FEATURES,  View from the Water

Dealing with goggle troubles

There aren’t many items of kit that are truly essential for open water swimming but goggles come close. You can do without them but it’s usually much more pleasant to swim with them: you can see better, they reduce the risk of infection from dirty water and they eliminate eye soreness.

But their use isn’t always trouble free. They leak, mist up, interfere with your eyelashes, leave rings around your eyes and are sometimes uncomfortable. If the first two happen during a race or an event, it can make a significant difference to the outcome.

Advice we’ve heard from professional triathletes is to use a new pair of goggles for every race to ensure the best clarity of vision. It’s true that there’s nothing quite like using a shiny new pair of goggles but this isn’t really a viable economic strategy, even for us and the number of pairs we get to review. I prefer to reserve a trusted favourite pair for events and use them as many times as possible. My current pair are well into their second season and have only once let me down.

Last Saturday I took part in the Great Newham London Swim. As I started swimming the right eyepiece of my goggles flooded with water, which was a problem on a few fronts. Firstly, I wasn’t keen on having my eye irrigated by docklands water. Secondly, I’m more short-sighted in my left eye than my right. Although I use prescription goggles, this meant sighting was going to be harder. Thirdly, it was uncomfortable.

Not only was the eyepiece flooded, it was also flapping and threatening to dislodge the left goggle too. However, I’d started at the front of the pack and didn’t want to stop and be swum over by the other 100 people in my wave so I put up with it for about 150m to give myself some space, then turned onto my back, emptied the water quickly, re-fixed the eyepiece and carried on. Unfortunately, a few strokes later the same thing was happening again. Something had clearly gone wrong. At around the half way mark I stopped completely, removed my goggles and put them on the other way around (mine are symmetrical so it doesn’t matter which way up they go). I hoped this might create a better seal but instead it just shifted the problem to my left eye, which was only a marginal improvement. There was nothing else to do but swim on and put up with it but this did lessen the enjoyment of what should have been a perfectly nice swim around Royal Victoria Dock on a bright sunny day.

On another occasion a few weeks ago I picked up the wrong pair of goggles by mistake – an old over-used pair that misted up after a few seconds. I could barely see anything. I stopped and rinsed them and tried spitting in them but nothing helped. The only way I could find my way around the course was to draft another swimmer extremely closely and hope he was going the right way. Close to the end I remembered an old trick and partially filled each eye-piece with water. It wasn’t comfortable (and I didn’t like the idea of murky lake water in my eyes) but it cleared the lenses enough to see the finish line.

Cassandra Patten recommends carrying a spare pair of goggles inside your costume, which is certainly an option but not always practical if you’re wearing a wetsuit or very small briefs. If you’re doing a supported swim (e.g. the English Channel) make sure your crew is carrying spares. But what else can you do? Here are our suggestions.

Problem Minimise risk Emergency action
Water in your goggles
  • Use a trusted pair
  • Ensure fitted properly
  • Make sure no hair or part of your swim cap is caught under seal
  • Avoid getting Vaseline or anti-chafe lotion on seal
  • Try wearing the goggles under your swimming cap
  • Roll onto back, swim with one arm and use the other to gently lift lens and let out the water.
  • Consider ignoring if just one eye.
Persistent leakage
  • As above
  • Remove and re-seat goggles to create a better seal
  • Tighten straps (easier with some goggles than others)
  • Use a spare pair if carried
  • Consider ignoring if just one eye
  • Last resort – abandon goggles
  • Keep your goggles in good condition. Rinse after each use and keep in a bag or case.
  • Use an anti-mist spray*
  • Smear a drop of shampoo or detergent on the lenses and rinse before swimming**
  • Fill goggles with water and let it out again – sometimes cooling the lenses down is enough.
  • Let a small amount of water into the lenses. As this sloshes around it removes the mist
  • Find a style of goggle you like and that fits your face
  • Well-fitted goggles don’t need to be excessively tight to prevent leakage
  • On long steady swims you can usually afford to loosen the goggles compared to a sprint with a dive start
  • Think about something else
Panda eyes
  • Try using a larger frame size or even a mask
  • Take pride in your post-swim appearance
Interfere with eye-lashes
  • Stay calm and keep swimming

*We’ve heard reports of eye injuries from using anti-mist spray so ensure to rinse properly

**Goggle manufacturers usually recommend never to touch the lens as this damages the anti-mist properties. Our experience is that the anti-mist properties decline over time and a spot of shampoo revives it nicely. Rinse well and never use conditioner.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.