New to Slow Swimming
One of the attractions of Slow Swimming
in the outdoors is that it is so accessible. In theory you could
need no kit at all. There are many Slow Swimmers who swim wearing
nothing but a broad smile. In practice we are hoping to enjoy
our Slow Swimming experience as much as possible, so there are a
few things that can make it more comfortable, but nothing is
absolutley essential and the choice of what you use is down to
Wetties, swimsuits etc.
what you need to so as to be safe and comfortable. It's not a
competition to see what you can put up with, and there are no
points for suffering. It's very rare for temperatures outdoors
to get up to indoor swimming pool levels. Even in the summer in
the sea you'll be a little chilled as you get in.
will keep you warmer and give you extra bouyancy, allowing you
to swim for longer, but they might be hard to get the right size
and shape, can be a struggle to get on and off and can make you
too hot during the summer months.
If you are buying a new
wetsuit for open water swimming take a little time to make sure
you buy the right one. Wetsuits come in a variety of types
depending on what you are using them for. From very thick scuba
diving ones up to 8mm thick, through to ones made for
water sports like surfing and kite surfing from 6mm to 4mm, to
ones made for kayaking and swimming at between 3mm and 2mm.
Swimming wetsuits are made to have more flexibility in the arms
and shoulders than other types and can have thicker material in
the leg sections to increase the bouyancy in the water. What's
called 3:5 wetsuits are the most popular for swimming. These
have 3mm sections in the upper body and 5mm in the legs.
Wetsuits are also made in tops and bottoms to make sizing
easier. They can also made with short arms or no arms for extra
As a guide, in Britain most open water
and triathlon events are governed by British Triathlon rules.
The water temperature is taken 1 hour before the start of the
race and the following rules then apply: Less than 14 degrees C
then wetsuits must be worn, between 14 degrees C and 22 degrees
C then wetsuits are optional, above 22 degrees C then wetsuits
must not be worn.
We are Slow Swimmers so these rules don't
completely apply to us for a few reasons: We are not generating
the heat that the average triathlete will, so will get cold
quicker. Generally we will have better personal inbuilt
insulation which could slow down our core cooling, but still
allow our extremities to cool off. We are not likely to be in
the water as long as some triathlete races take. Therefore the
range of options for us is a lot wider. It's not uncommon for
Slow Swimmers to be comfortable with no more than a swimming
costume in the depths of winter or be equally as comfortable
with a wetsuit in the summer.
If you are progressing from
winter to summer swimming or find wetsuits too restrictive or
warm, there is a half-way house before you go for a swimsuit and
that could be to try a close fitting rash vest or under-armour
style top and gym leggings. They will keep you warmer and be
easy to change out of.
These are very popular with Slow Swimmers. We tend to get colder
extremities than people who rush about when outdoor swimming. It
is common to swim with a swimming costume and neoprene boots and
socks as the weather and the water temperature is cooling down,
before resorting to a wetsuit. If you are swimming in rivers or
lakes it is safe practice to wear some form of foot covering as,
even if the river/lake bed is free from discarded articles,
there could always be sharp stones or broken branches underfoot.
Another great way of extending the season and
pretty unique to Slow Swimmers as an item of sports equipment.
It's amazing how warm you will feel with a bobble hat on.
Although the bobble is not essential, in consumer surveys (I
asked Les Peebles) it does seem to keep you warmer. With most of
you under water most of the time a bobble hat and a wide smile
is a great way to express your joy.
tow float is helpful both practically and for safety. There are
many made which double up as kit bags for your journey to the
water's edge as well as being a dry bag, taking all your
clothes, whilst you swim. You won't have to leave your clothes
and valuables on the bank or shore, and you can have a one way
swim or swoosh, and still have everything with you when you get
out. Look for one around 20l, or above if you have lots of stuff
As a safety item they can save your life. Although
we all think we know what our abilities are, it's amazing how
they can change with a small change in water temperature or wind
direction. Tow floats are also useful as an indicator to
passers-by or well meaning spectators, that you are in the water
Although chances are we are
going to swim anyway and the most accurate indicator of water
temperature can be to get in and see, I would recommend to new
Slow Swimmers to use a thermometer to check water temperature
first. It will become part of your initial faffing about routine
and will give you information to compare one swim with another.
It's part of the learning process about your new sport/pasttime.
Most people would use some form of pool thermometer, either a
traditional style thermometer that you read off against a scale
or a digital type with a lcd display. Either way make sure you
have a length of string attached so you can get it back once
you've thrown it in!
To get an accurate reading make sure
your thermometer is far enough into the body of water as the
temperature by the bank/shore will usually be warmer, especially
in a flowing river.
