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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.