For the swimmer who is used to crushing laps on the regular in a pool, you likely already have some of the super basic things you will need for taking your swimming out into your local lake, ocean or river.
But open water swimming is a different beast.
While the swimming and the strokes you use are basically the same, the challenges posed by the environment are different. (Not as many head-up breaststrokers meandering down the middle of the lane, for starters.)
Here are some cold and open water gear essentials.
Zinc oxide and sun-screen. For you lucky swimmers who are swimming out under sunny skies, sun-screen is a must for your back, face, arms and shoulders. Zinc oxide is another option; it will make your skin look chalky white but is a physical block to the harmful rays (compared to the chemical block that sun-screens provide).
Open water goggles. While pool goggles generally do the trick, even in open water swimming, there are goggles that are designed specifically for triathlons and open water. They come with a wider lens, which makes it easier to keep track of things going on around you. Look for tinted or mirrored lenses for bright days to protect against the sun.
Swimming wet-suit. While wet-suits generally aren’t cheap, the natural buoyancy, sun-protection, and warmth they provide may very well be worth the investment. Fit is crucial here—make sure your fancy new wet-suit is snug and sits correctly on your body. Too small and it chokes your arm and shoulder rotation; too big and loose and you’ll be pouring water into the suit, causing crazy amounts of drag.
Neoprene swim socks. I don’t know about you, but my feet are usually the first to suffer in cold water. Fortunately, there are neoprene swimming socks made specifically for open water swimmers, helping to keep your feet and toes warm and *mostly* dry.
Bright, possibly neoprene, swim cap. For warmer or lukewarm bodies of water you can typically stick with your regular latex or silicone swim cap. For chilly ocean swims, a neoprene swim cap will help insulate your melon and keep you toasty. In both cases, make sure to wear a cap that is plenty bright so that you are visible to others out on the water.
Open water swimming buoy. Speaking of safety and bright stuff, when swimming solo you should always have a tow buoy behind you. Open water swim buoys come in super bright colors (highlighter yellow, for instance), are super light (you barely notice it behind you), and help boaters, lifeguards and other swimmers keep sight of you. I’ve found that many newer open water swimmers like the little boost in confidence they get from having the buoy with them. In case of cramping or a quick break, you can use the buoy to catch your breath.
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