Jump In - 10 Pieces of Essential Kit for Wild Swimming

Wild swimming has truly entered the mainstream in the last few years. While it is an activity that has both physical and mental benefits, there are a few things to consider before trying some wild swimming yourself.

We are going to look at the equipment you need to wild swim, as well as some excellent wild swimming locations to get you inspired! Most importantly, we will go over the safety issues that you should consider before heading out to the water.

Equipment for wild swimming

Equipment is a vital part of preparing for wild swimming activities. Let us take a look at the essential items that are always going to be used when you are in the water.

1. Tow Float

A tow float is the most important piece of safety equipment when you go wild swimming. Operating very much like a dry bag, this item makes you visible to other water users, especially boats or jet skis – which are one of the most dangerous risks when wild swimming.

A tow float is attached to the body and gets dragged gently behind the swimmer. It makes you visible in the water but provides minimal resistance to the swimming action.

2. Swim cap/hat

A high visibility swim cap not only keeps your hair from tangling, but it also helps to make it easier for other water users to spot you. In cold waters it is important to preserve heat (with 20% of heat loss coming from the head), so a neoprene swimming hat can help to keep you warm.

3. Wetsuit

A wetsuit serves two functions as a wild swimmer, insulation for warmth and improved hydrodynamics through the water. Wild swimming suits are typically very flexible in the arms and will often feature panels of different thicknesses of neoprene. This allows the arms to have minimal resistance whilst swimming, while also maintaining good insulation in the core to keep you warm.

Heat is lost five times faster in water than on dry land, so staying warm is vital even in areas with warm air temperatures.

Wild swimming suits have a smooth outer lining that aids the glide of a swimmer in the water, improving speed and reducing effort. These wetsuits can however be delicate, so be careful on entry or exit to the water so as to not damage them.

Want more? Click here for more about The Joy of Open Water Swimming: Exploring Lakes, Rivers, and Oceans this Summer.

4. Goggles

A quality set of goggles or a mask enable you to see clearly to navigate hazards. They also prevent the eyes from being exposed to water in certain environments where bacteria or other contaminants might be present. There are many brands available, but it is recommended to try them on where possible to ensure a good leak-free fit and an enjoyable stress-free swim.

5. Gloves and socks

Neoprene swimming gloves and socks might be useful in particularly cold locations or where entries and exits to the water have surfaces that could hurt the hands or feet. Use the same guidelines for thickness of neoprene in different water temperatures as the wetsuits (see below).

6. Dry robe/towel

After leaving the water it is advisable to have a good dry robe, towel, or poncho to get dry and warm quickly. Make sure you have water to rehydrate and snacks to refuel the body after swimming, especially if you are swimming in colder locations.

Carrying a good first aid kit to deal with any minor injuries, as well as vinegar for jellyfish stings in saltwater situations, is a wise idea for your wild swimming kit.

Safety when wild swimming

Considering your safety, and that of any other swimmers, is just as important as equipment when you plan your swims. The conditions in the chosen area, possible hazards (environmental, aquatic life, water temperature, boats, or water traffic), and the competence of the swimmers themselves are all factors to consider.

Water temperature must always be a factor because colder waters come with their own risks. Cold shock has an immediate effect on the human body and can cause gasping for breath, loss of muscular control, and increased heart rate, as well as panic.

It is responsible for many tragic deaths each year around the world and makes the wetsuit such an important piece of equipment due to its thermal properties and additional buoyancy.

A rough guide for wetsuit thickness is as follows:

24 °C (75 °F) or warmer: 1-1.5mm wetsuit.

13-24 °C (55-75 °F): 2-3mm wetsuit.

7-13 °C (45-55 °F): 4-5mm.

Under 7 °C (45 °F): 7mm: The temperature is at a level where hypothermia is a real concern. The best course of action is to exercise caution and ask advice from other wild swimmers in those locations. Make sure you also listen to your body.

Are you a freediver? Take a look at this: Freediving Gear: 5 Must-Have Items for Every Freediver.

Swimming in the sea has its own unique safety issues. Looking at tides and wind conditions (which affect currents and swell) should be a number one preparation for ocean swimmers, as well as identifying hazards posed by marine life, such as jellyfish.

Tidal and wind speed information is easily available online or through apps and it must be checked to ensure a smooth and stress-free session.

Choosing sheltered locations allows swimmers to swim even when the weather and tides may not be in their favor, and it shows a prudent mindset to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Joining a club or contacting other wild swimmers where you plan to dive can make the planning process easy, as local knowledge saves you time and effort. You also get to meet likeminded people; events and social activities give you access to new friends, and you can think about planning fun swim trips abroad.

Finally, always make sure you tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to be back so the alarm can be raised if anything occurs.

5 of the best places to go wild swimming

There are some truly stunning wild swim locations around the world. It can be an amazing combination to travel and explore the waters in very contrasting environments.

1. Loch Lomond, Scotland

One of Scotland’s most iconic lochs, Lomond has excellent conditions and many small islands to explore along its coastline. The waters can be cold even in summer, so it is advised to always wear a suitable wetsuit when swimming here. You can fly into Glasgow and then it is only an hour or so drive north to this stunning location.

2. Honaunau Bay, Big Island, Hawaii

This bay on the south coast of the island of Hawaii has a vibrant reef and is protected by its deep horseshoe shape. There is an easy access point at the area known as Two Step; the reef forms a natural step from a ledge which has been worn by snorkelers and swimmers over the years and makes entering and exiting the water a breeze.

Water temperatures hover around 21-26 °C (70-80 °F) at this swim spot, making it a lovely location for swimming all year. You can fly directly into Kona and take the main highway on the south coast to find this gem.

With its beautiful coral reefs and sheltered waters, Hawaii is also a great place to try scuba diving and discover a new way to explore the aquatic world.

3. Casa Cenote, Tulum, Mexico

This river-like cenote has a long expanse of water that snakes through the Mayan jungle and mangrove. The water here averages around 18-21 °C (65-70 °F), so a wetsuit is advised - also for protection from the sun. Tulum is a fun town with plenty of accommodation options available. You can fly directly into Cancun and then drive the main highway south to Tulum.

The Mexican cenotes are also a popular diving location. Check out Cenote Diving in Mexico: All You Need to Know Before You Go.

4. Lake Geneva, Switzerland

One of Switzerland’s most famous landmarks is also a great wild swimming location. The lake has very clear water and warms up in summer to around 25-27 °C (77-80 °F), which is a pleasant swimming temperature. There are many swim meets and competitions here during the summer season and flying into Geneva is easy, with hundreds of international flights daily.

5. River Kopla, Slovenia

Blessed with areas of gentle downstream currents, the river Kopla is a wild swimmer’s dream. Warm 29 °C (85 °F) water in the summer months allow swimmers to enjoy long sessions in the water. Incredible nature and scenery make Slovenia a great holiday destination with many camping spots and local guides available to give you a fantastic experience. Fly into Ljubljana and then there are plenty of transfers towards the river itself.

Now you have all the information you need to swim wildly and safely.

Ready to explore? Check out the incredible wildlife you can encounter when you go wild swimming. There are over 1 million different species of aquatic animals living in the world’s oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams!