Long before celebrity endorsements from the likes of Joe Rogan, and the popularization of cold plunging by Wim Hof, who’s moniker the “Ice Man” made him a poster boy for the benefits of cold water therapy, cold water immersion existed for centuries in cultures around the globe.
Evidence of cold water immersion as a form of mental and physiological therapy can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt circa 3,500 BC. Later on, the Greek physician Hippocrates believed it to be a cure-all and 18th century medical practitioners as far north as Scotland sang its praises. It’s continued to be a cool topic in the world of medicine all throughout the 1900s until present day. And now the cold plunge is hotter than ever (so much so the most popular cold immersion brand is called Plunge and it's everywhere rn).
For many, voluntarily plunging into an ice bath hardly sounds appealing. So where did the longstanding fascination with such a seemingly simple and brutal activity like cold therapy come from? Before it entered our modern-day wellness lexicon, cold exposure was used to treat sickness and disease, reduce stress, and more recently, enhance performance. But maybe the real stickiness is in the powerful rush of beta-endorphins that bathe the brain post-plunge, that when combined with the impressive amount of willpower one must summon to take a cold dip, leaves us with a satisfying sense of accomplishment not easily found in our comfy, climate-controlled lives.
Like enjoying an outdoor sauna or soaking in a wood fired hot tub, the cold plunge is a #selfcare ritual that seems to resonate now more than ever because it grounds us in the natural world while providing a respite from digital demands. Interested in taking the plunge into cold water therapy and maybe even buying your own cold plunge pool? You’ve come to the right place.
Read on below for a research-driven overview of this chilly activity, answers to key FAQs, and of course, a trustworthy list of the best ice bath and cold plunge tubs for at-home dips.
What is a cold plunge?
To put the method of cold water immersion into practice, start by filling a cold plunge tub with clean, filtered water that is anywhere from 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t own a tub that automatically cools the water temperature, an easy—and no frills—at-home solution is to add ice cubes. Once it’s cold enough, submerge your body in the cold plunge tub up to your neck, eventually submerging the entire head. Experts recommend no longer than 10-15 minutes; aim for 1-5 minutes if you are a beginner. A great rule of thumb is to just listen to your body and get out when you’re ready!
Cold baths can be done on their own, or as part of a sauna circuit, during which you warm the body in a hot sauna for 10-15 minutes, rest at room temp for five minutes, take an ice bath, rest again for five minutes, and repeat as many times as you like.
For some, cold water immersion also looks like dipping into a frozen lake, pond, or ocean. Popular iterations on the cold plunge can be found in the form of New Year’s Day polar plunge events and member swim clubs around the world.
Are there health benefits of a cold plunge?
This is a tough one. In truth, there isn’t a definitive answer to the question of whether or not cryotherapy (the application of cold for therapeutic purposes; which includes cold water immersion, among others) is the cure-all many claim it to be. Yet there is a wide range of scientific evidence and personal anecdotes that back up plunging as a legitimate tool to improve your overall health. Consider this your disclaimer.
The physical benefits and effects of cold plunging
Despite some research that suggests it might not be true, the majority of medical professionals and experts agree that cold water therapy supplements muscle recovery after an intense workout by offering pain relief related to muscle soreness and decreasing inflammation in the body. A cold plunge also alters the blood flow by temporarily redirecting circulation to the organs and away from the body’s peripherals. Evidence has shown that this improves circulation to deeper muscles and tissues (a good thing), improves metabolism and lowers the levels of the possibly detrimental stress hormone, cortisol (also a good thing), but can raise blood pressure and heart rate, which is not helpful to those with poor cardiovascular health. Sorry folks, we’ve yet to find definitive proof of the cold plunge as a miracle immune system booster or weight loss tool.
On that note, it is important to play it safe when viewing the cold plunge as a component of healthcare—especially if you are planning to submerge your entire head or expose your face to cold water. Although rare, it is possible to experience a negative shock to the system if cold water exposure triggers a heart arrhythmia that causes the heart rate to slow rather than speed up. If you have cardiovascular issues, it’s not recommended to do a cold plunge. In general, it's always a good idea to cold plunge with a buddy and take things slow!
Mental benefits and effects of cold plunging
Do cold plunges improve your mental health? The most notable effects occur immediately after a cold plunge when exposure to the cold temperatures release the beta-endorphin hormone which has a powerful effect on the brain and body. Similar to a “runner’s high”, it is associated with regulating the stress response, blocking pain receptors, and may influence dopamine levels (the brain’s feel-good hormone), which can very well boost your mood and leave you with a tranquil feeling of calm.
