The better your equipment, the better the experience, and that goes just as much for your sports glasses as for anything else. Having the right pair of sunglasses can make a huge difference in how you perform—from effectively cutting the sun's glare off light surfaces such as water to staying put on your face. Let's look at some of the elements that you should consider when shopping for the right pair of active sunglasses or sports goggles for your needs.
High-energy situations or humid conditions can cause lens fogging. Anti-fog lenses are treated with a coating that resists fogging when you're working hard and sweating or when you walk (or run) from a warmer place to a cooler place, which causes condensation to collect on the lenses. Not being able to see through foggy lenses puts you at risk for accidents.
HIGH-IMPACT RESISTANT/SHATTER RESISTANT LENSES
Look for lenses that are labeled "impact resistant" or "shatter resistant." These lenses protect you from eye damage should you get hit in the face with rocks, branches, or a baseball. The best high-impact- and shatter-resistant lenses are made of polyurethane or polycarbonate.
MAGNETIZED LENS SWAPPING
While this is a bonus feature and not absolutely necessary, the ability to quickly change out lenses in order to adapt to changing light conditions or switch between prescription and non-prescription lenses without the need to carry around multiple pairs of glasses is pretty sweet. Pop out one pair of lenses and easily snap a new set in place with no worries about them falling out or shifting.
LENSES THAT REPEL SWEAT, FINGERPRINTS, OR SMUDGING
The Holy Grail of lenses are those that repel sweat, fingerprints, or smudging. While you currently won't find any glasses that never get dusty or smudged at all, some types of anti-reflective (AR) coating can cut down on irritating smudges and fingerprints. You get what you pay for here, because sub-par "standard" AR coatings aren't very durable and scratch easily.
Sweat and water droplets can leave marks as the droplets dry on lenses, which is why hydrophobic coating is a great option for anyone playing outdoors and in the water. Fingerprints can make hydrophobic coating ineffective, so keep a microfiber cloth handy for occasional cleanings.
It's pretty self-explanatory: anti-scratch coating helps prevent scratches and increases lens durability.
Also written "Rx-able," prescription-ready frames allow you to have your prescription lenses inserted into frames of your choice. Choose from the offerings at your optometrist's office or find Rx-able frames from your favorite brand online.
Polarized lenses reduce glare and light haze produced when sunlight bounces off water or solid surfaces. The polarization application also helps you see colors in the landscape more clearly and brightly, which makes polarized lenses essential for anyone working or playing on or near water. One caveat: the nature of polarized lenses can block you from seeing LCD displays or cause blind spots as they react with the tinted part of your car's windshield. Keep a non-polarized pair of shades around if you find that to be the case.
Want to swap out your lenses to adapt to changing environments? You can opt for magnetic lens swapping (see above), or choose other lens swapping technologies. Interchangeable lenses allow you to optimize your sunglasses for whatever you're doing—whether you need to adjust to different lighting conditions or you need your prescription lenses in order to read or drive.
Photochromic lenses darken or lighten according to the amount of UV rays hitting the lenses. The brighter and sunnier it is, the more the lenses darken; lenses lighten when conditions get cloudier or darker. Car glass blocks UVB rays, so photochromic lenses won't work when you're driving a car, but they're handy for everyday use in most other outdoor and indoor situations.
You've got four lens materials to choose from. Each has its pros and cons.
Glass – Glass is the best for clarity, and it's incredible scratch-resistant durability means glass lenses can last for years when cared for. The cons are that glass is heavier than the other lens materials while also being more expensive.
Polyurethane – This material is the best alternative to glass because it is known for excellent optical clarity and has a superior rating for impact resistance while being lighter than glass. It is, however, expensive.
Polycarbonate – The most popular lens material, polycarbonate is more affordable while also offering excellent impact resistance and very good optical clarity. It is also lightweight. The drawback is that it is less scratch-resistant.
Acrylic – The least expensive of the four lens materials, acrylic is also not as durable, scratch-resistant, or optically clear as its counterparts.
VLT stands for "Visible Light Transmission" and is a measure of the amount of light that actually reaches your eyes through your glasses lenses. VLT is calculated based on what types of coatings are on lenses, the color of the lenses themselves, and the material out of which the lenses are made. A VLT rating will help you choose the right sunglasses for the right lighting conditions.
