Open water swimming is exceptionally different from regularly heated indoor swimming pools. Outside, you are battling the elements, the current, and other natural factors that make swimming at your best more challenging. But don’t fear, because this guide will take you through everything you need to know about open water swimming, including:
- - The best wetsuit for open water swimming
- - All open water swimming gear you will need for the UK
- - Open water swimming safety
- - Open water swimming technique and training tips
So, let's dive into the world of open water swimming and triathlons.
THE BENEFITS OF OPEN WATER SWIMMING
Open water swimming brings many health benefits, including better quality of sleep, healthier circulation, increased metabolism and a boosted immune system. Wild swimming is also great for your mental health, as it’s relaxing, increases the production of positive hormones in the brain and can be highly rewarding.
It also brings the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors and experience a side of nature you might not have before. Our previous blog, the benefits of open water swimming all year round, delves deeper into the positive impacts of wild swimming.
DO I NEED A WETSUIT FOR OPEN WATER SWIMMING?
The short answer is that it depends. You don’t need a wetsuit for open water swimming. However, without one in the UK, you will quickly become uncomfortably cold. So, if you are the sort of wild swimmer who dips in the water for 10-15 minutes to help support your cardiovascular system, then investing in a swim wetsuit might be counterproductive.
That said, if you intend on regularly open water swimming for exercise or to train for open water swimming races or triathlons, invest in a suitable swim wetsuit that will keep you in the water for longer, increasing your progress rate.
But that's not all! Swim wetsuits also reduce the amount of drag your body creates in the water, allowing you to swim faster, which is a must when competing!
WHAT TO WEAR FOR OPEN WATER SWIMMING
To ensure you have the most progressive experience while open water swimming, there are a few pieces of kit worth investing in.
Below, we explain the best open water swimming gear in the UK for each ability level, ranging from those just starting to those needing more advanced equipment, such as triathlon wetsuits.
THE BEST OPEN WATER SWIMMING WETSUITS
You’ll find it incredibly difficult to swim for long periods in a surfing wetsuit, as they are designed to provide insulation and are made with thicker materials, making them more restricting.
Whereas swimming wetsuits are made with thinner materials, differing levels of buoyancy and a much higher flexibility range, allowing for more freedom of movement, so we recommend the following best wetsuits for open water swimming for men and women:
Orca Vitalis Hi-vis (Black/Orange) Swim Wetsuit
The Orca Vitalis Hi-vis for ladies is a great open water swimming wetsuit for women just starting out in the sport or looking to participate in an occasional wild swim. Your swims will be even more comfortable by providing maximum visibility with bright-coloured arms for increased safety and new Yamamoto neoprene technology for the right degree of insulation and flexibility. The Orca Vitalis Hi-vis Wetsuit for men offers the same benefits.
Ideal for: enthusiasts or beginners.
Zone3 Vision Swim Wetsuit
The Zone3 Vision Wetsuit is a step up and can also be used as a training suit for the more experienced triathlete.
This open water swimming wetsuit for men is the fastest entry-level wetsuit on the market. The Vision takes inspiration from other Zone3 wetsuits designed for professional swimmers. It is made to minimise drag in the water, provide great flexibility, and reach throughout the torso, helping to save time and energy whilst reducing fatigue.
The rear panel is also highly reflective – a great safety feature for being easy to spot in open water, particularly on solo swims in the sea.
We currently stock both the Zone 3 men’s Vision wetsuit and the Zone3 women’s Vision wetsuit.
Ideal for: Those looking to progress and improve.
C-Skins Swim Research 4/3mm Swim Wetsuit
Although C-Skins is mainly known for its brilliant range of surf wetsuits, the C Skins Women’s Swim Research 4/3mm is the perfect streamlined open water swimming wetsuit designed by recreational and professional swimmers. It features a multi-directional stretch, enhanced flexibility and more warmth as it’s a thicker suit. For an alternative option for men, the Orca Vitalia Trn is an excellent option.
Ideal for: Competent swimmers.
The Zone3 Mens Vanquish-X Swim Wetsuit is the world's fastest and most advanced open water swimming wetsuit for men (and available for women). The Vanquish is our highest-rated wetsuit for swimmers wanting to shave minutes off their swim time.
This new and improved wetsuit ensures maximum flexibility and an enhanced catch in the water, reducing arm fatigue and increasing efficiency, giving swimmers ultimate freedom of movement.
The new bio-rubber technology also allows for better blood flow, and the Alpha Titanium lining improves circulation and warmth. Not to mention, it’s loved by professional swimmers such as Josh Amberger and Tim Don! Our previous blog, what to look for in a triathlon wetsuit, may be helpful if you want to participate in races and become a triathlete.
Ideal for: professional swimmers and triathletes.
THE BEST GOGGLES FOR OPEN WATER SWIMMING
A good pair of goggles is crucial for open water swimming as you’ll need to protect your eyes in the water and be able to swim without the risk of fogged-up lenses.
