I don’t mean to say that having a kit list for open water swimming is a pants idea, but much more the case is that whatever kit you have, however experienced you are, from a personal point of view, never forget your pants; unless you like that sort of thing of course. It’s really annoying when you want to get cosy after a swim and you came to the river in your swimmers and forgot to bring your pants (or knickers I would imagine - Ed). Rough denim on cold skin is not that cosy.
But seriously folks, the first thing to say about an open water swimming kit list is that all you really need is yourself and the water.
If you do decide to add to your kitbag and ever want any opinions, advice or recommendations on any items in this article just ask the HOWSC members via the Facebook page. You will get a wide variety of helpful views from many kinds of swimmers.
The almost bare essentials
On second thoughts, if you aren’t alone in the wilderness and channeling your inner Skandie then some trunks or a swimming cossie is probably wise. These can take any form. On any given day you will find us in a selection of budgie smugglers, shorty trunks, swim shorts, leisure swimsuits, race swimsuits, tri-suits, even the odd bikini in the summer; and various specialist items like jammers (long leg swimming trunks) and buoyancy shorts; same as jammers but wetsuit materiel; and of course a wide variety of wetsuits for suit swimmers. So never think you don’t have the right kit because you do. Whatever you have is the right kit, just come and join in.
Apart from that there are two basic safety considerations - a bright coloured swim hat, and ideally a tow float if you’re swimming alone. These items allow other river users to see you clearly, and an inflatable tow float which attaches by a strap to your waist lets you have a rest any time you need it mid-river, and doubles up as a dry bag for your car keys and some other small items. These floats are bright orange or pink and highly visible. Some of us have acquired through the club an ICE band, which is a wristband with your name and a phone number to contact In Case of Emergency (ICE). This is not a reflection of particular risk from swimming as cyclists, ramblers etc. wear them too but they are useful in the unlikely event of needing to contact a relative for any reason.
No jacket required
All other items are optional and nobody should think that they can’t go swimming outdoors because they don’t have all the kit. Open water or wild swimming is a wonderfully kit free experience open to anyone with a cossie and a curiosity. You will, of course, begin to find a few more items becoming desirable once you swim more regularly, and when the water temperature tumbles you may want some additional items for warmth if you want to swim distances outside of summer, and you’re not an experienced cold-water swimmer.
Some basic add-ons
Basic add-ons to your cossie and curiosity, and your safety driven bright hat and tow float (you can swim happily in a group of others who have floats to begin with so don’t be put off coming to swim if you don’t yet have a float) include goggles if you need them, ear plugs if you need them and for some a nose clip. All these items are personal preference and are partly dictated by the kind of swimming you would like to do. If you do wear goggles then some people use an anti-fog spray, which you may want to consider; some people use saliva and a river water rinse, and some people just seem never to get steamy. There are a few different types of goggles better suited to open water swimming. They generally have bigger lenses for better all round vision as you don’t have a line to follow in the river as you do in the bottom of a pool. There are a number of brands available but to get an idea of what they look like check out Aqua Sphere Vista or Zoggs Predators. You will see they are bigger than pool goggles; handy for spotting boats, families of swans and where to get out. Think about the lens tint or colour. Whilst mean and moody mirrored lenses work in a neon lit pool, one of the absolute joys of open water swimming is being in the river at dawn and dusk. Too much tint will hinder your vision and certainly wont help you spot the wolves on our full moon swims.
At HOWSC we not only have a wonderful, supportive, friendly and diverse bunch of people who all have fun together whatever their swim style, but we also have all types of swimmers and therefore kit requirements. If you would like to come to the river for a friendly heads up breast stroke swim and chat, and just enjoy being with like minded people in a beautiful place to lift the spirits, then you wont be putting your head in the water and so wont need goggles, ear plugs or a nose clip. If you’re swimming a few km of freestyle then your personal preference might be for these items.
There are a couple of comfort-driven items that I would heartily recommend. A towel is on the essential pedestal for me along with pants and should never be forgotten, as drip drying is best suited to delicate laundry items that can’t be spun and not for people who have just got out of the river - except in our current (July 2018) tropical conditions. A big step up from a towel for getting yourself dry and cosy, and the item of choice for many regular swimmers is something called a Dry Robe. This is a long baggy cape with wide sleeves made from wind proof material on the outside and absorbent toweling on the inside. So instead of drying off with a towel in the open air you get a warm hug and an instant drying- off from the robe which then acts as your personal beach hut to change in as the sleeves are wide and you pull your arms inside it so you can dress and undress, and hopefully put on the most important item to remember – your pants!
A pair of flip-flops or Crocs or similar is a good and important addition (OK, essential-ish really) as in some locations we have a short walk to the getting-in point of the river. Another good comfort item you can get, but again not essential, is a changing mat. It’s a tough flexible PVC circular mat you can stand on to change so you don’t get stones and grass all over your feet. It just folds up or pulls closed with a drawstring and you take it home and hose it off – usually getting your stone and grass free feet soaked in the process. Or is that just me?
Suits or skins?
Warming up kit and the cosy HOWSC hoody
In temperatures like June/July 2018 and on normally warm and sunny days don’t forget waterproof sunscreen for exposed skin if you are swimming for a time or distance that will expose you for longer than met office published burn times. Remember that water reflects UV rays so exposed skin will be exposed to UV from above and below. Remember also that UV rays pass through water so you are not protected but rather doubly exposed. Also have plenty of fluid for rehydrating afterwards.
For everyone, wet suit swimmers or skins, it is useful to have somewhere to store your wet swimming things afterwards, whether that is just a cossie and towel or a wetsuit etc as well. I use a triathlon bag as it has lots of useful pockets and compartments with waterproof storage. Some people use a plastic box in the boot of the car and of course a carrier bag is just as good as anything.
So, as you can see there is little prescriptive about an outdoor swimming kit list, and you should always remember that you can just come to the river with a cossie and some curiosity. You can be safe and well equipped with just a cossie and a bright cap if you want to swim in a group in the summer, or you can spend a little more time time acclimatising to longer times and swims with a few more kit items to keep you safe and self sufficient. However you would like to swim or to enjoy the river, doing it with friendly like-minded people at HOWSC will make it a happy and easy experience.
And if you wear your swimmers to go the river, just remember your pants.
Open Water Swimming Kit Checklist
Any swimming costume
Bright coloured swim cap
Flip flops or Crocs or similar
Anti-fog goggle spray
Safety add-ons (not necessary to join a group swim)
Inflatable tow float
Essential after swim warming up kit (Use more when it’s cold, less when it’s warm)
Lots of warm clothes including gloves, socks and hats
NB. Nothing is as cool, cosy and stylish as a pink and blue toasty HOWSC hoody!
Thermos mug-style drinking flask with hot drink
Some food treats
Fluids for rehydrating afterwards
Optional cold water add-ons
Wetsuit cap (add chinstrap version for comedy look and toasty ears)
Wet kit-wrestling choices – one of…
Or dry bag,
Or plastic box
Or carrier bag
Don’t forget your phone camera for the riverbank
Waterproof camera if you have one
Swim computer GPS if you can’t live without tracking yourself
Most essential item
Don’t forget your pants!
Robbie McIntosh, July 2018
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