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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.