Swimming is one of the toughest parts of a triathlon.
It involves learning a lot of techniques and becoming proficient and confident in it. And, there’s even a learning curve for open water swimming for even the strongest swimmers.
But, swimming doesn’t have to be tedious or overwhelming to beginners.
Using the proper equipment correctly will help beginner swimmers become more confident and strong in the water.
And, for stronger swimmers adding more swimming “toys” will keep things from getting boring.
In this piece, we’ll discuss different types of swimming equipment we’ve seen successful swimmers and triathletes use. Not all will be applicable to you at this time, but it may in the future.
Our hope is that you’ll be able to decide what equipment you need at the end of this article.
Best Swimming Gear — Buyer’s Guide
Before we jump into the gear review, we’ll provide a short buyer’s guide. It will answer basic questions while the product review will go into specific details.
Why Do People Need Swimming Equipment?
For starters, every swimmer needs basic equipment to get going such as a swimsuit, a pair goggles, and a swim cap.
But, you might notice some of the stronger swimmers carry more than the basics on to the pool deck with them.
You often see swimmers with waterproof bags that have swim buoys, kickboards, hand paddles, fins, and even snorkels.
This might seem like too much for just a simple sport, but those pieces of training equipment make a difference.
Most swimmers need “extra” equipment because they want to focus on their stroke technique rather than swimming for miles with bad form. Even the best and strongest swimmers have a specific part of their stroke they want to improve.
And, some swimmers just want to get faster in the pool so they buy equipment to create more drag for themselves.
In short, swimming equipment is needed for triathletes to become faster in the water and more competent in their strokes.
Who Needs Swimming Equipment?
All levels of swimmers need swimming equipment.
If you’re a beginner, you may not need the “extra” equipment just yet and just want to learn how to swim. Down the line, you might want to focus on your pull and will decide to buy a pull buoy and hand paddles.
If you’re a stronger swimmer, you might want to shake up your current workout routine with new training equipment. And, let’s face it, swimming up and down the lane gets really boring.
And, as mentioned before, everyone can improve their stroke. And, the equipment isn’t just to keep strong swimmers from feeling bored, it’s also to help tweak their strokes. And, for beginners, it helps them learn how to swim correctly and might possibly help them become stronger faster.
Why Is It Important to Choose the Right Equipment?
You want to train smarter not necessarily harder!
That means getting the right equipment to help you achieve your personal goals in the water.
Let’s say, you want to improve your pull and decide to get a pull buoy and hand paddles. But, there are different hand paddles available. You’ll need to make sure you choose the one that best fits your training goals and hand size.
This is only one example, but the same mentality applies to all types of equipment even the basic swim equipment such as your swimsuit.
I’ll go into more detail about how to choose the best equipment in the product review.
What gear do you need for swimming?
In this section, I’ll give a brief run-down of each product and a mini buyer’s guide to it. Of course, if you need more details, we might have a guide on that specific product you’re looking for. And if we don’t have it, leave us a comment and we’ll create one.
A pair of swim goggles is one of the basic pieces of equipment you’ll need for the water.
You’ll need to see where you’re going so you can safely swim around other swimmers in your lane. And, you’ll need to know how close you are to the wall so you can flip in time. No one wants to run into the wall or “miss” it from flip turning too early.
And, you need goggles to protect your eyes! Chlorinated water often irritates swimmers’ eyes and causes them to become red and irritated. Fortunately, this doesn’t last long after you get out of the pool. But, when chlorinated water mixes with human sweat (for example) it creates chloramines. This is what causes your eyes to become red and irritated.
The best goggles for swimmers, won’t leak and will last a long time. Look for goggles that are designed for training or swimming at your local sports store. Or, swimoutlet.com has a wide selection at very reasonable prices.
When you’re trying on goggles, make sure they have good suction around your eyes. This will keep the water out! Next, check the field of vision and be sure it’s what you need in the water. Finally, ask if the goggles can be customized. Some goggles come with different nose strap widths such as the Speedo Vanquisher.
If you want to save money, you can look for goggles that can be used in both the pool and open water. This might be a good option if you’re just getting your feet wet in the sport.
Even if you have short hair or a guy, you’ll need to wear a swim cap. Even if it doesn’t keep your hair from getting wet.
Swim caps are worn for a number of reasons; for one, it keeps your hair out of your face while you’re swimming. This also cuts down on the drag you create with your body.
From a health standpoint, a swim cap protects your hair from the harsh chemicals in the pool. And, if you’re swimming in open water, it’s most likely not clean so you’ll want to keep it on.
Swim caps can also save your hair from falling out! The chemicals can dry out and leave your hair brittle and weak if you don’t take care of it. So, wear a swim cap, shower before you get in the pool, and clean your hair after!
For swim caps, there are two types to choose from; silicone and latex. There is a neoprene swim cap, but it’s best used for open water swimming. Silicone is more durable, comfortable, and a little more expensive than latex. On the other hand, latex is cheaper, but doesn’t last as long.
