Swim Magazine

What swimming goggles should you buy?

Tinted, clear, polarised, open-water, even augmented reality… For a simple bit of kit, goggles can get pretty confusing. And if you’re wondering why some goggles are now commanding a price tag of £60-plus and whether they can really be worth it, or you’re baffled about the difference between pool and open-water goggles, then we’re here to help you find (and care for) the best pair for your needs.


WORDS: Helen Webster

What’s the difference between pool and open water goggles?

Put simply, pool goggles tend to be smaller and fit more closely in the eye socket. This is because in the pool you typically need less range of visibility (you’re only really looking at that black line). They will often be very streamlined for speed and efficiency, and the close fit will also mean they can handle dynamic movements like dive starts and tumble turns without loosening.

As for the tint, pool goggles will usually have a tint that will minimise the glare of bright artificial lights to improve eye comfort – look for a smoked or colour tint (which one you opt for has an element of personal preference) – although if your pool isn’t the brightest, you may prefer a clear option. Mirrored lenses are common in pool goggles, too, and their main aim is to deflect bright light away from your eyes, though many swimmers like the psychological advantage of competitors not being able to see their eyes (plus they look pretty cool, in our book).

Open-water goggles are typically larger than pool goggles and will be curved or faceted in a way that allows you a wider range of vision. In open water, you need to be able to see what is around you and ahead of you without having to move your head too much. Many swimmers prefer a larger lens in open water because it covers more of your face, which can be reassuring psychologically. Mask-style goggles are returning in popularity for this reason and are a far cry from the rather dated ones you may have grown up with. See the new Aquasphere Defy Ultra (from £90) for a ski-style high-tech swim mask.

Of course, these aren’t rules as such – there is no reason why you can’t wear an open-water goggle in the pool and vice versa, but if you are investing in something for performance it can be worth thinking about what you need and when it comes to open water, lenses become especially important.

What kind of open-water lenses should you buy?

The lenses in open-water goggles are often a deciding factor. For starters, you need them to fit well and have a good visibility curve, but the type of lenses will really make a difference to your swim. Think about where you swim, the type of water and the weather conditions you usually encounter, and, if you race, what kind of advantage the right tint may give you.
There are many smoked and coloured tints available in open-water goggles, but polarisation also comes into play. Much like the lenses in your sunglasses, polarisation makes things sharper and improves visibility, which can be invaluable in open water.

Just think about the clarity when you look at the sea with and without polarised sunglasses – goggles do the same thing. So, if you are swimming somewhere beautiful (on a swimming holiday, for example) then polarised and tinted lenses are likely to give you the best experience.

One thing to consider is how clear/ murky the water is where you swim, and also what kind of light conditions you experience. A good example is a long swim – the 3.8km swim of an Ironman triathlon, for example – where you start very early in the day and might be swimming for a couple of hours, possibly in changing conditions.

In such an event, you may have dazzling low sun to start with which can make sighting difficult, but conditions can change. In these situations, you will want a goggle that can block glare, but not be too dark if conditions worsen (common in the UK, though easier if you live overseas in a constant sun!). One solution may be to choose a chroma- reactive goggle like HUUB’s Aphotic (£49.99) or Zoggs’ Predator Reactor (£42), in which the lenses darken and adapt to brighter conditions – the same as reactive sunglasses. These can be a good investment versus buying multiple pairs of goggles for different conditions.

Finally, a note on colour. Tinted lenses will come in grey (smoked), blue, yellow, amber, pink, purple and more. Which colour you choose will again come down to the kind of conditions you swim in, as well as how bright the sun may be and what you prefer. A smoked tint, for example, will block bright sun, but the trade-off might be lack of visibility in murkier water. An amber tint, alternatively, may help visibility under water, but make sighting and spotting coloured buoys in the sun trickier. Check out individual brands’ lens options and recommendations for more.

How to check that your swimming goggles are a good fit

However fancy your goggles are, if they don’t fit you they will leak and feel uncomfortable. So how do you get a good fit? Try before you buy is always best if you can. The gasket size and shape (the soft rubber seal around the lenses which touches your face) makes a difference here. An easy test is to put the goggles on your face dry and without the straps. If they stay put for a couple of seconds just with a good seal, they’ll likely be a good fit.

To take a more high-tech approach, look for a brand with online face mapping (yes, really!). Zoggs offers several styles in either small or regular fit and if you go online, you can use your phone’s camera to map your face and get a recommendation for which size is right for you.
One new brand impressing us recently is LAB Swim, the name taken from its laboratory-tested products and materials, as well as its Labrador company mascot. Having researched pool goggles for competition, LAB Swim concluded the fit across the bridge is key. As such, its pool goggles come packaged with a range of four nose bridges as well as clear instructions on getting the right fit across the bridge and straps. At £35 for mirrored racing goggles and £30 for tinted training ones (which come housed in a nifty water bottle), the pricing is competitive too.

Taking things a step further is Magic5. This online brand will map your face using an app and then make a set of goggles designed just for you, so if you’ve had trouble finding goggles to fit and want to invest in a set that are bespoke, these may be the ones for you. We’ve tried them and had a good experience. They start from £58 for a smoked or clear lens – comparable with top-end goggles from mainstream brands – rising to £68 for a mirrored lens. Your face profile is kept on file so that you can order more pairs, and there is a good range of tints and options.

How to care for your swimming goggles

You’ve invested in a great pair of goggles? Great start. Here is how to make them last and perform as long as possible…

  • Take care when putting your goggles on and taking them off. Try not to touch the lenses as this can damage the anti-fog coating. Also, if you’re an open-water swimmer, never get lube on your goggles (or Vaseline etc) as you will never get it off again!
  • Rinse your goggles in clean water after use and then allow them to air-dry.
  • Store your goggles in the case they were supplied with, not in the bottom of your swim bag.
  • Use an anti-fog spray to replace the anti-fog coating as needed. Make sure to follow the instructions carefully.
  • Explore goggles with spare nose bridges and/ or straps available. Replacing these parts can extend the life of your product.

You can read more articles about swimming goggles, equipment and technique in the latest issue of Swim magazine.