When I sit down and decide to look at any piece of gear critically it is not always clear to me how I use that piece of gear. Sunglasses were no different and may be even more complicated than I first thought they might be. Gear can get pretty specific in its use. Look far enough and you'll find that specific piece of gear's limitations.
So if you are the guy who is happy with a pair of $20 sunglasses you bought at the corner gas station for all your outdoor activities, and nothing wrong with that, by all means feel free to ignore the rest of this blog post.
I use sun glasses for a few specific sports, running, bike riding, rock climbing and mountaineering. In each of those sports I have differing requirements. Some of my requirements over lap. But given the opportunity to try out a lot of sun glasses over the last few months and thinking about them as a blog post allowed me to more clearly see the differences and more clearly define my own preferences. You may or may not agree. From this experience I've better identified what I want in a pair of sun glasses and where I'll spend my money when it comes time to replace what I have.
Frames and lens styles first:
Running? I like a lwt pair of glasses for this, with good ventilation.
Older pair of M Frame Oakleys. I bought these in 1995 and have used them for shooting, running and on my bikes. Weight is 24g.
Anti fog lenses and a "sticky" nose pieces are a bonus, as are "sticky" ear pieces.
The current Julbo Trek, weight is 34g. with out the side shields or head band. Excellent ear piece, and nose piece design. I found the removable foam lined brow sweat band exceptional and very useful on the bike. The best attention to design detail of all the glasses I looked at.
Great "sticky" ear pieces on the Bolle Diablo. With a flexible nose piece to match. Interesting screen side shields for a glass intended specifically for the mountains. And really pleasant lens to use. Retail is $160. But no question Bolle had some of the best lens offered here if my eyes can tell me anything.
So even with the jarring movements and pounding of running the glasses stay in place on your face. The only need to survive a ride on my face or pushed back on the top of my head.
The bike? This is for my road bike so your mileage may vary. Same requirements as running for the most part. But in addition I want a full wrap around lens, ballistic protection from road debris and am not nearly as concerned about the over all weight. Although lighter in weight is always better imo to increase comfort. Because of the controlled environment I am also less concerned about the durability of my riding glasses. They go on when I leave the house and seldom come off again until I am putting the bike away and taking off my shoes. They are expected to survive the occasional ride on the bike helmet or in a jersey pocket.
4 pair of "Optic Nerve" glasses. Exceptional buys IMO at the Optic Nerve price points.
I first starting using their glasses unknowingly with bike glasses relabeled by the Performance Bike, chain stores bought on sale.
Climbing? For a day out bouldering or cragging most any pair of glasses will do. But I have used a simple "cat eye" pair with a neck cord here a lot. The glass lens will last a lot longer than any synthetic lens in a dusty and dirty environment imo. For cragging I like something simple that will fold flat and go in a pocket. No side shields so I have full vision in use and a simple neck cord so I can drop the glasses and let them hang and keep climbing.
I still use the now very retro Vuarnet cat eyes. The only glass lens that I still use on a regular basis.
They have a pretty dark lens and frames are tough. There are a few options now on the lens tint. The original lens (or mine anyway) were the Skilynx. If you take care of them a pair will last a long time. On a bright sunny day on brilliant granite still a hard one to beat for eye protection.
You can still buy them for around $100/$150 directly from France. Just for the level of sun protection and their durability a "best buy" I think. Not for everyone I am sure. Mine are on their third frame in 30 years of tough use! Likely the only piece of kit that old I still use on a regular basis. To me that says a lot. Being able to get replacement frames on a style over 50 years old now should tell you just how good these glasses and the lens technology are I think. Retro? You bet!
In the 1960 Winter Olympic games in Squaw Valley, Jean Vuarnet won the gold medal for the downhill. He had also won the bronze in the same event in the Skiing World Championships.
Vuarnet Sunglasses came into being from the meeting of two great opticians Roger Pouilloux and Joseph Hatchiguian who invented the Skylinx lens in 1957. They then made a proposal with Jean Vuarnet have their sunglasses bear his name during the 1960 Winter Olympics.
