As wildswimming becomes more and more popular, those looking for the next level will find themself looking into swimpacking (Swim packing), swimcamping (swim camping) and Swimhiking (swim hiking) for their next level swim fix. Just as backpackers and bike packers take everything with them in one bag to sustain their wild adventures, swimpackers do the same. Hiking across remote areas, swimming across rivers, lochs and bays to find the perfect location for exploring and camping. This allows swimpackers to enjoy swimpacking adventures, places and experiences that very few people have. Like a 100 mile adventure up the west coast of Scotland, where no roads or lack of transport will hinder the adventure. Or deciding to swim from island to island in a large lake or off the coast. If you are a seasoned open water swimmer and you’re now inspired to try some swimpacking then read on for our full swimpacking gear guide.
Potentially Three Back Pack Configurations to Consider.
1: The Hike – Dry Gear.
Hiking in you will be carrying all of your swimming and camping gear.
2: The Swim
You will be carrying all your hiking and camping gear.
3: The hike – Wet Gear.
You will be carrying wet swim gear and your camping gear.
Things to consider when Swimpacking.
You will most probably be swimming across deep bodies of water, across vast distances, dragging your bag full of kit. Most likely the water will be choppy, you won’t be able to see the bottom, and you will get tired. The terrain surrounding the water will require some accents and descents. You will need a plan, you will need to be able to navigate, use a compass, read a map or have a waterproof GPS system. However, you will see things that have rarely been seen and swimpacking will give you the opportunity to walk and swim the less beaten track.
Key Swimpack Gear
Dry Bag Rucksack
A large waterproof dry bag is essentially the main piece of kit you will need for swim packing. Dry bags come in a variety of sizes but for wild swimming with all your kit you will be looking at (depending on how much it your taking and for how long) a 30 lite, 40 litre or 60 litre bag. Rucksack straps for easy carrying to and from the water and a tow point, so you can easily hook on your tow strap. Anchor points can later be added with some decent glue if needed. Pick a bright coloured Dry Bag this way: it can act like a Tow Float and increase your visibility to other water users (sailing boats, kayak or canoe, etc).
A length of strong webbing, with a loop tied in each end and a carabiner clip at each end for easy attachment to your drybag and your waist belt. A towline is used for bag towing!
A large waist belt made of strong webbing, with a quick release buckle, used to secure your towline and dry bag.
Internal Dry Bags
Always double bag key items, all items, this is the real world, things fail, bags leak. Some swim packers compartmentalise their main dry bag with multiple smaller dry bags for easy access and to stay organised. A dry bag for food, one for your sleeping bag, one for warm clothes, one for wet clothes, etc. This way, you have redundancies. Arriving to wet clothes is not cool, trust me. Allowing your wet kit to make everything else wet is not a good option either. Always pack a few spare drybags too.
Camping gear, specifically a lightweight one person tent, or some tarp, is a great way to keep your weight low whilst providing you with shelter. Tarps can be configured into many shelters and are super lightweight. One man ultra light backpacker tents can be super useful to the swimpacking community.
Small, compact, lightweight air mattress can make the difference both in comfort and in warmth. If you off on a multi-day swim hiking adventure, make sure you are getting a good recovery in between. A lightweight air mattress is not to be overlooked. R Value? The higher the R-value, the more thermally resistant the mat is, the warmer it will keep you.
A sore and tired body after a day’s hiking and swimming will need a good rest. A tired body is often a cold body. A good lightweight sleeping bag will keep you warm and comfortable and aid in securing you a good night’s rest, ready for your next full day of adventure.
A warm drink and a warm meal can be such a moral boaster. There are now many lightweight stove options, from fuel pellet burners to minimalist gas stoves.
A large stainless steel or aluminium cup can be used as a multipurpose cooking pot/plate.
There are so many lightweight multi-utensil options.
