Which goggles are best for open water swimming?
When it comes to picking swimming goggles for open water, the choice is so vast that it can be difficult to know which one to choose. And it is not a bad thing. The more choices we have, the best chance there is to find the perfect fit.
In this post, I will explain the different types of goggles there is to find and their different purposes. Once I have explained everything there is to know about swimming goggles, I will give you some ideas of popular models among triathletes and open water swimmers.
Why do we wear swimming goggles?
We wear goggles as eye protection. As well stated in this article written by eyes specialists at laserforeyes.com:
“Humans were not intended to live and function underwater the way many other marine mammals are. Thus, the human eye is not designed to work properly in water […] We simply cannot see properly while underwater without some type of protection. This is where goggles come in to help protect our eyes from being in contact with water and allow us to see properly while in the water. Combine that with the fact that many people need corrective lenses or contacts in order to see clearly, you simply cannot properly swim and move around in the water without goggles”.
When swimming outdoor, goggles also work as sun protection and thus prevent sun damage to our eyes.
The different types of swimming goggles
The brands themselves usually divide the goggles into four categories: the racing goggles, the fitness goggles, the triathlete or open water swimming goggles and the open water swimming mask. Let me explain the difference.
The pool racing swimming goggles
The pool racing goggles are designed to be hydrodynamic. They are of a small size to just fit around the eyes.
The fitness swimming goggles
The fitness swimming goggles are designed for the non-competitive swimmer and are more comfortable. They are a bit bigger than the racing goggles.
The open water swimming goggles
The open water goggles, or triathlon goggles, are designed specifically for open water swimming. They have a bigger size and are designed to be comfortable and give a good vision.
The open water goggle mask
Like the open water swimming goggles, the open water swim mask is designed to give an even better vision. It is almost like a snorkelling mask without a nosepiece.
Can’t we all swim with the same swimming goggles?
Each type of goggles has a different purpose
Technically, we could all swim with all types of goggles, both in swimming pools and in open water. To understand the purpose of each type of swimming goggles, you have to ask yourself: what am I as a swimmer looking for when using goggles? All swimmers use goggles to protect their eyes from the water and see better underwater. But the pool swimmer has different needs than the open water swimmer and triathlete.
The pool competitive swimmer
The pool competitive swimmer needs hydrodynamic and reliable goggles. It is very important the goggles stay on the face when the swimmer dives. In my own experience, the smaller and more profiled the goggle is, the less chance you have to lose it when diving or pushing off the wall. Bigger models create too much resistance. They either get water inside or the swimmer loses them.
This is why the Swedish goggles are still considered some of the best racing swimming goggles. Simplicity to the max. But to be honest, even if they look cool, they aren’t the most comfortable. No matter what pool swimmers try to make you believe.
The fitness swimmer
Usually, the fitness swimmer doesn’t need so much to use the starting blocks. The need for swimming goggles is mainly for comfort and decent vision. This is why the fitness goggles are bigger and with a comfortable, soft and flexible seal.
The open water swimmer and triathlete
What the open water swimmer needs the most is a good vision. Open water swimmers and triathletes are not following a black line at the bottom of the pool. They need to sight and be able to quickly see where they are going. The bigger the goggles are, the better the vision in and out of the water will be.
Triathletes and open water swimmers also need to take the weather into account. There is a drastic difference in the vision between a sunny day and an overcast day. On a sunny day, the reflection on the water can be particularly annoying.
The colour of the water is also to take into consideration. It is not quite the same to swim in clear water as in murky water.
What makes the perfect pair of swimming goggles?
Now that you know the different types and their purpose, you surely have a better idea of the water goggles you would like to choose.
There are still a few aspects to take into consideration before picking the perfect goggles.
Size and fit
The choice of size of swimming goggles depends a lot on the size of your head. I have a small head and often find that bigger models don’t suit me so well. They tend to leak, and they usually look funny on me. I often look at the junior section as they generally suit me well. More and more brands have women goggles that are smaller and fit better to the smaller heads.
