Your goggles are your second most important piece of swim equipment after your swimsuit or tri kit. There are practically endless designs of goggles out there, and if you're new to the sport, it's nearly impossible to know which pair is right for you. If you want to know what I wore over my 25+ years of swimming it's a pretty short list of only 3 different kinds with the first pair having foam gaskets and the second two kinds having rubber gaskets. Basically, I found out what worked over the years, and I stuck with it. The only reason I would change types is when they quit making that particular pair, and I were forced to switch. What worked for me isn't guaranteed to work for you though, so that's why I didn't say what I used to wear. Aside from my own experience wearing goggles, I've coached kids swimming for about eight years, and I've fixed many a pair of goggles of all different styles, so I know what works and what doesn't. Hopefully, these tips will help you pick the pair that is right for you.
1. Nose Strap
Get a goggle with an adjustable nose strap or multiple nose straps of different length because we all have different eye spacings that need to be accommodated. I can't think of a more important aspect of fit that affects comfort and sealing performance. You'll know very quickly if a pair is too narrow or too wide. There are no fit charts like there are for shoes and no measurements you can take across your nose bridge – you'll just fit them by feel. Goggles that do not have an adjustable nose strap try to make up for this typically by having a narrow nose bridge and then very large gaskets (the part that goes around your eye). This is a poor design that requires a lot of excess material, and those large gaskets can be MORE prone to leaking because the material tends to bunch up and create creases as it contours to your face.
2. Head Strap Attachment Hardware
Get a goggle with simple adjustable head straps – no additional strap hardware at the edges of the goggle. If your goggle has "clicky" straps or buttons to depress where the goggles attach to the frames that hardware will fail on you at some point, I guarantee it. The hardware makes the straps slightly easier to adjust, but the goggle fit is not something you adjust often so there's no reason to have quick adjustments. Get a goggle with a single adjustment buckle that both straps feed into, not the kind of buckle which is sometimes used in speed laces (a buckle you squeeze in with your thumb) but a buckle that double-backs on itself and holds the straps in with friction. You'll see these types of adjusters on goggles with two straps that loop behind your head, and that's what you want. Single straps that split into two straps behind your head add unnecessary complexity, and you'll never see those on a set of competition goggles. When it comes to goggle straps KISS (keep it simple student) and get a double strap system with a simple buckle in the back – no extra hardware.
3. Head Strap Material
Make sure the straps are not too narrow (especially tubular) or too thick. A tubular strap will roll on the back of your head and not stay in place. An overly thick strap is more likely to vibrate in the water in the space between the edge of your goggle, and in front of your ear (the place where the strap is not touching your face or head). This vibration is annoying. A strap should be ABOUT the width of a BIC pen and definitely not wider than the width of a regular USB plug (I'm trying to give you real-world objects you probably have at hand). Make sure the straps are tight enough so they do not move at all when you push off the wall, but loose enough so you don't get a headache from them and you don't feel like the goggles are being pressed into your eye sockets. If you're going to be diving in on race day don't forget to tighten them a little.
4. Lens Size Options
A goggle with a huge front lens does not necessarily give you better vision. People tend to forget that the closer the lens is to your eye, the smaller it can be to offer the same field of vision as a larger goggle. Have you seen those Swedish goggles (often called "Swedes") that have the super tiny lenses? That's because those goggles sit close to your eye. The field of vision out of those goggles is actually excellent (although they didn't work for me because they didn't fit my eye sockets, and my big beautiful eyelashes (I'm a guy) would rub the front lens). A big lens further from your eye just adds more material to the goggle, and those big lenses catch more water as well. You probably won't notice that if you're a new swimmer, but after enough years in the pool, you'll understand why all elite swimmers wear low profile goggles.
5. Lens Colors and Finishes
For open water, swimming the finish of light transmission of the goggle is probably the most important aspect. Goggles come in 3 basic colorless finishes – clear, smoke, and mirrored. Clear goggles should generally be used indoors only, or if it's a dark cloudy race morning. For whatever reason clear goggles worn outside on a sunny day seem to intensify the sun. Maybe it's because it's harder to squint when wearing goggles? The smoke finish is just tinted – like a pair of sunglasses. These can still be used indoors on bright pool decks or outdoors when it's overcast. The last finish is mirrored and should only be used outdoors when it's sunny or moderately cloudy. You'll know they're mirrored because they'll have a mirrored coating on the outside, and they usually cost a few bucks more than their non-mirrored counterparts. The mirrored finish seems to wear off faster than a non-mirrored goggles, so be sure to keep them protected in their carrying case. Also, goggle lenses come in other colors as well. Goggle lenses in a yellow, pink, orange, red, or light blue finish seem almost as bright as a clear pair to me. Dark blue, purple (yes, I've seen purple), gold, and deep red seem about as dark as the smoke finish. Those colors also come in mirrored finishes. While sunglasses exist in different colors to help see better during various sporting activities like driving, golf, or shooting, I haven't found any benefit to colored goggles in an open-water setting. Blue tends to be the most popular color.
6. Expected Durability
Once you find a pair of goggles that you like, buy multiple pairs of them. Goggles do not have to be that expensive, and I would not recommend spending more than $30 for a pair unless you need fancy prescription goggles. A pair of goggles is always going to break when you're about to use them (typically when you're putting them on). A goggle manufacturer has to find the right balance of materials to make a pair of goggles that is comfortable, has good optics, long wear life, UV resistance, and chlorine resistance. There is no material that does all of those things perfectly. The options of the goggle will become hazy over time. They will become more brittle, and the straps will start to dry out as well. At minimum I recommend having an extra pair of training goggles (probably clear or smoke finish) and a spare pair of race goggles (probably smoke or mirrored finish). Anti-fog spray applied correctly (put some in, rub it around with your fingers, rinse with clean water, then put the goggles on and don't take them off for the rest of practice) does help reduce fogging during practice, but for race day, nothing is better (optics wise) than a nice new pair of goggles.
If you follow those tips, you will eliminate about 80% of the goggles on the market. The only remaining variable to help your selection is your specific eye socket / face shape. You may have to purchase a few pairs of goggles before you find the perfect pair. The perfect pair doesn't leak, is comfortable, and has good optics. The perfect pair fades from your consciousness a few minutes after putting them on and all that is left - you and the water.