First, let’s go over some of the key features you'll find in goggles. It’s up to you to decide which ones matter to you:
Most goggles come from the factory with some kind of anti-fog coating but this coating is very delicate and will only last a week or two, for less than a dozen workouts typically. After that, you need to restore the anti-fog with drops, wipes or sprays. Wipes like "Foggies" will also clean off any other residue and won't require rinsing or drying time but the new Arena "no rinse" drops are also great. The latest now is an anti-fog treatment that is apparently restored by simply swiping your finger or thumb gently across the inside surface of the goggle. So far, I’ve only seen this on a few models including a model that Arena markets as a triathlon goggle.
Having said all of that, some goggles are better than others for maintaining anti-fog qualities but keeping your goggles in a protective case can help. For the most part, though, anti-fog treatments are generally delicate and don’t last long, sometimes only a few weeks. After that, you can count on having to use some kind of anti-fog treatment regularly, either every workout or every other workout.
Restoring anti-fog treatment. In addition to sprays, drops and wipes, another thing that I’ve had some success with is a thorough shampooing with chlorine removing shampoo. I’ve found that this helps to remove any buildup of material that becomes deposited on the inside of the lens. Just make sure you rinse your goggles really, really well.
Solutions while racing. Sometimes, you find yourself in the middle of a race, especially an open water swim where sighting is important. Obviously if you can’t see 2 feet in front of you, it’s difficult to navigate a swim course. Out on the water, you likely don’t have any anti-fog treatment tucked away. So, what do you do? Simple, roll over on your back, flip the goggles down and either spit in them or lick them. Then, rinse them, put them back on and get back at it. Yes, it’s gross but sometimes you have to focus on a result.
We've seen lots of brands come out with polarized goggles aimed at the open water swimmer but, quite honestly, most of us have swam for years without polarized lenses. Polarized lenses are great for reducing reflective glare off the water but it's only a benefit if the goggles fit and they stay fog-free. How important is it? You can absolutely live without it. In my 30 years in triathlon, I have still never had goggles with polarized lenses. There have been times where it would have been nice, but a little glare off the water hasn’t kept me from a finish line yet.
Now, this is a feature that is 100% absolutely critical as it is one of the key determiners of goggle fit. Some of us have smaller faces and some of us have bigger faces. So, when my training partners swear by a pair of goggles like the Tyr Special Ops which doesn't have an adjustable nose bridge, I just have to take them at their word that these are the best goggles ever. They will never fit me so I'll never experience the joy they claim to get from these goggles. Size matters and adjustability helps too.
Double straps, single straps, split straps. You might have a preference, you might not. Double and split straps when placed properly will help keep your goggles at the best angle for proper fit and security. A split strap will generally stay in place throughout your swim session, even in choppy water conditions and when swimming in close proximity with others, even getting jostled around a bit. With a double strap google, one strap should be placed a little higher than the other. If one strap slips off, the goggles might not be anchored properly and can leak or even get dislodged. Single straps aren’t common and might be seen on really inexpensive models.
This one is another feature that is critical to fit. In a nutshell, the best fit will be the goggle that most closely fits your orbital bone or eye socket. And that is the challenge: how do you know the right shape? You can try a mirror and using your fingers to lightly test it out. Or you can just start trying stuff on. Or you can use your own experience with goggles: what has worked and what hasn’t?
At a glance: Most of us will have an eye socket that is more ovalized vs rounded. Look for goggles that are of a similar shape as yours eyes in the spectrum of oval-round. More commonly, eye socket will be more oval to almond shaped than round. And very often, they will be slightly higher on the outside edge than the inside edge; there is commonly a slight upturn at the outside edge.
Top and bottom symmetry is another thing to look at. Some goggles are perfectly symmetrical with the top and bottom curves being the same. More often now, though, we see goggles that are flatter on the top with more variability in the bottom curve. Even as the bottom curves from the inside corner to the outside, we often see variability with the outside corner very often narrowing to a slightly upturned cateye. A really good example of this is “The One” from Arena.
Size matters: If you have a smaller face or a smaller head, look at the smaller size or a women's fit goggle when there are options.
