There are many misconceptions regarding how a swim cap should be worn and what it does for you. For starters, there is a myth that swim caps keep your hair dry. In a similar vein, because people wrongly assume that swim caps can keep their head dry, they think covering their ears with the swim cap will keep their ears dry.
If you are covering your ears with a swim cap because you want to keep your ears to be dry, understand that for the most part, swim caps do not keep your ears dry and they don’t keep your hair dry either. They do, however, limit the amount of water that your hair and ears are exposed to. Some people only partially cover their ears or they don’t bother to cover their ears at all. Whether you swim with ears uncovered, partially covered, or fully covered is up to your own preference.
In this article, we will discuss a little bit more regarding what swim caps are actually doing for you, whether it’s a good idea to cover your ears with it, and what you can do to specifically keep water out of your ear if that’s your goal.
Ears covered, uncovered, partially covered; which is best?
There is much debate going on regarding any potential benefits to covering your ear with your swim cap.
Unfortunately, there is no science that supports covering your ears with a swim cap. There’s also no science against it, either. So whether you leave your ears covered or not seems to be a matter of preference, not one of utility or safety.
If you feel more comfortable covering your ears, go ahead and do so. If you find it uncomfortable to cover your ears, then leave them uncovered or partially covered. Whatever works for you.
Since swim caps do not fully keep water out of your ears, whether you leave your ears uncovered or not will still result in wet ears.
The main reason competitive swimmers cover their ears with their swim cap is because it pins their ears in place to create a streamlined head shape. This can make their head more hydrodynamic and possibly improve their time by one-hundredth of a second.
In competitive swimming, the difference between gold, silver, and bronze has been decided over differences of mere milliseconds. Therefore, what may seem like an insignificant improvement to the average swimmer means a great deal to competitive swimmers.
This goes back to the reason why swimmers wear swim caps in the first place – to reduce drag caused by their hair. That’s also the reason competitive swimmers shave nearly every strand of hair off their body. You can’t remove your ears the way you can with your hair, so swimmers just cover them up.
If you’re just swimming recreationally, you can do whatever you want. If you’re a competitive swimmer who doesn’t believe that covering your ears makes any difference, then you can leave them uncovered.
Pros and cons of covering up your ears
So as with anything, there are some upsides and some downsides. We are going to present them here so you can decide for yourself whether the upsides or worth it for you, or if the downsides are too much.
- More hydrodynamic. By creating a streamlined head shape, you will reduce the amount of drag your hair and ears create, helping you increase your speed.
- You ears are less exposed to water. If you are keeping your head mostly above water or only briefly submerging your ears, then if they are covered up by a swim cap, less water will enter your ears, reducing the likelihood of swimmers’ ears.
- Keep swimming earplugs in place. If you want even more ear protection, you can wear swimming earplugs to keep water from entering your ears. This is the recommended way to keep water out, and it works well with swim caps since they can ensure the earplugs don’t fall out.
- Air pressure can build up in the ear. If you are covering up your ears or wearing swimming earplugs, do not dive underwater otherwise you can build up pressure in your ears which can be painful.
- Reduced hearing. Naturally, when you cover your ears, you will impair your hearing slightly. If someone is calling out to you, it can be harder for you to hear them, especially if you are also underwater.
Do swim caps keep your ears dry?
No, they do not keep your ears dry and they don’t keep your hair dry either. This is the most common misconception people have of swim caps. They are designed to make your head more hydrodynamic, anything else is just a bonus.
If you want your ears to stay dry, then you should wear swimming earplugs. You can wear swimming earplugs in conjunction with a swim cap to ensure that the swimming earplug doesn’t fall out of your ears.
You may find that the swimming earplugs, in conjunction with the swim cap, is putting excessive pressure on your inner ear which can be painful and, in extreme cases, can lead to a burst eardrum.
To reduce the likelihood of this, do not dive underwater and stay by the surface. Furthermore, you can get vented earplugs, which scuba divers use, which has a small vent that is too small for water to enter, but big enough that you can equalize the pressure in your ears.
The easiest way is to “pop” your ears, or equalize them when there is too much pressure, is to pinch your nose and then try to blow out with your nostrils.
Are swim caps with ear pockets effective?
Most swim caps are not designed with your ears in mind, however there are swim caps with ear pockets that have been designed specifically for covering your ears to alleviate some of the pressure swim caps place on your ears.
Essentially, there is extra material around the ears so that it covers the ear but does not press down tight on it. This begs the question: is there any performance loss or other downside to this design?
Reviews on these swim caps with ear pockets seem to be positive, with people praising the comfort they bring to their ears. This design covers more of the head due to the necessity of it enveloping your whole ear, so they are better at creating a watertight seal since it will be pressed against your skin.
With that said, swim caps are not designed to be 100% waterproof, so swim caps with ear pockets only make your ears feel more comfortable, but they do not necessarily keep them dry.
Personally, I prefer to swim with my ears partially covered. I find it more natural because leaving my ears fully uncovered forces me to wear my swim cap higher, and fully covering them forces me to wear them lower, and I find the midsection of my ear to be the sweet spot when it comes to hair coverage.
This also lets me hear as normal and prevents the buildup of pressure in my ears. With that said, I understand the reasons why someone would want to cover their ears, as this limits their ears’ exposure to water and reduces the likelihood of developing swimmers’ ears.
At the end of the day, how you wear your swim cap is a matter of preference. As long as you’re wearing a swim cap at all, you will enjoy many benefits. Whether you want your ears to be fully covered, partially covered, or uncovered, you can weigh the pros and cons yourself. As long as you feel at your most comfortable, then you will be able to swim at your best.