As far as sports go it doesn’t get much more basic than open water swimming, with only a couple ‘essential’ items there’s no excuses, however a few more items might make you a lot more comfortable, and allow even more fun. Here’s my ultimate list of open water swimming kit:
Goggles for open water should be comfortable, and give good visability. Race goggles may look the part, but in the split second for sighting they may not give a clear or wide enough view to quickly orient you, and will be uncomfortable for long swims. It may be better to by a pair of goggles with a wider field of view, and silicon seals to give better comfort, also goggles with ‘soft’ lenses often have better anti fog impregnated into the lens. At the other end of the spectrum are the really bulky goggles that are close to diving masks, I think these have gone a little to far, and are just waiting to get knocked off by a rogue wave or slap of chop! Aim for a pair thats not too bulky, and comfortable.
Swim trunks / swim costume:
This is a really personal choice, but if your looking for something of higher quality that will last for a long time check out davyj swimwear which are made from recycled ocean plastic.
To some a step to far, to me a great investment that will let you stay in the water longer and explore further without getting cold, due to the buoyancy you’ll also swim a little bit faster. Its important to get a wetsuit designed for swimming or triathlon as surfing wetsuits do not have enough flexibility around the shoulders and in the arms. There’s now lots of brands making swim specific wetsuits, but if you want something extra special (or if you have an atypical body shape) then Malcolm at Snug Wetsuits in Cornwall will make you made to measure ultrastretch open water swimming wetsuit to your own specification and thickness. Check out my ultimate guide on swimming wetsuits.
A swimcap definately takes the edge off in colder water, and a bright colour will also make you more visible. Some even wear two swim caps or a neoprene hood, if you feel the cold then check out my tips to stay warm open water swimming.
If you suffer from ear irritation, of just feel the cold / get dizzy symptoms then ear plugs may be the solution. Alternatives include olive oil sprays that coat the inside of your ears before a swim and reduce the irritation from sea water.
If your wearing a wetsuit for long swims then anti-chafe is an essential, use it around the neck seal and around your shoulders and it will make your skin a lot more comfortable. I use bodyglide.
Swim float / Tow float:
These normally bright orange bags drag behind you whilst swimming, and are attached using a strap round your waste. They are normally fairly unobtrusive, but in certain wind and chop they can become quite annoying. Some have dry storage inside for clothes etc, and some have camel back style water bladders. Although they can sometimes be irritating they are undoubtedly the best products on the market at the moment to improve swimmer visability from other water users, being maybe 10 times more visable than a swim hat or a coloured wetsuit.
Neoprene socks and gloves:
For when it gets cold a pair of wetsuit socks make a big difference to temperature, and also make the walk into the water a lot more comfortable, esp over stones. Try to avoid swimming in wetsuit boots as they are just to rigid at the ankle to swim in. Gloves although they will keep you warm I think should be saved as a last resort as you completely lose your feel for the water, but that said if your hands turn white from cold you will also lose your feel for the water!