The third although less common swim cap is made from Lycra and actually keep your hair dry and head cool. Many pro swimmers wear these types of caps under their competition caps, which are made of silicone.
Shop around and see what works for you.
There are “easy” ways to get a swim cap. If you are a member of a master’s swim group or local triathlon club, you might receive a cap when you sign up. Or, you can save your race caps as your back up ones.
You’ll need a training suit that you can use in the pool and for open water practices.
For girls, pick something that will fit and last a long time. The suit should feel tight, keep everything in place, and most importantly feel comfortable. Ideally, the suit would mimic whatever you race in. Speedo is a reputable brand with a wide range of options for you. When your suit starts to “drag” you in the water or starts to feel loose, it’s time to get a new one.
For guys, you’ll need to wear an actual swimsuit, not board shorts. You don’t need to wear a speedo if you’re not comfortable. You can wear a jammer instead, which comes to your knees. Or, there are speedos that look more square than the traditional ones.
The best suits are made from nylon which is the most durable material you can find. The suit should be snug but still give you motion in your hips and shoulders.
If you are prone to ear infections, ear aches, and swimmer’s ear, ear plugs are definitely a must on your swim equipment list!
For ear plugs, you’ll need something that is soft yet durable and won’t let water leak into your ears.
There are a few options for you to choose from:
- Custom Plastic Ear Plugs
This option is by far the most expensive one for you. But swimmers have complained that these plugs don’t keep the water out of their ears. The upside? The ear plugs are very comfortable and fit well.
- Foam Ear Plugs
Foam ear plugs are the cheapest option but may not be the best for swimmers. The foam doesn’t mix well with water but does a great job keeping noise out.
- Silicone Ear Plugs
Silicone ear plugs might be your best option. These come pre-molded and can be washed and worn for a long time.
- Silicone Putty Ear Plugs
Silicone putty ear plugs are made from moldable silicone so you get the perfect custom fit every time. These plugs are harder to clean so you might get a few weeks use out of them. But, on the upside, you’ll get a comfortable, tight fit that won’t leak in the water.
Wearing swim fins is a lot of fun!
You get to feel what it’s like to swim faster than your normal pace and strengthen your legs at the same time.
The fins add more surface area on your feet which makes your legs work through more drag in the water.
Choosing the best pair of fins isn’t as easy as you think.
At first, you might think to get the biggest pair of fins available, but that’s a little counter- intuitive. The biggest fins actually slow your kick down so much that you’re no longer using your natural kick.
You want a pair of fins that will help you glide in the water and let you kick naturally. In some cases, fins can help reduce extra knee action, which makes your kick stronger.
Tips for buying fins:
- Look for ones that are made from silicon instead of rubber, which greatly reduces the chance of developing blisters. Most fins are made of rubber which means you need to wear socks or booties when you use them.
- Fins should be flexible so you won’t experience knee, ankle and foot problems.
- The weight of the fins should be light and the shape ideally should mimic your own foot shape.
- Fins should be durable. Swimming can be an expensive sport so you want to make sure your equipment lasts a long time.
If you regularly compete in swim meets you know how cold it gets on the pool deck between your events or while cheering for your teammates.
In this case, I’d recommend looking into buying a swim parka.
For the lap swimmers who just come to the pool and then leave, a swim parka is definitely an optional piece of equipment.
A swim parka has a nice fleece interior and a thick water-resistant shell looking material.
Most parkas have some type of pocket system on the inside and out. There, you can store your goggles, smartphone, wallet, heat card, etc. It depends on how much storage you need and if you want a name brand or one that has all those features at a lower cost.
Some parkas also are designed with a hood. This might be a good option if you decide to wear the parka outside of the pool. This could prevent your hair from freezing.
Nose clips are no longer exclusively used for synchronized swimmers. And, there are a few major benefits to consider before turning your head.
For starters, nose clips keep water out of your nose, which often happens to beginners who don’t know how to exhale properly when swimming and doing flip turns.
If you do part of your swim workout with a snorkel, you can use a nose clip while you’re getting used to the snorkel. Many swimmers struggle, at first, to breath water out of the spout after do a flip turn.
If you’re concerned about your under water kick after flip turning, a nose plug helps you stay under longer. And, this can also help you break from streamline even smoother after your kick off the wall.
If you’re one of those people who doesn’t float easily, a pair of nose clips might come in handy. The nose clips keep the oxygen in your lungs and thus helps keep your body floating in the water. And this helps you swim faster since you’re not dragging in the water.
A swim snorkel is different than the one you’d take to the ocean to see wildlife.
A swim snorkel’s spout comes up in the middle of your face instead of the side.
Some of the key benefits of using a snorkel include
A snorkel helps you balance your stroke since you’re not breathing on your dominant side. This is especially important for distance swimmers since overuse on one side often leads to “swimmer’s shoulder”.
