There is probably just one piece of swimming equipment that has become necessary for a swimmer – a pair of goggles for better sight underwater and to protect eyes from possible irritation.
Other than that, I remain a minimalist, especially as an instructor. I don’t want to foster any dependencies, especially on items that assist buoyancy.
The only other item I use regularly is an absorbent “shammy” towel, more efficient than a bulky terry one. Moisture easily wrings out of it, and its container takes up just a small space in a swimmer’s bag.
Swim fins are not necessary, but helpful. Using them lengthens the swimmer’s waterline, aiding flotation and adding a greater propulsive force. My preference is for short fins that minimally affect normal kick rhythm.
By the same token, I suggest hand paddles for developing arm and shoulder strength, as well as stroke efficiency. They greatly magnify hand misplacement and lack of pressure against the water. Aqua gloves can do this to a lesser extent.
A swim snorkel can help develop stroke balance without the need to take regular breaths, but can lead to a too-flat body position with less side-to-side roll.
Kickboards and pull-buoys are even less helpful, again because of body position. Using a kickboard can provide variety in a workout, but puts the body at an upward angle that increases frontal resistance.
Similarly, using a pull-buoy between the legs for arms-only (“pull”) drills can place the body at an undesirable downward angle. Neither should be overdone beyond occasionally relieving monotony.
There are a large variety of devices, often expensive, designed more for competitive swimmers. Before purchasing any “helpful” device, swimmers might well do a cost-to-benefit analysis. Look around the marketplace before deciding whether its value toward swim stroke improvement is worth its cost or limited use.
Swim equipment by itself will do little to improve stroking if the swimmer values accumulating laps over specific drills for stroke aspects that need refining.
If swimming is to become a lifelong activity, it is well worth sacrificing laps in the short term for the long-term benefit of stroke efficiency.
Dr. Bob Colyer of Bluffton is an actively retired college professor, coach and author of “Swim Better: A Guide to Greater Efficiency for Swimmers & Instructors,” directed primarily to non-competitors. email@example.com