A good old trick to know if your goggles fit you is to try them on without the strap. If the goggles stick to your face, they probably are the right size. Unless you are diving from a starting block, you should never have to tie your goggles to the point that it leaves marks around your eyes.
Once again, the days of swimming goggles leaving marks on your face should be over. Unless you’re a competitive swimmer, the choice of comfortable goggles is so vast now that you don’t have excuses anymore.
To choose the right comfort, I like to be able to touch them and try them on. Personally, I prefer an ultra-soft joint. Visual comfort is also important in my opinion. Some models sometimes have weird angles and colours that can be awkward while swimming. It all depends on the shape of your head and the location of your eyes. Try them on and check if there are any awkward things in your field of vision.
The more I practice outdoor swimming, the more are I think that swimming pool goggles are overrated. I am now deeply convinced that swimming indoor with mirrored goggles is just for the looks. They are however perfect for outdoor swimming pools on a sunny day.
Personally, when the water is murky, I always choose goggles with clear lenses. No matter how the forecast is. In the winter, the Adriatic Sea is murky to the point that I can’t see my watch underwater. Adding darkness with tinted goggles gives a feeling of claustrophobia. The same happens with murky lakes.
Mirrored, polarized and photochromic swimming goggles
When it comes to the weather, the swimming goggles work the same as sunglasses. Pretty much all goggles have UV protection, even the clear lenses ones. It is always good to check before purchasing, of course.
The mirrored and polarized swimming goggles work to reduce brightness and glare. The photochromic swimming goggles can be considered the perfect goggles as their lenses react to the sun’s rays for a darker tint in brighter conditions.
In the end, the perfect swimming goggles will depend on your personal preferences. Whether you prefer them big, small, dark, mirrored or funky, it is all up to you and your uniqueness.
Can I use pool swimming goggles in open water?
Of course! In fact, a lot of triathletes and ocean swimmers like to use pool racing goggles in open water. It always takes a bit of time to get used to a new type of equipment. When you have used small goggles for so long, it is not easy to use bigger ones and vice versa.
Can I swim with a mask and a snorkel?
Yes! In fact, it is easier to swim with a snorkel and mask, no need to turn your head to breathe. And with the snorkelling mask, you don’t have to worry about getting water through your nose.
You can also swim with a snorkelling mask and a front snorkel. Or with swimming goggles and a snorkel, with or without a nose clip. There are no rules.
Just be aware that snorkels are not allowed in open water swimming races.
Triathletes and open water swimmers favourite brands and models
My personal choices and why
As you might have understood, in my opinion, there isn’t one pair fits all type of goggles. I own several pairs depending on where I plan to swim.
My favourite swimming pool goggles
When I train in the pool, I wear racing goggles. My favorite model is from the Australian brand Vorgee. The Missile Fuze is my ultimate favourite for outdoor swimming, and it also comes with clear lenses for swimming in indoor pools. I like this model because they fit me perfectly. The tint of the Fuze model is just perfect, neither too light nor too dark. And the fact that they come in loads of different fun colors makes you want to use them every day.
Vorgee isn’t easy to find outside Australia, so my second favourite model is the Arena Tracks, which also comes with different types of lenses for outdoor or indoor swimming.
My favourite open water goggles
As a pool swimmer, I started ocean swimming with pool goggles. The more I practice outdoor swimming, the more I tend to go for bigger ocean swimming goggles. In the winter, I use exclusively clear lenses goggles. My pair is the Cressi Thunder which I think is a good pair. I’ve used them for two years now and the lens is showing some wear, but they are still decent.
In the summer, I use the Nabaiji Spirit from Decathlon. They come in different sizes and with different lenses. The size small is perfect for me, and I really like the mirrored lenses as they reduce glare but are not too dark. I haven’t used them long enough to say if they are good in the long term.
It is always good to keep in mind the purpose of each swimming goggles types. Buying the same goggles as your friends just because they are their favourites might not work for you. The most important factor is the fit. And because we all have different faces, we should all have different favourites.
Choosing the type of goggles and the tint is really a question of preferences. Buy a few different pairs and try them until you feel which ones are the perfect fit for you.