Tag Archives: swimming goggles

How To: Swedish goggles (fit and review)

I’ve written a couple of previous annual posts reviewing various goggles, (one, two) that I’ve used, of which it seems there have been quite a few. (There are few greater swimming pleasures than wearing brand new goggles!)

I am a relatively recent user to Swedish googles (aka Swedes), I’ve been wearing them for less than a year. I had worn some Tyr Socket Rockets many years back but they didn’t last very long and never made it in a serious google review here. The Socket Rockets were possibly the coolest looking goggs on the market back then. They worked fine for about two months before starting to leak.

The Tyr’s were a modified-Swedish design (my own term), utilizing the socket design of Swedes but with a thin layer of silicon as a gasket. During last year’s open water season I was given a pair of modified-Swedish design goggles to try from a new American google company called Nootca. These were similar to the Socket Rockets in also having a thin silicon layer. They are also anti-fog and I choose a clear pair. I immediately liked them and have been using them for pool training until they began to approach end of life.

Only nine months use, so why are they dying? Mea culpa, partially. They suffer from two problems that most of my goggles have shared.

Anti-fog goggles

1. We all know anti-fog is a bit of a misnomer in goggles. It’s never 100% effective. With older goggs whatever is present deteriorates and more and more saliva or otherwise is needed. In the pool I take my goggs off a lot so I’m constantly licking the inside to clear them again.

2. The primary reason most of my goggles and swim caps die is mould (aka mold/ fungus)! I am not good at remembering to dry out my stuff after swimming, and combined with the damp of my swim bag, and the low ambient temperatures here in Ireland, means mould will eventually build up.

Nootca goggles with mould
Nootca goggles with mould. Time to throw out the goggles when you can taste it!

Regardless of what swim companies say, silicon is not completely mould-resistant and must be kept dry to be effective. Swedish goggle wearers tend to be evangelistic about them. In the Sandycove group Finbarr and Craig wear them. But here’s something that I confirmed with a few different Irish swimmers: Many of us had never heard of them until fairly recently (the last five or six years due to swim blogs). What I take that to mean is we may have heard the casual term sometime but we never saw them physically, never saw them in use in the local age-group club, never knew what Swedes meant, and probably all dismissed brief mentions of the term. Yet it does seem that they are hugely popular in the US where they are primarily used amongst competitive and former competitive swimmers.

So what are Swedes? Swedish googles are so-called because they are made by a Swedish company called Malmsten, who only have 16 employees, since the mid-1970’s. They are the simplest available goggle on the market. And the most complex. AND the cheapest. And, depending on your viewpoint, the best. They are in many ways the epitome of the Do One Thing and Do It Well and/or Swedish Minimalism schools of design.

Swedes out of the box & unassembled
Swedes out of the box & un-assembled

Swedes use a bare hard-plastic eyepiece. No silicon or rubber gasket. No case. They use string as the nose-bridge. You assemble them to your own supposedly perfect and unique fit.

The Australian company Speedo, the world’s biggest (somewhere between 100 and 250 employees, ten times the size) and oldest (99 years) swimming company, synonymous with the sport must have found the pervasive use of Swedes at Olympics and World Championship by many elite swimmers to be a significant marketing problem, because in the last few years they released Malmsten goggles under the Speedo label, and they are now finally and widely available to us commoners.

Ah, but that initial fitting. Well, that’s where the dissatisfaction comes with Swedes. With a pair of Aqasphere Kayenne open water goggles you open the box, slip them on and pull the strap for your fit and you are done. A button loosens the strap if you are having a massively-distorted-head-day, as we all apparently have had occasionally!

I like tool shops. I like tool catalogues. I like tools. I like the specificity of a tool designed to do a specific job. I like the heft of a drill, the knurled grip of a screwdriver in my fingers. A blue-steel standards-compliant set-square is to me a thing of purity and beauty, even if I am not a carpenter. It has an exact purpose for which it must be manufactured exactly and to which it should be applied exactly. Therefore I am attracted to the idea of Swedes, the simplicity and clean lines, the stripped-down but apposite functionality.

To get Swedes to function (i.e. seal) properly, you may need to take a different approach. You may have regular symmetrical ocular orbits, into which the googs sit perfectly. I don’t and that was part of my problem. Goggles leak mostly into my right eye, my eye socket must be less symmetrical under the skin. The approach below works well for me and isn’t in the very basic instructions Speedo include in the box.

