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Open water swimming goggles vs open water swimming masks – which should I choose?

While open water swimming goggles are lightweight, adjustable and streamlined, open water masks can offer a better fit, panoramic views and protection from wildlife and the elements. We weigh up the pros and cons of goggles vs masks and put the new Zoggs Horizon Flex Mask to the test.

“Of all the pieces of kit, goggles are the things that swimmers can become truly evangelical over. Costumes come and go, caps are two a penny, but once you find ‘your’ goggles, they can inspire true loyalty.”

Jenny Landreth, Swell: A Waterbiography

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You can enjoy outdoor swimming with very little kit, but a pair of goggles can make a huge difference to your swim-stroke and enjoyment. The main purpose for a pair of goggles is to keep water out of your eyes so you can see where you are going. Even if you have no intention of putting your face in the water, goggles will protect your eyes from chlorine, salt-water and dirt, and the the glare of the sun.

A splash, bit of chop or wave can leave you temporarily blind without goggles. While there is no real harm in getting water in your eyes, if you want to swim further and longer, a pair of goggles can help you get your head into the water and your body into a better swim position. A pair of goggles can completely change how someone swims. But with so many options and now, many new-to-market swim masks, what is better in open water?

Ella trying out the new Zoggs Horizon Flex Mask – Outdoor Swimmer Magazine readers get 20% off. Use Code HORIZON20 

The case for open water goggles

Unlike pool or competitive swim goggles which sit in the eye-socket, open water swimming goggles tend to have larger lenses and often sit on the bone around the eye. This enables a wider field of vision. Goggles for outdoor swimming have more choices of lens – tinted, mirrored or polarised for example.

Zoggs Predator range are a great example and one of our favourites. The Predator range offers tinted, mirrored and polarised lenses, which offer different advantages and levels of protection suited to different conditions and your personal preference.

“I like the way goggles make me feel,” says Outdoor Swimmer Founder and Publisher Simon Griffiths. “I use low-profile socket goggles for training and racing in the pool – they make me feel fast. For open water I wear goggles with bigger frames for wider angle view and better eye protection. Dark-tinted lens puts me in the mood for swimming in the ocean!”

It will come down to personal preference and the type of swimming you like to do, but most regular swimmers will be used to goggles and have a preferred brand and style. A good pair of goggles should stay put without leaving hard rings around your eyes after swimming. Many swimmers use the same type of goggles for pool and open water, but have different lens for swimming outdoors. Again, Zoggs predator range is a great type of goggle for this.

Advantages of open water goggles

  • Streamlined Design: Open water goggles are sleek and low profile which minimises drag and allows swimmers to glide through the water with ease. 
  • Bigger frames: Goggles designed for open water have bigger frames to enable a better field of vision. This is useful to be able to see other swimmers, navigation and siting and pay attention to surroundings. 
  • UV protection: Goggles for outdoor swimming feature UV protection lenses, shielding the eyes from harmful sun exposure but also ensures sun doesn’t obstruct your line of vision. 
  • Adjustable fit: Swim goggles have adjustable straps and nose bridges which allow a swimmer to tailor the fit to their face and head shape. 
  • Lightweight: Goggles are lighter and if fit well, won’t leak, or interfere with your swimming. There will be less drag and water resistance which can optimise speed and efficiency. 

The case for open water swimming masks

Swim-masks like the new Zoggs Horizon Flex Mask sit on the cheek bones and provide extra coverage of the face, but they don’t cover the nose like diving masks. They give a big field of vision and come in a range of lens for the outdoor environment.

“A swimming mask has its place too: it puts me into holiday mode swimming,” says Simon. “It’s what I’d wear if I wanted to slow down and look at the fish. It’s important that goggles don’t interfere with my swimming. I want to put them on and forget about them. It may just be a fault with my swimming technique, but I find I catch the inside of my arms on larger masks. I also notice the weight and extra drag.”

If you are new to outdoor swimming or have a loyalty to a particular brand and style of goggle, you may not have tried a swim-mask. Thomas Burgess, the second person to swim across the English Channel used a pair of motorcycle goggles in 1911 to help him tackle the chop and swell of the sea. Masks offer more coverage of the face which can help when swimming in cold water as well as give a much better view.

Advantages of open water swimming masks

  • Comprehensive coverage: Swim masks cover the eyes and part of forehead, which helps tackle that ice-cream headache that you can sometimes get in cold water. Using a mask with a swim hat can cover your forehead bone, protecting you better from the cold.
  • Curved lens: A good swim mask, like the new Zoggs Horizon Flex Mask, offers curved lens to create less drag and optimises speed in the water. 
  • Panoramic views: The biggest advantage of a swim mask is the view. Until you have tried a mask, you might not appreciate how much goggles can interfere with your field of vision. As well as better peripheral vision, you can also see better vertically. The Horizon Flex offers panoramic, unobstructed vision thanks to a conical lens profile.
  • Better fit: Often a mask fits better than a goggle due to the design which enables fit to a range of different face shapes and sizes. You also don’t get those panda-eye marks that goggles can leave you with. Zoggs Horizon Flex Mask takes this a step further thanks to ‘v-groove’ flex points on each side which enhance the masks flexibility.
  • UV protection for eyes and skin: With a greater coverage from a mask, you have more UV protection, particularly for the skin on the face, which is more sensitive and prone to sun damage.
  • Protection from wildlife and elements: Jellyfish and seaweed don’t worry you so much in a swim mask, with greater face coverage you are better protected. But also masks give a greater protection from wind and chop.
  • Enduring comfort: Masks are often more comfortable on longer distance swims as the soft seals rest your on cheeks and forehead rather than delicate eye tissue.

“Like Simon, I used to use a mask when on holiday when wanting to see more in the sea,” says Editor, Ella Foote. “But once I tried an open water mask in an event, I haven’t gone back to standard goggles. I loved how much more I could see, not just to the side of me but in front and below. I find it easier to sight, they fog up less than goggles and a mask is the best for colder water.”

Googles and masks have different benefits and will suit different swimmers. Goggles excel with streamline design making them ideal for competitive swimmers seeking maximum performance. Swim masks offer panoramic views and more comfort. The only way to find out what suits you, is to try some out. At a minimum you need your goggles to be watertight, not allowing water to seep in and comfortable – not too tight around your eye-socket. They also need a suitable lens. A clear lens is better for indoor swimming and tinted or mirrored lenses are best for bright-sunny days outside. 

As well as the practical reasons that goggles and masks offer, there are plenty of outdoor swimming spots worthy of eyewear! There is an alternative playground under the water, you might miss the most beautiful underwater gardens and brilliant wildlife, but more than anything – it is always better to see where you are going! If this has convinced you to try out a mask then why take a look at the new Horizon Flex Mask from Zoggs, with more details below.

Embark upon an adventure under the water’s surface with the Zoggs Horizon Flex Mask. Experience panoramic, unobstructed vision thanks to a conical lens profile. A soft skirt formed from a textured inner seal ensures non-slip security. The v-groove flex points are designed to offer a fantastic fit for a variety of facial profiles. Choose the Horizon Flex Mask for maximum visual clarity and enduring comfort in the pool and open water.

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Ella is renowned outdoor swimmer and journalist. As well as leading the editorial, digital and experiential outputs for Outdoor Swimmer she is also Director of Dip Advisor, a swim guiding business helping people enjoy wild water. Ella also teaches swimming to children and adults, is an Open Water Coach and RLSS Open Water Lifeguard.