Every swimpacker I would assume is an experienced wild swimmer and used to adventures that burn a lot of calories. Pack enough food appropriate for your diet, and remember to pack and replace your salt and electrolytes. There are many options for dehydrated food pouches that can be easily heated up. There are always the handy instant noodle options, always a winner with us.
Water Bottle or water bladder
Water is key to exercising, energy levels, cramps, food production, hydration and more. A large water bladder can be a good option, as it conforms to the space given in the bag. Other options include a water filter bottle, which allows you to swim with less water and filter water from a stream or the lake when you arrive at your camp location.
A great piece of kit for long days full of adventure. After a long swim, especially a long cold open-water swim, a piping hot flask full of tea, coffee, hot chocolate or soup can be a game changer. A hot drink and a slice of cake are favourites amongst open water swimmers.
Puncture Repair Kit
God forbid your main dry bag gets a puncture, however, this is less of a concern if you have double bagged your contents and you have a simple puncture repair kit ready to see you out of the situation. Super lightweight and well worth packing. Research your bag’s material and purchase the correct glue. Potentially you could use a cycling repair kit but patch test it first.
Hiking boots or decent walking shoes/trainers to get you to the swim location. Neoprene swim socks if that is something you wear when swimming.
A warm, quick drying, synthetic fibre thermal can be a game changer after a long day’s hike and swim after cold-water swimming. Again, comfort and warmth are really important for motivation and recovery. And don’t forget the warm socks and a lightweight poncho for the rain.
Today’s smartphones are indispensable for adventures. They can act as compasses, maps, phone, GPS, great for checking the weather, ferries, transport etc. Make sure it’s charged and if you have a weak battery, take a power bank. Beforehand, check the location to see if you have signal coverage. If not, you can download maps etc to your device. Alternatively, you can take a radio/ walkie talkie.
Navigation / Compass / Map
Every adventure should include a map and a compass. Never rely on technology, always have a physical backup. PS: If you don’t know how to read a compass, learn, it is a truly invaluable skill to hold, especially if adventure is in your heart.
Long-distance swims across a loch or lake. Even in the summer is going to be cold work, deep open-water is cold water. A swimming wetsuit can make a vast difference and make the adventure comfortable. Also, if things go wrong, a wetsuit can help keep you alive (warm) until help arrives. However, if you are a seasoned skin swimmer who runs warm all year round and all you need is a swimsuit or pair of speedo’s then that is your choice, but for swim packing adventures we recommend a wetsuit.
For some, swimming outdoors and neoprene gloves go hand in hand. Others can swim all year round without gloves. If you need gloves, take them. Simple as.
Just like the gloves, if you need socks, take them.
A suitable set of goggles can be a fantastic help when open water swimming. Polarising lenses, and tinted lenses can help, when swimming into the sun or spotting obstacles above and below the water. A worthy investment.
Conclusion – Swimpacking Gear Guide
Treat your swimpacking adventure with the respect every wilderness adventure deserves and you will have a great time, exploring locations few have ever experienced. Also, be sensible and let a friend know where you are going, your route and when to expect you back. Enjoy your adventure.
What do I need to go sea swimming?
To go sea swimming, you’ll need a swimsuit or speedo, a wetsuit, goggles, and a float. You can also wear a wetsuit top with a swimsuit or speedo bottom. In cold water, a wetsuit helps keep you warm. In choppy water, a float helps you stay on the surface. Goggles help you see underwater and keep salt water out of your eyes. You can buy all of this gear at a sporting goods store.
Where could swimpacking take you?
Swimpacking could take you on many different adventures, from swimming in a loch to exploring the sea. You could encounter wild life and see nature in its rawest form. The beauty of swimpacking is that it can take you too places you never thought possible.
Where do you put all that dripping wet gear when you get out?
When you get out of the water, you need a place to put all your dripping wet gear. A dry bag is perfect for this. You can put all your wet gear in the dry bag and it will keep everything else dry.