Water proof cameras
leader is the GoPro. To such an extent it's become the generic
name for 'rugged waterproof go anywhere camera'. Saying that,
there are many other brands that are equally as good for our
uses, and nowhere near the cost. Some good ones are only a
quarter of the price.
When looking check other swimmers
reviews, as these cameras are used for a wide range of sports
and some perform better than others in different environments.
As you get our most people
will put on an outer covering whilst they begin to dry off. It
can help stop the chill and give you something to change in. The
brand name Dryrope is the most well known, but there are others
available at a lower cost. It's not unusual for Slow Swimmers to
don a Dryrobe, wriggle out of swim suits and walk or drive home
to shower and dress when you get there. Dryrobes are windproof,
thick and comfortable. Look also for brand names Charlie McLeod
and Frostfire as well as hooded towelling ponchos.
Swimming changing mat
This is another crossover from surfers.
A changing mat to stand on so as to not get messy feet, that
then has a drawstring that turns it into a bag to take your wet
swimming kit home in. Most popular brand name is the Moonbag.
Other brand names are Osprey and Northcore. They are all around
the same price.
Baggy warm clothes
However well you
dry off you will still be a bit damp in places, so bring warm
and baggy clothes to put on. If it's cold then a first loose
easy layer and then another to go over that one. Might be worth
thinking about an extra bobble hat in case your swimmy one has
Linked to this is: 'To bra or not to bra?'
Depending on what you are comfortable with, it is quite usual to
dispense with a bra until you get home. If not then go for one
as big and easy to get on as possible. Another option is a
stretchy vest top, but one you can step into and pull up, straps
Apart from the fact that it's nice to
have a hot drink after swimming it's also a good way to get some
warmth to your core. It will help wash the inevitable cake down
Hot water bottle
From the Top Tips list. Wrap
your towel or robe in a hot water bottle before you leave home
and you've got a lovely warm towel or robe to get dry in, and a
hot water bottle to tuck under your jumper afterwards.
Is it Legal?
In the UK it is a confused
situation. In Scotland the right to roam applies to waterways
and allows the right to swim. In the rest of the UK as long as
you are not trespassing to gain access you should be fine. An
interesting point is that anglers who have purchased the right
to fish only have the right to fish, they can't stop other
Saying that, it is rarely worth causing friction
with other waterway users, especially if you or other Slow
Swimmers want to use that waterway regularly. We are in this to
enjoy ourselves not prove a point.
In the US the ability to
swim in waterways is tied up with whether that waterway (ocean,
river, lake or stream) is defined as navigable. If it is then it
is legal to swim there as long as you haven't trespassed to gain
access. The decision as to whether a waterway is considered
navigable and therefore swimable is complicated and tied up with
whether it has been used as a 'highway' in the past. There's
more in depth information here:
(if i'm wrong - don't sue me).
In Europe the rules are
similar to the UK, but there are local regulations so it's worth
checking first. Bathing water policy is one of the success
stories in EU. The latest EEA report confirms that bathing
waters in Europe are of high quality, with 95 % of these sites
meeting minimum water quality standards set out in EU
Rivers, Lakes and the Sea
Each is different
when Slow Swimming and different precautions should be taken
with each. In general swim with a buddy or at least a companion
on the bank/shore who is watching out for you.
Rivers can be
easily accessible as they criss-cross most countries and have
many places to enter and exit. They are relatively narrow
compared to other waterways meaning that you are likley to be
close to one bank or another. But be warey of strong currents
and sudden changes in depth. In meandering rivers it's usually
shallower on the outside of a curve. There can be underwater
obstructions with tree branches being washed downstream and
familiar stretches can change suddenly with short periods of
rain. Even with a reasonable current it is possible to 'Swoosh'
in a river. That is paddle and float downstream and walk back
Lakes have generally slower moving water and are
therefore usually warmer than rivers. Being slower moving can
mean that the lake-bed is very muddy as material will fall out
of the flow. Lots of lakes are privately owned and more and more
are realising the potential for encouraging and charging for
open water swimming. This can mean that there is lifeguarding
and other facilities provided.
The Sea/Ocean covers a wide
variety of swimming evironments. From packed holiday beaches to
isolated northern European Fjords. As the seasons cool in the
Autumn the larger mass of the sea means that it cools slower and
can be substantially warmer than either rivers or lakes.
you are unsure of your abilities stay near the shoreline. If the
waves, tide or potential tide rips give you cause for concern
don't go in, eat your cake, drink your tea and come back another
day. It's not about enduring the experience, but enjoying it.
