When you’re sweating hard, moving fast, and battling the bright sun, you need a pair of the best outdoor sunglasses. We’ve rounded up some of the latest technology to keep those eyeballs happy while running, hiking, biking, and pursuing other outdoor activities.
But before we look at the new sunnies, there are a few terms you need to know:
- Sizing: Sunglasses usually list sizing like this: 52-14-131. The first number is the lens width in millimetres. The second number is nose bridge width or the distance between the lenses at your nose. The final number is the temple length or the length of the arms. Measure up your favorite pair so you know what you like when shopping for a new set.
- Visible Light Transmission: Visible Light Transmission (VLT) is how much light gets through the lens. Most glasses on this list will let in about 10 percent to 20 percent of visible light. Photochromatic lenses change with the light and have a range. For example, they will let in 90% of light in the woods and then darken let in 16% of light in bright sun. VLT is affected by color and thickness of lens, material they’re made of and any coatings they have.
- Base curve: Base curve is based on the sphere size measured from the back of the lens. So how much the sunglasses and lens curve around your face. A higher number means more wrap. Base 6 will be flatter to your face. Base 8 will wrap around your head more.
- Polarization: You’ve probably already worn polarized lenses. They are great for the snow or water but also can be useful driving after the rain. They cut the glare. Like Venetian blinds on your windows at home they block reflected light while still allowing some direct sunlight in.
Best Outdoor Sunglasses
Smith Lowdown Focus – $350
These glasses read your brain waves — no joke. Smith has taken its Lowdown frames and built in brain-wave reading technology. While they can’t read whether you feel like a sandwich or want to go biking, they can measure how focused you are.
The Focus frames connect to the Smith Focus app, run you through a brief calibration, then launch a step-by-step tutorial. The app gives you badges and points when you complete each level and explains when you are focused and when you are not. Audio feedback of soft waves lapping at the shore let you know you’re calm and focused. Windy storm sounds let you know you’re worried about that presentation at work or still thinking about that sandwich. Practice calming your thoughts to bring the waves back and you’ll be more focused when at work, riding, or at the beach.
Sunski Treeline – $89
Glacier goggles are expensive and don’t fit in at the pub after a trip to the mountains. Sunski wanted the classic design but the real-world usefulness of the mountaineering glasses.
The Treelines are at home on the snow and in the bar. Removable side panels swing out and cut out any side light getting through. Tiny holes allow air flow and give you just enough peripheral vision to be safe in the mountains while magnets keep the side panels deployed against the arms. Sunski is also working on increasing their number of recycled plastic frames. The Chalet, Manresa, and Portola frames are made from 100-percent recycled, post-industrial plastic that would typically go to landfill in Illinois.
The Treelines offer 15 percent VLT and a base 6 curve. They fit well on a medium sized face.
Spy Optic Hunt – $160
The Hunt sunglasses have been a popular do-everything sunglass for Spy optic. When pro snowboarder Eric Jackson wanted an update to the Hunts so they could do even more, Spy obliged.
The EJack edition of the Hunt is the only Spy sunglass to have the brand’s Happy Lens Technology in the new Trident-polarized Rose-base lens with the unique green-gold mirror coating. Happy lenses let through long-wave blue light that improves your mood while blocking damaging short waves. They also improve contrast, clarity, and color.
The medium-fit wayfarer-style is comfortable for any sport, including enjoying a few drinks. The lightweight Grilamid frames are strong without being heavy. The ends of the arms have a rubber grip that keeps them in place.
Julbo Aerospeed – $130-$190
French eyewear designer Julbo knows outdoor lenses. The brand has lenses and frames for every sport you can think of and half of them are photochromatic or polarized. The latest lenses that scream, “Go fast!’” are the Aerospeed.
The Aerospeed are almost all lens, boasting a huge field of view. The Zebra Light photochromatic lens change with the conditions, from 17 percent VLT to 75 percent. Meaning? You can be ripping through the trees on your bike and still see everything; burst into a clearing and the lenses will darken so your eyes won’t burn. The Reactive element that changes the darkness is cast into the lens so it won’t scratch off.
On the inside of the lens, an anti-fog coating keeps things clear. The pads on the 3D fit nose pad can be moved in any direction so you can dial your fit perfectly.
If you need something darker and polarized but still photochromatic, the Julbo Shield fit that bill. The Shield glasses have fabric side panels for blocking excess light from the water and snow. The lenses darken so much that they are not safe to drive with, but they are perfect for bright snowy days.
Rudy Project Sintryx $300
If you’re looking for performance, specifically on the bike, look no farther than Rudy Project. The Italian eyewear manufacturer has been making high-quality cycling glasses and helmets since 1985.
One of the most recent creations is the Sintryx. It’s available in a regular Smoke Black lens with 22 percent VLT, but the upgraded option is where the Sintryx shines. The new Polar 3FX HDR lenses are polarized in a way that increases contrast and clarity with bright color. However, if you’re heading into variable light, then the ImpactX-2 photochromatic lenses are the ticket. Quickly changing from 9 percent to 74 percent VLT, the glasses allow you to ride from the dark to bright sunlight without the need to take your shades off.
Revant FL1 – $155
Revant wants your sunglasses to last your entire life. The company has been making replacement lenses for your favorite brands like Oakley, Rayban, Smith, and Spy Optic since 2010. After extending the life of other’s sunglasses, it was time for Revant to get in the game.
Launched on Kickstarter, the Revant FL1 is a “fortress for your eyes.” The wayfarer-style frame is light, stays on your head with no problem, and protects your eyes from light and anything else that comes close; the glasses designed to meet ANSI Z87.1 safety standards for high-mass and high-velocity impact protection.
Along with being built like a tank, the FL1 comes with replacement parts forever. Any time you need a lens, arm or nosepiece, Revant has you covered.
They fit well on a medium head and have 10 percent to 16 percent VLT depending on which lenses you get. Arms are angled down so there’s no tangling with hats or helmets. There are also the SL1 and SL2 models, which focus on reducing weight and increasing field of view, respectively. All three will always have replacement parts.
Oakley Field Jacket – $223
The latest from Oakley is designed to be an all-rounder, just like the versatile field jackets that recruits got in the military. Frames come in black, white, grey or an intensely bright green Retina Burn. Lenses include the new Prizm and Prism Polarized, as well as a photochromatic option.
The Prizm lenses are tuned to maximize contrast and enhance visibility for the landscape you’re in. The Ruby, Saphire, Road, and Trail colors are optimized for different locations, making everything clear and easy to see.
Ombraz Classics – Pre-order for $100
The Ombraz have no arms.
On a camel safari in New Delhi, Jenson Brehm broke the arms on his sunglasses. Recalling a story from his little brother, an outdoor instructor, about using cord to keep sunglasses on, he tied on a leather strap, creating the first pair of Ombraz.
The glasses have gone through many iterations to find the right combination of materials for the cord, frames, and lenses. They currently use a custom tightly-woven polyester. Rare in new companies, Ombraz have managed to secure Carl Zeiss lenses to use in their first production run.
Feeling guilty about the carbon emissions created by manufacturing something in China and shipping them around the world, the founders wanted to offset the damage by planting trees. Ombraz plants not one or two, but 20 trees for every pair sold. The company planted 38,000 trees during the first month of crowdfunding alone.
Article originally published by Austin Parker on June 4, 2016. Last updated by Ross Collicutt on August 17, 2018.