An Introduction to Outdoor Swimming

An Introduction to Outdoor Swimming

Open water swimming is a truly unique experience. Not being confined by the lane ropes and walls of a pool is liberating, adventurous and something all swimmers should try at least once.

Open water appeals to all swimmers… the competitive adrenalin-seekers, purposeful wellness warriors and relaxed social swimmers.

Interested in finding out more?

You might be wondering, what exactly is open water swimming?

Technically speaking, open water swimming takes place anywhere that isn’t an indoor or outdoor swimming pool. This means no heated water, ordered lane ropes and black lines to follow, you will be outside in the natural environment.

Open water can take place in any of the following:

  • Lakes
  • Rivers
  • Seas
  • Reservoirs

Swimming in open water allows a freedom beyond the possibilities of the pool. The natural environment and lack of chemicals revitalizes most swimmers giving them a that “post-swim high”… a feeling of elation and invigoration so they can’t help but feel happy and relaxed post-swim.

With any open water swimming experience, it’s important to respect the wildlife in and around the water: plants, fish, and other living things but remember these all add to the adventure!

Open water swimming can also be referred to wild swimming or outdoor swimming, however wild swimming is more commonly used when describing unsupervised swimming in more rural areas.

swim secure wild swimming guide

Wild swimming comes with a few more risks as you are not overseen by a lifeguard or open water venue supervisor who would be immediately available to help if you need assistance.

If you choose to go wild swimming we would suggest going in a group or with a friend, rather than on your own, and to let someone know before you enter the water and once you have finished your swim.

As with any sport it is important to be aware of the safety of yourself and those around you. We would therefore also recommend using a Safety Buoy and brightly colored swim hat when open water swimming. A Safety Buoy acts as a highly visible marker for other water users, it attaches to your waist on a short leash and floats beside you unnoticeable when swimming. Although not a buoyancy aid, you can rest on your Tow Float if you need a break or get into trouble.

Who can swim in the open water?

Open water swimming is for everyone of all ages and abilities. Whether you want to enjoy swimming casually or prefer swimming at a professional level, open water swimming allows you to participate at a level you’re comfortable with.

What do you need to swim in open water?

Open water is different to the warm waters of a pool and so you need a few extra pieces of kit to help you warm and comfortable.

Top five pieces of open water swimming kit

Swim Cap

Wearing a brightly colored swim cap is vitally important whenever you go swimming in open water. Pink, yellow, green, and orange hats have the best visibility.

The cap can be made from silicone or latex, or even neoprene for the colder months.

The cap will help to keep your head warm, especially the neoprene swim cap, but more importantly, it will make sure you’re easily visible in the water.



Comfortable goggles are a must-have piece of open water swimming kit. Goggles with a lot of rubber will increase your comfort.

If you’re swimming in bright conditions, you might want to consider tinted/mirrored lenses or photochromic lenses that change color in brighter/darker conditions. This will help block the sun and let you see more clearly.

We would also recommend wide angled lenses (also known as open water goggles) as they give you greater range of site in the water



Wetsuits help to keep you warm as not all open water reaches comfortable swimming temperatures, even in summer.

They also help make you buoyant and put your body in the correct swimming position increasing your safety in the water. Should you want to enter a race or big event, it is important to get plenty of practice swimming in your wetsuit in open water as it will feel very different to pool swimming.

An ill-fitting wetsuit can make swimming in open water more difficult as it makes you fight the water rather than swim. Check with your wetsuit provider for correct fitting instructions.

Safety Buoy

If you are planning on swimming in an unsupervised location it is essential to have a safety buoy to keep you visible and supported. 

A safety buoy is a brightly colored float that makes you more visible to boats, lifeguards and other water users. It attaches to your waist, it’s lightweight to keep drag to a minimum and visible for long distances. 

Many Safety Buoys come with a waterproof storage compartment for storing cell phones, keys and drinks on longer swims. While a Safety Buoy will hold an adult's weight if needed, they are not designed or tested as buoyancy devices and should only be used by competent swimmers. 



Safety Whistle

A safety whistle is perfect for attracting attention in an emergency. Just make sure you buy a pea-less safety whistle as this is the only type that will work when wet. Specialist swimming whistles are available that attach to your safety buoy or waist belt.

Safety Whistle

Additional Equipment to Improve Comfort

Boots, gloves and socks are all things to consider if you are venturing into colder water. They can keep your core temperature higher for longer, making for a more comfortable and enjoyable swim. 

Lubricant or Anti-Chafe Stick

A wetsuit can get uncomfortable during a long swim, especially in salt water. It can rub against your skin, chafing and making the skin sore around the neck.

An anti-chafe stick can help by lubricating the skin where the wetsuit rubs, They look like a stick of deodorant and contain a waxy substance that helps guard your skin from irritation. 


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