With summer on the horizon, thoughts are turning to longer swims. Doing laps of your local lake is all well and good, but there is a whole world of water to explore. With a bit of preparation and knowledge you can plan longer swims. So grab your swim buddies and start planning your next adventure!
Plan your route
Is there an island you have always wanted to swim out to? A river that you have always wanted to adventure down? Or a stretch of coast that you would like to explore from the water rather than on land? Plan your route using a paper map or online mapping tools (the OS Maps app is a great tool). A bit of navigation and map-reading knowledge is really useful when planning a route.
Key things to consider are:
- Length of route. Don’t bite off more than you can chew! Better to start small and work up to longer swims as you get more experienced (and fitter).
- Entry and exit points. These are key, and always best to recce your entry and exit points on the ground before swimming. If you are planning a long swim it is always a good idea to have some emergency exit points too.
- Know your map! Is the land your entry and exit points are on private or open access? If your route also involves walking is the land flat or hilly? Take into account elevation when planning how long your walking route will take.
- If you are planning an A to B swim, consider stashing some clothes at the end of your route (perhaps in a bush!). Or park at the end of your route and walk to the start.
Sea, river, lake?
Different bodies of water have different considerations.
- A tide timetable is essential for planning when to swim. Swimming at slack tide (the hours before and after high tide) is usually the best time. Swimming against the tide soon becomes hard work; swimming with the flow could allow you to swim further and faster.
- Currents. Be aware of currents and learn how to recognise rip tides. Local knowledge is useful.
- Surfing apps such as Magic Seaweed are useful for checking tides, weather and sea conditions.
- Rivers have their own currents and can sometimes be tidal if they flow into the sea. This can allow you to plan swims where you swoosh down (or up) an estuary. Always check the flow before you swim to make sure it is safe to enter the water. The flow is generally strongest in the centre of the river.
- Hazards such as weirs should be avoided. The turbulent water below a weir can suck you down and trap you under the water.
- Generally the calmest bodies of water to swim in, lakes can still have currents. Weather can also have an adverse effect on conditions – wind can whip up waves and rain and mist can reduce visibility.
- Bio security is an increasing hazard in our waterways, especially in areas like the Lake District. Our lakes are at risk of becoming contaminated by invasive species so it is important to keep your kit clean. After swimming wash and dry your kit to kill off any hitchhiker species that could be hiding on your swimming costume, wetsuit, towfloat or other kit.
- Even in the summer, long swims can be chilly. A good wetsuit will keep you warm on longer swims – and more advanced suits will also improve your performance, allowing you to swim further, faster and without less risk of getting cold.
- A changing robe to get dressed into after your swim will help get you warm and dry.
- Check for visible signs of pollution before swimming. It is not a good idea to swim in the days after heavy rainfall as sewage and other pollutants such as agricultural run-off may have entered the water. Campaigning groups The Rivers Trust and Surfers Against Sewage are good sources of information on pollution.
- A tow float is essential, but a tow float that also allows you to carry some kit is very useful. Take a phone in a waterproof bag in case of emergency, some clothes and light shoes.
- Always wear a brightly coloured hat.
- A wetsuit will allow you to swim longer distances without getting too chilly, and the buoyancy of a wetsuit means you can swim more efficiently with less effort. Wetsuits such as ZONE3’s Vision or Advance are great entry-level suits, whereas the more technical Aspire will take you from adventure swimming to the start line of your next event.
- Getting changed after your swim on rocky beaches or muddy riverbanks is always a pain. A changing mat not only protects your feet but also transforms into a bag to transport all your wet kit home.
- Goggles are essential to be able to see where you are going in the water! Choose goggles according to weather conditions – polarised, photochromatic or tinted lenses such as in the ZONE3 Venator-X goggles are good all-round choices whatever the weather.
- Kit to get warm after your swim is essential. A changing robe such as the ZONE3 Parka robe is a great choice, as well as warm layers and a flask of your favourite hot drink.