Did you forget something? Kit fiends on the OSS team reveal their mission-specific tried and tested essentials
Lightweight mountain swim, long cold swim, or a family or solo microadventures. In theory you only need goggles and a pair of pants for a swim (perhaps not even that). In practise? It takes a lot of time before you set off with exactly the right gear. The kit fiends of the OSS reveal their mission specific kit favourites. Read on to find out what Alastair Humphreys, Calum Maclean, Swimstaman and Kate Rew put in their bags….
KATE REW – LONG COLD SWIM
“While courting discomfort, I also love gear that makes the whole experience more comfortable. I packed this bag for a Scottish trip, filming a long swim in a sea loch at 10-11 degrees in June 2018, and thought a lot about what I would take. I suffer from cold, so there is a lot of kit designed to deal with that both in and out of the water. The film will be out in Autumn 2018.”
TOP OF THE POPS/ SPLASH HITS
Silvertip men’s wetsuit. Buying a men’s wetsuit has been a revelation to me as a taller woman: after years of feeling slightly compressed my suit is finally as tall as me! It makes all the difference stretching out in the water. I’m a fast cooler and with a fleece inner and slightly thicker neoprene the Silvertip extends my time in the water. £195, Alpkit
Orca headband. I couldn’t imagine what this was for the first time I saw it but worn under a hat, pulled down over my forehead, it reduces face pain. Cold water in the ears can make me dizzy but I don’t wear earplugs, this under another hat really helps. £10 Orca
Nasal spray. Long swims can bring on sneezing and a blocked nose and broken sleep for days afterwards, this Sterimar saline spray helps. £7.89 Boots
Poler Napsack. A wearable sleeping bag with a ‘walk mode’. This was a joke present as I get cold everywhere… but I wear it without shame. Riverbank, boat, desk, sofa, campsite, even to get the post from the postman. It’s the best antidote to afterdrop I have found. Plus it’s great for homeworking – why heat the whole house to sedentary temperatures, when you can wear this at your desk?! Poler
Gourdon 30L rucksack.Simple and perfect for a wetsuit and all my gear, it’s been my bag of choice for years. Comfy, and for what it is, relatively cheap. Also doubles up nicely for all the clobber involved in the school run. £38 Alpkit
Hi Vis Neoprene Bonnet .With this on your head, who needs a tow float? I swear by it. An RNLI rescue saw my friends bonnet in the water ahead of a whole canoe that had got into trouble (the swimmer had called the coastguard and then swum out to see if they could help. It was twilight). £20 Orca
Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire HR Watch. Swim nerd heaven. One of the few watches designed for open water – this plots swims, measures distance, reports on distance travelled per stroke, and strokes per minute. I am not a competitive swimmer, but if I’m on a mission to train for something or get fit I am motivated by seeing progress. Implementing one set of technique tips, my distance travelled per stroke changed phenomenally – that’s good objective feedback. My swim twin now has one now so we can train together in cyberspace – the Garmin Connect app sits on your phone or laptop and synchs data, allowing you to set challenges. Heretics who visit pools can set it to the pool distance to avoid counting laps. The “Sapphire” part means it doesn’t scratch. £3-500 depending on bargains available. View one here
OSS Hammam. The ultimate pack towel: large but packs small, dries quickly, and light enough I can carry one each for the family. I particularly like this one with gold thread – it doubles up nicely as a scarf and picnic blanket. £25 OSS Shop
Finisterre Arena Bikini. When I’m not in a wetsuit, it’s always a bikini: feels much freer than a costume and I like water swirling around me. This Microplastics range is made out of Econyl, from Nylon waste. £105 the set. Finisterre
2 pairs of goggles. I carry clear and tinted for scenic swimming whatever the light conditions. A recent convert to the supersized ROKA X1 (there’s something Amelia Earhart about them), I also remain loyal to my the AQUASPHERE Seal 2.0
Dryrobe. Long sleeve. Nothing beats this on a boat when it’s wet, or I’m wet. £109. Dryrobe
SIS Energy Gels. Keeping my energy levels up helps me keep my core temperature up on a longer swim – I pop these up the arms and legs of my wetsuit and take every 30 minutes. £20 for 12 (citrus flavours).
Moleskine notebook, a pen and a phone in a 2L OSS x Alpkit Drybag (£5.50). The phone helps me find places through a combination of wildswim.com and googlemaps. The pen, notebook and phone camera I take to capture a place.