Here's a great video from Surf Life Saving Australia on how
to spot a rip tide
Find out about tide times where you intend to go and choose
'slack tide', that is during the hour either side of high tide
or low tide. Great website for tide times
Cold Water Swimming
If you are new to open
water swimming. There is a great article by Kate Rew on the
Openwater Swimming Society
website that I have
What does it feel
"It is a physical
assault on your body" The air will be punched out of your lungs.
It can leave you feeling weak and uncontrollably shaking.
Start slowly and make
sure you are physically fit before starting.
How long can I stay in
There have been
various 'rules of thumb' from one minute per degree above ten
degrees to double the degrees C to get time in the water. They
are usually wrong. There is no general rule. Start with very
short dips and progress in small steps to see how your body
Get in slowly or just
Get in slowly. In cold
water there is an uncontrollable Gasp Reflex. When you hit the
water you will breathe in. Make sure you are not under the water
when this happens.
What is the best way
to warm up afterwards?
When you leave the
water you will continue to get colder for at least ten minutes
as your body starts to circulate the blood through your skin
which has a substantial cooler effect on it. Dry yourself off by
patting your skin and change out of wet costumes as soon as
possible. Add lots of warm layers and take a warm drink. Get
into a warm environment as soon as possible.
Do I need to
Swimming through the
summer into the autumn will allow you to acclimatise comfortably
and you will be able to stay in longer but if you play it safe
it is perfectly possible to start swimming later in the year
when it is colder.
Do I need neoprene
gloves and boots?
Clothing during cooler
swims varies a lot from person to person but most people benefit
from keeping hands and feet warm. Hoods or hats whether neoprene
or bobble can make a real difference to heat loss so also worth
Where is it safe to
swim in winter?
Safety is not an
absolute and varies depending on your abilities and experience.
Seas tend to stay warmer during the winter, around the UK
staying mostly above 6 degrees centigrade. Rivers can change
dramatically with increased water flow and their underwater
geography can become unfamiliar after heavy rainfall.
Credit: OSS, Kate Rew,
Glossary of terms
Afterdrop:- After getting out of cold water and feeling fine,
you start to get colder, sometimes growing faint, shivering
violently and feeling unwell.
Bioprene:- A layer of your own insulating adipose tissue,
useful for buoyancy as well.
Cossie:- Swimming costume
Faff/Faffin’/Faffage:- To waste time in an unproductive
matter rather than addressing the task. To look busy while
HUBS:- Heads Up Breast Stroke, preferred by Slow Swimmers as
it stops your woolly hat getting wet
Neep Tide:- Period twice each month when the high and low
tides and at minimal difference.
Old Lady Swimming:- Heads Up Breast Stroke
Skinny Dipping:- Wearing just a broad smile (naked)
Skins:- A normal swimming costume
Slack Tide:- Period one hour either side of high or low tide
when the water is at its calmest.
Spring Tide:- A tide just after a full moon when the high and
low tides are at maximal difference.
Swimble:- Swimming irregularly from place to place as a
past-time, with the anticipation of eating cake as a reward.
Swimmers:- Male swimming trunks
Swimming Cap/Hat:- Might be a thin silicon cap or made from
Swimming Togs:- Swimming Costume
Swoosh:- Swooshing along with a decently strong current.
Going fast with little swim effort
Tow Float/Swim Buoy:- Small inflatable bags that attach to a
wrist or waist by a leash to carry small personal items and act
as a buoyancy aid and a visible marker in the water if required.
Top Tips for Slow Swimmers from Slow Swimmers
Start with finding a Slow Swimming
group in your area
and ask to join. They will all be welcoming to new Slow Swimmers
and are a wealth of local knowledge about safe swim spots. (Ju
McCanna) and (Clare McRainbow-Smillie)
A cotton scarf works as a towel you can wear to save
carrying. (Louise MacAllister)
Put toe warmers in your boots
and hand warmers in your post swim gloves BEFORE you swim. Much
easier than trying to open packets with cold fingers. (Karen
Dispense with bra post swim, it's really not worth
the faff of doing it up with chilly fingers. (Karen Turner)
Practice changing at home so you get everything ready in
sequence to get you warmed up - and dry, then pack your bag in
the right order.(Margaret Parker)
Wrap your towel and a
thermal vest in a hot water bottle and put them in an insulated
picnic bag. When you are dressed stick the hot water bottle down
your jumper. (Alice Cooper)and (Fran Hilton)
Always take a
hot drink with you. My favourite is hot blackcurrant. (Alice
Eat plenty of cake (Fran Hilton)
Seaweed, My Tide Times (Princess Efanda)
clothes are easiest to put on. (Lynn Russell)
you will carry on cooling down for up to 30 minutes after
getting out so don't leave it too long (Lynn Russell)
thick pair of socks over a thin pair will keep your feet warmer
Leave contact details with your stuff - a
plastic tub with ICE (in case of emergency) containing contacts,
medical information, a copy of a prescription is useful for
paramedics. (Margaret Parker)
Take your gloves off in the
water before you get out, it's much easier (Kerry Peck via Janet
Get out before you feel cold - if you start to feel
warm -get out. (Claire Cornish)
Gloves and socks extend your
swimming season no end (Claire Cornish)
Wear a brightly
coloured hat and use a tow float (Claire Cornish)
underwear - much less faffage when your fingers are too cold.
