Improving the Swedish goggle? Testing the Nootca 5

Along with Strokemaker paddles, the original Malmsten Swedish goggle is a design that has withstood the test of time. While I’m generally eager to embrace new technologies, I’ve worn the same model of swim goggles for over 20 years now.

Swedes are stereotyped as a pool swimming goggle, but I’ve seen no compelling reason to embrace gaskets in the open water. Why mess with a good thing? Take note of my goggle choice in my four longest swims (clockwise from top-left, the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, Santa Barbara Channel, Catalina Channel, and Manhattan Island Marathon Swim):

At the same time, I’ll concede some occasional frustration with the cheap materials in classic Swedes – the scratch-proneness of the lenses, and the ultra-short lifespan of the latex straps. So, my interest was piqued when Steven Keegan – founder of Nootca and formerly a product designer with Speedo and Nike Swim – answered my “Super Swede” challenge and offered to let me try his Swede-“inspired” Nootca 5 goggle.

[Nootca on SwimOutlet]

The Nootca 5 had ambitious claims: not only upgrading the materials over the original Swede, but also improving the “water flow, durability, and vision.” I approached these claims with all due skepticism. And I was surprised by what I found.

Nootca Unboxed (click to enlarge).

The Nootcas make a good first impression. Held securely in a recyclable cardboard box, the goggles come pre-assembled with a silicone nose piece and detailed, well-written instructions for switching to the alternative string-and-bridge nosepiece.

Also included is a microfiber cloth pouch, for that extra layer of security against scratches.

Nootca stock photo
Nootca stock photo

As for the goggles themselves: I was immediately struck by the aesthetics (one of the big draws of original Swedes compared to say, Hind Compys or, god forbid, Aquaspheres).

The lenses are sleek and polished, and, so far as I can tell in several months of use, fairly scratch-resistant (especially with conscientious use of the carrying pouch). Along with the silicone head strap, the goggles live up to Nootca’s promise of higher quality materials over the original Swede.

Nootca stock photo
Nootca stock photo

What about Nootca’s claims of improved design over the original Swede? A high bar, indeed – but again, I’d say mostly fulfilled. The lenses seem slightly “longer” on the sides than original Swedes, which improves peripheral vision while still maintaining a low profile. Note how snugly the goggles fit in my eye sockets:


Now, a couple of minor quibbles:

  • I found that the included silicone nosepiece didn’t want to stay in place. When I place the goggles on my face and pull the strap behind my head, the nosepiece “slips” and becomes too wide. This may be specific to my facial structure, I don’t know for sure – but in any case, Steven mentioned there was an update to the nosepiece “in the works.”
  • After my trouble with the silicone nosepiece, I switched it out for the alternative Malmsten-style string-and-bridge. Here, I found that the bridge itself was just slightly too wide, such that it blocked me from tying the string narrow enough. Perhaps I have an unusually narrow nose bridge? In any case, my ever-so-handy girlfriend pointed out that I could fix the problem simply by snipping the end off the bridge to make it narrower.
  • And finally, I must admit, I think the thin layer of silicone in the gasket is an unfortunate concession. I actually like the hard plastic of traditional Swedes. Not just the aesthetics of it, but also because even the highest-quality silicone will eventually degrade. On the other hand, some may find the added comfort is worth the theoretical sacrifice in durability.

All considered, and in spite of these quibbles, I really like the Nootca 5’s. They retain the minimalist beauty of original Swedes (with a couple thoughtful design enhancements) while upgrading the quality of the materials. The vision in particular is quite expansive, which I appreciate in open water settings.

Nootca stock photo
Nootca stock photo

From my email correspondence with Steven Keegan, I get the impression of a thoughtful designer/entrepreneur who takes pride in his creations. Nootca is pretty much a one-man show; a goggle-only boutique competing against giant corporations like Nike and Speedo. So, I’m happy to spread the word about this product.

For an interesting interview with Steven, see here.

While I received my Nootca 5’s as a complimentary review product, I also put my money where my mouth is and bought two additional pairs with my own funds – the green/smokes and the clears, to join my browns.

