Gear For Open Water Swimming



Here is the gear you’ll want to have not just to protect against the elements, but to enhance your enjoyment of swimming in the ocean. The gear is listed in decreasing order of importance:


Optional, but highly recommended

Not just to protect against swimmer’s ear, but, worse, surfer’s ear. Google it and you’ll almost always wear earplugs in the ocean. Don’t worry, as you can still hear most everything while wearing earplugs designed for swimming. They’re more to block the water than the sound. And the cold.

If you don’t elect to wear earplugs, you can talk to an avid surfer I know about the 4 surgeries he’s had on his ears to sand down that bone that grew in his ear canal due to his prolonged exposure to cold water. You might have to shout, though, as he doesn’t hear as well as he used to.

As for brands, Mack’s Aqua Blocks work well. So, too, do the silicone earplugs. They’re inexpensive and work wonders. Find out what works for you.

Swim Cap: Neoprene headband under a silicone cap

Optional, but neoprene helps keep your noggin and body warm

If it’s cold, wear a neoprene headband beneath your silicone cap. This is the best way to keep warm in the ocean other than drinking hot fluids. I’d take 2 swim caps over a wetsuit any day swimming in the ocean in the winter.

Orca makes a good neoprene headband that can accommodate chuckleheads. Their headband connects with velcro closures and easily fits under a cap. You can buy it here.

If you want a neoprene headband with a better design that is more comfortable, you can opt for the Blue70 headband. It is wider and features a comfortable fabric lining. If my head were smaller in diameter, I’d choose the BlueSeventy headband. It’s probably good for heads with a hat size of 7 ¼ and smaller. You can buy it on Amazon,, or

As for the neoprene headbands with chin straps, they can work, too. They could cause chafing under your chin, so keep that in mind.

For safety’s sake, you might want to opt for your overcap to be white or yellow. White caps are most easily seen by observers on the beach, even before bright orange or yellow ones. We’ve done tests and my white cap is the first one seen by our spotter every time. He said this over the course of about a dozen swims in the winter with a low sun.


Optional. Highly Recommended for Novice Ocean Swimmers

If you can, purchase a swim or tri wetsuit over a surfing wetsuit. Unfortunately, you can usually buy open water or triathlon wetsuits only online. However, most companies have very good height/weight charts. is where I bought my first wetsuits. They have a great return policy. Since Covid, though, they seem to have carried fewer and fewer wetsuit brands. So, you can check out They also have a good return policy.

As for brands, I’ve had good luck with both Orca and BlueSeventy. Many of my fellow swimmers and triathletes have raved about Roka. And if you have money to burn, check out Deboer. If you see me wearing one, my financial situation has improved…a lot.

Regarding swimming wetsuit styles, it’s a personal thing. The coldest water I’ve experienced in Socal has been 52 F. Most entry-level suits are good at that range. Once the water is about 60, you should be fine with a shorty suit, with short sleeves and shorter legs.

This is a bit of a personal thing. The more you acclimate to ocean swimming, the less you’ll feel the need for a wetsuit. Also, wind, air temp, and sunshine have a bigger factor on feeling the cold than you think. I’ll address this in another blog post. The leaner you are, the more you will generally feel the cold of the water. Acclimation can help, but bodyfat probably helps even more.

Goggles or Swim Mask


Next, I’d guess fewer than half of us wear goggles. You can wear what works for you. If you don’t have perfect vision, you can choose optical goggles. Sporti, the house brand for, makes optical goggles for about $15. I can see better with them than some of my glasses. They come in integer diopters …-4,-3,-2,…+2,+3… And, if your eyes have different diopters, you can buy 2 pairs and mix and match.

There are also swim masks and open water swim goggles, both of which cover more of your face. Swimmers have used these as well. The open water swim goggles (provide link) offer you a greater field of vision. That makes it easier to sight while swimming. For this same reason – greater field of vision – many swimmers opt for no goggles. 

The type of goggles is also dependent on sunlight. For low light, clear or smoky lenses work well. In the middle of summer, with abundant and strong light, you’ll probably want mirrored lenses. Again, this is a personal choice.


Optional. Recommended if you’re new to open water swimming, a novice swimmer, or have undue anxiety about the water

What you want are short-blade fins. The longer fins are not meant for longer swims. Also, if possible, you want fins that will float so that you don’t fear losing them in the ocean.

Fins are the biggest swim hack. They give you the best cost-benefit ratio in terms of propulsion to exertion level. Just be sure to try them out in a pool, both for fit and to allow your body to adjust to them. If you use them for the first time in a 1,000+ yard ocean swim, you might run the risk of cramping.

If the fins produce chafing, you can purchase fin socks or sand socks. They are thin neoprene socks that will help prevent chafing and they work wonders. You can buy them online at or in person at Big 5 Sporting Goods.

Body Glide

Optional. If you chafe or worry about chafing, use it

Body Glide can help prevent chafing. Any area you experience chafing, you’ll probably want to use a lubricant. And you can find Body Glide at A Snail’s Pace Running Store in Fountain Valley. Or online at Amazon or

You’ll want to use body glide or some other non-petroleum lubricant if you are concerned about chafing. We don’t recommend vaseline as it is petroleum-based and is known to degrade neoprene swimming wetsuits.

The main area of concern is the neck, right where your wetsuit ends. If this is a constant problem, it might be ameliorated by the use of a rashguard. Most ocean rashguards are designed with a slightly higher neck just for this reason.

Other areas include the armpits. Some swimmers, even with or without wetsuits, have observed that their armpits are chafed after swims. So, bodyglide could be your answer.

Lastly, triathletes want to be able to don and doff their wetsuits quickly and easily. If this is your aim, then you’ll definitely want to use bodyglide on your lower legs and along your neck and arms. Perhaps even your torso.

Swim Buoy

Optional. Gives a sense of security

You can use a brightly colored swim buoy. Nowadays, there are a lot of brands, ranging from smaller-sized that will only float behind you to swim-run style backpacks. The latter allow for a compartment that can keep some gear dry. I’ve used one to carry a cell-phone, keys, and water bottle. They’ve worked well….except in waves 4’ or higher. They have a tendency to rip apart at the point of connection with the leash. Then, they are unusable as they are no longer a flotation device. I’ve tried a variety of leashes, ranging from the original belt-leash, to a bodysurfer leash, to a telescoping Stand-Up Paddleboard leash. All of these have failed at least once. And sometimes in waves only 3’ high.


Optional. Highly recommended for those with fair skin

One brand I’ve used is Badger, available at Whole Foods. It is SPF 30-50 and is easy to apply and is water resistant for about 80 minutes.

Final Notes on Gear

That about sums it up. If there are any bits of gear I’ve left out, please contact me and I’ll add it to the list.

Hope you have a good swim!

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