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What to wear open-water swimming: your essential kit guide to wild swimming

Find out the seven most important pieces of wild swimming kit for a safe open water swimming experience, and what you should be aware of when you're out in the water.

Essential open water swimming kit

Open-water swimming (often called wild swimming) has rocketed in popularity over the past couple of years, as we’ve had time to explore our own back yards more than ever.

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Though a great excuse to get your adventure thrills in, open water exploration comes with a caveat. If it’s not done properly it can be very dangerous.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of essential kit to help keep you safe while wild swimming. So whether you’re partial to a dip in a lake on a hot summery day, or brave enough to train in the winter and go cold-water swimming, make sure you’re well prepared with our open-water essential kit guide.

Discover eight of the best wild swimming walks within easy reach of London and the best open-water adventures for triathletes.

What should I wear for open water swimming?

1. Tri-suit or swimming costume 

Firstly, if you’re wearing a wetsuit, you’ll want a hydrophobic base layer to wear underneath. You can choose between a tri-suit (if you’re planning to jump on the bike afterwards), swimming costume and jammers. Make sure this layer is comfortable and easy to take off quickly with numb, post-dip fingers.

Tri-suit 

For a budget pick consider the Sundried Pro Aero tri-suit from Amazon from £53.76. The underarm mesh fabric aims to offer breathability and the full length zipper should help with faff-free removal. There are three pockets on the back of the design where you can store your smaller open water swimming essentials pre-swim, such as your goggles. They’re handy for training, too, when you need quick access to energy gels.

It’s great value considering you can wear this tri-suit for training and events as well as open-water swimming, so you’re sure to get plenty of wear out of it. Thankfully this design is machine washable so you can keep it in great condition after a few open water swimming sessions.

Swimming costume 

We love the look of Speedo’s Essential Endurance+ Medalist swimming costume. Offering a classic style – perfect for those hotter days when you don’t need your wetsuit – and a comfortable, non-baggy fit, this is a great swimming costume to consider from a reliable brand. On test, this swimsuit scored an impressive 83% for its great value and solid design. It’s available from Marks and Spencer, for £26.50.

Jammers 

Check out Speedo’s Boomstar Placement Jammers from Amazon, for £35. The design’s long-lasting fabric and no-nonsense style helped them get a desirable rating of 87% from our team during a recent test.

The quick-drying material is particularly useful for open-water swimmers, especially if you enjoy an exhilarating dunk regularly and need to dry them quickly between swims. Described as 100% chlorine-resistant, when you’re not wearing them for open-water adventures, they’re ideal for pool training sessions. There’s a thin drawstring to help you get the right fit, and we like the fun splash of red.

2. Wetsuit

If you’re wild swimming in waters below 16°C, then you’ll want to invest in a decent wetsuit to keep you toasty and in the water for longer (British Triathlon recommends wetsuit use for temperatures up to 22°C). Look for suits with a minimum thickness of 3mm neoprene.

Some suits have thicker panels on areas like the core and legs, which are designed to lift up the legs and help save energy during a triathlon. Meanwhile, thinner material around the shoulders and arms allow for full range of movement during your arm stroke.

Newcomers to wild swimming are often surprised by the price of triathlon wetsuits, which tend to range from £100-£1,000, but we do recommend you invest in a good quality suit – you’ll thank yourself later when it comes to winter training!

Mid-range wetsuit

For a mid-range option, we like the Sailfish Ignite from Wiggle (we recommend you size down as this runs large), for £270.

Entry-level wetsuit 

For an entry-level option, dhb has a range of suits including the Hydron 2.0 from Wiggle for £120 (read our Hydron 2.0 review). This durable design was a hit on test, scoring 87%. A hard-to-fault budget wetsuit ideal for beginners.

Take a look through our wetsuit reviews for more tips and advice.

3. Gloves, socks and neoprene hat

These items can be complete game changers in your wild swimming journey, allowing you to stay in the water for longer and (hopefully) maintain feeling in your extremities. Most important of the three is the neoprene hat which helps to prevent heat loss from the head and, importantly, from the forehead.

Swim cap

We like this dhb Hydron Swim Cap 2.0 for good head coverage, which you can get from Wiggle from £25.

