Whether it’s clearly sighting a course, deciphering the lido clock or simply enjoying the scenery, having the correct prescription goggles is an essential part of your outdoor swimming kit. Simon Griffiths has your guide to the best goggles on the market, plus expert optometrist advice on how to make the right choice for you.
As a glasses wearer, I had long been frustrated by poor vision while swimming. At the pool, I struggled to see the pace clock or instructions written by coaches on white boards. In open water, I’d mistake people’s swimming hats for course marker buoys and miss out on interesting things to see around me.
Prescription swimming goggles changed all of that and I recommend them to anyone who struggles with the same problems. There is now a wide range of prescription goggles on the market to cater for most preferences and finding the right pair is fairly straightforward. However, there are a few things to take into account, so I asked practising optometrist James Sutton for advice.
Scroll down for our review of the best prescription goggles available right now.
How do I know what prescription to buy?
A spectacle prescription is usually written in the following form: sphere (or sph) / cylinder (or cyl) x axis. Usually the right eye is written first followed by the left, either one above the other or side by side, for instance: R -3.00 / -0.50 x 180 L -3.50 / -1.00 x 2
The sphere (or sph) is the main part of your prescription and will be ‘-’ for short-sightedness (myopia) and ‘+’ for longsightedness (hypermetropia). The cylinder (or cyl) is the secondary part of your prescription and refers to the amount of astigmatism you have.
Off-the-shelf prescription goggles only correct for distance, not astigmatism, so in order to calculate the power for your goggles, you need to take into account the two aspects of your spectacles’ prescription.
You should base the power for your goggles primarily on the amount of short or long sightedness you have. If you also have a moderate degree of astigmatism (up to 2.00), incorporate up to half of this to choose the most appropriate power. Most swimming goggles come in 0.50 or 1.00 steps so you may have to select the nearest power. Here are some examples:
-3.00/-1.00×90 – the best power would be -3.50 (-3.00 plus half of -1.00 so -3.00 plus -0.50)
-3.00/+1.00×90 – the best power would be -2.50 (-3.00 plus half of +1.00 so -3.00 plus +0.50)
+3.00/-1.00×90 – the best power would be +2.50 (+3.00 plus half of -1.00 so +3.00 plus -0.50)
+3.00/+1.00×90 – the best power would be +3.50 (+3.00 plus half of +1.00 so +3.00 plus +0.50
Unless you have a very basic prescription, most swimming goggles will not provide the same level of vision as your glasses or contact lenses. However, they will provide adequate vision for swimming.
Which prescription goggles do I buy if my astigmatism is more than 2.00?
None of the ‘off the shelf’ goggles correct astigmatism so if the majority of your prescription is astigmatism, or you have astigmatism over 2.00 dioptres, you will need a custom made product for best visual results.
What if my normal glasses are bi-focal or vari-focal?
Swimming goggles only correct for the distance but this is not usually an issue in the water. If seeing up close is important to you (if you want to see a lap watch perhaps) then it could be possible to buy a pair with a reading power in one eye and distance in the other.
What extra considerations do I need to take into account for open water swimming?
Ensure you have good fitting goggles as some open water locations can contain a variety of microbes that are less likely to be a problem in pools. A tint or mirrored finish to the goggles may also be beneficial if you are hoping for a sunny swim. Some swimmers prefer models that offer a wider view, while others like the comfort of swim masks.
Why not just wear contact lenses under normal goggles?
Wearing contact lenses under swimming goggles is not recommended because the chances of getting an acanthamoeba infection are greatly increased. Acanthamoeba is a waterborne microbe that is all around us, but when combined with contact lens wear and the weakening to the cornea in chlorinated water, the risks go up. Treatment for acanthamoeba involves using medical eye drops every hour, day and night, for a few days with the frequency between drops gradually decreasing over the first few weeks. Treatment usually has to continue for at least a year. Even with successful treatment permanent and debilitating visual lose can still occur.
Put to the test – the best prescription googles
Sutton SHARK prescription goggles
They say: The Sutton Swimwear SHARK prescription swimming goggle is made from a single moulded mount for added comfort and pre-fitted with corrective lenses. The goggle has smaller eye pieces making it ideal for small faces and a racing profile. The soft moulded mount improves comfort around the eyes and across the nose. The adjustable, split strap ensures great fitting.
We say: We liked these immediately. Basic, comfortable and robust, we found these perfect for pool training. The grey tint softens harsh lights and deepens blues, which helps when swimming outdoors too. As these are pre-moulded, there is no scope to change the nose bridge so they may not fit all faces. At £16.50, these are great value.
Sutton CORAL prescription goggles
They say: Popular brand Sutton Swimwear brings a new sense of style to optical goggles with a red mount and amber mirror finished prescription lenses. This model was sourced due to the popularity of mirror lenses in competitive swimmers. The stylish look and design of the CORAL will appeal to many swimmers but for those who swim outside (open air pools, open water swimming or triathlons) we are sure the tint and mirror finish will make them an essential accessory.
We say: These were our least favourite from the Sutton range we tried. This doesn’t make them bad. It’s more a reflection of the competition. They absolutely do the job they’re supposed to do and are reasonably priced at £17.50. We felt they weren’t as comfortable as either the Shark or Surf models.
Sutton SURF prescription goggles
They say: The Sutton Swimwear SURF prescription swimming goggle is made from a single moulded mount for added comfort and pre fitted with tinted, mirrored corrective lenses. The wide soft moulded mount improves comfort around the eyes and across the nose. The split headstrap has a secure rachet system on the side so once the perfect fit has been achieved, it will stay the same, use after use.
We say: Our initial reaction on seeing these was that they were big and ugly. After swimming in them, we became huge fans. These were our stand-out favourite of the three Sutton models we tried, especially for swimming outside. They were also the most comfortable, and we were pleasantly surprised at the price. Standard goggle wearers might be jealous.
This article originally appeared in Outdoor Swimmer, July 2023. If you buy a product through a link on this page we may receive a commission.
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