The shock of submerging in cold water also triggers a rush of noradrenaline in the body and brain in tandem with the beta-endorphins. When released, you experience a sudden burst of energy and sense of alertness that absolutely makes you feel alive and ready for action. There is a promising study that showed a reduction in depressive symptoms and an improvement in mood and anxiety through cold showers and cold water immersion, but it’s certainly no miracle drug. The Wim Hof method is famous for incorporating a specific way of breathing to calm the nervous system and focus the mind to make tolerating the discomfort of a cold plunge easier, and there is plenty of evidence that shows what a positive impact breathing and meditation can have on the mind-body system.
So, the bottom line is that cold plunging is not a singular solution to mental and physiological health problems. It can absolutely complement a healthy lifestyle and even enhance certain aspects of your life that contribute to feeling happier and more fit overall, yet there’s a lot more research to be done to prove that point. What is true are the undeniable health benefits of spending time outside and the intrinsic value of seeking out healthy stressors that make our body-mind more resilient and positioned for growth.
7 Best Cold Plunge Tubs & Ice Baths Available Now
Ready to dive into cold plunging? Enjoy this chilly ritual at home with your own dedicated cool pool. Here are our favorite, quality cold plunge tubs currently on the market (sorry deal chasers, no sketchy Amazon deals of the day here, just quality products from reputable manufacturers).
This indoor-outdoor cold plunge tub is a popular choice for its versatility, easy set up, and durable design. The circulating water feature allows temperatures to plunge to as low as 39 degrees Fahrenheit and stay cold while in use, and an insulate cover prevents it from warming up. Easy to plug in and fill with a garden hose, it requires no plumbing, includes filtration and sanitization systems, and has a clean, modern silhouette. Available in a standard size for $5,990 and XL for $6,990.
(Use code "FIELDMAG" for $150 off your order.)
Redwood Outdoors Alaskan Cold Plunge
Designed to be filled with cold water for a chilly dip in between sauna sessions, the Alaskan Cold Plunge tub has a durable plastic interior and beautiful spruce wood exterior for a rustic look. Plungers can opt for just the tub and step stool, which goes for $1,999, or choose to add an electric cold plunge chiller system for an additional $2,599.
(Use Code "FIELD250" for $250 off orders $3,500+.)
BlueCube Mini-Me Ice Bath
The luxurious BlueCube Ice Bath makes it easy to have consistent, cold water temperatures (ranges from 36-60 degrees Fahrenheit) with chemical-free water sanitization that works 24/7. The energy efficient tub doesn’t require ice and has a stainless steel interior for an even chiller cold water immersion. Available for $15,999. The maker also offers a no-frills black Ice Barrel for a budget-friendly option coming in at $1,199.
Odin Ice Bath
Crafted from a beautiful cedar material, the Odin Ice Bath is designed to have an off-grid look with plug-in features that combine the best of both worlds. An easy set up allows you to simply plug it in and chill the water as low as 32 degrees Fahrenheit or to a more comfortable room temp. The filtration system automatically sanitizes and cleans the water, so all you have to do is fill it up and plunge. Available in three sizes: original, XL, and dual. Price starts at $3,350.
Forest Cooperage Cedar Soaker Tub
Inspired by traditional Japanese Ofuro soaking tubs, Forest Cooperage’s cedar soaking tubs double as a spot to steep in a warm bath or take an invigorating cold plunge. High-quality cedar is handcrafted into a coopered barrel design that is compatible for indoor or outdoor use. Add a chiller for ice baths or use an electric heater or wood fire to transform it into a hot tub. Available in three sizes: the original, standard, and full. Price starts at $3,230. Cedar and insulated cover add-ons are available, too.
BZB Outdoor Cold Plunge Tub
One of the most affordable makers of quality wood fired hot tubs also offers a well-designed cold plunge pool for the full at-home hydrotherapy experience. Crafted with durable Nordic Spruce, this tub is designed to be an outdoor, off-grid option that only needs to be filled with cold water to enjoy. Add on an insulated tub cover for an extra layer of protection or keep it simple with only the tub, which currently on sale for $1,950.
Redwood Outdoors Yukon Cold Plunge XL Deluxe Kit
The most cost efficient and portable option we’ve found, this inflatable option packs down into a backpack, is inflated in minutes like a bike tire, and available as stand alone tub from $800. For a more luxe option, opt for the XL Deluxe Kit for $4,700—this option comes with a high tech heater + chiller that circulates water and cools the temp rapidly (it can also turn your cold plunge into a hot tub!). Pacific Northwest-based Redwood Outdoors ship anyway in the U.S. (Use code "FIELD250" for $250 off your order)