With an almost blanket cancellation of both open water events and overseas travel in summer 2020, many swimmers are delving deeper into self-powered adventures this summer. The OSS team are no different: we are all re-exploring places closer to hand, and finding new experiences in familiar landscapes. Coupled with a warm summer this is leading to kit bag changes. With characteristic ‘kit grit’ Swimstaman, Calum Maclean, Kate Rew and Sian Jenkins share ideas about new (and old) gear to take on your travels this summer
Neti Pot: With local Somerset river spots heaving with people on hot days, Vobster Quay, my nearest open water lake, has become a socially distanced oasis where I can cruise around blissfully unworried about anything. There’s just one problem: it’s a magnet for tree pollen and despite having no allergies, I often leave sneezing for hours if not straight through the night and into the next day. There are only so many times you can explain yourself to random strangers ‘don’t worry, it’s not Covid, I’ve just been swimming’. Last year I tried a nasal saline spray but I’m constantly working to reduce waste, so I’ve dug out a neti pot I had in my yoga days. Like a small watering can, you fill it with cooled boiled water, mixed with salt and baking soda, lean over a sink, and pour water up one nostril till it comes out of the other. Clearing out the pollen as it travels. Ruth White Nasal Neti Pot, £10.99. I don’t need it after sea swimming – I guess the sea is a natural neti pot.
Prescription Goggles: #plasticfreejuly and contact lenses do not go. In the past I’ve used monthly lenses for winter months, and dailies in summer when I swim more – contact lenses are like a petri dish for germs in both pools and open water, and opticians will beg swimmers to throw lenses away after swimming in them. My new step in a better direction is prescription goggles, which work really well for me. I also now try and treat all my goggles with the same respect I give glasses, so they last as long as possible – keeping them in their cases to avoid scratches and replacements. Aquasphere Eagle Prescription Goggles: around £35-40 for the goggles and lenses.
Mesh Bag: I am hoping that one of the positive things that come out of this pandemic is greater established inland access – we need more places to match more people going swimming. The less we travel abroad and to recognised holiday destinations, the more we are seeking (and finding) adventures closer to home. Long term, this rather sudden peak in people hanging out by rivers could be a good thing. Short term, there are a lot more cans of Thatcher’s in the water reeds, at least where I live (it is Somerset). So I have two new things on swims now: one, a tow float (never used before but now the banks are so busy, I prefer not to leave things behind) and two, a mesh bag so I can pick up waterborne trash as I travel. This is a repurposed flipper bag, which brings me on to my next thing…
Flippers: These were last seen when I was heavily pregnant and exploring caves on a craggy coastline, but have come back out this year for some self-powered adventures on a camping holiday in Wales. I pop them into my towfloat as an extra precaution for the tidal streams or conditions I might meet and have not fully predicted: it gives me confidence that I will have extra power if I need it to get myself home. I like the frisson of excitement on a swim adventure, and things like this are part of the ‘control measures’ I put in place to stop things going horribly wrong.
Also in the kit bag (from left to right): Trusty ALPKIT Gourdon 30L rucksack (I love a bag I can throw everything in). OSS Alpaca Beanie (always good for warmth). Finisterre x Natural History Museum econyl cossie (love that I am swimming in reclaimed fishing nets, and my 7 year old son, who’s having a Gerald Durrell-esque kind of lockdown, is often poking my bottom with the flora and fauna he’s found on it). OSS Classic Red Hat and hammam (one great for visibility, the other packs small and light). Second pair of Aquasphere goggles (the Seal mask and I are friends for life). Moleskin notebook for trip notes. And a Finisterre Changing Robe (past season).
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Photochromic goggles: I live in Zurich, and during lockdown have started doing dawn 10ks in it’s lake, getting up around 3 and into the lake at 4am, when it’s still dark. The transition from darkness to bright sunshine, meant I either needed two pairs of goggles or to use photochromic ones. Only a handful of brands make them. Having tried several (Tyr, Barracuda, Huub), Swans are my current favourite. Amazing clarity and functional tint. Swans Ascender Photochromic, £54.95.
Ear plugs: Swimmers use ear plugs for two main reasons: cold, and to avoid infections (‘swimmers ear’). Like goggles, ear plugs are quite a personal thing. I’ve gone through many and lost most of my favourites. This summer I have tried some new ones called Happy Ears, which are jellyfish/futuristic-looking plastic ones, made for any use but also workable in the water (recommended for use with a swimming cap). They attenuate sound, rather than block it out entirely, which I find really useful – they keep my ears dry while giving me almost normal hearing. Come in three sizes, and very comfortable. Reusable, affordable, well designed and made in Sweden. What’s not to like? £9 for a pair, £22 for the ‘Discovery Pack’ (all 3 sizes). Happy Ears
Summer wetsuit: I generally swim without wetsuit, but this is the first year I’ve regularly swum long distances and, with being on my own, and at 4am, I wanted the safety net of some neoprene buoyancy for my dawn 10ks. I was given this new ‘outdoor swimming’ wetsuit to trial for Sailfish and while I can’t compare it to everything else out the market there are things I like about it: it feels supple and fast, has high-vis orange panels on the back (there are a lot of boats where I swim) and they’ve added a simple loop on the back which means you can attach your tow float (and GoPro, for example). Euro 299, Sailfish Ignite
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Old-fashioned oval snorkel mask: I’ve really enjoyed exploring new river pools this summer, places that I’d never have got round to, were it not for travel restrictions. It’s a good chance to explore underwater and this mask makes it a lot of fun. Not the most practical if truth be told, but I think it looks cool… and that’s what counts, right? 😛
GoPro chest harness: The Swiss Army Knife of the GoPro world. Carry your camera on your chest for swims, wrap it around a rock in the bottom of a pool, tie it to a tree – use it as a (very!) low angle tripod, jam it in between rocks. Invaluable for getting awkward photos when out and about.
River shoes: I’ve been using river shoes for some of my river explorations. Very handy as I can walk across all sorts of terrain and surfaces confidently without slipping, and feel my feet are also protected. They’ve been grippy on wet rocks – always a potential issue. Tempest Swimrun Shoes, £170, Vivobarefoot.
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Olympus Tough TG5 camera: It’s waterproof, drop-proof, freeze-proof, comes with a (slightly temperamental) built-in thermometer and is a very pretty shiny red. What it didn’t do was float or attach to anything whilst I was swimming – until I added a piece of foam float, a slinky keyring, a carabiner and a piece of garden wire. Why buy something that’s designed for the job when you can spend twice as long making it yourself?
Zoggs fins: When it comes to head-up breaststroke, I’m useless. If I want to swim in company, gossiping as we go, my only option is a weird fin-propelled doggy paddle. My trusty fins are pretty old now, and are definitely showing the strain. Rather than buying new ones during lockdown I’ve tried fixing them with sticky tape and Stormsure (which I originally bought to repair a punctured tow float) – they seem to be holding up ok so far…
Lightweight changing robe: I admire anyone who can get changed in public with just a normal, flat towel and without flashing onlookers. I can’t. Knowing that no matter how remote the tarn, a huge group of walkers will appear from behind a stone wall just as you’ve whipped off your cossie, I went looking for a super-lightweight changing robe. When I couldn’t find one, I made my own. Two big microfibre towels sewn together with gaps for head and arms – problem solved!
Also pictured: a home-made swimsuit, essential, and my new Zone3 neoprene swimskin – a lifesaver for someone who doesn’t like wetsuits but still wants to swim long distances in cold water.
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