Thermos Travel Tumbler. The champion of travel mugs: keeps drinks hot for more hours than I’ve ever needed. I love leaving the house around 6, spending an hour in the lake, and driving home with a coffee in time for the school run. When that works, I’m winning. £25.
“I packed this heading into the Cairngorms to catch a summer sunset, swimming in a mountain loch with views across Strathspey. My favourite swims are usually lochs or rivers in the hills, somewhere that requires a good walk – this gets me warmed up!
I like to travel quickly, meaning I can cover longer distances & reach far-flung places, so packing light with faff-free kit is essential.”
Finisterre 20L waterproof backpack – One top-opening big main pocket and side clips mean I can use it even with chilly hands. I have various waterproof bags but this one is made by Ortlieb – I swear by their waterproofs for cycle panniers, kayak drybags and mapcases. £135
Blueseventy thermal swim cap – Wearing this under a silicone swim cap has kept my head warm even swimming among the ice of a Scottish winter, and the combination of swim caps means I rarely get any water creeping into my ears. £30
Inov-8 Roclite 305 trail shoes – with added elastic lock laces – These shoes are tough, can handle most terrain, and I often wear them straight into the water if I’m doing multiple swims as they stay comfy when wet. The elastic lock laces mean no faffing with cold hands and tying laces! £90 / £2.50
Basic old hand towel – small and simple, nothing fancy! £ – various, just grab (a clean one!) from the bathroom.
Finisterre Transom Shorts. Fantastic summer shorts: stylish, comfy and quick-drying. If I’m going to multiple swim spots, these will often dry on the way, or at least before I’m back at the car: no damp seats. £65
Soreen Banana Lunchbox Loaves. Not clothing, but the vital post-swim bite. Packed full of energy – an ideal snack when moving in the hills. I don’t usually carry a flask or hang about too long post-swim, just eat, and move! £ – various, check your supermarket!
Zone3 Attack Goggles. Maybe the comfiest goggles I’ve used. Seeing how many I lose or break: I’ve used a lot! £23.00
Map & Compass. It’s just a good habit to carry these: the weather can change very quickly in the Scottish hills, and make return journeys difficult if your course is lost. Knowing how to use them is vital!
Ortlieb map case. (with added elastic laces). Keeps maps bone-dry, and can be used for your phone as well. £16
GoPro HERO5 Black – with chest harness. The GoPro 5 has a screen making shooting easier, and is fully waterproof without a case. The harness frees up your hands if swimming across a loch. £261.50 / £21.99 (accessory kit)
“Our boys love heading up into the mountains or to an alpine lake they’ve not seen before, which is a good thing as the parents do too! I’m a bit ‘belt and braces’ in that, whilst normally smooth sailing, I like to ‘hope for the best but expect the worst’. That said, whether with family or not, I tend to take an array of pretty serious gear, along with the obligatory plastic T-Rex.”
5.11 72 backpack (189.95 EUR) Whilst typically only for day trips, if I’m carrying for four people, we can end up needing quite some space. This bag is really comfortable on your back, holds over 50L, and will comfortably handle whatever I might throw in it, whether that’s a wet wetsuit in a drybag, or an inflatable crocodile! I’ve been using this rucksack for 10 years and it’s only just showing signs of wear.
Airlok Xtra 35l dry bag (23.00 GBP) Somehow, the 50+L rucksack above, can fit into this 35L drybag (although usually it’s a wetsuit, float or other that can be removed, that makes the bag big). This drybag is no nonsense, durable, and we’ll sometimes just use it instead of taking a full pack (if we’re not hiking far/don’t need much). Should we need to cross water with gear, we can use this. I’ve added different carabiners to it, as they come in handy.
Garmin Fenix 3HR (332 CHF) A few years ago, mostly after starting to train with a group of Ironmen, I became tech obsessed (prior to that I swam with my mobile in a tow-float which is still more accurate). At that time it was no coincidence that 4 of 5 of the swimming regulars, ended up with the same watch. Doesn’t track breaststroke well (GPS is lost when your hands are under) but good for checking your distances, time, etc. Also good for boring people with your current elevation and bearing! Added lighter, tighter strap from here >
GoPro Hero 5 (318CHF) Initially I thought these were vacuous narcissists, that liked showing people their faces while they were doing stuff. Then I got one for my birthday….and found it really fun! So easy to use and great for underwater shots. I use a dome too, but tend not to travel with that a lot. Obviously, a float is essential and I use the GoPole as well.
