Keep hydrated, protect your valuables and stay seen: a tow float is a trusty companion when you’re swimming in open water. Choose your perfect buoy with our expert guide.
*Updated Feb 2024
What is a tow float and why do you need one?
Tow floats have recently become an essential bit of kit for outdoor swimmers. They are mandatory at many open water swimming venues and are also required for some races. The basic premise of a tow float is to increase your visibility in the water. Whether you are swimming solo or in a group, the brightly coloured buoys will also make you more visible to other water users. They can be used to warn boats, anglers, jet bikes, paddle boarders, kayaks, swimmers and other water users where you are.
Tow floats are blown up and then attached using a waist band and leash. They float behind you with minimal interference to your swimming. They can also act as a dry bag while swimming, which means you can take your kit with you and not have to worry about it being stolen. In addition, it makes it easier to start swimming in one place and finish in another if you can take your kit with you.
Will a tow float keep you afloat?
They are not designed to be lifesaving aids, although they will support your weight if you need to stop for a rest on your swim
How did we test the tow floats?
There are a number of different kinds of tow float on the market: we tested a range of products with different features so you can decide which is right for you. Some contain storage, others hydration options.
The best tow floats and dry bags for open water swimming
Best tow float for visibility | Speedo Dry Bag Tow Float, £34
Best tow float for quick dips | Selkie Tow float, £21
Best tow float for night swimming | Zone3 Recycled 2 LED Dry Bag Buoy 28L, £49
Best tow float for hydration | BuddySwim Buoy Hydrastation PRO, £37.99
Best tow float for selfies | Ulu Guardian II, £20.99
Best tow float for adventures | Above Below Ruckraft, £174
Best tow float for kids | Tow Woggle, £19.50
Best tow float for the environment | Puffin Swim Billy Eco15 Recycled Drybag Float, £28.99
Speedo Dry Bag Tow Float
They say: designed for maximum visibility, the Hyper Yellow dry bag is easy to spot and has a generous capacity. Ideal for your phone, keys and other essentials, the single-chamber design includes an internal clear window pocket for peace of mind. The adjustable waistbelt and leash length allow a tailored fit with minimal interference to your swim.
We say: We can’t imagine a more visible colour than the ‘hyper yellow’ of this Dry Bag Tow Float, released as part of Speedo’s new Wild Swim range. The material and straps feel premium and robust and we loved the internal clear compartment for keeping a phone visible. Everything is well thought-out, such as the one-way valve to inflate and button to deflate, buckles designed for cold fingers and an extra-long adjustable tether.
Zone3 Recycled 2 LED Dry Bag Buoy 28L
They say: Sharing all the features of our popular Swim Safety Buoy & Dry Bag 28L, the LED Light 28L Dry Bag Buoy includes reflective logos and LED lights with a strobe option for low light conditions and enhanced visibility. The tow float is made from recycled polyester (rPET) and comes complete with a free waterproof phone pouch.
We say: For visibility in all conditions, this Zone3 Recycled 2 LED Dry Bag Buoy 28L really goes the extra mile. As well as reflective logos, you have the option to easily slide in two long LED lights so you can be seen in low light, fog or when swimming at night – they even have a strobe option. We also liked the waterproof pouch, which kept our phone dry and offered extra reassurance, and the clear window that let you keep an eye on your valuables.
Swim Secure Wild Swim Bag
They say: An innovative inflatable dry bag with adjustable shoulder straps, waist and chest straps. Head off for a hike or run, remove the shoulder and chest straps and it’s a dry bag/tow float. Attach with the waist belt and leash and enjoy your swim. Will keep your gear dry and take an adults weight if a rest is needed. It has a 30L capacity.
We say: We love this bag. It has been a staple piece of kit for many years and valued so much we brought multiple and use them for coaching and guiding. The best thing is to be able to wear it like a backpack while walking, with shoulder and waist support, then simply be able to transition into the water. It is a simple, brilliant design. You can get a decent amount of kit inside and they last for a long time. Just don’t lose all the bits when you unclip them!
BuddySwim Buoy Hydrastation PRO
They say: The Hydrastation PRO open water swimmer buoy, in addition to great visibility and buoyancy, allows the swimmer to hydrate quickly and effectively thanks to the external hose with bite valve connected to the 1L bladder housed inside the buoy. The external mesh pocket allows quick access to energy bars or gels.