- Face Down and Straight
It’s natural for us to pick up our faces in the water, but that’s not the best for swimming fast and keeping good form. A snorkel won’t completely eliminate your instinct to look up, but it will push you to look down.
If you’re head rocks back and forth, a snorkel can help correct this bad habit.
- Good for kick sets
Kick boards don’t encourage the best form since they put you at an angle. The other option is to kick on your back, which works as long as you can swim in a straight line. When you kick with a snorkel, you’re in streamline which maximizes your speed.
Swim paddles are like fins but help develop your hand and shoulder muscles for an excellent stroke.
The biggest benefits of hand paddles are building strength in your hands and shoulders; and develop good habits in the water.
Other benefits include:
- Building strength and power to your stroke since the paddles add resistance in the water.
- You understand how it feels to be efficient in the water.
- You develop a good catch for your freestyle.
When you’re buying a pair of paddles, look for ones that are slightly bigger than your hands to start. From there you can adjust what you need. You might have strong shoulders but weak hands and you won’t know until you try your first pair.
The second thing to keep in mind is your natural finger position. The handle paddles shouldn’t cause you to spread out your fingers. And your fingers shouldn’t go beyond the edge of the paddle.
When you put the paddles on, be sure to take the wrist strap off. When you do this, you’ll see and feel very quickly if you’re stroke is any good. If the paddle falls off while you’re swimming, you’ll need to make adjustments.
A kickboard is a great way to improve your kick for your stroke.
It allows you to concentrate on your legs without worrying about what your arms are doing. And, if you’re not a big fan of using the snorkel for a kick set, a kickboard is a good alternative.
A kickboard will help you develop a stronger kick, which will keep your body parallel in the water. Both of these techniques help you keep a good body position in the water.
Having said that there are some downsides to using a kickboard.
For one, using a kickboard doesn’t help you keep a natural body position in the water. Or, the rotational hip action needed for freestyle. And, if you have neck or shoulder issues, a kickboard will only put additional stress on those areas.
If you’re deciding between a kickboard and a snorkel, ask yourself what is more important to you and which one will give you the most benefits.
Converse to the kickboard, a pull buoy helps you work on your arms. A pull buoy is placed between your legs and prevents you from kicking and keeps your legs from sinking.
Pull buoys are often used in tandem with paddles. This not only gives your legs a break but also helps you develop your stroke without adding too many factors at once.
For veteran swimmers, using a pull buoy is a fun way to mix up your workout. And, concentrating on a weaker part of your stroke is great during the off season.
Tech suits are much different than what you wear to work out during the week.
A tech suit is made of both compressive and water repellent material to make you fly through the water on race day.
All this technology for the tech suits comes at a high price which may not be worth it for some people.
If you’re mainly competing in triathlons and open water races, it’s best to stick to a regular suit for those competitions. Or, buy a tri suit for triathlons.
However, if you have joined a master’s swim group and regularly compete this might be worth looking into.
The band is another piece of equipment to help improve your stoke. This helps you develop your arm technique but also adds more power behind it as well.
The band is wrapped around your ankles and makes it harder for you to swim. It helps balance out your stroke and makes you work harder as your legs drag behind you.
In short, it helps you improve your stroke rate and emphasizes how important it is to keep your elbows high during the “catch” phase of your stroke.
There are a number of options available for this piece of equipment.
You can buy a sports watch with multi-sport and swim capabilities. These types of watches can track metrics such as distance, speed, heart rate, and average speed. Some watches can even switch between different sports without manually changing it.
A sports watch can be paired with different heart rate and cadence straps if you need it. But most can track your heart rate when you wear it.
We have an article completely dedicated to sports watches here, which you can view on your own time.
A swim pacing device is swimmer-specific and helps you develop a race tempo. You match your swim stroke to a tone you hear in your ear. It’s similar to a metronome. Coaches of high-level swimmers use this so that their swimmers maintain a fast and even pace.
Waterproof MP3 Player and Headphones
For those of you who like listening to music while you run, you can also do this while you’re swimming too.
This would be nice to have if you need to do a long swim for time and don’t want to count the laps or look at your watch or clock.
It’s best to look for an MP3 player that can be submerged into the water and can go deep under water. To ensure your earphones don’t fall out when you turn, look for ones that have a hooked shape. And, also have a clip you can secure onto your swim cap or goggles strap.
A Training Log or Journal
Keeping a record of your swim workouts can be pivotal in your regime. This can help keep track of your goals and break down bigger ones into manageable steps.
Ultimately, the journal helps you figure out what’s working and what isn’t working. This would be helpful if you don’t have a coach with you all the time.
In the journal, don’t just write down your workouts, write down how you felt during the workout. Write down what you want to improve on for next time or how a specific set might help reach your goal.
A journal is also a good way to gauge whether you’re close to race pace or on the way to a new personal record.
Recording your workouts might also make it easier for you to be more accountable for your training. You can visually see the number of workouts you did in a row and it might motivate you to keep going strong.
We hope this piece helped you determine what swim equipment you need. Good luck with all your training!