Picking the right Goggles for swimming

From the smallest Swedes to full-face open water swimming goggles, there is a pair to meet your requirements. But if you are racing Open water, don’t forget to take a spare!

Triathlon goggles are an essential part of your swim kit and the rise in participation in open water swimming and triathlon has created a wide range of styles and lenses, so understanding which type suits you best will improve your performance and let you stay comfortable in the water.

The main purpose of your goggles is to protect your eyes whilst you are underwater, so the need to be secure, comfortable and provide good visibility, but open water swimming presents different challenges so you need to pick goggles which suit the type of swimming you do.

But, like with everything from Bikes to wetsuits, fit is everything. If your goggles don’t fit they will leak, which defeats the purpose, and you won’t use them, so try before you buy and make sure you get a pair that you can wear comfortably for an hour in open water.

Ideally, you want different goggles for different environments, but if the budget is an issue, then pick those that meet most of the following criteria based on your own needs

Comfort in the water

Keeping your head underwater reduces your frontal surface area and improves your speed and efficiency, so you have to be comfortable getting your face wet. Water in the eye isn’t just uncomfortable, there is a psychological connection between getting water in your eye and fear of drowning which can lead to panic in the water. If this is the case with you, a mask or larger goggles may help you overcome this and let you get your head under water

Water type

The ability to see underwater will also help to alleviate fear, so anti-fogging lenses and getting the right fit will help you keep the goggles on regardless of whether you’re in the pool or out at sea! Don’t forget that open water swims, especially in the sea can be choppy and a more robust seal and the strap will keep the goggles on your head throughout. Just see how long your beloved Swedish goggles will last with all those legs and arms flailing about!

Time of day

Sighting is a key skill in open water swimming, as you don’t have a convenient line on the bottom to guide you along so you need to consider your vision out of the water as well as in it. Where traditional goggles were predominantly clear, modern open water swimming goggles will have polarised, mirrored or tinted glasses for a range of light conditions. The colour can also have an effect, with some being more suited for times when the sun is low in the water, as the denser atmosphere changes the colour of light being transmitted by the sun.

Any sense coating that reduces light transmission suitable for bright sunlight will make the goggles seem dark when swimming inside, however.

Goggle Shapes

There are three general types of triathlon goggles

Traditional pool/racing goggles

Characterised by thin straps and the smallest eyecups. They are designed to offer the least possible drag in the water which increases your speed. The ultimate expression of these is the Swedish Goggles, which are very small plastic eye cups held together with elastic and need to be constructed individually to ensure a tight fit. Gasket goggles are slightly larger and will have a foam/rubber gasket around the edge, which will make them more comfortable.

Whilst these are the lightest weight goggles, they will not have the same seal strength as larger goggles so could potentially be knocked off and tend to have a relatively narrow field of view.

Speedo offer a great range, as do Arena

Open Water/triathlon goggles

These are larger than the Racing goggles, and incorporate a larger seal skirt around the eyecups, ensuring a firmer fit. The larger size also allows a wider field of view which is more suited to open water, where an awareness of your surroundings is more important. The straps tend to be thicker and will often be ratcheted to allow adjustment on the fly, which helps if you need to wear a thicker swimming hat for cold water.

These goggles are not too large though, so are still suitable for pool swimming although not as streamlined as the pure racing goggles. Aquasphere are a perennial favourite here, especially the Kayenne range

Swimming masks

At the largest extent are swimming masks, which are heading up towards snorkel territory. These goggles are intended for extreme conditions or people who are uncomfortable in the water and find it difficult to get their heads underwater. These are extremely stable and won’t be knocked off easily, making them ideal for nervous swimmers, but the large size tends to trap air, so they can get foggy if used in pools.

They aren’t aesthetically as appealing as the others, but if you are very nervous in open water, they will help you relax.

Key Swimming goggle features

Photochromatic lenses.

Photochromatic lenses will react to the level of light becoming darker in bright light.

Anti-fog coating.

A coating added to lenses to reduce the likelihood of fogging on the inside of the lenses.

Polarised lenses.

Polarised lenses reduce the glare from bright sunlight, making it easier for your eyes to adjust when you lift your head out of the water. They also make it easier to see through the surface of the water from above.

Anti UV coating.

This coating reduces the amount of UV light which passes through, which helps to reduce damage to the eye. Think sunscreen for your eyes!

Mirrored lenses.

An alternative approach to reducing brightness is to add a mirrored coating which reduces some of the light transmission.

Hydrophobic coating.

This means water repellant, literally “scared of water”. This is a property of the lens which promotes water streaming off the goggles.

Low Profile.

Smaller, more streamlined goggles which will reduce drag in the water

Polycarbonate lenses.

A hard, tough plastic which will reduce the likelihood of glasses suffering impact damage

Field of vision

The area in front and to the side that you can see through the glasses. The greater the field of vision the more

But the most important advice regarding Goggles – Buy two! The last thing you want to do is be stuck without goggles because the straps broke just before a race