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. When it’s time to look for your best triathlon swim goggles, there are five big rules:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
Best Workhorse Triathlon Swim Goggles
TYR Nest Pro, $20
These are the ones you buy a few pairs of (because they don’t cost an arm and a leg). Super super durable construction means you can abuse the heck out of these anti-fog coated beasts. There’s no nosepiece to accidentally detach or any way at all to pop out a lens. With that said, the fit is either perfect or not because of the lack of adjustability, and no polarized option is a little bit of a bummer. Also, if you swim in a kelp-y area, it’s easy to get some of the green stuff stuck in the sharp little nest parts—trust me.
Best Triathlon Swim Goggles for Clarity
Roka X1, starting at $22
The X1s definitely fall into the huge bug-eye category of triathlon swim goggles, but as a brand that prides itself in its eyewear, Roka’s lens clarity is almost too clear. Clear like “you’re not sure you want to see something in 4K because Ross and Chandler don’t look so good in full ultra HD” clear. A big fit might not be for everyone, and these are also not adjustable, but Roka has an excellent return policy, so don’t be afraid to try, buy, and deny. Also the X1 comes in a monstrous range of lens colors with a really cool comparison chart online.
Best Triathlon Swim Goggles for Comfort
Barracuda B300, starting at $46
Ok, bear with us on this one. Though not exactly the coolest goggles on the market, Barracuda’s amazing foam fit system has been around forever, and is a huge favorite amongst those older, grizzled veterans from whom we should all be taking advice. The soft, replaceable (this is unique) foam padding means that you don’t lose an eye in a face-to-elbow collision, and also ensures the likelihood of a good fit without something that takes over your whole face. For those who hate raccoon eyes and that suction-y feeling that can give you a headache, the B300s are known for a low-pressure fit. The only downside here is the price, but don’t forget with replaceable foam and included anti-fog drops, this could conceivably be a lifetime pair. Then you’ll be that crusty old vet giving out priceless pointers…
Best Triathlon Swim Goggles for Fit
TheMagic5, starting at $54
Custom fit goggles may sound a little too good to be true, but by using a scary-and-cool face-scanning app, TheMagic5 can create a custom gasket (note: not a fully custom goggle) that will fit any face. The only thing more amazing than the tech they use to produce it, is this American brand also somehow turns around their goggles in less than 21 days. The only caveats with this pricey option is that they offer only a very low-profile lens model, which is not always ideal for open-water. With that said, these are a slam-dunk pair for everyday pool swimming, but might not check off rules #2 and #5 above.
Best Triathlon Swim Goggles for Vision
Aqua Sphere Seal XP 2, starting at $30
Once more, prepare to receive no coolness points in your masters swim, but then again if you cared about what people thought, you guys probably wouldn’t have shaved your legs. This is another pair that the old salties will talk about with wistful admiration over how they never leak, fit lots of faces, and allow 180-degree vision. The monstrous coverage on these may take Rule #3 a little bit too far, but it’s tough to argue with something that performs so well—no matter how often people will ask you if you scuba dive. The joke will be on them when they’re swimming blindly in the open water.