Outdoor Swimming Guide: all you need to know

Essential knowledge and best places to swim wild

Outdoor Swimming Guide: all you need to know

Peaceful Swimming

Wild swimming – what is it and why is it so great

Swimming in the pure waters of remote locations under open skies is a tonic like no other. If you've never been swimming wild then seven reasons to give it a go are ...
  • The deep friendships you make: Swimming is a social activity, but can also be a great leveller… everyone is equal in the water!

  • Swim now, glow later: Tingle all day long after an early morning dip. Or plunging into natural pools on a warm day after a walk, run or ride is ace.

  • A new view: Seeing those places you know and love from the water lets you look at them anew. Experience hidden spots away from the tow paths and car parks.

  • It can be quick: It doesn’t take long to feel alive with a quick dip - no long slogs necessary.

  • Incredible exercise: If you do swim for longer you’ll get fit quicker.

  • Getting dry: Warm and dry afterwards with a flask of hot chocolate could be the best thing ever.

  • It’s a bit naughty: Grown-ups always said don’t swim in open water - now you get to decide for yourself…but stay safe!

What are the benefits of swimming in cold water?

There's a growing body of evidence that cold water swimming is good for the mind, body and soul. We asked the Wild Swimming Brothers why they think you should swim. They certainly aren't shy of hitting the open water, but when asked why they love swimming so much they can never think of a good answer! Wild Swimming Brother Jack Hudson jotted down 50 reasons to start wild swimming in the hope that he could give a better answer next time. Here are a few...

What it does for your head…

  • It puts you at water level and allows you to experience the natural world on nature’s terms.
  • It causes a decrease in cortisol and other stress hormones.
  • It removes the headache of swimming lanes and bumping into devil-may-care sprint swimmers.

  • It breaks up your routine and gives you time to clear your head of humdrum, everyday business

What it does for your body…

  • It teaches you to control your body temperature and improves your ability to manage the cold.

  • It boosts the immune system, increasing your white blood cell counts. The cold water acts a mild antagonist, activating and training your immune system.

  • It immerses you in cold and allows less strained movement, soothing any vestigial muscular aches.

  • It shuffles your exercise regime. Physically, the act of wild swimming puts you in an environment you’re not used to. This adds an element of fun and exploration that can encourage you to do more exercise.

What it does for your heart…

  • It instils a sense of adventure in you, taking you down the road less travelled and gives you a taster of the pioneer spirit.

  • It enhances your knowledge of biodiversity – travelling down waterways you’re much more likely to encounter rare flora and fauna.

  • After swimming in rivers, ponds, tarns and lakes, it eventually brings you to the ocean. It’s hard not to fall further in love with our blue planet when you start dipping your toes in these colossal expanses.

  • It’s a good laugh.

Where can I go wild swimming near me – what are the best locations in the UK?

The question we are asked the most is where can I go wild swimming near me? First of all you have the right to wild swim in all tidal and navigable waters in the UK. However in the UK owners of a river also own the riverbed and often the land around it so getting in the water may be the biggest challenge. Make sure you get a landowners permission. Finding a hidden tarns on the OS map, hiking to them and hopping in is a great way to sprinkle some added spice onto your weekly adventure. The Outdoor Swimming Society have a great crowd-sourced wild swimming map to give you some pointers. Check it out, pack your dry bag and head off on a new adventure!

What kit do I need to take to go wild swimming

You need very little to go outdoor swimming. A skinny dip needs nothing at all. But having forgotten things on numeroues trips we've developed this mental checklist before we go:
  • Swimmers or outdoor swimming wetsuit
  • Old trainers, crocs or river footwear
  • Towels, compact micro fiber towels are very good
  • Goggles and silicon swim cap
  • Booties, gloves and neoprene hat
  • Bobbly Hat
  • Safety Tow Float
  • Dry bag for all your wet kit
  • Warm clothing layers or changing robe for after
  • Drinking water to keep you hydrated and flask of hot chocolate, soup, tea or coffee for afters
  • Snacks to fuel any sugar dip
  • Small first aid kit for any bumps, scrapes and stings
  • Sun protection: hats, sunglasses, sun screen
  • Headtorch for early morning or late evening walk-ins and walk-outs
  • Map, compass, electronic devices and a rucksack to carry it all in

