What basic gear would I recommend for your swim bag (or swim kit, as some folks call it)?
Well, let’s take a look in mine to give you an idea what might go into yours.
Probably the first, and most important item is my swim suit (or costume).
I wear simple polyester briefs. I started swimming in the era of briefs and I just like being as lightly covered as possible when swimming (and running too).
The polyester fabric is slightly less smooth, but the suit is far, far more durable and long lasting than any nylon/lycra suit. As a matter of fact, they simply do not wear out in chlorine – no color fade, very little stretching, no disintegration of fabric. I keep a couple in circulation at a time, and am wearing these dozens of hours a week, in water and out, month after month, so I’ve thoroughly tested them. I retire one about every 9 months or so just because it’s starting to feel not quite as snug, but it could easily last many months more.
And these briefs are much less expensive – under $15.
If stronger and longer lasting, why so cheap? My suspicion is that swim suit manufacturers make profit from suits that wear out in one or two months so it needs to be replaced more often, rather than from suits that don’t wear out. Perhaps nylon suits get all the marketing attention while polyester suits are shoved into the dark corner.
We consider goggles necessary in this modern swimming era. And, when you find a pair you really like, I urge you to take good care of them. You may read Love Your Goggles for a lot more on common problems, solutions, and recommendations on goggle types.
Every face is different and finding a water-tight, comfortable fitting goggle is such a personal thing. For as many people I know who absolutely love their goggle type, I find others who are so frustrated with each kind they’ve tried. Ask to try on the goggles of your pool mates so see, and when you find a kind you really like, buy two or three pairs so you have backup. (It’s a bummer when they quit making your favorite kind!)
My face does well with the Speedo Vanquishers. Actually, I wear the women’s version because they fit a slightly smaller eye socket like mine. The Vanquishers are low price and seem to be very popular in the US, though I notice these are not sold everywhere in the world where Speed brand appears.
To go with those goggles I have a small travel flip-top bottle filled with baby shampoo. I place a small drop of this in each lens, rub around with my fingertip, and then do a gentle rinse to leave the thinnest film of soapy water on the inside and put them on. If I keep them on, and don’t allow them to dry out, they will stay fog-free for hours.
I also use the shampoo to clean the outside of the lenses too.
I have very short hair, yet I still prefer to wear a swim cap unless the water is warm.
The cap creates better streamline surface over my fuzzy head and ears. It holds my goggle straps down (put on goggles first, then cap), preventing my goggles from rolling off on flip turns (tumble turns). I can tuck a Tempo Trainer into the cap instead of using the clip. It keeps my head warmer. It offers a bit of brand promotion.
The type of cap you wear is also a personal matter. There can be quite a variety of head shapes and sizes, including long hair. And caps come in different sizes, styles, and in a range of flexible or durable materials.
If you have hair of length that might possibly reach your face, you should consider using a swim cap to keep it out of your eyes.
Also, keep in mind that the flow of chlorine water seems to harm swim suits and hair much more quickly than if water is held still against those materials. By wearing a cap, you may reduce the chemical stress on your hair (especially if you saturate your hair with fresh water in the shower before putting on the cap).
It is very important to care for your feet, especially inside an indoor facility. I offer some guidance on this in Foot Care Around The Pool.
I have switched now to what may be known as ‘slide sandals’ the kind that have one band over the top of the foot, as opposed to the flip-flop kind that where you pinch the strap between your big toes.
Why? Because that constant or repetitive toe pinching action over months and years was causing tendonitis in my foot. This affected my running too. With the slide-in type, if the top strap is nicely fitted, my toes don’t need to strain to cling to the sandal. My feet feel so much better now that I don’t use flip-flops.
This little swimming metronome, called a Tempo Trainer Pro, is the primary piece of training gear that should be in every skill-oriented swimmer’s bag.
We use it to build superior neuromuscular control, by coordinating the beep to draw attention to a particular moment in the stroke cycle, and to expand the range of speed and variability of movement patterns.
They just raised the price on this device to around $50 or $60 USD which seems crazy since I bet it costs less than $2 a unit to manufacture. But, it’s so valuable for our training and you can replace the battery. However, we have run into quite a few defective units so be ready to return yours if it quits functioning properly in the first few months.
