Best wild swimming gear for an outdoor dip
We turn to Helen Webster, editor of 220 Triathlon, for advice on what to choose for your wild swimming kit
Whether you're dipping your toe into the lake for the first time, or are a seasoned wild swimmer, Helen Webster – editor of 220 Triathlon magazine and wild swimming enthusiast – has plenty of suggestions for wild swimming gear.
Never tried wild swimming? See our feature on wild swimming in Britain: water safety and how to get started.
What to wear when wild swimming
Swimsuit or jammers
Wild swimming can be as simple as taking a dip in a body of water while out in the countryside (think of it as an immersive experience in nature, rather than fitness training!), in which case you can just wear a normal swimsuit (women) or pair of trunks or jammers (men). The benefit here is they are light to carry for impromptu swims in lakes or rivers!
We like Zoggs swimsuits for value, style and longevity – plus their new Ecolast fabric is made from recycled ocean waste, so has good eco-credentials.
For men, jammers offer a halfway-house between baggy shorts (which can be impractical for swimming) and trunks (which are a bit skimpy for some!). dHB offer good value with a striking design.
If you’re more serious about swimming outdoors, then a wetsuit will give you warmth and buoyancy, allowing you to stay in the water for longer.
Ideally you should wear a swimming wetsuit rather than a surfing wetsuit when swimming outdoors, as it will have greater shoulder mobility and be smoother than a normal wetsuit, helping you to glide through the water with ease! However, if you’re just splashing around in a stream then a surfing wetsuit is fine.
Swimming wetsuits are designed to support your body in the front crawl position and depending on budget, look for one that will also help to correct your body in the water. At the budget end you can now buy wetsuits specifically for open-water swimming, whereas the more investment-suits are more tailored towards racing and triathlon, with quick-release zips and cuffs and features to enhance speed included.
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If you’re swimming outdoors it’s wise to wear a brightly coloured swim hat as this will make you easier to spot in the water (especially as most wetsuits are black). Colours including red, yellow or a neon orange or pink are good choices – avoid black or white as they can be easily missed in water, especially if there are small waves.
If you feel the cold a lot, try a neoprene swim cap and if possible, choose one in a bright colour too, unless you are going to wear your usual swim hat over the top as well.
Goggles are a must if you’ll be going underwater. If you’re serious about outdoor swimming you may want to buy polarised goggles, which are designed to cope with bright conditions – glare off water can be dazzling – but normal ones work fine on a cloudy day. Mirrored goggles for sunny days are the next best option. On very gloomy days clear goggles are ideal. You can also buy goggles with light-reactive lenses which are a great choice for changeable conditions or if you are planning longer swims/racing in open water.
Neoprene swim gloves
Hands feel the cold so you may want to wear neoprene swim gloves. Choosing swim-specific ones that fit closely will help to reduce drag (get a poor fit and they may fill with water).
Neoprene swim boots
Keep your feet warm with neoprene swim boots. If you’re swimming anywhere that’s known for weever fish it really is wise to wear boots or surf shoes as their venomous spines are very painful if you stand on them.
A tow float is an inflatable that secures around your waist and bobs after you in the water. As well as being a good extra level of visibility so you can be spotted it can also be useful if you find yourself fatigued and want to rest on it for a moment. Extra features on a tow float can also include a drybag section useful for car keys, phone and nutrition, a place to hold a drink on longer swims and a whistle for safety.
Avoid ear infections (more commonly picked up from cold natural water) by popping a pair of swimming ear plugs in. They can also help protect against the cold and many swimmers find it more comfortable to swim with earplugs in. Swim specific ones are commonly and cheaply available.
Towel changing robe
If you’re worried about changing in public (albeit near a quiet swim spot!) then a changing robe is a great investment. These are like a giant towel/poncho that you get changed inside and which can then be used to modestly dry yourself after your swim.
Changing/winter swim jacket
More advanced robes feature a warm fleece interior and a waterproof outer shell, often with zippy pockets and a large hood. These are a great investment if you feel the cold or are planning to wild swim into the winter as after cold swimming it is imperative to get warm quickly to avoid the afterdrop, where your core temperature continues to fall after exiting the water.
Know someone who loves wild swimming? See our guide to the best wild swimming gifts you can buy online.
Helen is the editor of 220 Triathlon magazine and website. She's usually found open-water swimming or trail running and has competed in several swimruns as well as the ÖtillÖ world series. Helen is a qualified Level 2 open-water swim coach and recently completed the Coniston end-to-end swim.