Open-water swimming is one of the cottage’s greatest pleasures—there’s something so pleasurable about embracing nature and exercising on a serene lake or a beautiful beach. While it’s tempting to take a completely minimalist approach to the sport—slap on a swimsuit, hop in the water, and take off—there’s actually a lot to consider before you get going.
It can be tricky to figure out what gear you should purchase and what safety measures you should take before you go. So, to help open up the world of open-water swimming, we spoke with Masters swimmer Lynn Marshall for some guidance. Marshall has broken countless world swimming records, earned accolades in indoor and open-water swimming events, and is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Open-water swimming offers a sense of freedom that you typically don’t get in a pool, says Marshall. “You feel the sun on your back and it can be quite relaxing,” she says. “It’s just that feeling of you and the wild outdoors”
Before you go
Before you get into the water, you should stop to consider your personal safety. It’s crucial to have at least one partner with you while you’re out on the water, says Marshall. Whether they’re swimming or paddling alongside you, having someone else who can help if you run into any sort of trouble is a must.
Marshall also recommends you check the weather and water quality before you take the plunge. Water quality is updated online for Mooney’s Bay in Ottawa where Marshall often swims, and she suggests checking out health advisories for your local waters before diving in. Lastly, swimmers should also check in with a lifeguard if they plan to go beyond the buoys on supervised beaches. “If there are lifeguards, talking to them and making sure you’re not breaking any of their rules is always a good thing,” she says.
As for gear? Here are the essentials to take on open-water swimming:
Swim buoy tow float dry bag—20 L
This bit of gear is essential for safety—open-water swimmers let their buoys trail behind them so they’re more easily spotted by boaters, paddlers, and jet-skiers. This one here features a pouch to keep your valuables safe and dry while you’re out swimming.
Bfit swimming goggle glass lenses
Marshall says the key to picking good goggles is finding ones that fit properly. She recommends a pair of goggles with an adjustable nose piece. “You should be able to get them to fit without pulling the straps so tight that you get a headache,” she says. “You can get it to fit nicely by adjusting the nose piece.”
Swimming Swedish goggles with mirror lenses
While Marshall prefers to use non-shaded goggles, she says shaded goggles help protect your vision, especially on extra sunny days. “Just like we wear sunglasses when it’s sunny outside, in the same way, shaded goggles can be helpful,” she says.
Nike Vapor mirror swim goggles
This pair of goggles has mirrored lenses to help block UV rays. It also comes with four different nose sizing options for plenty of adjustability.
MEC Fusion shorty wetsuit—men's
Marshall says wetsuits aren’t essential, but they can help keep you warm in the water, which means they can be useful if you swim in particularly cold waters or if you’re looking to extend your swimming season into the cooler months. Marshall recommends trying on your wetsuit before going for a swim. Make sure it’s comfortable and that you’re used to its snug and compressed feel so you don’t run into any surprises or discomfort in the water.
MEC Fusion shorty wetsuit—women's
This wetsuit is two millimetres thick and features shortened coverings on the arms and legs. Some swimmers prefer shorter and thinner wetsuits for the mobility they offer, however, full-body and 5 millimetre wetsuits are available and provide greater warmth.
Speedo unisex-adult swim cap—silicone
Swim caps usually come in either latex or silicone. Most people find silicone ones offer more warmth and comfort than their latex counterparts, says Marshall. Above all else, she recommends you buy a bright vibrant coloured swim cap so you can be easily spotted. Also, if you’re swimming in extra cold water, you can wear two caps. “They say you lose a lot of your heat through your head,” she says. “So two bathing caps can help with that.”
TYR swim cap—latex
Some swimmers find that latex caps stay put in place better than silicone ones, says Marshall. Like their silicone counterparts, latex swim caps should be purchased in bright colours.
The One training swimsuit—women's
For swimsuits, Marshall once again recommends shopping based on comfort and fit. A poorly fitted swimsuit can lead to chafing—this is especially true in saltwater, which tends to be more irritating on the skin than freshwater. In particular, women should look for comfortable straps on their suits, says Marshall. “You want a suit that you’re not going to have to stop to adjust or tie up,” she says.
Kamiye one-piece swimsuit—women's
This swimsuit is made with a quick-drying polyester material. It has wide shoulder straps and a snug fit to keep your comfortable in the water.
500 fiti swimming jammers—men's
These swimming trunks are great for training—they have a tight fit, feature an adjustable draw string, and are made from a quick-drying material.
O'Neill solid swim trunks—men's
The close-fit of these minimalist trunks will keep you moving freely in the water. They also feature a drawcord which can be used to adjust the size of the waist.
Body Glide original anti-chafe balm stick
Anti-chafing products can help to mitigate skin irritation in swimmers, says Marshall. She recommends applying these products under your bathing suit straps, wetsuit zipper, and, for men with beards, on their shoulders (beards can rub against swimmers shoulders as they take breaths, which causes skin irritation). “You can put it anywhere on your body where you might get chafing, and it helps make things more slippery,” she says.
Alternatively, Marshall says some swimmers use vaseline or diaper rash cream.
2Toms SportShield—all-day anti-chafe and blister prevention
This anti-chafing balm offers 24-hour protection. It’s also waterproof and sweat-proof.
Garmin Vívofit 4 activity tracker
Many swimmers use trackers or tracking apps on their phones to monitor their exercise, says Marshall. While Marshall tracks her distance the old-fashioned way—using her time and average swimming pace to judge how far she’s gone—this can be harder for beginners. “After your swim, you’ll have a little graph that shows where you swam and how far you swam,” she says, adding these trackers are handy for tracking progress and staying motivated.
Fitbit Sense smartwatch
This smart-watch is water-resistant up to 50 metres and tracks your coordinate with GPS so you can see the distance and pace of your swims. You’ll also be able to monitor the intensity of your exercise with heart rate and calorie tracking technology.