The original glass version weighs 30g. A plastic lens version is 22g. A similar cat eye framed Maui Jim with a glass lens is 42g.
Next up are the mountaineering glasses:
Julbo Trek with the Zebra / Cat. 2-4 / Lens. $180 retail. 30g stripped. 34g with the sweat band. 36g with the side shields and sweat band.
Optic Nerve, "Roger That" model, mountain glasses with easily removable side shields and a retail of $69 retail. Yes, Sixty Nine American dollars. Weight is 24g without side shields 28g with. And a "best buy" imo.
OK here is what I got out of all this. First off I really like the photo sensitive lens. Even in the brightest sunlight here in the NW in the city or on a glacier mid day I liked what every maker I tested offered. Be it the price point photochromic lens from Optic Nerve that we now use as driving glasses or the really nice and really expensive (even on a pro deal) Julbos with the Zebra lens for most other things. The lwt and well vented Cebe Eyemax photochromic lens became our (three of us testing here) favorite running and around town glasses.
The Cebe Eyemax with an excellent frame and well vented lens. Weight is 20g. Retail is $59.00
Cebe also offers some really nice mountain glasses. I didn't get a chance to sue any of them though. But worth a look if you can find a dealer who carries them in them locally. I really liked what I saw but wasn't able to get hold of a pair when I wanted to get started with the review.
It is still hard to beat a pair of M Frames on the bike for pure protection and good visibility. Hard to justify the costs of Oakley these days imo no matter how good they are. Optic Nerve does it pretty well in several models and at a better price point. I use a clear lens often as not on the bike so nice to have the ability to easily and reliably change from a tinted lens of your choice to a clear lens. Optic Nerve has that covered for under $80. But they have lots of choices in the single lens, $40 range as well.
No question I totally geeked out on the two pair of Julbos I bought. Which was a huge surprise on my part. It took me over a year to finally make this purchase. Even then I bought the first pair at REI just to make sure I thought they were worth the money. If not I could return them for a full refund. I like them in the mountains and ended up using the Trek model on my bike a lot in the mid-summer heat. I really liked the sweat band feature. Something I first though nothing more than a gimmick. In the mountains on snow mid summer they were the most comfortable "goggles" on my eyes I have ever used. And they seem pretty tough with great ventilation and wind protection all at teh same time. My only complaint is they aren't easy to pack. They take a big case. If you are sleeping with them around your neck, like I am prone to do on trips the frames might very easily get broken. So a case at night is almost mandatory for my own use. The eye comfort during the day makes the extra effort worth it imo though. The Julbos are as complicated and fragile as the Vuarnets are simple and durable. And imo, for actual mountain use, The Julbo's were worth twice the money.
What I learned in all of this is that there are plenty of good sun glasses out there. A few of them I have used a good bit but haven't bother to mention. Customer service is important to me. None of these things are cheap and nothing worse than having a problem no one is willing to own up to. I have a pair of those now from Native Eyeware that I have spent 6 months simply trying to get the lens I paid for to fit the frames they say are the correct match. More than annoying. Price may have little to do with the quality of the lens or frames. Finding out what is important to you using the glasses may not be all that easy without some serious comparison shopping. It pays to be a smart shopper and spend your money wisely.
For those that need the info this should help:
"On the glasses post. You might mention the alternative for those of us that areblind. I order glasses from a place in Boulder called Opticus
All they do is prescription sunglasses (and retail regular). Did it all over the
phone. They also have a program where you order 2-3 frames and then apply the
deposit to the purchase. I’m actually thinking of ordering a pair with triifocals
since I can’t read easily without. The limiting factor for satisfaction is having a
base 4 (sometimes a base 6 works) or less curve to the lens, most recreational
glasses are base 8. Opticus also routes the lens for a tight fit to the frame –
something more manufacturers should do but it is expensive."
FWIW for my own prescriptions I found a reasonable (fairly flat lens) Cebe frame a couple of years ago at REI and had my local guy just make dark lens for the adding a mirror coating and anti reflection coating. Expensive when all said and done! I also had a pair of prescriptions done on Maui Jim Titanium's for driving..again expensive.