Be safe and be seen in the water with a brightly coloured swimming tow float. Our pick of the top seven tow floats on the market also double up as a handy way to carry essentials as you swim.
Whether you’re a keen open water swimmer or are just dipping a toe in the world of wild swimming, a brightly coloured tow float is a sensible bit of equipment to add to your kit bag. Tow floats come in different shapes and sizes, but they all perform a similar function – these high-visibility inflated bags are designed to be towed along behind you as you swim, making you easier to see in open water and doubling up as a handy way to carry essentials.
A tow float’s main function is safety. If you’re swimming in open water, you might encounter rowers, sailors, ferries and other swimmers. A bright tow float will make you far more visible to anyone in the water (or to friends or a lifeguard watching from shore) than you’d be without one. While swimming tow floats are not designed to be lifesaving flotation devices, if you need to take a breather or you get a case of cramp you can also hold on to them and float for a minute or two. Tow floats are also mandatory at some swim events, so if you’re getting into swim races or long-distance swims you may well need to have one handy. Tow floats are sometimes used at night – pop a head torch inside them and they give off a warm glow that makes you easier to spot. It’s worth noting that having a float with you isn’t any substitute for first making sure that you’re safe and competent in any location you decide to swim in.
Tow floats are also useful for carrying essentials with you on longer swims. Even if you choose a smaller float, you should have space to bring your phone, snacks, keys, a sports drink or even a camera along for the ride. Larger tow floats can also fit your lunch, a rucksack, spare warm layers or even a small tent, so you can bring along everything you need for a proper adventure. If you are carrying technology, such as a phone or a camera, we recommend popping the item into a smaller dry bag, just in case of splashes. Some tow floats are designed with one inflatable chamber, while others are ‘dual chamber’ – one side holds air to create buoyancy, and the other side acts as a dry bag. If safety is your priority for shorter swims, a simple, small design will be fine – if you want to carry kit on longer swims, a dual chamber float might suit you best.
Most tow floats attach around the swimmer’s waist with an adjustable strap. Some also offer shoulder straps so you can pop them on your back when you’re out of the water, which is great if you’re into swim-hiking or swim-running and want to move quickly from swim spot to swim spot. Floats are usually made from plastic – we recommend picking a float made using recycled or PVC-free materials if possible.
We’ve rounded up seven of the best tow floats of different shapes and sizes, so you’re guaranteed to find one that’ll suit the way you like to swim. You’ll also find a quick guide to what to look for when shopping for a swimming float below.
Zone 3 Swim Safety Buoy and Dry Bag
Zone 3’s Swim Safety model is always popular with open water swimmers, and for good reason – it’s solid, roomy, durable, and does pretty much what it says on the tin. Inflation chambers are separated from the dry bag storage section of the bag, making this more buoyant than your average float. You have to manually close the dry bag and then inflate the second section, which is a bit more faff than a one-chamber model, but is worth it for that added buoyancy and kit space. We like the two grab handles, and 28 litres is a generous size that means there’s room for spare clothing as well as your essentials inside. A great pick for longer distances.
Colours available: orange/pink
Size: 28 litres
Pros: Plenty of room, tough, long-lasting plastic outer, two-chamber design makes the bag very buoyant
Cons: It’s a pity the plastic isn’t recycled, too big for anyone who just wants to stash their keys, some drag
Price £24 (RRP £24) $31.62
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Swim Secure Tow Float
If you’re getting into open water swimming and tend to swim shorter distances, there’s no need to cart a big or bulky tow float along with you. Swim Secure’s small, bubble-shaped float is petite, lightweight and adds no noticeable drag, so it’s perfect for quick swims where you need to make sure you’re visible but don’t want extra weight, or for anyone who doesn’t like the feeling of dragging a bigger float. There’s still room inside for keys and a phone or a headtorch, and two inflation chambers mean you’re covered if one does fail. Both the orange and pink colourways are easy to spot even in murky waters.
Colours available: orange/pink
Pros: petite size, good visibility, no drag
Cons: made with PVC plastic, too small for clothing and bulky kit
Price £22 (RRP £22) $28.99
The clue’s in the name –the innovative Ruckraft is a floating dry bag that works as an inflatable, waterproof raft, allowing swimmers to carry up to 15kg of belongings with them on long cross-country swims. This is a big and bulky bag, and it’s overkill if you don’t ever need to carry much kit, but if you’re into longer distance swimming or fancy planning a swim-hike adventure or even a multi-day swim safari, this is the perfect companion. Fill the dry bag with kit (clothing, food and even a tent will happily fit inside), then secure it to the inflatable horseshoe-shaped float. Once in the water, the Ruckraft feels surprisingly light to tow behind you, but does add more drag than a tinier tow float would do. The dry bag is bright orange, so it adds visibility, too.
