The lock down rules have relaxed just enough in England to allow wild swimming, that is, swimming in lakes, rivers and the sea. As long as we are sensible, honour social distancing rules, and keep ourselves well within our safety and comfort zones, we are permitted to take a dip. I know lots of people who have been rejoicing at this, and I don’t blame them, swimming in lakes and rivers is wonderful.
For today’s post I’ve teamed up with The Wetsuit Centre to share a staple of bloggers and vloggers the world over, a what’s in my bag feature, a wild swimming edition.
While some lake and river swims are right by campsites and car parks, meaning you can probably just grab your towel and water bottle and take a few steps from your tent or car to the water’s edge, I have found my favourite swims also involve a bit of a walk. Which means this what’s in my bag really is a kit bag of stuff that might be handy for your wild swimming adventures.
I should also add that I am defining wild swimming here as very much a leisurely activity. Open water swimming might be a serious athletic sport, for people training for or taking part in long swims, triathlons, endurance adventures, or using it for fitness. But that’s not me, and my kit bag isn’t going to include a fancy watch for timing my stroke, or indeed top-of-the-line anything. When it comes to wild swimming, I’m a person who loves to take a dip in a nice-looking river or lake when camping, or enjoys a sea swim when there is opportunity.
I will always use a rucksack when I have to carry outdoor kit any kind of distance, it’s the easiest way to haul anything in my opinion. I have one bag for everything, and to be honest it’s looking rather worse-for-wear these days. My 20l Osprey Tempest pack is my absolute go-to, it’s so comfortable, an ideal size for everything from work to day hikes to swimming outings, and I highly recommend it. There’s an old review on it here, something I should probably update as it’s still going strong and has a lot of life left in it yet. It might seem small, but I can get just everything listed here in it, including my dry wetsuit. A slightly larger bag might make life easier, but as I said up top, wild swimming is something I love to do but occasionally, not daily, and so my kit bag follows suit.
Swimsuit and Wetsuit
I choose to swim in an all-in-one swimsuit most of the time, with a pair of comfy board shorts over the top which serve to make me feel less self-conscious. While there is a heap of specialist clothing out there, you can quite happily swim outdoors in exactly the same stuff as you’d swim indoors, so there’s no recommendation for special materials or the like here, and the majority of people I know have similar “outfits” to me. You may want to add a rash vest, but I don’t have done so I don’t put one in my kit bag.
I do also swim in a wetsuit sometimes, and if it’s a planned wild swim (rather than, oh I’ve got my swimsuit, I’ll take a dip moment), then I will generally have it with me. If you’re sea swimming, swimming distances, or it’s super cold, this can be a life saver. A wetsuit adds bulk to both your kit bag and your person when wild swimming, but it can be a very important piece of kit and I was very grateful for both the warmth and the extra buoyancy it provided when I swam through Durdle Door (which you can read about here), for example. Mine is the Huub Axiom, an entry level suit for beginners in the water, but there are so many suits on the market and if you’re looking to start out then something cheap will absolutely do the trick. Think of it as a layer for water sports in the same way that thermals are for hiking, wear it when needed but it’s not necessary all the time.
I mentioned my wetsuit does fit in my pack when dry, but I use the bag it came in for the return journey – I can fold the suit in it and attach it to the outside of my back pack or carry it over one arm depending on the length of the walk.
I always swim in goggles. When I remember them, that is. My eyes are incredibly sensitive, and I find that having a pair of goggles to be an absolute must whether I’m swimming indoors or outdoors. About a year ago I treated myself to a pair of tinted goggles, which have been an absolute revelation to me, and I would highly recommend to anyone wanting to swim outdoors. Swimming in clear goggles in the sea or river is absolutely fine, of course, you’ll get a better view underwater with clear lenses, but water is very reflective indeed and can be quite uncomfortable in not very much time. I can’t believe it took me so long to move to a tinted pair, but there we are, you live and learn.
Slides and a Beanie Hat
These two items might sound juxtaposed, and I guess they are in some ways, but they are always in my wild swimming kit bag.
While I will most often walk to and from my wild swimming spots in trainers or even hiking boots (some the swims I did down in Dorset, for example, involved a 20-30 minute walk from the parking area), I will stash my bag somewhere I can see it a bit away from the shoreline, then change to slides (or flip flops if that’s what I have on that particular trip) to get me too and from the waters’ edge. If the walk is short enough, I’ll don the slides from the car boot or tent (with or without socks, don’t judge me!). Admittedly this relies on getting in and out of the water in the same place, which for a leisurely wild swim is probably most common, but your feet will thank that layer underneath for preventing getting cut up on the way into and out of the water!