Lomo Hydration float (15GBP) This is one of three Lomo floats that I use, depending on need and occasion. I use this one for longer swims, or if I want to tow my camera (and still be seen). I’ve added my own strap to this with a fire lighter attached! I love Lomo as a brand as their selection is excellent and is no-nonsense and built for purpose. Durable build quality at fair prices. For longer swims, their dual chamber tow float is my absolute favourite so far. Dual chambers = double safety.
Orlebar Brown Setter shorts (145GBP) 175 euros for shorts? Are you insane? This might be your normal reaction. These shorts are beautifully made (in Portugal), have a short cut that suits even a wide-legged breaststroke and fit really well, don’t look out of place just as hiking shorts or in a restaurant. More importantly, I can put my GoPro in the pocket and clip it to the side. Whilst expensive, I’ve been wearing these since 2012…and I swim A LOT. Only just beginning to wear out, and that’s probably from pool use. Even if in the alps, and cold water, I tend not to take a wetsuit as it’s heavy, and my swims will be limited in time and distance anyway.
Vollebak Solar Charged Jacket (325EUR) Fits in the palm of your hand. Waterproof, good against the wind, quiet, and glows in the dark. I repeat, it glows in the dark! Even in the summer it’s good to have a little extra protection if you’re in the mountains and this is a perfect solution. I’m a little obsessed with everything these guys make!
Stella Cove Boys shorts (65 USD) Our (twin) boys will either definitely want the same, or definitely want different, so with four pairs we can’t go wrong. They’re drawn to the bright colours on these and it makes them look like little jetsetters!
Robertson and Rhodes Zissou inspired Beanie (25GBP) After an alpine swim, one can get nicely chilled and, especially when follicularly challenged, a cold head! These handcrafted 100% alpaca beanies are the warmest I’ve come across.
Zoggs Predator (22GBP) Simple and effective. A good seal on my face. Comfortable, clear and don’t fog, even in winter. I’ve tried 5 other pairs of goggles since getting these, and always default back to these. If it’s really bright I wear the tinted versions. Like with the Garmin watch, I think it’s no coincidence that most of my swimming group wear these.
Zoggs Fogbuster (Product has been recalled?) Works amazingly well on Zoggs (and non-Zoggs) goggles (looks like Zoggs are discontinuing it?)
Outdoor Swimming Society swimming cap (6.50GBP) I don’t just list this through affiliation. It’s my favourite swimming cap for fit and quality. Has a nice thickness to it. Would like a yellow one though 🙂
Vollebak Mission Sack – silver (limited edition) A perfect extra lightweight drybag. I usually use it to put wet stuff in, or to keep something cool and dry. Contents have included: a laptop, my wet wetsuit, and Arbroath smokies (smoked haddock)
Sea-to-summit 13L drybag with window (30USD) This used to be my sole dry bag, and I actually towed this when swimming (until I started swimming with much faster swimmers!). Still doesn’t leak, after many years. Just use it as an extra one as it packs up very small.
Victorinox Swiss Army Knife – Huntsman Lite (66CHF) Seriously? Yes, seriously! Whilst there are more heavy duty ones around, this is good for cutting apples, sawing bits of firewood, eating melon with a toothpick, tweezers for splinters and the boys can use (some of) the tools too without it being too dodgy.
Tick remover (4GBP) Ticks have become an annoyance in parts of Switzerland and we’ve already had to remove several this year. This tool makes it a bit easier and look less threatening to children than mean-looking tweezers.
Israeli Military compression bandage (6.89USD) Do you really take that? I hear you ask. Well, I bought it for a race, that I didn’t enter, and now keep it with the first aid kit. It’s for serious bleeding so I hope to never need it!
EQ Seals (34.90CHF) The best earplugs I’ve used, especially for allowing some amount of sound through. Initially they had poor customer service, but that has since improved. They’re pretty expensive, and easy to lose if you don’t wear a swimming cap. However, if you register, they will replace one pair free of charge.
Sevylor Puddle Jumpers (15-22GBP) Really fun swimming aids that are comfortable and confidence boosting. They’re even approved by the US Coast Guard.
RNLI phone case (7GBP) This is a simple and tough phone case with a quadruple seal! (three ziploc style and one velcro) Fits even some of the more ‘phablet’ size phones and can be used for other gadgets if need be.
The Klutz Book of Knots (from 0.01GBP!) This has kept me entertained since 1985 (and still does). Great for the train and trying to teach the boys practical skills.
Toy Dinosaurs (from all toy shops) Keeping your children occupied gives you a chance to rest, so you can swim better 🙂
Swimstaman is our OSS Special Envoy, based in Switzerland