Ask A Gear Guru: What Are the Best Triathlon Swim Goggles?

·4 min read

This article originally appeared on Triathlete

Not all gear is created equal. Not all swim gear is created (or useful for) triathlon. The best pair of swim goggles for a collegiate pool swimmer is absolutely not the best pair of swim goggles for an age-group triathlete. Our sport often requires some very specific stuff--and this doesn't just apply to the upper echelons of fancypants tri-bikes where we "need" a $15,000 superbike to complete a long-course event. We're not talking about "specificity" for the sake of justifying a huge marketing team and Another Thing To Own. Triathletes have unique needs, and sometimes you shouldn't just make do with a piece of gear made for one thing, but used for another. Especially when it won't cost you more than a few minutes of research and a little bit of smart shopping.

Just like how a pair of cycling shorts isn't generally the best pair of shorts for the bike leg of a triathlon, think about how completely different pool swimming is from open-water swimming in triathlon.

Pool swimming has:

  • Lane lines

  • A black line to guide you

  • Big walls to focus on

  • No flailing crazy person swatting you with every stroke

  • (Hopefully) clear water

  • Some semblance of order (no one swimming next to you)

Open-water swimming has:

  • Buoys placed in (often) non-linear patterns

  • Deep water

  • A sunrise that seems to come from every direction

  • Flailing crazy people swatting you with every stroke

  • (Often) murky water

  • Absolute chaos

So for pool swimming, a tiny little pair of goggles no bigger than contact lenses through which only a pinhole of light squeaks through is fine. But for open-water swimming, we need to see the whole world around us, we need to have as little distortion as possible, we need to see out of the water (sighting), and we need to expect that at some point, we will probably be hit in the face. (For help with picking the right goggles for the right day, the Gear Guru has made you this guide.) When it's time to look for your best triathlon swim goggles, there are five big rules:

  1. Fit is king – The nicest, most expensive, most fully featured pair of goggles doesn't mean anything if it leaks. Be prepared to send back, try out, or donate a few pairs of goggles before you get it right. There is an exception on the fit-roulette rule below, but even custom goggles aren't perfect.

  2. Go for coverage – In my mind, this is a matter of safety, but others like a bigger goggle for either comfort or because they fit their faces better. There are a few brands below with silly-huge goggles, which won't win you any style points, but longtime triathletes absolutely swear by them for a reason.

  3. Hydrodynamics? Meh – If you're chasing hundredths of seconds and trying to hit the Olympic qualifier in the 100m free, yes, you need a "fast" goggle. But don't forget in tri, we HAVE to sight to finish a race, and this is about the least hydrodynamic thing you could do. Bigger gains are to be had elsewear--like being able to see a buoy.

  4. One pair is ok, two pairs is just right – Once you find the right fit, buy another pair of the same goggle. Ideally the second pair would be darkly tinted if the first pair is light or colored, but either way, there is NOTHING more debilitating on race morning than a goggle issue or the wrong color lens. I always have at least two pairs for different conditions on race morning, and I'm always glad I do.

  5. Distortion sucks – Trust me, you need to be able to see clearly for that split second you lift your head up to sight. Or, you might need to be able to see another swimmer barreling toward you out of the corner of your eye. Fancy prisms and lens designs may look cool online, but they are not great for open-water swimming.

Without further ado, a few of our top picks for best triathlon swim goggles:

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