We say: If you are training or embarking on longer distance swims then this is a great companion. The 1L hydration pouch and straw design is easy to fill and use while in the water. We love the pockets on top too, which we used for a phone in a waterproof case and snacks. You can’t carry much else inside, perhaps your car keys, but the light and compact design is what makes it attractive. You could even clip it to a bigger tow float with kit for long A-B swims
Dippy Wild Swimming Float
They say: We understand the need for robust good quality gear but in all honesty we were getting bored of the same styles. We wanted to be different, be fun, be remembered! So, we developed a fabulous and funky open water swimming buoy. We put our tow floats into the toughest wild swimming locations and our floats performed well in all four seasons as well as being a fabulous accessory at the beach.
We say: We loved the originality of this two-tone pink and yellow tow float. Size-wise, it’s midway between the compact Selkie and the larger dry bag tow floats, so it’s reassuringly visible, but packs down small enough to take on an adventure. It’s lightweight with minimal drag yet feels durable. The tether, attached with a robust carabiner, is adjustable and floated outside our kick zone. It also has three carry handles.
Selkie Tow float
They say: Our inflatable tow float is bright lime green to increase visibility to other water users. The tow float is pulled behind while swimming attached to a waist belt and short leash, and floats out of range of arms and kick zone. The ultra-light tow float produces virtually zero drag and features two inflation chambers for added safety in the unlikely event that one chamber fails while in use.
We say: We liked how quick and easy this lightweight tow float was to inflate; simply blow into the one-way valves on each side and you’re good to go. It’s smaller than others tested, but had virtually no drag in the water. Our only complaint was the short length of the leash, which meant that it bopped us in the face when swimming backstroke. Still, we would recommend it for quick dips and endurance swims where tow floats are compulsory.
Ultimate Floats Dry Bag
They say: Our 190T nylon is built to last and is extremely watertight when closed. It will take daily punishment from the sun, sea salt and being thrown around for many years. 28 litres of storage fits all your essentials, including keys, wallet, shoes, change of clothes etc. The tow float is designed to have minimal drag and you will barely notice it behind you.
We say: This dry bag tow float has some clever features that elevate it above others we’ve tried, such as two air chambers to keep buoyancy in case one is punctured, and two webbing handles to hold onto if you need a rest. We liked the mesh pocket for storing snacks or a phone in a waterproof case, which comes with the float. It felt sturdy in the water and glided smoothly for an unrestricted swim.
Billy Eco15 Recycled Drybag Tow Float
They say: The Billy Eco15 Recycled Drybag Tow Float is the most eco-friendly tow float on the market. It is made from eco-friendly, PVC-free material that’s made with bio-degradable TPU and recycled plastic bottles (RPET). It’s also ultralight and packable, extremely durable and UV resistant. The 15L volume drybag is ideal for taking small items on your swim, and the shape of the bag is designed for minimal drag.
We say: Initially I was worried the leash would be too short but in the water it was the perfect length. The float was easy to inflate, the recycled plastic felt strong and durable, and it didn’t inhibit my swim at all – it felt light and streamlined with no drag. The neon yellow colour kept me very visible from the shore, too. I tested the float in a calm lake, so I’d be keen to see how it fares in choppier waters but it certainly kept my kids’ sandwiches and cake dry for our post-swim picnic! And top marks for its eco credentials.
Swim Secure Pink Tow Float
The pioneer of tow floats and dry bags, the Swim Secure product range is the largest selling in the UK. The original orange tow float is also available in pink, which we tested. This is a simple tow float designed to give swimmers greater visibility in the water. Perfect if you need to wear a tow float for your local open water venue. Quality is high and the float is inflated using an easy to use non-return valve.
Orca Safety Buoy with hydration pocket
Orca’s safety buoy features both an internal waterproof compartment (big enough to hold a travel towel, flip flops, shorts and t-shirt) and an external mesh pocket, that could be used for a hydration bladder or water bottle and snacks for a longer distance swim. On the model we tested, the waist strap runs through the mesh pocket, which means the pocket stays on the underneath – better for stability but we did notice some drag with this. The bag is reassuringly robust. This is a great product for a leisure swim with a picnic but we’d opt for something lighter if racing.