The beanie hat is for swimming in cold weather – yes, I wear it to swim in, when I need to. I actually think it’s a pretty good look, makes me seem all hard core and serious…! I guess I should add that I’m not a fan of swim caps, again because I’m generally taking a dip rather than heading out for a mile-long swim, but will also don one of those for sea swims or lake swims where I’m a bit far from shore as it makes me easy to spot and saves my hair from getting too wet and tangled.
If I got myself into a routine of wild swimming regularly, I would certainly purchase a Dryrobe or similar fleece parka, but my on-holiday-dips are perfectly well served by a couple of towels. Gone are the days when I carry a bulky and heavy beach towel when I swim, even to the pool. I’ve recently been using my Tesalate towel as my go-to, which is large enough to cover me up without taking up loads of space in my bag, along with one or even two smaller microfibre towels.
I take multiple towels, albeit small ones, because I like one to stand on (or I’ll use my little PACMAT waterproof picnic blanket for this, perfect as a double use item), one for my hair (there is nothing worse than getting your whole body dry and having soaking wet hair drip down your back), and then one for the rest of me. These three towels (or two towels and a picnic blanket) take up less space in my bag than one normal beach towel would, and they dry out super-fast which means I can have two swims in a day if I wish without having to pack two bags.
You might be warm when you are swimming, even if you’re taking a cold-water dip, but if you’re doing it here in England the likelihood is that you’ll get more than a little chilly afterwards. Warm layers for before and after are therefore a must – I go simple with some leggings or joggers for my bottom half, or maybe some hiking trousers if that’s what I have in my camping kit bag, and a nice warm hoodie for my top.
I love my puffy coat, but I find the cosiness of a heavyweight cotton hoodie is much more appreciated after a swim, and so I’ll take my biggest and comfiest one with me if at all possible. If it is colder than a hoodie can handle, then my puffy coat will also come with me. Of course I normally don’t need to fit these things in my actual bag as I’ll be wearing them to and from the water, but you get the idea.
Bra and Pants!
How many times have you worn your swimsuit under your clothes to drive/walk to a lake, and forgotten to pack your underwear?! Please tell me I’m not the only one?!?! I remember heading to Wet n Wild in Orlando when it was still open and did exactly this. Thankfully we had always planned to go back to our villa afterwards and not anywhere else so I could correct my mistake before it became too uncomfortable. Underwear is arguably of the most important things to remember, after your towel. I pack in a small dry bag, which I can then use for my wet swimsuit afterwards to save the rest of my kit getting wet.
Water Bottle, Flask and Snacks
No outdoor activity kit bag is complete without a water bottle (that actually contains water), so you can re-hydrate after exercise, and swimming is no exception. I would also recommend a flask with a hot beverage of your choice, and a suitable snack (think flapjack, peanut butter sandwiches, banana, you know the drill) to have once your dry but before you head anywhere else. In all honestly this is the best bit of outdoor exercise for me, I love to sit on the shore post-swim and enjoy a moment to relax and refuel before my day has to continue. It’s the same as taking a few minutes at the top of a hill you’ve hiked up to admire the view, important for your body to stop but also for your mind to take it all in.
Sun Cream, Vaseline and a Brush
Preparation for any outdoor activity should involve lathering on the sun cream, but of course the problem with swimming is that you need to reapply afterwards. I therefore always carry a tube of sun cream in my kit bag, whatever I have that agrees with my skin really, although ideally you should be looking for something that’s decent enough to the environment as you know it’ll be coming off as you swim and wildlife will be relying on that water for their home and food. I also find that swimming outdoors dries my skin out, especially my lips, hands and feet, so I also carry some Vaseline with me too. And then there is my brush, an absolute must as I have long hair. I will swim with my hair in a plait, and remove the plait and comb it through afterwards. I’ve not normally got any other wash-kit style products with me, there isn’t normally the need, but of course I’m generally not far from my car or tent if I need anything else post-swim.
If you don’t have a friend on the shore to look after your kit, and you’re not happy leaving your valuables on the shoreline, a drybag big enough for your phone and keys is always a good idea. I’m generally not on my own when I’m swimming, but I do have one for those occasions where I need it. It’s only big enough for my phone and single car key, all my other valuables stay in my car (out of sight…). There are lots of these on the market, and they’re not expensive and so a worthwhile investment.
And I think that’s it. My wild swimming kit bag is pretty full, but I reckon I’ve got the essentials sorted.
Are you an open water swimmer? What’s in your kit bag. Go on… tell me what I’ve forgotten, it’s entirely possible there’s something important missing…
This post contains a paid advertisement for The Wetsuit Centre.