Some goggles are only suitable for pool swimming and won’t provide much protection in open waters, so you must bear this in mind when goggle shopping. Our top picks for open water goggles are:
Zone3 Attack Polarised Swim Goggles
The Zone3 Attack Polarised Goggles are built to be flexible. These goggles conform to various face and head shapes, with curved lenses for superb peripheral vision, polarised coasting for controlled sun-glare, photochromic anti-fog treated lenses and a flexible soft silicone frame.
Zone3 Vapour Swim Goggles
For an all-around ideal pair of goggles for indoor pools and open water swimming, the Zone3 Vapour Goggles are a brilliant choice, offering not only premium comfort from the super soft silicone gaskets and curved and polarised lens, but style too.
Zone3 Aspect Tinted Swim Goggles
How does hydro-dynamic sound? Streamlined swimming has gotten even better with the Zone3 Aspect Tinted Goggles. With its crystal-clear lens and quick-fit strap adjustment, these stylish goggles hold all the comfort you’ll need with reduced drag.
THE BEST OPEN WATER SWIMMING CAPS
As wild swimming involves exercising in very cold water, insulating yourself is vital to staying warm and making the most of your session. Swimming caps help you do this and allow you to be more streamlined by reducing drag, and from a safety point of view, is an excellent piece of gear that makes you more visible in the open water (especially with a colourful swim cap). We offer a wide range of swimming caps, stocking the best brands in the game, such as Orca, Zone3 and Blu Smooth.
Open Water Swimming Socks
Swim socks are another great way to stay insulated, especially during the cold winter months. Neoprene socks are specifically designed for open water swimming, as they are slim, flexible, and have less drag than wetsuit boots, which are perfect for surfing and other water-based activities. If you want to keep open water swimming in winter, here are a couple of swim socks that will do just the trick:
Orca 2mm Swim Socks
These 100% neoprene light-weight Orca 2mm Swim Socks are ideal for those colder swims, which will help keep you warm and comfy and provide non-slip protection.
Zone3 Neoprene Swim Socks
The Zone3 Neoprene Swim Socks have been designed with an increased leg for a tight fit, minimal water entry, and comfort and flexibility.
Keeping safe in the water is an absolute must, so we’ve come up with several products designed to keep you safe, seen and comfortable in the water. Items such as the Zone3 Swim Safety Buoy are vital when open water swimming and training. Safety floats are encouraged for beginners as having a floatation device with you can put your mind at ease.
As mentioned, bright swim caps are recommended and encouraged by swim safety experts, and the Zone3 swim caps are durable, comfortable, and lightweight. These brightly-coloured Swim Caps come in an array of neon colours to ensure you’re easily spotted in the water.
OPEN WATER SWIM TECHNIQUE
The main differences between pool swimming and open water swimming are being unable to push off walls, having no swimlanes to guide you in the right direction, and being unable to touch the bottom and the more challenging conditions. For more advice on general beach safety, look at our guide on beach safety.
You can adjust to the differences by adopting the following techniques:
OPEN WATER SWIM SIGHTING
No swim lanes are guiding you in the right direction, so being able to guide yourself is essential. This means looking ahead during your swim to find a ‘marker’ in the distance to guide you. Most people spot a tree or a small landmark and use that as guidance on which direction to swim.
You can practise this in a pool by focusing on a spot on the wall at the end of your lane. Another way to train for open water swimming in a pool is to swim in a straight line as much as possible. In open water triathlons, you’re bound to veer left or right and bump into other triathletes, so getting this spot on in the pool is a good idea.
If practising this for the first time in open waters, swim close to the shoreline until you’ve got it right and then go further into the water.
TURNING WHEN OPEN WATER SWIMMING
Often, open water events require participants to turn around a water buoy, sometimes more than once in a race.
You can train for this in open water once you’re confident, but it’s also a good idea to try this in a pool – if you have space.
When practising this in a pool, ensure you’re not touching walls or the bottom of the swimming pool.
In open water, practise this by swimming around water buoys, or if you’re swimming with a friend, use each other as markers to swim around.
In open waters, breathing on every third stroke (on alternating sides) is the recommended breathing technique, just like pool swimming. It’s also recommended that you learn how to breathe away from the direction of the waves to reduce water intake.
The easiest way to breathe in open water is to inhale through your mouth and exhale through your nose when your head is submerged in the water. Do whatever feels most natural to you and what you’re most confident with.
It’s a good idea to try many different techniques during training and recognise that when you’re swimming at different speeds and intensities, your preferred breathing technique will change to accommodate that.
In open water, you’ll need a stroke with a slightly higher stroke rate than in the pool. This helps you keep momentum if you’re in choppy waters.
Most open water swimmers opt for the front crawl, so it’s a good idea to ensure you’re familiar with this stroke and can maintain it for extended periods. You need to be comfortable with whatever strokes you choose.
It’s recommended you get used to other techniques, such as breaststroke, as this uses less energy than front crawl, and you may find yourself in a situation where all you can manage at that time is a breaststroke.
Which essential piece of open water swim kit are you most looking forward to getting your hands on next? Let us know on our social media channels, we would love to hear from you