Swim Secure Tow Donut
The Tow Donut is slightly larger than the original tow float with a flatter profile. It includes a small transparent dry bag on the top of the float where you can store valuables, nutrition, a drink, mobile phone or camera etc. The dry bag is closed by folding down the bag and securing with a clip fastening. The dry bag is easily accessible from the water (although we would probably use a waterproof bag for your phone, just in case!). The Tow Donut is also great for night swimming as you can put a torch in the transparent dry bag.
Swim Secure Medium Dry Bag
Next from the Swim Secure range we tested their medium (28l) Dry Bag. This bag is also available in small, large and extra large. It’s great if you want to carry a bit of kit on your adventure swim. The medium will take a pair of shoes and light clothing – go for a larger bag if you are planning a bigger adventure and need to carry more stuff. Again, quality is high and the bag is inflated using two non-return valves.
HEAD Safety Buoy
Available in pink and orange, the Head Safety Buoy is also a dry bag large enough to stuff with a pair of flip flops and micro fibre towel. We liked the slightly muted pink but the traditional valve needed quite a bit of puff to inflate.
Lomo Dry Bag Tow Float
The Dry Bag and Tow Float from Lomo are available in pink and high vis (although slightly muted) orange. We like the valves on the Lomo products – easy to inflate and very quick to deflate. Both the Tow Float and Dry Bag have grab handles either side. The Dry Bag is 28l, so large enough to take a change of clothes. We also like the carabiner hooks used to attach the leash to the bag. Good value products.
Zone3 Hydration Swim Safety Buoy
They say: Designed with the long-distance swimmer in mind, this buoy allows a swimmer to keep hydrated in open water while improving the visibility of the swimmer at the same time. This is the only style of buoy that allows access to regular drink breaks during long swims in open water.
We say: This tow float is super straightforward to set up and use. Simply fill the bladder pack with up to 1 litre of liquid and insert it into the tow float before inflation. The tube for the liquid, which attaches to the side of the float with a clip, is also very easy to access when swimming. This float is a solid option for longer swims when fuel and hydration is an important consideration.
Ulu Guardian II
They say: The Guardian II is an inflatable dry bag for swimmers, kayakers, stand-up paddlers and sailors. The features were designed by consulting RNLI safety experts. Featuring US coast guard approved reflective SOLAS material, marine safety whistle and two inflatable chambers the bag can be used for buoyancy, to tow kit when open water swimming or to stow kit when on craft above the water.
We say: There’s clearly been a lot of thought that has gone into the design of this tow float. The reflec- tive SOLAS material maximises the ability to be seen in more extreme weather conditions and low visibility. The GoPro mount makes it easy to capture memories of your swims and surroundings. With considerable internal capacity too, this is a winner.
Above Below Ruckraft
They say: The RuckRaft is a fully inflatable raft that comes with a giant drybag into which you can pour everything: your favourite rucksack, drying robes, boots, picnic, tent and as many layers of clothes as you need for a big day out or weekend of adventure over land and water. The unique, streamline design and superior buoyancy means the RuckRaft glides across the water even when fully loaded with 15kg of gear.
We say: The Outdoor Swimmer team has been a fan of the Ruckraft since its inception. It is a simple piece of kit, now available in a range of new colours, which is easy to use as a backpack and convert into a float. You can get a lot inside the drybag, whether a decent picnic or, for swimmers with additional needs, crutches or (even in one case) a prosthetic leg! The tow line is long too, which is especially useful for windy conditions.
Dippy Dry Bag
They say: We understand the need for robust good quality gear but in all honesty, we were getting bored of the same styles. We wanted to be different, be fun, be remembered! So, we developed a fabulous and funky open water swimming buoy. We put ourselves and our open water tow floats into the toughest wild swimming locations and our swimming floats performed well in all four seasons as well as being a fabulous accessory at the beach.
We say: This is a tow float for swimmers that like to make a statement. The cameo design is unlike any other floats I’ve seen in the market, while staying bright enough to keep swimmers visible and safe in the water. The quality is great too! At 28 litres it’s big enough to take valuables and smaller items of kit with you on your swims.
Designed with children in mind and packs down small. Can be used like a traditional swimming pool ‘noodle’ or for outdoor swimmers it can be towed behind you while swimming using the waist strap.
Find all the gear you need for open water swimming, from adventure bags and swimming togs to tow floats and changing robes, at the Outdoor Swimming Shop. If you buy a product through a link on this page we may receive a commission. Last updated Feb 2024.
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