Great Gear: Be Cool in the Shades

We shine some light on five of the best sunglasses for slopes, trail, or road.

The theory of sunglasses as performance gear might have been construed as marketing hype not so long ago. But optical clarity in the form of rugged frames and shatterproof lenses is now almost mandatory for many activities in the outdoors.

Try fishing without sunglasses. No, wait, don’t. With the right shades you’ll see the trout through the sun-streaked water. As a bonus, you’ll protect your eyes. All the models featured here block harmful ultraviolet light—UVA and UVB—at 100 percent, according to their manufacturers.

For an alpine environment, put on a pair like the Julbo Bivouak. These full-coverage glasses have dark lenses to block a high percentage of visible light, letting you better operate in altitudes where sun and white snow make the electromagnetic spectrum most intense.

But style points aren’t taken anymore to compromise for technical add-ons. All of the shades below, from the high-end Julbos to a budget buy from Ryders, can be worn in the woods, on a mountain, or while driving around town. You’ll look cool and feel visually savvy in the sun.

SMITH OPTICS VANGUARD
$90, smithoptics.com
Style and performance coexist with the Vanguard, a model that features a look-at-me silhouette frame along with good fit and performance-oriented optics. Smith touts “inimitable style” and high-end lenses that have precise tapering from the center of the lens to the periphery, compensating for curvature and ensuring crisp vision, according to the company. There are metal details for style on the temples. You can choose from polarized and nonpolarized options, and the Vanguard’s big, bold lenses provide ample coverage—on the slopes or on the trail. The polarized version is $29 more..

ZEAL SWAPIT SUN
$110, zealoptics.com
Among the most adaptable sunglasses on the market, the Zeal SwapIT Sun have a “layered” polarized lens, touted to cut horizontal glare encountered with water and snow activities. But the kicker is an optional convertor kit that adds a strap and rubber gaskets to transform the SwapIT into goggles. Vents on the rubber fitting allow venting and prevent fog. The strap, which has a Neoprene pad for comfort, cinches the sunglasses tight to your face, sealing out wind and water for activities ranging from sailing to whitewater rafting. The goggle kit is $20 extra.

NATIVE EYEWEAR WAZEE
$89, nativeyewear.com
Named after an edgy street in downtown Denver, the Wazee glasses have an aggressive, urban look. But these sunglasses are made for the outdoors—hiking, biking, skiing, and trail running are among the venues where these airy shades can perform. They weigh less than an ounce, providing an illusion of weightlessness. Interchangeable lenses let you swap tints and colors for the best performance in varying light.

JULBO BIVOUAK
$120, julbousa.com
In the snow or high in the mountains, eyes can fall victim to glare seeping in from the side. Julbo’s Bivouak glasses block errant light from all angles via magnetized clip-on shields. Simply snap on the included protective temple plates to eliminate radiating interferences that can hurt your eyes. Strong magnets guide the shields into place, letting you add the optic protection with gloves on. For normal wear, ditch the wraparound design by unclicking the shields to open your peripheral scope and take in a wider view.

RYDERS EYEWEAR VIGOR 
$44.99, ryderseyewear.com
Action eyewear does not need to break the bank. Ryders Eyewear’s Adrenaline series includes high-performance frames and lenses the company touts as “ideal for both the weekend warrior or the professional athlete.” The Vigor has sturdy frames, shatterproof polycarbonate lenses, and an adjustable nose pad and temple tips to keep the shades gripped to your face. The company guarantees its sunglasses against manufacturer’s defects for a year from the date of purchase.

CHUMS HALFPIPE 
$3.99, chums.com
Chums Inc.’s Halfpipe strap—a simple latex tube design—is an insurance policy against vanishing glasses. Slip the hollow rubber hose ends over your glasses bow, drape the loop over your head, and cinch tight. Set to go and safe, easy, and cheap.

A QUICK LOOK AT LENSES

You wouldn’t buy a pair of reading glasses based on the frames alone, and sunglasses shouldn’t be different. Consider the material and tint of the lenses before making a purchase.

MATERIAL

What are your lenses made out of? The answer affects durability, price, clarity, and weight. Here are four common materials:

  • Glass: Best for optical clarity and its ability to resist scratching, but it’s the heaviest and most expensive.
  • Polyurethane: Great all-around lens that’s flexible, light, and can withstand impact, but polyurethane can be expensive. The best option for optical clarity.
  • Polycarbonate: A cheaper option that still offers good impact resistance and clarity but has less scratch resistance. Thinner and lighter than glass.
  • Acrylic: The least-expensive option, but acrylic compromises clarity and durability.

TINT

The shade of your shades is the tint. It affects the transmission of light and your ability to see color and contrast. Check out some common lens tints:

  • Brown, green, or gray: Moderate to bright conditions. Color-neutral lenses, meaning there’s no color distortion.
  • Yellow or gold: Moderate to low-light conditions. Great for enhancing contrast in flat light.
  • Rose: Low-light conditions. Best for enhancing visibility of objects against blue or green backgrounds, such as in forested areas.

Stephen Regenold writes “The Gear Junkie,” a column on outdoors equipment at www.gearjunkie.com.

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