As a swimming hole fanatic, here are the wild swimming accessories I use and recommend when swimming in freshwater rivers, lakes and waterfall pools. This equipment has helped
me embark on my swimming hole adventures more safely, with less worry and more enjoyment in the water.
Above: Shivering uncomfortably with joints aching in the icy pool above Gibraltar Falls in the years before I had a full length wetsuit (Order this image)
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A good quality wetsuit
that both keeps your warm and helps you float. Some of my favourite swims in the world like
are also extremely cold, even in summer. A decent wetsuit helps to prevent cramp and hypothermia. It enables you to
extend your swimming season into spring and autumn, as well as allowing you to get into the water on cooler days when there is less swimming traffic in the water. I
used a 3 mm Ripcurl
spring suit (i.e. short arms and short legs) with a rear zipper for many years, which worked fine in summer, but did not offer enough warmth in colder water.
A few years ago I invested in a 3/2 mm full length wetsuit with tapered sleeves and a thermal chest that provides next level warmth. It is the single best investment
in wild swimming equipment that I have made. I bought mine from Need Essentials
who operate out of a warehouse in Torquay, and it is still performing as new after numerous swims in the bush over several years. The key features
(regardless of brand) are the tapered sleeves that fit snug around your ankles and wrists, the neck collar that goes over your head (which provides better water sealing around your neck)
with only a horizontal chest zipper, and the thermal material on the chest and back. Also make sure it has a loop or an external pocket that you can tie things
onto or store things in if you need - I use the loop on my wetsuit to attach my camera cord, for example. I found I can swim unhindered in a 3 mm suit, but thicker
wetsuits that I have hired from time to time tended to inhibit my arm movement, so I would only go for a thicker suit if snorkelling rather than swimming.
that protect your feet from sharp rocks, snags (woody debris) and broken glass. I carry these everywhere I swim.
Swimming shoes typically have a rubber soul and a mesh or neoprene upper
section that you slip your foot into snuggly like a slipper. Swimming shoes are essential in turbid water when you cannot see obstacles under the water, or anywhere
you think other people have been drinking and might have thrown their empty bottles into the water. You should be able to walk comfortably both in and out of the water
in your swimming shoes, and I often use them for short bushwalks back to my car rather than going to the effort of putting my socks and shoes back on next to the water.
You can pick these up seasonally from most department stores, but they are often removed from shelves over winter. Ideally swimming shoes should be light weight and not
restrict your swimming. You can also opt for wetsuit boots instead if you also want some warmth for your feet, as long as they are not too bulky.
Browse and order swimming shoes here.
Above: The day my equipment failed at Bend of Islands when my swimming shoes were ripped to shreds on the rocks in the rapids, but better
my shoes than my feet. Also note the loop and velcro ties on my flippers
(Order this image)
A waterproof key pouch and waterproof key
. This is not such an issue if at least one person from your swimming group is always with your gear, but if everyone
is in the water, particularly for long distance swimming, it can be difficult to know how to keep your car key safe. There are different approaches available to this problem,
starting with leaving it in your bag or hiding it under your car and hoping no one steals it. I store my key in a waterproof key pouch that you can wear around your neck under
your wesuit. There is still a slight risk that the pouch may let some moisture in. If your electronic car key gets wet, it won't work and is not much better than
having your key stolen, particularly in remote areas. To get around this risk, I had a spare metal key (non-electronic) cut by a locksmith that I can take into the water
without worrying whether it will get damp or not. This kind of key allows you to open your car door, but not start the car. You can then hide your electronic key inside the
car in a hard to find place or in a lock box that you either leave in the car or leave with your gear. Your car still might get stolen, but at least you have made it
challenging for the thieves. Some pouches are also designed to carry your phone, but I am not sure I would trust them enough if my phone was not waterproof.
A waterproof floating bag
. For the record I do not use one of these, but if you have more gear to store then they can fit in much more than just your key. They
are typically a waterproof duffle bag that is tethered to your body that floats along behind you as you swim. These can be good for open water swimming, but are not much
use in rivers where they can float away with the current and snag on objects.
Prescription snorkel mask and goggles
. If like me you wear glasses and cannot see clearly as soon as you leave them on the shore, order yourself a prescription
snorkel mask or a prescription pair of goggles. These are great for seeing under the water while snorkelling, and for checking your position in the moving water
relative to objects on the shore. I was surprised at how cheap these are compared to the cost of my normal glasses and lenses. If you do not know your eye correction, ask
your optometrist for your script which you can use to order your mask or goggles online. The prescription goggles are also handy at the local pool if you cannot read
the clock or timer on the wall without your glasses.
for extra control in the water when in strong currents such as rivers and tidal estuaries. There are some features you need to look out for when
considering them for wild swimming. Firstly, I recommend the shorter, so-called training fins rather than full-length flippers. Although less powerful, training fins
are much easier to walk with in shallow water than full-length flippers, which I find an advantage when you have to cross shallow riffles to reach a deeper swimming hole.
Secondly, look for a pair that have a rubber loop that runs around behind your archilles tendon, rather than a heel piece. If you are snorkelling or swimming in calm water,
it makes no difference, but having a rubber loop means that you can attach the fins securely to your leg using a velcro strap in the event that they slip off your foot. I
use fins in very strong currents so I can safely power away from rocks or to slip out of the main current.
A waterproof camera
for taking photos with friends or for capturing images of the underwater environment. Some phones are waterproof nowadays and take high quality
photos, but without a waterproof phone, I use a separate waterproof camera. I have been using a camera from the Olympus "tough" range for several years
and found it takes high quality images above and below the water. You will need a soft pouch to store it in when not in the water (I cannot remember whether the pouch I
have came with the phone or not) because it does not have a lens cover. I have banged this phone around quite a bit both in and out of the water and it has proven to be
quite robust. The only issues I have with it are that sometimes droplets of water can cover the lens when in the water but not under the water, and that it has limited
usefulness for capturing video in deep water because it does not have any in-built stabilisation. I have never used a GoPro or other brands, so cannot comment on
how good or not these are in the water.
A large plastic tub
with an open lid for storing your wet gear in your car after your swim, without getting your car or other gear wet.
A plastic coathanger
that you can leave in your car and use to hang your wetsuit on the nearest tree, allowing it to drip dry (at least partially) after your swim.
If you are really keen, you can also carry one with you to your swimming spot.
Other protective equipment
such as a first aid kid including a compression bandage for snake bites, insect repellent, sunscreen etc.
I hope that these suggestions will help you to enjoy your outdoor swimming experiences even more than you do now. If you use an alternative piece of equipment that you
think I should try, drop me a line on my contact form
Before you head out, make sure to read the swimming safety information