Join Good People on a Proper Adventure

Wild Swimming: Your Guide to the Basics
January 21, 2020

Young woman wild swimming in clear mountain stream rocky pool. | Photo: Getty

Taking a dip in a lake. Making the mad dash into the North Sea in March. There is something oddly attractive about swimming outdoors or, as it’s often known, wild swimming.

What is Wild Swimming?

Wild swimming is, to all intents and purposes, going swimming outside in a natural pool of water. That pool might be at a bend in a river, or it might be the sea. The important thing is that there are no man-made structures. You decide if you want salt water or fresh water. It’s the kind of activity that an older generation would roll their eyes at and say, “When I was your age, that was just called swimming!” And they wouldn’t be wrong.

People swimming and beaching alongside the Rhine | Photo: Getty

Swimming in rivers and lakes is very popular in Europe, although wild swimming has become a bit of a buzz word in the UK (rather like wild camping). Not that that means we don’t think it’s a fun thing to jump in a cold tarn or dash into the ocean. In Europe, it’s very normal to see people floating down the wide Swiss rivers in the summer, with specially made float bags, or going for their morning swim in the local river. In the UK it seems to be more of a solitary sport. A way to head out for a quiet bit of personal time with nature… and probably a chance to get very cold!

Why do people go Wild Swimming?

If you, like many people, have never been wild swimming you might be wondering why anyone wants to do it! Particularly with the lovely picture we’ve painted in the UK of cold and wet and lonely. Well, we could speculate. But instead, we went out and asked some wild swimmers to tells us in their own words.

Lindsey Cole, best known for walking the Rabbit Proof Fence and swimming dressed as a Mermaid, says, “It makes us feel alive. When I’m feeling sad it makes me feel better. When I’m feeling fine it makes me feel like the love child of She-Ra and Indiana Jones!” Many others said a similar thing – about making them feel invincible. “It makes every cell in my body feel alive, like I’m the most awake and present in my body I’ve ever been,” said Aoife Glass.

Then there’s the challenge. Serial wild swimmer Phoebe Sleath explains: “Because if I can get myself to swim in the North Sea in March, then I can do anything. Because when I tell my friends I want to go swimming and I see the look of disbelief on their faces, I know I need to prove them wrong. I guess it sounds crazy and it puts me in a group with the wild and the adventurous.”

Other people have found wild swimming helping them in times of illness. “Due to chronic pain,” said wild swimmer Nicola, “I can’t do much else at the moment. It’s been a real life saver over the last few months. It boosts my mood and lot of the enjoyment is down to the community. I love my swim friends and feel part of something again. I’m more of a dipper and cake-eater swimmer!”

Equipment

One of the beautiful things about wild swimming is you need very little to be able to do it. The ability to swim is a good start. Even if you’re going for a freezing splash in and splash out , it’s better to be safe than call the RNLI. After that, some sort of swimming costume is a good idea – unless you have skinny dipping tendencies. Which, you know, is fine by us. Whatever floats your boat.

View this post on Instagram

In my happy place ❄️❤️🙏 The cold has taught me so much. I feel strong, in control and fearless in the cold. If you surpass fear and find the medicine in something that is meant to be painful and uncomfortable then you can pretty much do anything. The benefit on my physiology has been incredible, you can't buy the feeling that the cold gives you. The cleanse, the rejuvenation. But the benefit to my will, my worth, my mind and my emotional being has been the most noticeable. I love water, my moon is in cancer and I feel emotions very deeply, I work with water as an element to keep me grounded and to always go deeper. I'm not at all special or hard core being able to do this, it's something I've worked up to. Everyone can do it, humans are amazing, it's simply just a choice of saying yes. ❄️💫❤️ #wimhoff #wimhoff #wildswimming #wildwomen #icewomen #iceswimming #icedips #water #openwaterswimming #spirituality #2020 #motivation #inspiration

A post shared by Alice McCready (@akashicalignment) on

Depending on just how cold this place is that you’re going to go wild swimming – and how long you intend to swim in it – you might also want a wetsuit. You can get thermal swim gloves and socks for where the wetsuit stops too. There also seems to be a wild swimming trend of wearing bobble hats on winter swims.

And, of course, always know where your towel is! There are wild swimming changing robes (look it up) on the market and a spare, change of clothes might be a good idea. Of course – as we’re writing this in the depths of January – we’re imagining you being very cold. But you might be on a nice summer swim and be able to dry yourself off with your clothes. Hard to imagine right now, but we can dream!

Wild Swimming Technique

Swimming in the sea at sunset | iStock: Morsa Images

If you’re only going for a quick splash, or in still water, wild swimming is very much like indoor swimming. Except, unlike at a swimming pool, you’ll probably be running into the water. Your technique extends as far as: getting into the water without falling over, enjoying yourself in the water and getting out again. Not much to it really. Oh and don’t get your bobble hat wet!

If you’re doing more of a serious swim over a large body of open water, there are things you need to look out for. To start with, you’ll want to think about tides, currents, whether there’ll be boats or anything else sharing the water with you. It’s common to have a kayaker or boat follow you on really long swims, so that other people know you’re there and you’ve got a place to rest if you need it. This is starting to sound like a pretty epic swim (like Oceans 7, Round the UK or Across the Channel).

Instead of us repeating what’s already out there, here’s some great resources to learning more about wild swimming technique:

And, to be honest, if you have any specific questions, chances are the Outdoor Swimming Society will have an answer to it somewhere. It’s a huge mine of resources and knowledge.

Where can I try Wild Swimming?

Swimming in Lake Bled, Slovenia

The easiest and quickest answer is this: drop what you’re doing, grab a towel, run to the nearest outdoor body of water and jump in it. Of course, if you’re reading this on a browser tab behind whatever work you’re supposed to be doing, that might be a bit odd. Not impossible, though, and kudos to anyone who goes wild swimming in their lunch break.

Anyway, for a less impulsive option, you can check out the Outdoor Swimming Society’s Swim Map for places to swim near you. They also have a list of local swimming clubs where you can make friends and learn the basics, outdoors. Or there are guided wild swimming holidays to step up to the next level in a safe environment. It’s all yours for the swimming.

Fancy a wild swimming adventure in the sun? Sign up to Swim Slovenia’s Iconic Lakes over a weekend. Don’t mind if I do!