The injection (flash) line is the very fine while line peeling up off the bottom lip
The injection (flash) line is the very fine while line peeling up off the bottom lip

1. Injection-moulded plastic produces a fine line of plastic where the mould halves meets called flash, familiar to model-makers. Take the back of a scalpel or box-cutter and scrape along this seam until this seam is removed.

2: Using an emery board (nail sanding board) sand along the seam until the edges are smooth under your fingertips.

3: Do a quick test of the eyepieces onto your eyes. Suction holding the briefly eyepieces in place show how they fit.

Nose string being attached
Nose string attached to one side

4: Run the string through one side and extrude both sides through the rubber tube.

5: Run the string through the other side from the top of the hole.

6: Loosely tie the ends of the string together by a simple over-and-under (the very first part of a bow-knot that you use to tie shoelaces) and slip onto your eyes. You can squint to hold the eyepieces in place if necessary, or hold them in place while someone helps. Pull the string a little tight but not to pull the eyepieces closer together than they already are.

Loosley tying the nose string
Loosely tie the nose string

7: Complete the knot by another over-and-under in the opposite direction to the first. This is a simple and secure square knot.

8: Rotate the completed knot back into the rubber nose-piece.

9: Insert the strap into the two side holes of the eyepieces and tie in place around your head. DON’T tie it too tight or it’ll be too uncomfortable and may in fact leak.

Square_Knot_animated

10. Once you have your fit I’d recommend  that you test them in the poor for a couple of days while having a backup pair ready. I’ve found that if I don’t have another pair to compare strap length against, I’ll usually tie them too tight initially. Some goggles like Finis or the Nootca’s use a plastic buckle that makes adjusting straps easier than retying them.

I’ve found the effective seal of the Nootca and the Swedes to be about the same, which is better than any other googles for the pool. Except my one pair of now retired and sadly irreplaceable in Europe, View Fully Sick goggles from Oceanswims.com which are just too expensive to get shipped to Ireland.

I don’t completely buy the “100% fantastic” recommendations but I do appreciate them. In a purchase of two pairs of Speedo Swedes, one clear and one mirrored, the anti-fog in the mirrored pair lifted off the plastic and cracked immediately that I got in the pool while wearing them. Also I think the mirrored are too dark for most Irish days and certainly too dark for the pool. The clear and blue pairs have excellent visibility however. I also still have other goggles that I like and use, such as Vanquishers and Lightnings.

Swedes are mould resistant, though if you look carefully at the Nootca’s, mould still builds up slightly in the angle between the front and side so it is likely to also do so with the Swedes. (Yes, I do rinse them daily). If anyone has any good tips for control of mould on swimming gear in a damp country apart from air-drying everything every day, or ways to clean the inside of goggles, please let me know. (I have used a slice of potato or carrot, yes really, to clean off some of the much that builds up without destroying the goggles).

Take your time to get Swedes properly adjusted though and you will certainly have a pair of googles that will be excellently suited to all uses, pool and open water and that will last longer than any others for significantly less cost.

Second (updated) goggle review

I’ve previously reviewed Aquasphere Kaiman and Kayennes for open water swimming and that I hadn’t previously been successful with using low profile goggs. I had settled into my Aquasphere use over years.

After I wrote that article Paul Ellercamp of oceanswims.com in Australia sent me a pair of his favourite goggles, low-profile competition/racing View Visio aka Fully Sicks. Paul said they lasted him very well (the biggest problem with the Aquaspheres was their shortened lifespan) and that they fit perfectly out of the box with no adjustment. And he was correct. Despite my oddly-shaped noggin and huge nose, they also fit me perfectly immediately. They had excellent visibility and unlike some mirrored goggles, weren’t too dark. I love these goggs. Damn you Paul Ellercamp, for getting me used to great goggles! :-)

Visio View Fully Sick mirrored goggs

I swam in them in pool and open water from November until last month when the heavy usage was starting to take its toll with the mirror finish wearing off. I went looking for a replacement pair but discovered that View only sell in the US or Australia and with rather expensive shipping costs, which would have made replacements almost the cost of the new Speedo Fastskin goggles, i.e. the most expensive goggles on the market, so I had to discard the idea.

The advantage was that I now had a good idea that competition goggles would fit me fine, and were in fact quite good for open water if you were comfortable with them, and that I knew which type to choose.

Thanks to two vouchers for writing an article for an online swim shop and a gift voucher, I selected a few pairs that seems closest.

All these goggles come with adjustable nose bridge pieces. Most were tested over the course of a few weeks, in both pool and sea.

