Six Open-Water Goggles

It's the time of year when you take to the open water. You know you need a wetsuit, but have you considered a change of goggles? The small, clear goggles you've been using in the pool won't stand up to the demands of the open water.

When it comes to swimming in the outdoors, you can choose from goggles, masks or a hybrid. Some people like the extra feeling of protection offered by masks, while others are happy with larger styles of goggles (we've tested both types here).

Whatever you choose, your open-water eye wear needs to have some fundamental features to keep you safe and confident. Look for UV and anti-fog protection and larger lenses, which will stay put in the choppiest of swims.

You'll also need to consider the light: will you be swimming in bright sunlight, with glare bouncing off the still surface of a lake? Or are you likely to be swimming on overcast, cloudy days?

The different colours available will suit different conditions: smoke or mirrored will cut glare on sunny days, while pink, yellow or orange will enhance light on dull days. Blue and violet lenses are a good choice for moderately cloudy weather.

Whether you choose goggles or a mask is a matter of personal preference and practicality: smaller faces tend to struggle with masks, which can ride up the face due to their extra bulk. On the flip side, masks offer greater security in open water.

Goggles can be used in the pool as well, but may not offer the same feeling of protection in open water. Some of the goggles we tested come with a protective case and we'd strongly advise getting hold of one to keep your goggles safe from scratches. Never wipe the lenses directly (tiny scratches can appear very easily), always rinse your goggles in cold tap water after a swim and air-dry them before storing.

With these tips, your open-water goggles should last for a very long time but, once they're scratched enough for the clarity of vision to be compromised, it's time to go shopping again.

Head Panorama, £18.99

Head Panorama, £18.99

BEST FOR EXTREME CONDITIONS

The Panorama is a full mask that’s perfect for anyone needing more protection than a pair of goggles will give. Using a mask means you’ll feel less exposed to the cold water, which may, in turn, make you feel more confident about getting your head down and going for it.

The clever design of the Panorama means the seal merges into the frame, preventing leaks and offering a comfortable and secure fit. The curved shape gives great peripheral vision and the lenses have been treated to provide anti-fog and UV protection, both crucial for open-water-swimming eye wear.

The mirrored lens is great for cutting glare and making it easier to sight on sunny days. The strap adjustment system makes it easy to tighten and loosen the mask, even while you’re in the water, and the mask comes with a protective pouch.

Info: www.head.com/swimming

TYR Femme Crystalflex, £12.59

TYR Femme Crystalflex, £12.59

BEST BUDGET BUY

As the name suggests, these goggles are female-specific, but TYR have similar models in their range for men.

We think they are a terrific budget choice for anyone who's confident enough to step into open water in a smaller pair of goggles. They won't offer the extra protection of a mask but will do the job if you're happy swimming in open water.

The lenses are larger than standard pool goggles, making sighting simple, and the lens is curved to give great peripheral vision. These goggles are really easy to adjust once they're on. The Crystalflex has been designed with the more understated swimmer in mind so, if you don't want the kind of kit that screams for attention, these simple but effective goggles may well be for you.

They come in a range of muted frame colours and three different lens colours (clear, smoke and blue).

Info: www.tyr.com

Zoggs Predator Mirror, £18.99

Zoggs Predator Mirror, £18.99

BEST ALL-ROUNDER

The Predator family of goggles and masks is one of the most popular in triathlon and open-water swimming, and it's easy to see why. Not too large and not too small, the Predator Mirror combines the best features of goggles and masks: great protection and comfort married with lightness and style.

The larger frame gives a great fit and CLT (Curved Lens Technology) means that you get 180-degree peripheral vision - great for sighting during training or races. This model, with its mirrored lenses, is a good choice for bright conditions or in races where you might find yourself swimming into the sun.

The goggles are easy to adjust, don't leak and have anti-fog lenses. They don't come with a carry case, but they are beautifully presented in a big, attractive box. We think they'd make a great gift for the triathlete in your life.

Info: www.zoggs.com

Blueseventy Carbon Race, £70

Blueseventy Carbon Race, £70 (£60 non-mirrored)

BEST FOR GADGET-LOVERS

Carbon fibre? In swimming goggles? Just when you thought swimming was the least tech-heavy of triathlon's three disciplines, along come Blueseventy's Carbon Race goggles.

Typically, goggles are made of polycarbonate but the Carbon Race uses CFP (Carbon Fibre Polymer), which is several times stronger. The Carbon Race is also twice as light as its traditional counterparts. We're not sure we're its target market: we could certainly feel that the goggles are very light, and they look great, but we're just not fast enough (yet!) to notice the milliseconds a pair of carbon fibre goggles might save us.

We didn't think they were very easy to adjust, either (certainly not once they were on). They are beautifully packaged and come in a very nice carry case.  

Info: www.blueseventy.com

Speedo Rift Mask, £21

Speedo Rift Mask, £21

BEST FOR DULL CONDITIONS

If you want the protection and security of a full-on mask, Speedo's Rift is a good choice. Not one for shrinking violets, its bold styling and vivid amber lenses will make you stand out at a crowded race start.

The frame is strong and sturdy with a large but very soft seal that gives a great fit. The lenses have anti-fog and UV protection and the orange colour makes them great for any conditions, but particularly for grey days.

The tint will sharpen up your vision, making sighting easier on the dullest of days in the murkiest of water. The shape and size of the lens give brilliant peripheral vision and the mask is simple to adjust in a rush - you could even tighten it up while bobbing about at a swim start.

The strap is wide enough to prevent the mask from being easily knocked from your head and it comes with a breathable pouch that will protect it from scratches.

Info: www.speedo.co.uk

Aqua Sphere Vista Lady, £19.99

Aqua Sphere Vista Lady, £19.99

BEST FOR SMALLER FACES

The trouble with many of the open-water masks onthe market is that they're simply too big for female faces. They ride up, slide about and leak because they're designed for blokes. Well, ladies, this is the mask for you. Aqua Sphere has brought out this female version of their Vista mask for 2010, with a design to suit women's heads.

The Vista Lady has a low profile to minimise drag and a large but extra-comfortable seal to prevent movement. We liked the look of the Vista: while it's definitely a mask, it's unobtrusive.

In fact, we reckon you could use it for pool swimming, in a pinch. It's really easy to adjust, even once it's on, and it comes in a hard case, which you could continue to use to protect the mask against knocks and scratches. The Vista also comes in a range of lens colours to suit different light conditions.

Info: www.aquasphereswim.co.uk