The eyes have it Finding the best goggles

Sure, you can swim without goggles . . . if you don't mind swimming blind. Goggles are a must-have, both for your swim training and for the event, and the only way to find a pair that works for you is through trial and error. Goggles are one of your cheapest pieces of equipment, but they can be one of the most frustrating to get just right. Why? Because you can't tell if your goggles will leak, fog, or fall off as you dive in until you try them in the water

Goggles protect your eyes from chlorinated pool waters or the saltwater of an open-water swim, and they allow you to see better in the water. Seeing better isn't a luxury — it's a necessity. If you can't see well during your swim, you won't be able to spot the buoys to stay on course.

Goggles are made of lightweight plastic. Each eyepiece on a pair of goggles features a foam, rubber, or gel cushion to create a watertight seal between the goggle and your ocular bone (the bone around your eye) to prevent leaking. Still, even with the seal, goggles can leak, fog, or just fall off.

You'll find many sizes and styles of goggles, but they all fall into one of two main categories:

✓ Traditional goggles or race goggles (shown in Figure 3-3) cover each of your eye sockets individually and sit close to your eye. Race goggles come in a variety of styles, but they're all small, light, and low in profile to reduce drag. Lens sizes vary, with some offering better visibility than others. The amount of gel or rubber around the lens varies as well; less rubber means less drag but also less comfort. Race goggles are inexpensive, starting at only $6.

✓ Triathlon masks (shown in Figure 3-3) cover your entire eye area, including the bridge of your nose. Triathlon swim masks are larger than goggles but not as big as a scuba mask. The size makes them more comfortable to wear and offers better peripheral vision, allowing you to easily see other swimmers and buoys, and some triathletes find they leak and fog less than traditional goggles. Masks cost around $12 to $35.

Treating your wetsuit right

✓ Use only lubricating products designed for wetsuits. Do not use petroleum jelly, cooking spray, or other oils on your wetsuit — they can cause the neoprene to break down and crack.

✓ After each use, rinse your wetsuit with cool and soft water, being sure to get any sand or salty water from the teeth of the zipper. Do not put your wetsuit in a washing machine.

✓ Use a wetsuit-specific cleanser, if necessary, and rinse off your wetsuit as soon as possible after your swim. Leaving your wetsuit in a crumpled ball will cause mold to develop, ruining your suit.

✓ Hang your wetsuit on a thick plastic hanger to air-dry. Never put your wetsuit in the dryer.

✓ Take your wetsuit off the hanger when it's dry to prevent it from stretching at the shoulders.

✓ Store your wetsuit, lying flat and inside-out, in a cool, dry location.

Figure 3-3:

Traditional goggles or race goggles, center, are available in a variety of sizes and cover each of your eye sockets individually. Swim masks, right and left, are larger than goggles and cover the entire eye area and the bridge of the

Photo by Ed Pagliarini

Regardless of the type of goggles you choose, look for:

✓ Easily adjustable head straps: Goggles head straps adjust at the temple to give you a snug fit. Goggles in the $25 to $30 price range feature an easily adjustable buckle system with one strap. Goggles with double straps have an S-bracket type of adjustment. To adjust the strap for the best fit, you need to pull the straps to lengthen or shorten them.

✓ Tinted lenses or the option to change out lenses depending on weather conditions: Not sure which tint is best? Here's a quick guide to selecting tinted lenses:

• Clear: Good for indoor pool use or on overcast days.

• Yellow, amber, or red: Improves visibility on overcast days.

• Blue: Best for early mornings or evenings.

• Mirrored: Reduces glare on bright-light days.

✓ UV protection: Choose goggles with UVA and UVB protection to shield your eyes from the sun's rays during open-water swims. UV rays can cause eye injuries, including cataracts, pterygium, macular degeneration, and sunburn to skin around the eyes.

✓ Anti-fog lenses: Manufacturers apply coatings to the lenses of goggles to help prevent mist from covering the insides of the lenses and blocking vision. Remember: Even with anti-fog coatings, you may find your lenses will still fog on occasion.

You can find anti-fog solutions to apply to your goggles if they didn't come with an anti-fog coating. The solution can prevent your goggles lenses from getting cloudy, but they don't work any better than a little spit. Take off your goggles and dip them in the water. Add some saliva to your finger or spit on the lenses and rub it in. Use this trick every time you get in the water.

✓ Scratch-resistant lenses: Even tiny scratches to your lenses can affect visibility. Look for goggles that feature a coating to prevent scratches.

✓ Different or adjustable nose bridges: If you have a broad nose bridge, you'll want to use goggles with a wide setting between the lenses. Look for traditional goggles that come with adjustable or different widths of nose bridges. You can install them by using the supplied Allen wrench to loosen the tiny screws in the rubber around the lenses, removing the existing bridge, inserting the new bridge, and retightening the screws. Swim goggles made of silicone rubber stretch slightly for comfort around the bridge of your nose.

✓ Prescription lenses (if you need them): Some goggles can be fitted with lenses to match your prescription for improved visibility. Some brands allow press-on prescription lenses to adhere to the goggles lenses.

✓ Gel or padding where the goggles frame your eye sockets: Gel or padding helps to seal out water and offers additional comfort — without the harsh, but temporary lines, that traditional goggles leave on a swimmer's face.

Clean your goggles with water or, if they're very dirty, use a small amount of baby shampoo. Do not use abrasive cleansers on your goggles — they can damage the anti-fog coating and reduce visibility.

Ask friends for their recommendations for the best leak-free brands of goggles — but don't just take their word for it. What works for your friend's face may not work for your face. Start with a recommendation; then see if you can borrow a pair of your friend's favorite goggles (or even a pair that a friend might not like but that he still has lurking in his swim bag), and go for a swim. You might find the perfect pair for you.

Goggles have to fit correctly or they can end up causing you frustration, headaches, and time. The way goggles fit your face is the most important factor to consider in making your selection. When you're searching for the pair of goggles that fits you best, head to a local swim shop where you can try them on. Then follow these steps:

1. Pick a pair of goggles — any pair — and start there.

Don't be afraid to try kids' goggles if you have a small face.

2. Press the goggles over your eyes, positioning them over the bridge of your nose, without putting on the head strap.

Do they stay in place for at least a few seconds? If so, move to the next step. If not, pick up another pair of goggles and start over.

3. Adjust the head strap so that it's tight but comfortable.

4. Notice how the goggles feel.

Goggles should not create pressure on your sinuses, which can reduce your ability to breathe. Pay attention to areas where the goggles pinch or press uncomfortably across your temples, on your forehead, or against your eyes. If you notice any pressure or pain, start over with another pair.

5. When you find a pair that fits comfortably, buy one pair and head to the water to try them out.

If the goggles leak or fog up excessively or fall off when you dive into the water — yep, you guessed it — head back to the store and start over with another pair.

Don't just throw out the pair of goggles that didn't work for you. Donate them to your pool, give them to a friend, or hang onto them until someone asks you which goggles you recommend. You can tell him about your favorite pair of goggles and also let him try the pair that didn't work for you — maybe they'll work for him.

6. When you find a pair that fits comfortably and performs well in the water, head back to the store and buy at least a few more pairs.

Keep the spare pairs handy in case you lose your first pair. (Every swimming pool has a box of lost goggles — proof of how often swimmers seem to misplace theirs.)

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