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Hiking sunglasses serve a dual purpose:
Your eyes are designed to gather light rays and focus them at the back of your eyeball, giving you crisp, clear vision on the trail.
But is there such a thing as "too much" light?
In a word, Yes!
It's important as a hiker to protect your eyes from too much light, ultraviolet rays in particular, by using the best outdoor sports sunglasses.
Your eyes can accumulate long term damage, clouding the lenses and leading to vision problems (cataracts) in the future.
Besides, squinting sucks!
Combine shades with the best sunscreen and you're going to be a beautiful hiker with great vision for a LONG time.
All sunglasses will cut down the amount of light your eyes get blasted with on an 8 hour hike in high summer, or on a snow field any time of the year at high elevation.
But did you know this? The color of the lenses in the sunglasses matters - some colors are better suited for trail conditions than others.
The fit matters, too.
Nice and snug is better than loose and floppy, as long as it's not too nice and snug (leaving gouges in your nose or behind your ears).
Try on lots of pairs of hiking sunglasses, and allow a trained salesperson or optometrist to give you just the right fit.
I strongly advise you to avoid the sunglasses sitting on a counter at a department store.
At most, use these tempting displays of sunglasses to figure out which frame shape looks best on your face, but don't purchase a pair and expect the glasses to stand up to hard trail usage day after day.
Speaking of hard trail usage, the lenses need to stand up to all sorts of hiking conditions like these examples:
Be careful when you clean all that stuff off the lenses: you might end up scratching the lens yourself! I carry a small chamois cloth with me for cleaning purposes.
One more thing: if you're bushwhacking, the lenses might have to withstand scratching from branches.
Sounds like a lot to ask from hiking sunglasses?
As with any other hiking gear, you get what you pay for.
Here's a company that makes decent sunglasses for hiking, with plenty of options for frames and lenses.
Just for the record, I wear prescription glasses which automatically
turn dark when I'm outdoors. I don't have to switch between glasses,
which was a nuisance when I used clip-ons or had a separate pair of prescription sunglasses.
This transitional darkening feature is handy most of the time.
Where I run into potential trouble is walking through dark forested stretches of trail after being in bright sunlight.
Full disclosure: I can't blame the looking-over-the-top thing entirely on the sunlight. Part of it is my multi-focal lenses necessary for my aging eyes.
One more rant: the lenses fog over in winter conditions, leaving me vision-compromised.
So carefully consider whether or not "transition" lenses fit your hiking lifestyle. They are definitely a mixed blessing, but in the end I endorse using them based on convenience.
If you already wear glasses but don't want transitional lenses, how about purchasing hiking sunglasses to fit over them?
In really sunny conditions I wear a pair of sunglasses called FitOvers over my transitional lenses!
It pays to investigate that option here before purchasing a pricey pair of pretty eye protectors.
Please, after all that work to find the perfect pair, don't leave your sunglasses on a rock at your lunch spot.
Every summer hiking season I count at least 5 pairs of sunglasses (some of them with prescription lenses), left behind by inattentive hikers.
Your hiking sunglasses look way better on you than me! Maybe you should be using a lightweight cord around your neck?
That's how I keep mine year after year ;)
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