You are unique: Some of us have deep set eyes, a pronounced brow bone, pronounced nose bridge or other unique qualities that make goggle fit more of a challenge. By trial and error, you will eventually learn what goggle features work for your unique issues. Here are some observations that might help:
Try them on before you buy if you can!
If they actually fit you properly, you don't have to have the goggles straps cinched very tightly at all. To test goggle fit do this without using the strap:
- For fixed nose bridge goggles, gently press goggles to your eyes and see if they will stay on with just a gentle amount of pressure.
- For goggles with an adjustable nose bridge, gently press one side of the goggle to your eye socket. If that works, try the other side. If both sides want to stay suctioned to your eye socket for a second or so, then try both together. If you can't get both sides to "stick", change the nose bridge to a smaller or larger one, depending on which way you need to go.
What you are looking for when you goggle this way--without the strap--is a slight suction, that the goggle will hold on to your face comfortably. It might only 'stick' for a second as the weight of the goggle will be more than the force of the mild suction holding it on but it success in this test is a pretty good indicator that the goggle will work well when you are swimming.
NO GUARANTEE: We can't guarantee 100% that the goggle that seems to fit in the store will never, ever leak, but trying a goggle before you buy is going to help you eliminate a bunch of ill-fitting goggles. If you feel any pressure in odd spots, if the goggle just doesn't seem to fit the contours of your face or if you have to press quite hard to get any suction, those are signs that this isn't the right goggle for you.
We're seeing more and more goggles that are marketed as open water goggles but what does that really mean? There are even goggles that are marketed as triathlon goggles. When some of the masters athletes among us started triathlon, way back in the ‘90s or even the ‘80s, there were very few if any tri-specific products in any category. Heck, even wetsuits were in their infancy at the time. Yet, we managed just fine. However, now that there are more options, is there something specific you should look at for an open water goggle? Or is it all a bit of marketing hype? I'll let you decide but here is what I would look for in a goggle I would choose for an open water swim:
- Wide field of vision. For sighting in open water swimming, you want to lift your head as little as necessary in order to minimize throwing off your body position. Good peripheral vision is also nice to have. Look for a goggle with a curved lens, ideally, and one that wraps around the side of your face a little. Mask style goggles work for some as well.
- Tinted. In sunny conditions, tinted goggles can be nice but sometimes, if I'm swimming in a place with lots to see like tropical fish and coral, light tint or clear lenses are nice. In lower light conditions, a yellow to orange tinted lens might be useful.
- Polarized. Nice to have at sunrise and sunset if you are swimming towards the sun.
- Anti-fog. Good luck with this one. Your best weapon here is going to be your chosen anti-fog treatment. Be aware that goggles will fog up more and faster in colder water (remember high school Physics class??) so just because something fogs up in open water doesn't mean the goggles are past their prime. And you might find that your goggles fog up in open water but not in the pool. Before you toss the goggles, try an anti-fog treatment, at least for your open water swim sessions.
I'll never forget trying a new pair of goggles for a race. I didn't bother with any anti-fog treatment. A friend offered to share their drops or stray but I said "Nope, don't need it." The goggle manufacturer claimed to have the best anti-fog treatment in the industry. Heck, those goggles made "Oprah's List" the year before. Well, before I hit the halfway point on my swim, I could hardly see a thing. There was only a small section at the top of one lens I could see through if I looked at a very specific goggle. In the middle of a race, the only solution is to roll over on your back and try to rinse them out. Well, that's easier said than done in a crowded open water swim race but that's what I had to do. I lost a bit of time sorting that out but that was probably better than going wildly off course and potentially losing more time.
However, all of those factors notwithstanding, fit trumps everything! I will always opt for a goggle that I am confident will stay in place for my swim. In the past, I’ve used clear goggles for open water swims in bright sun because that’s all I had at the time. I’ve used darkly tinted goggles for indoor swims in a dimly lit pool, just because it’s what I had. So, I opt for best fit as my first priority and the other features as lower priorities: they are nice to have but not critical. Everyone and anyone who's ever had to borrow a pair of goggles for a swim session knows, bad goggle fit can totally ruin your swim workout. Find a pair that fits and buy an extra pair when you can.
Split Strap Design:
Mask Style Design:
Double Strap Design:
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