Wild swimming: A beginner’s guide

Home Blog People Wild swimming: A beginner’s guide

Wild swimming has seen a rise in popularity in recent years, with more people recognising all the benefits it can bring. A recent survey from the Outdoor Swimming Society revealed 94% of respondents swim outdoors for “joy”, 68% for physical activity and 62% to increase resilience. That certainly sounds good to us! But where should you start if you’re new to outdoor swimming? Tara Kelsall, an S.T.A. certified Open Water Swim Coach, shares her beginner’s guide to wild swimming.

Take it slowly

You might be tempted to plunge into cold water quickly but get in slowly, even if it feels challenging! Your breathing, heart rate and blood pressure can all change when you get in the water. Going in slowly is much safer and gives your body chance to acclimatise. Never jump in water in case there are obstructions under the surface either. You might want to start off somewhere where you can stand, for a gentler experience. You don’t have to swim if you’re not ready to. Even immersing yourself in the water has benefits.

Swim with someone else

Go swimming with someone else if you’re a beginner. Choose a designated person to look after you and your safety. They could be a swimming coach or even a good friend who’s an experienced wild swimmer. There are some amazing swimming social groups but swimmers from groups might not be aware you’re new to wild swimming.

Wild swimming: A beginner’s guide

Get the right gear

It’s easy to get overexcited buying kit but there are only some items I’d recommend, and they don’t have to be expensive. A pair of water shoes or boots will keep your feet warm and protected in case there are sharp sticks or rocks on the riverbed. If you’re nervous about not knowing what’s on the bottom, these are a game changer. Neoprene gloves keep you warm and can transform your wild swimming experience. I also have a little blanket with a waterproof base to stand on when I’m getting changed. Finally, always carry some sort of swim kit with you. I keep my kit in the back of my car, so I can go swimming whenever I like.

Know how you’re getting in… and out

My experience is with river swimming, and I’d advise not getting in the river until you know how you’ll get out. It’s a lot easier to get in than to get out. In some places there may be steps and ladders but in a wilder location you should look for entry and exit points. Look for spots where it’s shallower or there are obvious physical features, such as rocks, to help you get out.

Watch the weather

Generally, you can swim in any weather, but I wouldn’t advise swimming if there’s lightning. Don’t swim after heavy rain either as it can allow sewage, agricultural runoff, and debris to enter rivers. Give it 24 hours to pass through before you swim. Be mindful that rivers can be very reactive to rainfall, even if the rain fall is further upstream. The flow can increase massively. An old school but useful trick is throwing a stick in the river before you get in, if you’re not sure. Watch how quickly it moves downstream – is it lazily bobbing along or going speedily? Trust your instincts and don’t swim if it doesn’t feel safe.

Wild swimming: A beginner’s guide

Be resourceful

There are lots of resources out there to help you get started with wild swimming. The best website I’ve found is The Outdoor Swimming Society. It’s got all kinds of blog posts on outdoor swimming. There are lots of lovely books on wild swimming too, not necessarily guides but books to inspire you. Waterlog by Roger Deakin is a classic. On a practical level, Surfers Against Sewage has a free app, the Safer Seas & Rivers Service, that monitors water quality at coastal and river locations. RiverApp is also great for monitoring river conditions.

Don’t leave litter

Litter can be an issue in the outdoor swimming world. Most people are great and take litter home with them, but not everyone does. Make sure you follow the Countryside Code and don’t leave litter. Landowners could start closing swimming spots on private land if litter becomes an issue, so it’s an important point. You could even pick up litter if you find any. I always carry a compost caddy bag for this.

Map it out

A big part of the enjoyment of wild swimming is getting your map out and hunting for swimming spots. Look out for rivers and lakes that might be accessible and that have footpaths nearby. Some swimming spots are obvious, but a lot of wild swimmers like the adventure of going out and exploring. It’s definitely a good idea to swim in a recognised swimming spots when you’re a beginner but you can visit wilder spots when you’ve got a bit of experience.

Celebrate your swim

Don’t forget to feel proud of yourself! Take a minute after your swim to think about your achievement.

Tara Kelsall

Wild swimming: A beginner’s guide

Tara Kelsall, aka the Wild Swimming Woman offers wild swimming experiences and wild swimming walks in south-west England. She’s been wild swimming for many years and is an S.T.A. certified Open Water Swim Coach. Her favourite spot for wild swimming is Farleigh Hungerford, one of England’s oldest river swimming clubs.

Read next: The Best Bike Rides In Britain

Dennis Maps is one of the leading map printers in the world, producing more than two million maps and charts every year. We offer comprehensive pre-press services, large format print solutions using both large format litho printing and large format digital print technologies, plus specialised map folding and map finishing techniques.