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Hiking Sunglasses

Hiking sunglasses serve a dual purpose:

  • They must block UV rays, AND
  • block any potential trail hazards dangling in your face (including those pesky spider webs early in the morning).

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.

Why?

Your eyes can accumulate long term damage, clouding the lenses and leading to vision problems (cataracts) in the future.

Besides, squinting sucks!

  • Think of the wrinkle prevention you're accomplishing by donning a pair of stylish hiking sunglasses.

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.


Make sure your hiking sunglasses
fit your face

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.

  • They might be fine for a few quick day hikes, but I'd question the quality as well as the marketing hype.
  • But do they really block 100% of UV rays for that cheap price?
  • Will they stand up to the grit and pounding of the trail?

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:

  • dirt and grit on the lenses,
  • corrosive sweat,
  • occasional water dunkings during stream crossings,
  • greasy sunscreen accumulations,
  • being dropped onto rocks or mud,
  • cold winter conditions,
  • and whatever else you throw at your hiking gear.

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?

I agree.

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.


Hiking sunglasses should be used year round. Blocking UV rays on the snow keeps your corneas out of trouble.


Best hiking sunglasses for prescription lens hikers

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.

  • The lenses take awhile to adjust, and I hate the wait time because I can't see the trail very well, making me prone to stumbling.
  • Also, in really bright conditions, I can't see the buttons on my camera and I have to look over the top of the "glasses turned sunglasses", which gives me a jolting blast of sunlight which sometimes hurts my eyes.

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.


I don't want your sunglasses!

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.

  • I used to take them back to the trail head and leave them in a conspicuous place.
  • Now I just let Mother Nature & the elves have them.


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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