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- Well-designed goggles, swimsuits, swim caps, and accessories can make you faster and happier in the water.
- I’m a gear editor and have been swimming laps for almost 30 years, so I know good swim gear.
In the world of modern high-intensity training and boutique fitness classes, swimming is a refreshingly simple workout. All it requires is a basic swimsuit, access to a pool (which most towns have at a low community-center rate), and the basic stroke skills many of us learned as children.
For this low cost, you get serious gain: Swimming is a full-body workout that taxes your upper and lower body, plus delivers cardiovascular training without feeling overheated and sweaty. Even just leisurely swimming can burn roughly 220 calories in 30 minutes, while more vigorous strokes like butterfly can torch upwards of 400 calories in that same time.
I’ve spent most of my life reaping the benefits of this super accessible workout: Growing up in the North County of San Diego, I swam in the ocean and in backyard pools, often from dawn to dusk. In college, I joined the triathlon club and started counting laps by meters and yards. I’ve since swum with Master’s programs in Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and in my current home of Boulder, Colorado. But I mostly swim on my own, heading to local pools (primarily outdoors) to swim laps for fitness and enjoyment.
Now, as a gear editor, I truly appreciate swimming’s simplicity – in addition to a swimsuit, goggles and a swim cap are all you need for comfortable laps. Beyond these essentials, items like buoys and fins add excitement to the activity, while something like a warm coverall makes the pre- and post-pool experience more comfortable.
The amount of swim gear at even the most casual of swimmer’s disposal is extensive – and not all of it is designed to help set or break a PR. For this roundup, I researched and tested a variety of both new and tried-and-true gear from a variety of swim brands, including cutting-edge suits, goggles, and swim caps.
Beyond the basics, I also tested training equipment and extras that make fitness lap swimming as comfortable, and enjoyable, as possible. While some of the additional gear isn’t critical to swimming laps, it did enhance my lap-swimming experience, some in ways that quite surprised me.
Here’s the best gear for swimming laps:
This one-piece suit is made out of Nike’s HydraStrong fabric, a unique polyester that’s chlorine and heat-resistant. For lap swimmers, that means it takes longer for the suit to stretch out and thin down to a too-revealing shell of itself.
Nike offers multiple suits in HydraStrong fabric, including a line of good-looking bikinis meant for lap swim, as well as men’s briefs and jammers. I like this one-piece for its balance of coverage and style — the open back and straps are summery and fun, while the overall cut makes the suit (and me) ready to crank out hardcore swim sets.
The HydrasStrong fabric also has a low-water absorbency, making it feel fast in the water, and dry quickly on deck.
Hydrodynamic but modest brief-suits for men
Not all Speedos are brief-style suits. “Jammer”-style swimwear — the longer-cut options that resemble bike shorts — offer the hydrodynamic performance of a suit built for lap swimming with a (much) more modest silhouette. The polyester/spandex blend, “feels fast and compressive, but not so compressive that it’s uncomfortable,” said my male tester.
The suit features lining in the front and backside, and a drawstring to help the suit stay put during flip-turns, hard push-offs from the wall, and aggressive strokes, like butterfly sprints.
A warm post-pool coverall
This cozy, fleece-lined parka is intended to keep competitive swimmers warm between sets or races, but it’s also amazing as a cover-up for winter or general cold-weather outdoor lap swimming.
I wear this parka over my swimsuit to the outdoor pool in the Colorado winter or early summer mornings alongside a pair of sweatpants for easy undress. As soon as I’m out of the water and towel off briefly, I pull it on for the drive home. A bonus is that the waterproof exterior keeps my car seats dry, despite me wearing a soggy suit underneath.
The pandemic turned many indoor swimmers into all-the-time outdoor swimmers, and this parka is a game-changer for seasonal comfort.
Large-lensed goggles for outdoor swimming
For outdoor swimming, dark mirrored goggles are a must as they cut glare while offering protection for sensitive eyes. The Nike Swim Vapor Mirrored Goggles are low profile and sit close to the face.
The large, curved lenses deliver maximum peripheral vision that allows me to have mini races with the people swimming in lanes next to me because I can see them easily while pretending not to. They also let me see the bottom of the pool without any excessive head motion, either horizontally or vertically.
The soft, flexible gasket does a good job sealing against my skin to minimize annoying leaks, though the goggles do leave an “I just swam” goggle ring on my face.
