New to outdoor swimming or just looking for a kit update? Here are some recommendations to help make your swim smoother this summer.
One of the beauties of outdoor swimming is that it's free to do... in theory! While you have to pay to swim at some venues, we live on a small island surrounded by the sea and with plenty of free inland water spots too (use this wild swim map to find out where to swim). But when it comes to kit, you can end up spending hundreds. So, it's worth noting that any old swimsuit will do and you don't need specialist kit. This guide will help you decide.
Skinny dipping is one of life's greatest joys, but it's not always feasible! So, you will need something to wear in the water. You probably already have a decent swimsuit. So long as it's tight-fitting and comfortable, it will do the job.
For women, you can wear a swimming costume or bikini. Just make sure that it's comfortable and secure -- padded bikini tops, for example, can create drag or fall down when you try and swim in them. For men, consider wearing proper trunks or jammers (tight shorts) because board shorts create a huge amount of drag which make swimming much harder.
Zoggs Empower Actionback, £38. It's made from Ecolast fabric, which is recycled nylon and highly durable. The racerback design is really flexible for swimming front crawl and the costume has good bust support.
Batoko, £50. Another recycled nylon fabric, Batoko does fab, colourful designs for outdoor swimmers.
Deakin and Blue Essential Swimsuit, £95. This is my favourite swimsuit brand by a swimmer from London. Made from Econyl (recycled fishing nets), these cossies are about celebrating the female form. They come in three different bust fittings and an inclusive range of sizes. They're super-comfy to swim in and durable too.
Zoggs Como Mid Jammer, £34. Men don't have quite as much choice, but these jammers are perfect. They're streamlined, eco-friendly and comfortable.
Warm and visible
A swim hat is the only other bit of kit that you really need. This will help you retain core warmth because you have more capillaries in your head than in any other part of your body, so you'll lose a lot of heat without a hat. A brightly coloured hat will keep you visible to other water users and people on land. Swimming hats also give your hair some protection if it's prone to damage (though they don't keep your hair perfectly dry), and they also make you more streamlined and keep your hair out of your eyes. If you are swimming heads-up breaststroke, then a bobble hat is fine.
You may not love the idea of wearing a swim hat, but you can have a lot of fun with them. I love the retro flowery ones, but remember that if it's not smooth it'll create drag and make front crawl difficult. I love these hats by outdoor swimming artist Nancy Farmer. If you have long, voluminous hair or dreadlocks, these hats by Soul Cap will help keep protect your locks and keep them in place. For extra warmth, pick a neoprene hat like this one from Zone 3.
If you swim in rivers or the sea or anywhere that boats use, a tow-float is worth buying. These inflate and attach to your waist using a strap. The basic ones like this one by Swim Secure (£21) will ensure that you're visible and give you something to cling to if you get cramp. You can also get tow floats that incorporate a dry bag so that you can carry essentials like your phone or even your clothes and a pair of light shoes. I like this one by Swim Secure (£30) and this one by Puffin Swim (£26.99).
No matter how clean the water at our swimming spots, it is still natural, untreated water and as such it will contain bacteria. If you're going to stick your head in the water, you'll need goggles to protect your eyes and help you see, and earplugs to protect your ears. It's important to note that earplugs can also help stop you from getting dizzy, and protect against the very nasty condition called surfers' ear.
When it comes to choosing goggles, it's all about fit and as no two faces are the same, this can be quite a quest! But, a couple of things to bear in mind: even on a dull day the outdoors is bright, so some UVA filtering polarised or tinted goggles are a worthwhile investment. If you want to swim fast or smooth front crawl, avoid goggles with a big profile that will create drag. I like Zoggs Predator Flex (£35), but my absolute favourite goggles are these by Beeway (£5.99). I actually have three pairs: tinted with earplugs attached, tinted without earplugs, and clear! They're a great fit, comfortable and last well.
Again, earplugs are down to personal choice. I'm a big fan of earplugs that come with a cord that attaches to your goggles because you have less chance of losing them. If you want to splash out, Surf Ears (£49.99) are worth the investment because you can buy the size that fits. At the other end of the scale, Speedo's Ergo earplugs (£4.99) also do their job very well.
Your post-swim warm-up kit is almost more important than your swim kit. Here, you'll need:
Warm clothing -- always pack one layer more than you need for that weather
A towel or two
A flask of warm drink
Something to eat
A waterproof bag to keep it in
So, you don't need any extra kit. That said, there are a couple of things that I have and love. My favourite piece of outdoor swimming kit of all is my DryRobe. It's voluminous, warm, windproof and waterproof. It cost £130, but I wear it every time I swim between October and June, on camping trips and when I watch my children play rugby, so it was a sound investment for me. But, a couple of large towels and a decent coat is all you really need.
wear leggings under jogging bottoms
sew together two towels to make a changing robe
use an insulated bag for life or cool bag
wrap your clothes around a hot water bottle so that they're warm to put on after your swim
There's some great kit out there if buying kit is your thing. But don't let not having the desire or means to splash out put you off swimming outdoors. Other than a swimsuit and a warm hat, there really isn't much that you need.