Colours available: orange/yellow/blue/black
Size: 120 litres
Pros: Innovative design lets you tow 120 litres of kit, great quality, also works as a safety buoy
Cons: Expensive, some drag, casual swimmers who only want to carry the minimum can pick something smaller
Price £164 (RRP £164) $216.07
Newcomer to the swim market Ulu have hit the nail on the head with the Aquatrek, a great hybrid of a backpack and a drybag ideal for anyone who likes to adventure both on and off land. The 36L buoyant AquaTrek has comfortable removable straps and works well as a rucksack for walking, and once you hit the water, air-tight zippers keep the contents fully dry. This versatility makes the bag ideal if you’re an open water swimmer but want to invest in kit that will also work well for other aquatic pursuits such as stand-up paddleboarding and sailing. At 1.4kg this design is much heavier than a simple tow float, but once in the water it’s buoyant enough that you can still swim comfortably while dragging it behind you. The AquaTrek is a more planet-friendly choice than some, as it’s made from recycled plastic bottles.
Material: Recycled plastic
Colours available: orange
Size: 36 litres
Pros: Eco-friendly fabric, removable back pad and harness, reflective detailing
Cons: Pricy, heavier than standard tow floats
Price £159.99 (RRP £159.99) $210.79
Lomo Eco Dry Bag Swimming Tow Float
Lomo have gone back to the drawing board and designed a more eco-friendly version of their classic Dry Bag Tow Float – this Eco model is made with biodegradable TPU, which is much more environmentally friendly to manufacture than PVC plastic but just as durable. Dual chambers make this bag very buoyant, and the dry bag section is roomy enough to carry bulkier kit such as spare layers or your flipflops. This is a larger bag than some tow floats, so there is a bit of drag in the water, but if you like to carry kit on longer swims it’s a solid choice.
Material: Biodegradable TPU
Colours available: orange
Pros: more sustainable than other plastic tow floats, plenty of room, good buoyancy
Cons: may degrade in bright sunshine faster than other models, some drag
Price £22.99 (RRP £22.99) $30.29
Orca Safety Buoy
Keep it simple with Orca’s streamlined new Safety Buoy, which is blindingly bright in the water and easy and intuitive to use on land. Nine litres of capacity is ideal for carrying smaller items but is still compact enough that you won’t notice you’re tugging this design behind you on longer swims. Orca’s safety buoy doubles up well as a night lantern too, thanks to slightly translucent outer walls, so it’s ideal for swimmers who like to head out for nocturnal dips. A version with an integrated hydration bladder is also available for £45 for anyone who wants to carry a water supply with them. If you’re shopping for a fuss-free all-rounder of a float, this is a good choice.
Colours available: orange
Size: 9 litre
Pros: Streamlined slim design, great for carrying just the essentials, good for night swims
Cons: no added features, plastic is not recycled
Price £35 (RRP £35) $46.11
Puffin Bubble Eco Recycled Tow Float
If you’re shopping for a small, simple tow float and want a design with good eco credentials, we rate Puffin’s dinky Bubble. This tow float is still big enough to fit your keys and your phone in easily, and bright and visible enough to signal your presence to others, but is designed to have minimal drag in the water, so you won’t feel encumbered as you swim. We like the well-placed grab handle, and the comfortable waist strap. The Bubble also stands out for its eco credentials – it’s made with recycled plastic bottles.
Material: recycled plastic
Colours available: orange/yellow
Pros: made with recycled plastic, useful handle, designed to have minimal drag
Cons: on the small side so can only take a few items, large logo
Price £20.99 (RRP £20.99) $27.65
What we look for in the best swimming tow floats
- Material: Most tow floats are made from plastic. If you buy new, we recommend picking a model that doesn’t use PVC, a type of plastic that is harmful to the environment. Or even better, choose a bag made with recycled materials. Planning to swim at night? It’s worth picking a float made with a slightly translucent material, so that you can pop a headtorch inside to make your float more visible in low light.
- Capacity: Horses for courses – floats come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, from dinky ones that’ll only hold your phone, keys and a few other essentials to big beasts like the Ruckraft, designed to carry a backpack or even a tent along with you as you swim. Figure out what you want to tow (most swimmers will want to consider bringing a phone, snacks, spare warm layers, a camera etc), and then shop accordingly.
- Accessories: Some tow floats are just a simple inflatable bag with a waist strap attached. Others have more bells and whistles (literally – some floats feature a built-in safety whistle) such as rucksack straps, extra handles, interior pockets and even a hydration bladder.
- Colour: Safety first – swimming tow floats are designed to keep you safer in the water by making sure you’re more visible to boats, other swimmers and anyone else on or near the water. They almost universally come in bright, almost fluorescent oranges, pinks and yellows for this reason.
If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading our other articles on open water swimming gear.
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