June 6, 2022
If you’re looking for open water goggles, you have a vast number of brands, styles, colors, and fits to choose from. Really, the world is your oyster—whether you’re diving for pearls or just swimming across the lake.
Amid this sea of options, you’ll likely come across some styles and brands specifically labeled as being “designed for open water.” These open water swimming–specific goggles usually have larger lenses than what you’ll typically find in pool goggles. This design difference is meant to aid in peripheral vision, which may be more important from both a competition and safety perspective in open water.
Some open water goggles look almost like scuba diving masks, with big, television screen–style lenses that lend an aquarium feel to the underwater optics. The upside of these larger goggles is a bigger lens to see through. The downside is they serve up that much more surface area that can get scratched or fogged.
Goggles that aren’t specifically labeled as “open water goggles” can also work just fine in open water. In fact, some open water swimmers (myself included) are fiercely loyal to minimalist racing goggles. I use the original Malmsten Swedish low-profile racing goggle. These goggles just work for me and are super comfortable and don’t leak. But for many swimmers, these inexpensive, gasket-less goggles just don’t feel right, so find what does.
This likely means trial and error. In the post-brick-and-mortar-retail era, this may mean ordering goggles online and sending back the ones that don’t fit—or better yet, if you can afford it, donate the ones you don’t love to a local organization offering swimming lessons to underprivileged kids or your local adult learn-to-swim program. (To learn more, check out our review of open water goggles in the March-April 2018 issue of SWIMMER, of pool goggles in the November-December 2021 issue, and of prescription goggles in the September-October 2019 issue.)
When you try a new pair of goggles, make sure they’re fitted well and create a snug seal where they meet the skin around your eye. This will prevent leakage. Most goggles these days come pre-treated with anti-fog coatings, but this chemical layer can wear off over time. Several products on the market can help restore some of that anti-fog protection and prolong the life of your goggles.
The bottom line is, keep trying until you find the right fit. You’ll know it when you feel it. And then you’ll be brand loyal for life like the rest of us. (Show of hands, who’s got a drawer full of their favorite goggle at the ready just in case that style gets discontinued?)
Whichever goggles work for you, make sure you’ve got a spare pair when you’re heading out for a training swim and especially for any big events. Although it’s true that it’s best to not use brand-new gear on race day, a new pair of goggles is better than none if your tried-and-true ones suddenly snap. It’s also smart to have a couple of pairs on the go at any given time, so that if disaster strikes, the replacement pair is one you’ve already adjusted fully and gotten comfortable using.
When thinking about goggling up for open water, it’s also smart to make sure you have a range of different lens tints. On bright sunny days, a tinted or mirrored pair of goggles can protect your eyes and help you see where you’re going. On rainy days or at night, you’ll want clear or light-colored goggles to let in more light. Having a few options on hand at all times mean you’ll always have the right eyewear for the situation.
Elaine K. Howley is an award-winning freelance writer and editor specializing in sports, health, and history topics. Her work has appeared in numerous print and online publications including AARP.org, Atlas Obscura, espnW, and U.S. News & World Report. A lifelong swimmer who specializes in cold water marathon swimming, she has contributed to SWIMMER magazine since 2009 and USMS.org since 2012. Contact her via her website: elainekhowley.com
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Elaine K. Howley
Elaine K. Howley
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