Packing for an outdoor swim meet is like packing for the beach. The experience is not dissimilar: There’s a large body of water, the never-ending battle against the sun, and a thousand sunburnt humans tightly-packed into a small geographic area. The only difference?
Replace sand with warm, luxurious concrete.
As every swimmer knows, a swim bag is not just a transportation tool of equipment. When trapped in the confines of a 10-hour, never-ending outdoor swim meet, a swim bag is a lifeline. A swim bag is like any knapsack used in any post-apocalyptic world where humans must all battle for the same resources: If you show other swimmers your secret stash of Skittles, prepare yourself to defend your precious sugary resource.
Here’s a basic packing list for any swimmer about to endure an epic, weekend-long outdoor swim meet.
1. The necessary: UV-protecting, tinted goggles.
You know how every single adult once told you to never stare at the sun? Any 200-meter backstroker knows, in an outdoor swim meet, the sun stares at you. In the middle of a race, the last thing swimmers are thinking about is eye safety; bring along some tinted, metalicized, sun-protecting goggles. Don’t be that swimmer wearing clear goggles while swimming backstroke, hitting the lane lines, slamming into the wall like a blind bat flying around in daylight.
2. The obvious: Sunscreen, water, some kind of snack.
Sunscreen? Of course. If you’re not putting on sunscreen multiple times a day during an outdoor swim meet, not only are you going to hurt by day three, you’re likely going to need an annual skin check-up from the dermatologist office the rest of your life. Pack good, high-SPF sunscreen. And while you’re at it, pack some water and snacks. This is obvious stuff, but needed to be said.
3. Deck of cards.
A necessary aspect for any swim meet. Put the phone down and learn how to play euchre. Growing up in the Midwest, euchre saved me from never-ending heats of the 1500m freestyle, staring at the pool, questioning time, sports, and life. If euchre isn’t your thing, hearts is an excellent multiple-person card game. Stay away from intense, physical games like spoons. Blood will be spilled during spoons and variants of spoons.
4. An awesomely big, floppy, dorky sun hat.
Even with sunglasses and sunscreen, if you’re warming-up, warming down, racing, putting on caps and goggles and toweling off, you’ll get sunburned. The best way to combat this on the most valuable part of your body (your head and face)? Pack a big, floppy, dorky sun hat. Make it a cowboy hat if you really want a fashion statement. Your future, unwrinkled face thanks you.
5. Shoes — not flip-flops.
Flip-flops basically invite the worst kind of sunburn: The top-of-the-foot sunburn. Not only that, but flip-flops are fine on soft, indoor tile, but in the rough topography of brittle and hot concrete that often surrounds most outdoor pools, you’ll want some tennis shoes or water shoes for the pool deck.
6. Foldable chair
I’ve heard some facilities don’t let in foldable chairs, but during my swimming existence, a foldable chair was as necessary as a swimsuit. Otherwise you’re lying on concrete for three days. I also began the trend of bringing inflatable mattresses to swim meets, and perhaps because of those years, maybe now those are banned? If you can, bring an inflatable mattress. Space allowing (and usually there is plenty of space at outdoor swim meets), there’s no better way to pass long prelims than by putting a towel over your head and catching up on some sleep.
7. A hidden, discreet $5 bill.
Look: Your teammates are secretly thieves. They will “accidentally” open your swim bag and “accidentally” eat your Skittles or your apple or drink all your water. When this happens, be prepared: Hide a $5 bill somewhere in your swim bag for an emergency concession stop. Sitting outside in the hot sun can drain the body of nutrients and water, and even if you pack well, you still may need to buy some more body fuel.
Just don’t tell your teammates.