Maru Pro mirrors

I started with a pair of Maru Pro competition googles. Maru are especially popular as suppliers of swimming equipment and basic goggles and caps to pools for kids in Ireland and the UK. They are obviously trying to break into a wider swimming market. They were also the cheapest of the lot.

Unfortunately while the fit was okay, they were far too dark. It was like swimming just before dark. The red plastic confused my peripheral vision, I couldn’t tell if some was passing me in the lane and even my arm was barely visible. The gold trim and straps may appeal to some kids people. I am not one of them.

After staring at all the range available in a Cork sports shop (which shall no longer named), most of which were useless, I picked up a pair of Finis Thunder goggles, black with smoke lenses (almost clear). I would have chosen a pair of Mirrored ones, but the only pair were accidentally on the shelf after being returned for a broke strap.

Finis Thunder, Black with Smoke lenses

I loved these. They were very similar to the Fully Sicks. But the end of the strap snapped  off the second day. That pair that were returned to the sport shop obviously weren’t an aberration.

But they were comfortable with fantastic visibility, so I got a pair of the mirrored Jade ones online using my voucher. It got odd. The mirrored pair of the same goggles just wouldn’t seal. I took them to the pool where they leaked immediately. I did get them to fit over a couple of days by changing the nose piece … twice. So on one pair I use a medium bridge, and on the other an Extra Large.  Though once I had them fitted, the visibility on the mirrored pair was fine, clear and not too dark. When I added a third pair, I needed another different size nose bridge, large. They look great but this is typical of my experience with Finis products. Their design is unparalleled, but they are regularly let down by reliability (SwiMP3 which died, PT paddles which split, & now odd goggles). In this case at least, spare straps aren’t a big deal.

Since the first Thunders had been so good, I ordered one pair of Finis Lightning googles, which were only available in blue when I was purchasing.

Finis Lightning Blue

I think the Lightnings are meant to be slightly above the Thunders (duh). These were fantastic. Similar to the Thunders, the translucent white silicon gasket of the seal was softer. These were super comfortable and perfectly fitting immediately, with the same great visibility of the Thunders.

I still had a pair to test. You’d probably never do this, buying a bunch of goggles at the same time to try them out, without having a gift voucher of some kind. I’ve certainly never done it before, but I found some great advantages from doing it. And it made me wonder, if then I was going through the fifteen or so goggles I tried in 12 months when I was starting, if everything I’d chosen had been just leisure swimming goggles. They’re all long gone so I don’t remember.

Speedo Vanquishers

The last pair was the famous Speedo Vanquishers. Renowned in competitive swimming, I bowed to finally try them (I kind of dislike Speedo’s synonymous-with-swimming branding, so had restricted myself to Speedo Endurance swim briefs, the best chlorine togs, bar none, that I’d tried).

They were worthy of the reputation. These were also great, comfortable, the blue frame and lens were a little dark for the pool but the fit of the nose bridge was better than any of the others, due to that slight concave shape on the bottom.

So out of all, only the Maru Pros failed. The rest were all good or great. I went through this so I could get at least two pairs tested for Manhattan, with which I would be most comfortable.

In the usual pre-swim panic, I’ll probably have brought most to New York. My first choice will be the Finis Lightnings if the day is brighter and possibly the Speedo Vanquishers as the probable choice for a duller day.

Update: I’ve been using each pair of Thunder and Lightning googles now for over a year in open water, the blue Lightning on dull days and the mirrored Thunders on sunny days, and both are excellent recommended with the Lightning placed ahead as the Thunder does occasional separate at the nose-bridge when putting them on (but never in the water).

Toothpaste

I bought a new pair of Aquashere Kaiman’s before Christmas, my default goggles, (how many pairs have I bought?) but when I got around to trying them the anti-fog coating was defective or hadn’t been applied, and I hadn’t the receipt to return them.

The normal procedure is to spit on the inside but for some reason this didn’t seem to work, possibly because by mistake I picked up a mirror pair and they are very dark anyway. But it didn’t work in either sea or pool. I went out to the Metalman, and could only barely see where I was going.

So there are 2 other options:

1; Rain-Ex, the car windshield rain repellent stuff. (I haven’t tried it).

2: The second is toothpaste. (Ordinary white toothpaste, not gel). Rub a little ball onto the dry inside of the lens for a few minutes each side, and briefly rinse off.

Update: The toothpaste worked perfectly. The googles are now anti-fog again.