Take a bath mat for changing on (Janet
A vest you can step into rather than trying to put
something sleeved over your head as a base layer. (Janet
Swim with a friend. (Catriona Barr)
head covered, doesn't matter whether the rest of you is in a
wetsuit, swim suit or nowt. (Catriona Barr)
As soon as you
get out pull on a thick pair of loose socks (bed socks are
great). Get dried and dressed then take the socks off and put a
clean dry pair on (Maria Gillespiepowell)
emergency contact details inside as well as on your tow
float/bag or something that people can see and know is yours
(Alice Cooper)and (Joanna Legg-Bagg)
Don't push your time in
the first winter. It gets easier in your second winter and
third. (Maggie Studholme)
Put a thin pair of lycra socks
under your neoprene socks or boots, means it's much easier to
slip them off (Kerry Peck)
Don't walk on pebbly beaches in
neoprene socks as you will end up putting holes in them
If you are not loving it stop - there's no
shame in that. (Maggie Studholme)
Get a bit tub trug for the
car. As you undress, put all your kit into it. Keeps the car dry
and easy to carry everything to clean and dry it. Then once dry
put all your kit back in it in reverse order with changing mat
last. (Calire Kimberley)
Put your cossie on at home (if you
wear one) ditto wettie legs if you find them a struggle (Claire
It's ok to swim in leggings if you don't like
things brushing your legs (Claire Kimberley)
Ikea bag to
stand in (Lisa Tomlinson)
Wrap your clothes around a hot
water bottle in a cooler box, warm clothes when you get out.
Make sure you stop and look around when you
are swimming. Take in the view, feel the texture of the water
and how it feels on your body, take in the wildlife, float on
your back and look at the sky (Kate Willshaw)
If you are
swimming early, (like straight after you get up) have something
small to eat like a banana or a fruit bar. If I don't do this I
have a massive slump at about 11am and have to nap. (Kate
Know where you are getting out and check that
it's definitely scaleable before getting in (Pip Sadler)
Your way of swimming is ALWAYS good enough - don't believe
anyone who suggests that heads-up breaststroke isn't 'proper
swimming'. (Pip Sadler)
Put a tiny drop of baby shampoo
smeared on the inside of your goggles, and washed off with fresh
water, to stop them from fogging. (Sue Trinidad)
sure everything is turned in the right way for dressing and keep
your hat/s on till last. (Carol Lloyd)
If you swim at
different locations write down where you are going for nearest
and dearest - on a calendar, or shared phone calendar or dated
Post It note left at home. (Alice Cooper)
Make sure you
are really warm before you get in. If i'm in the car I have the
heating on full. (Liz Fearon)
A fast paced walk home, a
race about the house with a hoover or dishwashing do the trick
to warm me up. (Annerose Weiler)
Porridge in a wide
necked thermos flask for afterwards warms you from the inside.
Wear a watch and get out when your time is
up however lovely you feel. (Rachel Teare)
If you are
putting keys and phone in your tow-float put them in a
Tupperware first, just in case (Ju McCanna)
a hot shower to warm up - it'll draw your heat away from your
core. (Joanne Macleod)
I apply oil to my skin, when you
get out the water runs off and makes it quicker to dry off and
helps slide your clothes on (Lisa Sweet)
A thermos of
warm (not hot) water to pour on my hands and feet afterwards has
been a gamechanger for me. (Marcelline Dale)
spare hat and put it with your towel in an insulated bag. Cosey
warm hat and towel post swim (Louise Doyle)
Swimming is not your Slow Swimming, is not her Slow Swimming,
Take time to find your happy safe place, and don't feel
pressured to move from there until you are ready. (Clare Foden)
Don't attempt jeans after a swim - very clingy. (Katherine
A tie-up bikini top is easier than a
bra. (Lucy Bell)
Dance afterwards to warm up. (Lucy Bell)