Nootca goggles are available at as well as SwimOutlet.

If you prefer gasketed goggles, you might consider one of Nootca’s other models – the 207 or the Eleven. Steven kindly sent a pair of Elevens for my girlfriend to try. Read her review, comparing them favorably to her usual Speedo Vanquishers, on the Marathon Swimmers Forum.

Follow-up review: FINIS Swimsense watch

I had high hopes for the Swimsense, I really did.

Unfortunately, in the 2+ years since I bought the watch I’ve had two major issues that remain unresolved. With worthy competitors now available from Garmin – the 910xt and the Garmin Swim – these nagging issues are a deal-breaker. Absent any major product revisions by FINIS, I must retract my original recommendation of the Swimsense.

The deal-breaking issues are:

1. Build quality.

I’m now on my fourth Swimsense. The first three all became unusable after half a year of infrequent use, each time for a different reason. To FINIS’ credit, each was replaced free of charge.

My first Swimsense lost the ability to connect to my computer via the dock (and thus the ability to re-charge the battery). My second Swimsense developed moisture behind the crystal, and shortly thereafter stopped connecting to the dock. My third Swimsense developed a tear in a strap hole (see photo below) and no longer fit my wrist properly. Unlike the Garmin Swim, Swimsense wrist straps are not replaceable.


Keep in mind, I don’t even use the Swimsense that frequently! Once a week at most. For a $200 watch, these quality-control issues are unacceptable. (I paid $200 in January 2011. The price has gradually dropped ever since – does that tell you something?)

2. Accidental power-ons.

The Swimsense powers-on with the just a slight press of the top-left button. It’s so easy to turn on that it often happens accidentally. A most infuriating design flaw! I’ve learned to avoid putting the Swimsense in my swim bag. Inevitably, the jostling of carrying the bag to and from the pool will power-on the Swimsense. Then, next time I try to use the Swimsense, I’ll find the battery drained.

It’s happened more times than I can count. I’ve never come closer to smashing a piece of swim equipment against the nearest wall than I have with the Swimsense.

So, if I were to purchase a swim watch today, I would choose the Garmin Swim.

All that being said, if I have a working Swimsense in my possession, and if I succeed in transporting it to the pool without accidentally draining the battery… then it does a reasonably good job of counting laps and strokes.

Review: FINIS Swimsense Performance Monitor

Note: I wrote a follow-up review of the Swimsense in May 2013.

The FINIS Swimsense Performance Monitor is a watch that, through various marvels of technology, monitors your pace, lap count, and stroke count as you swim.

I still maintain that for interval training, nothing beats a pace clock. Doc Counsilman’s ’50s-era invention will never go out of style. For long steady-state training, though, a watch that monitors laps, strokes, and pace might be nice. Personally, I can’t keep a good count after about 40-50 (more if the pace clock is large and digital).

In my case, it’s no idle question: I’m doing some long swims this year, and steady-state training is a regular part of the training diet.

But with niche products like this, one inevitably asks: Does it work? Counting laps and strokes is one thing – but does it count the correct number of them? This review is on the long-ish side, so for those short on time, here are the major bullet points:

Continue reading “Review: FINIS Swimsense Performance Monitor”

Review: Oregon Scientific Swim Watch

Last summer I bought a swim watch. In preparing for a 10-mile river swim, I started adding occasional aerobic steady-state swims to my usual interval-heavy diet. I needed something to keep track of how far I swam while I zoned out and listened to music on my SwimP3.

Back then there were two swim watches on the market – Swimovate’s Poolmate, and the Oregon Scientific swim watch. I don’t remember why I chose the Oregon Scientific – they were both priced at $99.99 – but that’s what I did.

I ended up not using the watch much, for a few reasons:

  • The holes in the strap are too far apart. My wrist is right between two sizes, so it’s either too tight or too loose, and thus uncomfortable to wear.
  • The watch is a bit bulky and I didn’t like the feeling of increasing my drag in the water (especially just on one arm).
  • The open water season ended in October, so I stopped doing long steady-state swims.

Continue reading “Review: Oregon Scientific Swim Watch”