Since the launch of the Great Swims the popularity of open water swimming has grown tremendously & now can see as many as 10,000 swimmers competing in bigger events.  But what if you have set yourself a challenge this year of competing in your first open water swim? What do you need to get you started?

You don't need lots of gear when swimming in the wild, but a few key purchases should see you right.

Manchester British Gas Great Swim MAnchester 2011

Our Top 5 Open Water Swimming Essentials

Since the launch of the Great Swims the popularity of open water swimming has grown tremendously & now can see as many as 10,000 swimmers competing in bigger events.  But what if you have set yourself a challenge this year of competing in your first open water swim? What do you need to get you started?

  • Wetsuit

A wetsuit is an essential piece of equipment for all first timers. A wetsuit is made of a material called neoprene which is very soft and flexible. As long as it fits correctly (not too big) – it should allow a thin layer of water to sit between your skin and suit, which then warms up with your body heat and the insulation keeps you warm. It is therefore important that as little water as possible passes through the wetsuit and isn’t constantly being replaced by cold water flushing through. A snug fit is essential.

  • Swim suit

This is mainly for training in a pool, but would also wear under your wetsuit. It is important it is a good fit, not too tight as can cause rubbing. If you are going to do some training in the pool in chlorinated water, it is worth investing in a good quality, long lasting endurance suit.

  • Goggles

There is a vast choice of swimming goggles to choose from. Don’t just go for the most expensive pair thinking they are the best. The most important thing with goggles is that they fit you and are comfortable and give you good vision. They will fog up before a race, and although there are anti- fog droplets to buy, I have always found saliva the best anti fogging agent. Goggles need to be tight, but not so tight that they cause you pain. Depending on conditions, it is worth investing in a tinted or mirrored pair for bright/sunny conditions or clear/yellow/orange pair for dull days.

  • Swim Cap

Swim caps can be made of latex or silicon. A silicon swim cap is more expensive, but thicker and more durable than latex. Normally in swim events you will be given a coloured cap to wear. Caps will vary in size so you might need to carefully stretch it, if feels too tight. In really cold conditions, you can opt to wear a neoprene hat under your normal swim cap, which will save heat loss and keep you warmer.

Open Water Swim Front Crawl
  • Silicon Ear Plugs

These are very useful if you suffer from ear infections and/or if the water is cold. They will keep your core temperature up.

  • Lubricant

Rubbing/chaffing can be a swimmers worst enemy, especially over longer distance swims. It can occur in any areas of the body that rub together; underarm, between the legs, or on the neck. It is often worse in sea water, with the salt causing greater friction. There are roll-on lubricants such as Bodyglide that come in the form of a very convenient roll on stick. Other options are cooking oil spray or Vaseline (unfortunately Vaseline causes wetsuit neoprene to wear over time so is best avoided).

  • Swim socks/gloves

These are a great training aid when temperatures are cold as your extremities such as your hands and feet will suffer. If you do unduly suffer with cold feet or hands, it is important to check with the race organiser if you are allowed to wear them in your event.


By Christine Johnson

This article has been provided by Christine Johnson an Open water & Triathlon swim coach based in the Lake District and owner of www.sleekerswim.co.uk  Christine runs both open water & swim technique courses.