open water swimming essentials

When you venture into the world of open water swimming, there are five essential pieces of equipment you need to ensure a safe and successful swimming experience. 

1. GPS Watch to Track Distance

With pool swimming, you can count laps to track your overall distance.  With open water, the preferred way is to use a GPS watch.  Most track distance, stroke rate, stroke type, and about a dozen other interesting data points.  Reviewing the data after your swim often provides useful knowledge to help you become a better swimmer overall.

2. Swim buoy

A swim buoy is great to have both as a visual indicator to boat traffic and as a safety device should you become tired while in the water.  These are typically very brightly colored and tie around your waist.  Also,  always wear a bright swim cap to stand out even more.

3. Tinted Goggles

Open water typically means the sun will be out and probably in your face at some point of your stroke.  Most goggle manufacturers sell tinted goggles for this purpose.  Personally, I tend to pick the lowest tint possible since they will diminish your vision slightly while trying to spot marine life but I still consider them high on my list of open water swimming essentials.

4. Wetsuit

Wetsuits are great for warmth, but they also provide buoyancy and protection from jellyfish during ocean swims.  Depending on your location, this open water swimming essential is optional. Definitely wear one if the water temp is lower than 70 degrees Fahrenheit to protect your core temperature.  Don’t wear one if the water temp is above 76 degrees.  You’ll get too hot, and that just isn’t fun when you’re trying to enjoy a swim.

5. Swim Buddy

Saving the most important of the open water swimming essentials until last, this one is a must – you don’t want to swim in the open water alone.  If trouble occurs during your swim, your buddy could be the life-saving difference for you.  Also, multiple people are easier to see by boat traffic than a single swimmer.  So bring a buddy so you can enjoy the adventure together!

Author: David Garthe races triathlons and many other adventure races. Find his race schedule and your next race at