By: Blonde Two

In all honesty, my preferred answer to this question would be a very simple, ‘All you need is water!’

But outdoor life isn’t that simple. Activities can be dangerous and manufacturers like to sell gear.

Sometimes these two things fit together well, sometimes they don’t. If my local anecdotal research is anything to go by, there’s recently been a huge upturn in sales of outdoor swimming gear. I certainly get asked plenty of, ‘Do I need one of those?’ questions. The problem with this question however is that everyone you ask will have a different answer.

So how do you sift through the ‘buy this’ promotional chatter to work out what you do need for your safe outdoor or wild swim? The answer is to think about the type of swimming you’re doing, and your level of experience. With this one I think ‘try before you buy’ is a good adage. And I mean try a little swim in a safe place, with some company before you decide what you need.

Do I need a swimsuit for outdoor swimming?

Swimsuits are advisable in lots of locations but no matter how sleek, sleeved, or supportive they are, they won’t keep you warm or help you float. Neither, by the way, will a larger cleavage.

Do I need a wetsuit for outdoor swimming?

In the UK it is possible to swim all year without a wetsuit but only advisable if you acclimatise properly (get used to cold water over plenty of weeks) and learn a bit about cold water safety. I’ve only worn mine a couple of times (preparing for and taking part in a 10K swim event) but it does keep me warmer (and in the water longer) and more buoyant. Even in a wetsuit you will still feel cold getting into the water.

Do I need a swimming cap for outdoor swimming?

That depends on how much you want to put your head in the water, and also how acclimatised you are. Ice-cream head is no fun, and can spoil a swim. Sadly the only way to find out if you need a swimming cap is to try swimming without one. One myth is that a cap will keep your hair dry and beautiful. It won’t. It will however make you more visible in the water, something not to be sniffed at if there are watercraft around, or indeed if you need rescuing.

Do I need ear plugs for outdoor swimming?

You’re asking the wrong person this one. I hate not being able to hear so I currently don’t wear ear plugs. Having said that, I have experienced some general hearing loss since I started swimming so am considering them for this winter. Cold water submersion can cause swimmers’ ear, which isn’t very nice. That said, your ears won’t fall off if you don’t buy ear plugs.

Do I need a changing robe for outdoor swimming?

How a piece of towelling could become a contentious issue is a mystery to me. I put it down to tribalism. Changing robes have their place, especially on a frosty morning but I frequently forget to bring even a towel, and have been surprised by how effective a rub down with a pair of socks can be. If you’re starting your swimming career at this end of the summer (August), you will be fine with your skinny, worn-out beach towel. That said discreet changing is a skill, you’ll acclimatise to that as well eventually (although perhaps not with just a pair of socks to hide behind).

Do I need a tow float for outdoor swimming?

Blimey another contentious one. It really is down to personal preference. Some people use a tow float because they worry about leaving car keys or valuables at the water’s edge, others want to be more visible. Tow floats are a bit of a faff though, and shouldn’t be relied on as an emergency flotation device. If you’re not sure, I would suggest borrowing one to see how you get on.

Do I need swimming coaching for outdoor swimming?

My apologies to all outdoor swimming coaches here but as long as you can already swim, you don’t really need lessons to give outdoor swimming a go. If you are really nervous, and do feel that you need the support of a coach, my advice would be to check their qualifications, insurance, and experience. The same goes for people offering wild swimming walks or guided sea swims. Whilst there are nationally recognised qualifications for walking leaders, paddle sport coaches, and climbing instructors, I’ve yet to find one that covers leading swims in moving and/or tidal open water (please feel free to correct me here!)


All this available gear makes me wonder what will come next. Perhaps a flashing swim cap, inflatable lifelike swim-buddy or super-heated gloves (forgot to mention gloves above but you’ll know if your fingers turn white).

They say that’s how consumerism works. Once everybody’s bought one thing, another one has to be invented. Times, like swimmers, though are changing. If we want to halt climate change, we all need to think carefully about our consumption, and whether we really NEED to make that purchase.