A Wild Swimming Packing List

A Wild Swimming Packing List

As someone who grew up on the south-east coast of England, I'm used to plunging into a cold sea and fighting against the rough tide. The beach was on my doorstep and taking a dip in the water was a regular occurrence. But I can't say I ever got used to just how cold and unkind it could be. Swimming in lakes and rivers is a whole different experience.

'Wild swimming' is just swimming in a natural body of water; in lakes, rivers, and the sea, rather than a swimming pool. A more accurate term might be 'outdoor swimming' but wild swimming is so much more romantic sounding, and it can be a pretty magical experience.

If you're a confident swimmer and can get to a river or lake, I urge you to try swimming in the wild. There are safety considerations although it might surprise you (as it did me) that swimming in a river is often much safer than swimming in the sea, and we often don't think twice about getting in that!

Although I'm familiar with the sea, I'm very new to wild swimming in rivers and lakes so I'm not going to provide you with a safety guide for wild swimming or instructions on where is best to go for a dip. Instead I'm sharing a packing list for wild swimming with all the things I find useful to take with me when heading out for a wild swim.

A Wild Swimming Packing List

Sun Care

Most of us casual swimmers will choose the hottest of summer days to visit our local swim spots. Protection from the sun is so important, you'll want to make sure you go adequately prepared for the heat. You'll spend a lot of time on the bank before taking a dip and after, drying yourself in the sun - make sure to liberally apply sun lotion before, during, and after your swim. I recommend the Tropic sun care range, it's been a skin savor after hours spent in blistering heat.


For calm lakes and gentle rivers, the water is never really so cold you won't adjust to it after those first few seconds. I've found either a bikini or swimsuit is just fine for these occasions. For particularly cold water, a wetsuit might be a better choice if you have one. Here are some sustainable swimwear options if you're looking for a new one.

Sun Hat

Unless you're brave, wild swimming is better undertaken during the height of summer when the sun is bright and hot on your back. Take a sun hat to protect your head, face, and shoulders from the searing heat. I forgot once and sorely regretted it, now I always pack my vintage sun hat purchased in a charity shop for £1!


For the same reason you need to pack a sun hat, you'll need to take along a pair of sunglasses too to protect your eyes. Photographed is a pair of sunglasses similar to the Pala Eyewear Pendo Black Sunglasses; I have them in the Sunset colourway. They're comfortable, sturdy, and just what you need when wild swimming in the sun.


Robes and sarongs are great for throwing on when you've just got out of the water. The sun will dry you off pretty quickly and the sarong won't stay wet for long. It means you won't have to deal with an increasingly soggy towel as the day goes on, and you have something fresh to dry yourself off with when you're ready to go home. Thought Clothing have several sustainably-made pretty sarongs to choose from. I'll be packing my Yawn Robe, it's lightweight and quick to dry.

A Wild Swimming Packing List


So obvious it's barely worth mentioning. You're going to get wet and possibly muddy so a towel is essential for drying off after a swim. Bring the biggest one you have and you'll be able to throw it down on the bank to sit on in-between dips in the water. I take a spare from my bathroom but if you don't have enough to go around, Dip & Doze have some wonderfully large bath sheets.


While you can swim with bare feet, water shoes or jelly sandals are a good idea for preventing accidents on slippery banks or sharp rocks. I begrudgingly bought a pair of sandals for my trip to Croatia and realised just how useful they are for making graceful entering and exiting of water! JuJu Jellies are made in the England from recyclable materials, and have a range of styles that look good both in and out of the water.

Dry Clothes

You won't necessarily need a complete change of outfit; You just need to bring something comfortable to wear over potentially damp swimwear. I bring with me an oversized linen dress (it's easy to wear and quick to dry) or simply put my shorts back on over my swimsuit. It's just to get you home after a long swim.


A small backpack is ideal for carrying everything you need to and from the bank. I take a Kanken Mini and I can just about fit everything I need into it with a towel slung over my shoulder and a water bottle in hand. You might need something larger, if you're carrying someone else's belongings as well as your own or packing a few extras.

Water Bottle

Another essential for any day but particularly super hot ones. Bring the biggest one you have; for me that's the Elephant Box Water Bottle although I'm considering an upgrade for road trips and excursions when 750ml just isn't enough. The Klean Kankeen Classic 64oz would be my first option.

Lunchbox, Utensils, and Food

The combination of swimming and sunshine has a tendency to make us very hungry so pack a light picnic. Stick to things that won't go off in the heat: fruit, salad, crackers, nuts, etc. You'll need energy for swimming and something to snack on when resting on the bank. My Low Waste Plant-Based Cookbook has some useful snack ideas. This road trip packing guide will show you what else to bring.

Other items you might want to consider:

  • goggles
  • swimming cap
  • buoyancy aid
  • insect repellent
  • book