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How do I stay safe when wild swimming

If you're a competent swimmer and know you're limits then outdoor swimming is safe. Assess the water state (fast flowing, strong currents, direction and times of tidal currents) and be aware of entry and exit points. Suzanna Cruikshank has a quick few pointers to offer. If you are unsure or want to give it a try in more of a social situation, hunt around for local groups and guides in your area.
  • 1. Never swim alone. It is more fun swimming with a friend! Always let someone know where you are.
  • 2. Know your limits. And don’t stay in too long. Beginners should allow one minute per degree of water.
  • 3. Take appropriate clothing. Warm gear for after your swim and suitable footwear – swim shoes make it easier to get in and out of the water.
  • 4. Never jump straight in. Get in slowly and inspect the area you intend to swim in for hidden hazards like rocks or branches.
  • 5. Get the glory shot. Always make sure you have an SD card in your camera!

What is the difference between outdoor swimming, wild swimming and open water swimming

The terms outdoor swimming, wild swimming and open water swimming are all interchangeable.

They all mean swimming in natural water without lanes, ropes and usually without supervision. Typically it is swimming in lakes, tarns, reservoirs, rivers and seas.

We feel open water swimming is used more with respect to competitive swims such as triathlon. Whereas wild swimming and outdoor swimming are more lesuire activities.

Competitive swimming wetsuits use buoyancy rather than technique to improve swimming position and times. This sensation is similar to swimming with a pull buoy between your legs.

Alpkit swimming wetsuits are designed for leisure activities and a more natural swimming style.

What time of year is it best to go outdoor swimming

People swim all year round and a New Years Day Dip is not an uncommon sight around the country.

Most water is 12C-17C for most of the year. Water is warmest around September when it has had the benefit of the heat of the summer. It is in the heat of summer that blue green algae is most prevalent and should be avoided.

Ice swimming is officially when water temperature is sub 5 degrees celsius.

Alpkit Outdoor Swimming On Film


Hydrotherapy! Escape and Inspiration in cold water

After over 7 weeks of lockdown restrictions, and adventures limited to our doorsteps, we have found ourselves yearning for wild spaces & human connection. If you’re also in need of a little wilderness & inspiration, we hope you’ll enjoy our film.
Chasing the sublime

Chasing the Sublime

Why do we put ourselves into the path of discomfort and risk? What drives us to get too cold and too tired, to battle with fear, in the name of adventure? Loch Hourn on the Knoydart peninsula in the Western Isles of Scotland is regarded as one of the last wildernesses of Europe. Access to sea lochs is difficult. Salt water mingles with fresh water as it runs off the mountains, icy even in high summer. This mesmeric film immerses us in the physicality of cold water swimming, asking why we put ourselves in the path of discomfort and risk; why does the search for adventure take us to ever more remote and inhospitable places?
Kari Furre Mountain Journal

Kari Furre - A Mountain Journal Short

Kari Furre is a Devon based artist and director at the Outdoor Swimming Society, there in the Lake District when the idea was born in 2005. Kari was also one of the early gold Duke of Edinburgh Award girls, back when women did not do things like this on an equal footing with the boys. In May 2016 she swam the 10.5 mile Lake Windermere in celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the DofE and continues to be inspired by her natural surroundings, particularly when it comes to water!
Hurly Burly

Hurly Burly - A Mountain Journal Short

The "55 Hours" is our series of films documenting inspiring new adventurous activities that people do over a weekend – from leaving home on Friday to getting back on Sunday.

Alpkit Guides to Buying and Using An Outdoor Swimming Wetsuits

Entries from the Mountain Journal

Further Resources

David Hanney 12 May 2020