A long time ago, when I was fairly new to regular exercise, I wrote a post entitled "My swim bag" in which I described, um, my swim bag.
After I finished taking a year of swimming lessons a few years ago, and started trying to swim for fitness, I only managed to do it a couple of times a month. Part of doing it more frequently has been developing a well-stocked, ready-to-go swim bag.
I started with the bare bones. My bag had
- one lap suit from the local sporting goods store
- one ugly old beach towel (I wanted one I wouldn't miss if I kept it in my bag), big enough to wrap up in
- ordinary Speedo swim goggles from the local sporting goods store
- one ordinary black latex cap from the local sporting goods store
- my YMCA membership card
This is, I think, the minimum that anyone needs to swim for fitness. About 2 minutes into my first swimming lesson, I discovered that the swimsuit I bought a few years back mainly because it flattered my figure was no good for lap swimming; it wouldn't stay put. So I bought a proper lap suit on sale for about $45. It took a few more lessons before I finally admitted that I would be more comfortable with goggles and a swim cap (if your hair is very short, a swim cap is optional). The towel goes without saying. My "Y" card represents, of course, access to a pool or body of water in which to swim.
As I decided I needed them, I acquired a few more things to stuff in my bag. Much would be good for any exerciser, not just swimmers. Let me stress, though, that none of this is necessary -- I could get a good workout with nothing more than suit, goggles, and towel.
- A pair of "flip flop" sandals to get me from the locker room to the pool to the shower. It's safer to navigate the stairs (yes, there are stairs at my Y between the locker rooms and the pool) and shower room with something on your feet. Also, I can slip them on to pick up a child from swimming lessons without breaking the no-street-shoes-on-the-pool-deck rule.
- A second towel, one of those super-thirsty super-compact PackTowls, to help get my hair dry faster (or even to wear on my head out of the locker room in a winter hurry). I still use the ugly old beach towel too.
- A mesh hanging bag, full of all the stuff I need to shower and get presentable in the morning: shampoo and conditioner, facial cleanser, moisturizer, anti-perspirant, razor and extra blades, toothbrush and toothpaste, comb, and a handful of hair clips and a bandana for tying my hair up or back if necessary. If I was a makeup wearer, I'd have that too. None of this is actually necessary for most workouts -- a good rinse in the shower is enough to get most of the chlorine out -- but it's extremely convenient to have it, especially for early morning. Who wants to get ready twice when once will do? (A nice bonus: with all this stuff pre-packed, it's a snap to prepare an overnight bag on short notice.)
- A waterproofed workout plan:
- The plan. It's a piece of paper on which I've written out the drills and laps I want to do in the order I want to do them. Ideally I would make a new one for each session, but it's good to have a sort of "default" plan ready to go. Mine is pretty simple and fits on a 3x5 piece of paper. Having a plan makes the workout more interesting, and more beneficial than just "oh, I'll swim for 40 minutes and stop."
- The waterproofing. You can laminate the plan -- very effective but perhaps time consuming if you don't own a laminator. You can put it in a page protector -- not too bad but bigger than I need. You can put it in a Ziploc bag -- an excellent and easy solution. Or (my favorite solution) you can recycle old Tyvek envelopes: Cut them up and write on the scraps, wet or dry, with a #2 pencil.
- A one-touch lap counter. This little toy was a bit of a splurge, but I love it for timed workouts. I always lose count and then I don't know how far I swam.
- A combination lock.
All these things live permanently in the bag. When I get home from swimming, I take the bag right to the laundry room, where I either put the towels and suit into the next basket of laundry waiting to be washed or hang them up to dry and be re-used; the bag stays in the laundry room until the towels and suit are dry and I can repack it.
A lot of this is still true, but I thought it was high time for an update, seeing as now I am not just a swimmer but a runner, and I have been for a long time.
First of all, some time ago I upgraded the bag to a bigger one with multiple pockets. Now I also keep in the bag enough items to swim or run, so that either workout is possible wherever I go. The bag, therefore, contains:
- Running shoes. It's definitely worthwhile to have a dedicated pair of running shoes. There is a different pair that I wear with ordinary clothes for walking around (what they are, actually, is an old but still nice-enough-looking pair of running shoes). I run in cross-country flats now that I have switched to forefoot-striking.
- A complete set of running clothes, including socks, running bra, and clean underwear. I have two sets of running clothes so that one can be in the laundry while the other is in the bag, but I don't unpack one until the clean one is available; it's more important to be ready for a workout than to have freshly cleaned workout clothes.
- A set of headphones. I don't keep my iPod in the bag all the time, but I try always to have headphones. The treadmills at the gym have built-in TVs that take them. And if I think about it, of course, I can bring the iPod. Maybe someday I will have a dedicated mp3 player for the gym bag.
- Something to hold my hair out of my face. A bandana is the default choice.
- A "wrist wallet" to carry necessary items like a car key or cell phone.
- A couple of cold-weather items like a hat, a light hoodie, and a neck gaiter.
I still have it always packed with a complete set of toiletries, and because of this it doubles as an overnight bag -- I can even sleep in the workout clothes, or wear them the next day if I'm really in a hurry!