Clear goggles for indoor swimming
For indoor swimming, or outdoors in low light, these clear-lens TYR Tracer-X RZR Racing Goggles work great. I was amazed at the instantly secure, leak-free fit. Because goggle fit is an individual matter, these do come with five removable nose bridge size options and have adjustable straps for customization. The silicone gaskets seal to my face comfortably and the goggles never fogged up on me (this is likely due to its advertised anti-fog coating).
Like the Nike goggles, these are low profile for ideal hydrodynamics while providing good peripheral vision.
A reliable pull buoy
Swimming with a pull buoy gives your legs a rest and lets you focus on arm stroke and body rotation. Over my lap-swimming lifetime, I’ve swum with a lot of different pull buoys, but this one continues to impress me with its buoyancy and comfort.
While others can be scratchy (i.e. the pontoon-like models held together by rope), or become waterlogged, this one’s dense foam keeps my legs afloat impressively during pull sets.
An ergonomic kickboard
Due to the pandemic, the communal bins at almost all public pools are non-existent. This means that if you want to use a training tool like a kickboard, you’ll need to bring your own — and this TYR kickboard is so great that even if communal kickboards make a comeback, I’ll still bring it along.
Its arrow shape puts my shoulders in a comfortable position while kicking, and it’s a shape that mimics my arm position during regular strokes far more than a large, rounded kickboard. The convex hull allows both the board and my body to rock naturally side-to-side through the water.
As a bonus, the board doesn’t become waterlogged and carries more easily in a bag than a clunky, traditionally shaped kickboard.
A well-ventilated bag for quick drying
I tended to carry my swim gear in either a regular duffel or backpack for a number of decades. But once I made the change to this mesh carrier from TYR, I realized what I’d been missing: An easy and efficient way to transport all my gear. This not only includes my goggles, cap, and towel, but also a pull buoy and kickboard — and the bag’s mesh design does well to air everything out after a swim.
The bag features two backpack-style straps for comfortable transport and a pull-cord closure system on its main compartment that keeps whatever’s packed secure.
A swim cap that doesn’t pull your hair
Latex swim caps notoriously pull your hair, so I much prefer a silicone option that is far gentler. This one from Speedo doesn’t pull or break off any strands when pulling it on or off, and the silicone lasts longer than traditional latex.
There are a lot of great silicone swim caps out there, but I love the prints here to add some fun to my swim without compromising performance in the water.
Comfortable headphones for music
I may be a gear geek but I do love the simplicity of swimming laps without music, and instead rely on the sound of water and my breath to create workout Zen. That said, this underwater MP3 player can be a fun way to change things up, and I know swimmers who say they can’t endure laps without it.
Though the Duo is simple to set up, it isn’t Bluetooth compatible, so I had to convert music files on my laptop to MP3 files, then drag them over to the connected device. This was easy enough but does present a bit of a learning curve. In the water, the device sits against your temples (not in your ears), and the music is remarkably clear.
If it is Bluetooth you’re after, the Finis Amnis Stream, which I didn’t test, pairs with a smartwatch via Bluetooth.
Fins to improve your form
Like other training tools, fins help improve form by targeting specific muscles and parts of your swim stroke. These Z2 Gold Zoomers are a good length for all levels of recreational to competitive swimmers — any shorter and it’d take a lot more effort to kick across the pool and any longer would feel like scuba fins.
The Zoomer length gives me plenty of power to kick across the pool either with or without my kickboard. Wearing them for faster sets or while attempting butterfly stroke is a fun way to use them, and they also do a good job working your hamstrings and glutes.
A towel poncho for easy changing
Pull this towel-material poncho on over a wet swimsuit on any pool deck, and you’re basically wearing your own portable changing room. There’s plenty of room underneath to strip off a wet suit and pull on dry clothes without revealing anything.
This poncho comes in handy at pools that don’t have locker rooms (or those that haven’t yet opened them), or for anyone who doesn’t want to use a locker room, whether they’re open or not.
What else we considered
Finis Smart Goggles ($235): For swimmers who like to hone in on splits and enjoy super high-tech gadgets, these goggles have an on-lens display, which appears in the left corner, for pace and splits visible while swimming. Paired with the Ciye app, swimmers can log workouts, and connect with others. Note that when I tried these, I got a headache from looking left mid-swim, but I also have sensitive eyes so I don’t think these would cause the same issue for everyone.
Zygo Solo ($299): This headset works via bone conduction to stream workouts from the accompanying Zygo app to guide swim sessions. The Transmitter that comes with works as a sort of underwater walkie-talkie, which coaches can use to instruct swimmers mid-lap. While the headset took some futzing to feel comfortable under a swim cap and goggles, the sound clarity was good and the workouts interesting.