There is too much to say about how to use this little device. We have many library articles and training exercises built around the Tempo Trainer in our online training site, the Mediterra Dojo.
I do keep a pair of Finis Positive Drive fins in my bag and use them for certain full-body kicking exercises (NEVER with a kickboard), like sliding along in streamline (Skate) position, or underwater dolphin kicks.
And, I do prescribe these for many who are new to freestyle and working on fine-tuning their streamline body position and stroke movements, in slow-motion. The fins allow you to generate some forward thrust with less leg movement, to get water flowing along the body line. The water flowing under the fins does provide some lift to the legs, while still requiring the swimmer to engage his core, and the flow of water offers feedback on where he might improve streamline shape.
You may read more in Guidelines For Using Swim Training Devices.
I don’t actually carry a swimmer snorkel in my swim bag because I do not use one myself. But I do carry one in my teaching gear to let students use.
A swimmer snorkel is a device I may recommend to new students, so that they can take more uninterrupted strokes (or glide along in streamline position) when the action of breathing is still difficult or disruptive to their concentration.
This Finis Freestyle Snorkel has a longer tube which is extended farther back on the head. This may actually work better for drills too because when you are doing slow-motion recovery arm swings, gravity will push down on the arm and torso, causing the head to sink a bit, and this could submerge the tube on the normal swimmer snorkel. Having that extra length of the tube may help prevent this.
I have three of these galvanized steel washers in my bag, which I sometimes place at the 6 meter mark from each wall (just past the backstroke flags) and one in the exact half-way mark in the lane.
Why? I use these to hold myself accountable to having the exact same push-off and glide on each length, and to permit me to gather more precise stroke counting feedback. Within a few lengths I know exactly what my stroke count should be when I pass each marker and if I am over or under just a bit I can immediately assess what changed and make adjustments while still swimming along, or to prepare to do better on the next length.
These markers could be anything that sinks, doesn’t corrode, doesn’t break, doesn’t go down the pool drain, is not too tempting for other swimmers to stop and tinker with, and not expensive in case I forget to pick them up afterward.
Fist gloves, or fist swimming, is the anti-paddle. If you really want to develop a bigger grip on the water, then reduce the surface area of your hand in order to force your brain to get more grip with the forearm. This urges you to raise the elbow and pull the forearm farther back to build up more pressure against it. Paddle usage has a tendency to do the opposite (among other liabilities).
I don’t actually carry fist gloves in my bag anymore, because it is just way more convenient to close or open my fist while I swim along, rather than have to stop and put on/off the gloves. I like to switch in and out of fist swimming.
Yet, I have heard that some students do find it better to have their hand in the gloves rather than try to hold a gentle fist, so I wanted to make this honorable mention.
I have a bottle of mild castile soap I use on my skin and head.
I have a spray bottle with an ascorbic acid (Vitamin C powder) mixture that I can spray on my skin to neutralize some of the chlorine smell. You can read more about this in Skin Care For Swimmers.
I have small container of corn starch I use to dry out my toes and feet before putting on my shoes. If I notice a little fungus I may treat with tea tree oil later.
I have a small container of a homemade coconut oil mixture I use for deodorant, that works WAY BETTER than any commercial deodorant I have ever used.
My Swim Bag
After all these years, trying different kinds, I have settled on a 16 inch wide-mouth tool bag. I got it at one of the giant construction supply stores for about $25 USD.
It is rugged and made to get wet. It holds its flat bottom and upright wall shape. It has lots of pockets to organize things. The mouth opens and stays open wide.
That’s it? That’s all that is in your swim bag?
I sometimes wear a simple chronometer watch while swimming, but not often (I am usually tracking data in my head instead). I have a towel. I have a pool thermometer with a floaty attached. I have a ziplock bag with some business cards.
As a lifeguard, I have a whistle and case with a CPR mask and gloves in it. These stay near me in case I encounter an emergency situation, which has happened before.
I carry a spare swim suit and a spare pair of goggles always, just in case my main one malfunctions.
Otherwise, yes. That’s it.
No pull buoy. No kick board. No other gear or devices. Everything else I need is right here inside my body and my mind.
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