- 0% - 19% VLT: the best for bright, sunny days
- 20% - 40% VLT: choose this rating for all-purpose sunglasses
- 40% - 79% VLT: the best rating for low light conditions (overcast skies, early morning, or early evening)
- 80% - 90% VLT: these lenses are practically clear and best for nighttime use
Frames are almost important as lenses when it comes to choosing the best sports sunglasses. Frames should fit your face and feel comfortable, but they should also be durable enough to withstand whatever activities you participate in. Here are some things to look for when shopping for frames.
The best sunglasses are the ones you forget you're wearing. Did you know your nose is so sensitive that you can feel the weight of an eyelash? Super lightweight frames seem to float on your face and nose without causing pain or friction over time.
HEAT AND CHEMICAL RESISTANT
If you're working with hazardous materials while wearing sunglasses, your frames and lenses need to be specially treated to be heat and chemical resistant. Look for specialized eyewear that will protect from chemical splashes and impacts from abrasive materials. Most sunglasses will survive some heat, but never leave them exposed on a dashboard or in direct sunlight in a closed car. Car interiors can easily reach 200 degrees F. on even mildly sunny days, and that kind of heat will warp nearly any type of frame as well as damage lenses.
Looking for more ways to be environmentally conscious? Believe it or not, sunglasses frames can be made from eco-friendly plant-based, petroleum-free materials that are both durable and comfortable. Look for frames made of lightweight woods, castor oil resins, cellulose acetate, or hemp.
The best cycling sunglasses, hiking sunglasses, or tactical shooting sunglasses are high-impact resistant to protect your eyes from flying rocks and gravel or other bits and pieces that get kicked up in the wind or flung around by your activity.
Working hard? Vented temples allow air to circulate freely behind lenses and frames in order to prevent sweat buildup and lens fogging.
Detachable shields at the eyebrow and temple block lateral light leakage, which improves your vision clarity—especially important for times when you're moving fast and need to be alert to any obstacles. Shields also protect your eyes from dust, dirt, water, branches, and other potentially harmful projectiles you might encounter. Simply remove the shields when they are no longer needed.
Sunglasses frames are generally made out of four types of materials, although you'll find specialty frames made of other things, too. The four main types of frame materials are:
Metal – Stainless steel, aluminum, or titanium frames are incredibly stylish and can be very lightweight, but they get searingly hot if left in a closed car on sunny, bright days. Metal frames are more expensive than other types of materials, though one major bonus is that they can be easily adjusted. The downside is that metal frames are less durable than other types of materials.
Nylon – The right type of nylon frames make for the best high-impact sports sunglasses. Lightweight and inexpensive, nylon is more durable than metal but can't be adjusted unless the frames are made with an internal, adjustable wire core.
Acetate – While you shouldn't count on acetate frames for high-impact sports, cellulose acetate is a hypoallergenic plant-based material that is strong, lightweight, and flexible. Acetate also takes color very well, which is why it is so popular for high-end glasses and sunglasses frames.
Castor-Based Polymer – Another of the eco-friendly non-petroleum materials, castor-based polymers and resins are lightweight and flexible but durable. Castor-based polymer is made from highly renewable castor seed plants, which are easy to grow in soil where other crops won't grow.
The best-looking pair of sunglasses won't do you any good if they are uncomfortable, keep falling off during activity, or irritate pressure points. Whatever shades you choose, they should fit both your face and the activity. You don't even want to be reminded that you're wearing them. Look for the following fit aspects for even better performance.
FLEXIBLE EAR GRIPS
Ear grips help balance the weight of your sunglasses between the nose pads and the ears, which helps prevent those irritating red dents that can form on either side of the bridge of your nose. Flexible ear grips allow you to adjust the ear grips to exactly fit your head. They also keep your sunglasses from sliding down your nose while you're looking down.
INTERCHANGEABLE NOSE PADS AND RUBBER TEMPLE GRIPS
When seeking that perfect weight balance between the nose and the ears, you can opt for interchangeable nose pads as well as rubber temple grips. Different sizes and shapes of nose pads can raise or lower the optical frame as needed. When paired with rubber temple grips (rubber ear pieces that grip you head or hold the glasses on by hooking over your ears), you'll get a perfect weight balance, your eyes will be aligned at exactly the center of the optical frame, and your shades won't slip off when you look down or whip your head around.
Sweat and water can cause sunglasses to slide, and hydrophilic nose pads and temple tips help prevent that.