Neoprene socks

Try out the Zone3 Neoprene Heat-Tech socks from Wiggle, for £39. Ideal for spring, autumn and winter open-water swimming. As well as helping to keep your feet warm, the extra grip should be a welcomed feature when you’re entering the water and walking on slippery grounds.

Thermal gloves 

To help with nippy fingers, check out the Huub thermal gloves from Wiggle, for £34.99.

For more budget options, check out our socks, hats, and gloves suggestions.

4. Goggles

Getting the right pair of goggles can be a rigmarole, but there are a few top functions to look out for that make up a reliable pair.

Firstly, look for a pair that don’t mist up while swimming (anti-fog properties), as you need to be able to sight a buoy and aim for the finish line.

It’s also important that they have the capacity to be tightened and adjusted according to your head size. Along with a stabilising nose bridge and reliable suction on the gaskets, this should prevent water leaking in mid-swim.

UV-tinted lenses, polarised lenses, or photochromatic lenses will protect your corneas and help aid your sighting abilities. A curved lens will widen your field of vision, so look out for this common feature in open water-specific goggles.

Zone3 Venator-X

We find the polarised lens of the Zone3 Venator-X ideal for open water swimming and like the comfort of the soft silicone gaskets and choice of stylist colourways. Available from Amazon for £29.

Here’s our review of the best swimming goggles on the market.

5. Multisport watch

A good GPS watch can be handy when open-water swim training as, without lanes and laps to count your distance, you’ll struggle to stick to a training plan or distance goals.

There are a lot of options on the market, but a good multisport watch will provide GPS, heart rate and even swim stroke analysis data. Though some are happy to swim without tracking distance, we recommend you get yourself a watch to aid your training and keep you moving towards your goals.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival

Try out the Wahoo Elemnt Rival with touchless transition tracking from Wiggle for £299.99.

Garmin Forerunner 945

You can’t go wrong with the Garmin Forerunner 945, a firm favourite of ours, and the most complete triathlon watch we’ve used to date (read our review here). It’s a solid investment and is available from Wiggle for £399.99.

Alternatively, take a look at our list of the best triathlon watches on the market.

6. Tow float

Ever spotted other swimmers bobbing along with a florescent float and wondered what the deal was? Tow floats are a huge help in increasing visibility of a swimmer and in alerting their presence to other water users like boats. They can also provide respite for a tired swimmer, or those in danger, as you can hold onto it and it will keep you afloat.

If swimming alone in the open water (which we don’t recommend), then it’s essential you have a device such as this to help you in an emergency. Often, tow floats will double up as dry bags, so you can stuff your valuables in it to keep them safe, you can also get tow floats with built-in hydration and snack pockets.

Zone3 tow float

Check out this Zone3 tow float from Wiggle for £25. Also available in a vibrant pink.

WildPaces tow float

We like the look of this WildPaces tow float, which has attachable straps so it can be worn as a backpack if desired, from Amazon for £15.99.

7. Changing robe

For ultimate convenience and comfort, and if you’re planning on doing a lot of open water swimming, a dry robe is a useful piece of kit that keeps you both dry and warm while you get changed. Simply zip up this knee-length coat and let the soft inner lining start drying you while you use the generous space inside (they’re made to be roomy) to modestly change out of your wet kit. Dry robes have soared in popularity in recent times and the waterproof outer material makes them handy as general cold weather coats, as well as swim changing aids.

Selkie recycled swim robe

For an eco choice, consider this Selkie recycled swim robe, available from Ebay for £125. Scoring 91% on test thanks to its light and snuggly nature, this striking design is sure to turn heads at your local swimming lake.

For warmer days, or if you’re open water swimming on holiday, you may prefer a lighter towelling robe you can use for sunbathing too! Have a look at these Dryrobe options from Amazon, for both adults and kids. You can also opt for a lightweight swimming towel for convenient packing.

Here’s a list of the best swim robes that we’ve tried and tested for you, and to keep your little ones dry and cosy too, check out our roundup of the best kids’ swim robes.

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Top image credit: Unsplash/Conor Rabbett