from $4-$15.

Dome Caps: The most hydrodynamic cap used for high levels of competition, very smooth, has almost no wrinkles.


Dome caps are a type of silicon cap used in high levels of competition. They are thicker and sleeker than the average silicon cap and have almost no potential for wrinkles. They are very tight and often require assistance in putting on. When wearing a dome cap, the goggles are worn underneath the cap to reduce drag. Dome caps are the most hydrodynamic type of cap and usually range in price from $12-$50.


Latex Caps: A very thin, inexpensive type of cap, offers excellent grip on the head.

Latex caps are less expensive than silicon caps and offer a better grip on the head. However, the thin material of the cap causes them to be less durable and less comfortable than a silicon cap. Be careful if you have latex allergies – latex caps may be a no go. They range in price from $1-$5.


Lycra Caps: Made of the same material as swimsuits, recommended for water aerobics and other activities were the head is not submerged in the water.Lycra caps are the most comfortable type of cap and will not squeeze the swimmer’s head. They are made of the same material as swimsuit and are not recommended for competition because they will slip off. They also do not offer chlorine protectant to the hair or reduce any drag. Lycra caps are recommended for water aerobics and other activities where the head is not fully submerged in the water. Lycra caps range in price from $5-$10.


Neoprene Caps: Used for warmth in the open water swimming.


Neoprene caps are made of the same material as wetsuits and are used to keep the head warm. They usually come with a chin strap to cover the ears and are used for competing in open water competitions in colder climates. The material is very thick and can feel restrictive and tight on the head. These caps are one of the most expensive types and range from $10-$50.


Children’s Caps: Can be made of many different materials, are slightly smaller, and come in fun colors and designs.

Children’s caps can be made of all different types of materials. They are noticeably smaller than an adult swim cap and come in an array of different designs and colors. Children’s caps are used for beginning swim lessons and range in price from $3-$7.


Pro-Tip: I would recommend silicon caps to nearly every swimmer. They are comfortable, long-lasting, affordable, easy to use, and fast.


How to Properly Use and Put on a Swim Cap


There are three ways to put on a swim cap properly. First, make sure your fingernails are trimmed so they do not tear the cap. Stick your hands inside the cap and stretch it as wide as it will go. Place the front of the cap on your forehead and slide the cap over the rest of your head. Tuck any remaining hair inside the cap.


Pro Tip: Keep your nails short and filed to avoid ripping your cap.The second way is to grab the cap by the outside. Again, place the front of the cap on your 

The second way is to grab the cap by the outside. Again, place the front of the cap on your forehead and stretch it over your head and then tuck any hair inside the cap.


The third way is to enlist a friend for help. Hold the front of the cap on your forehead while the friend holds the back and slides it over the entire head in one quick, fluid motion.


Pro Tip: If the cap is too large for your head, or if you simply want a tighter fit, you can fold the cap inside of itself and then ask your friend for help putting it on.Remember, it can be additionally beneficial if long hair is tied back in a bun or ponytail and the hair is slightly damp. That will ensure a proper cap fit and comfort. Always be as gentle as possible with your cap.


Pro Tip: A tight bun or ponytail on the top of the head can help when wearing a swim cap.With proper care, a swim cap can last for years. After each use, the cap should be thoroughly dried with a towel and then hung up. Before storing the cap long-term, sprinkle baby powder inside to soak up any additional moisture.


Related Questions


Do guys have to wear swim caps? Choosing to wear a swim cap is preference and is up to the swimmer to decide. Boys with no hair or with short hair may opt for no cap. However, wearing a swim cap offers less resistance and drag and is the more hydrodynamic option.


Do swim caps keep hair dry?  Wearing latex or silicon cap may keep the hair slightly drier but will not completely stop water from getting to the hair. The caps are not made to keep the hair dry but to reduce drag. If you want to keep your hair dry, you can wear two caps on top of each other.


Can I wear a shower cap to swimming? You can, but it may not keep your hair dry. Shower caps are not made for submerging. Shower caps will not adhere to the head and will fall off easily, which makes them not ideal for the water activities.