I just love the photo ‘Woman in Blue Cap’ by Alice Zoo from her series ‘Swimmers’ – it shows a swimmer clad in swimsuit, blue hat, rubber washing up gloves tied with elastic bands around the wrists…. I saw it at the National Portrait Gallery and a postcard of it sits on my windowsill…. It beautifully raises the question of what kit you really need for Open Water Swimming?
If we take a swimming costume and a swim cap as a bare minimum (OK… for those who take the term ‘bare’ minimum more literally I appreciate that in theory you don’t even need these two items but lets assume that we’re not skinny dipping this week as it’s a bit chillier than last week!). What you then add to your kit list depends on so many things…. Here’s a few to think about for your kit list or your Christmas list (Noooooo… did I really mention THAT word in August??? Sorry!)
Goggles – unless you’re swimming heads up breast stroke you might find goggles useful. Also handy to have 2 pairs… one clear and one tinted for varying light conditions.
Tow float - super bright to make you visible to other water users and (heaven forbid you should need them) the rescue crew... also handy to lean on when you want to stop for a chat or a rest mid swim.
Wetsuit - (OK....before all my skins swimmer friends start yelling at the screen…it’s a contentious one I know, but it is under the ‘what you then add’ section, not the ‘essential’ section!) for those who really feel the cold no matter how often they swim in it, and for those whose events dictate that they are compulsory, and for those who just don’t feel confident without the extra buoyancy, whatever reason you have for wearing one… lots of swimmers do and don’t need to feel bad about it! As an extra… a mid season sleeveless or a shortie is also handy for those in-between swims… spring and autumn… not quite warm enough to abandon all neoprene but too warm for a full length…. Just a thought!
A Wetsuit dry bag… mesh one side with a ‘drain’ and a plug at the bottom so you can hang your wetsuit (inside out, by the waist over a sturdy hanger) and it won’t drip all over the car/shed/spare room…and keep it safe and out of the way when not in use….. a handy little extra is the clip at the top to attach it over a door frame or hook
Neoprene gloves/boots/hat - (also contentious among some swimmers but bear with me... not everyone is built for swimming skins!) for those who may be looking to extend their season once the temperatures start to drop or even swim through the winter, even if you don't go for the wetsuit, protecting your extremities can be helpful. If you’re really trying to avoid the neoprene or it isn’t an option.. try the washing up gloves (see that photo by Alice Zoo) or even those old verruca socks (yes, you can still get them!) as an alternative or as well as the neoprene if you’re really feeling the chill
Additional neoprene vest/layers. Under your wetsuit, for the very cold months … or when you’re in the water coaching for a long time and not moving about as much as you need to in order to stay warm!
Rash vests are great for keeping the sun off you without the need for sunscreen which can be environmentally damaging (environmentally friendly brands of sun screen are out there folks!) and an extra layer if you feeling chilly but not so cold that you need the neoprene!
Ear plugs - Help to avoid swimmers ear and to avoid dizziness that some swimmers experience when they get out of the water... custom made or off the shelf they come in all
sorts of shapes, sizes and materials
Dry robe (other brands are available!) for changing outside on a cold / wet day... also fab for camping in!
Bodyglide (other brands are available) to avoid chafing from saltwater, from your swimwear or wetsuit but also from the bottom of your swim cap in the hairline (really annoying when that happens!)
Sunscreen … Hopefully no explanation needed… there are environmentally friendly ones out there worth thinking about to protect the water you (and the fish) swim in
A whistle – to attract attention should you get into bother… this can be fixed to your tow float or some can be worn around the wrist without causing too much annoyance
Something to stand on and keep you off the ground which may be cold when you’re trying to warm up! You can get specific mats and really cool ones that are like big bags… stand in them to change, drop your wet gear into them and then tie them all up so nothing else gets wet in the care on the way home…..but an old Pilates mat will do) and Crocs or waterproof shoes to walk about in so as to avoid sharp things jabbing you in the feet.
A swimmers light – Not just used by Channel Swimmers! Also handy for anyone swimming early mornings in first light/dawn and those entering overnight events or night swims…. More eco friendly than glow sticks and reuseable
Technology – if you want heart rates, distance, speed and other figures or plots of your route to check how well you managed to swim straight (or not) and if you’re counting distance for your latest challenge/training set.
Hot and cold drinks and snacks for before and after your swim… and of course anything you need nutrition wise for during your swim if it’s going to be a long one… but that’s a whole other blog in its own right
Woolly hats, warm, ‘easy to get on with cold hands’ clothes and a hot water bottle… even in the summer the water and the air outside can be chilly and its better to have them and not need them, than to need them and not have them!
And of course… a large waterproof bag (tri bags are quite handy with loads of zips to lose your stuff in when you’re in a hurry!) or a bright and cheery garden trug to put it all in!
There’s a lot of ‘stuff’ that you can add as you go… or not… to your kit list….depending on how much you want to carry about with you, the size of your boot (and your budget) and what sort of swimming you plan to do….Pick and choose what fits for you and don’t fret about the ‘stuff’ …. I should add that I haven’t included more traditionally pool based kit like fins, swim snorkels, paddles, kick boards, pull buoys and the like which are creeping into the Open Water scene this year as people struggle to train whilst pools are closed….
Don’t even get me started on swim hats and the number of hats your average swimmer accumulates over time……
Of course all you really need is a body of water to swim in!