by Diane Spicer
Hiking sunglasses serve a dual purpose:
Okay, there's one more reason to wear sports sunglasses: to look great as you sweat up a storm!
Your eyes are well 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 on some of the 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 you want maximum eye protection.
So shop for a pair of hiking sunglasses which block almost all (preferably 100%) of Ultraviolet A and Ultraviolet B rays while preventing up to 90% of visible light from entering your eyes.
Combine a wide brimmed hiking hat with a quality pair of sunglasses, and you'll block a crazy amount of UV radiation from entering your eyes!
Some colors are better suited for trail conditions than others.
So it's important to wear the right shades for the environment and weather you prefer to hike in, year round.
That might mean owning more than one pair of hiking sunglasses!
I do, because I'm a year round hiker who enjoys both flat terrain and high alpine hiking.
Polarization can allow you to see beneath the surface of water.
It also makes colors crisp and vivid as it cuts glare.
But there's a drawback to polarized sunglasses: they make LCD screens nearly impossible to see.
So your camera, smart phone, and car screens will be no gos when you're wearing those glasses.
The fit matters, too.
So that's the third purpose: looking good!
Nice and snug is better than loose and floppy, as long as it's not too nice and snug (leaving painful gouges on 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.
Choose a business which allows you to come back to tweak the fit, or to replace nose pads when they wear out.
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.
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.
Also consider the fact that a high quality pair of hiking sunglasses will perform well for years, keeping cheap plastic junk out of landfills.
The lenses in your glasses must stand up to all sorts of hiking conditions, like these examples:
One more thing: if you're bushwhacking, the lenses might have to withstand scratching from branches.
Polycarbonate lenses are the way to go when you hike in extreme terrain.
Here's an example of sunglasses that can stand up to punishment:Julbo Camino Spectron 4 Sunglasses
Be careful when you clean all that stuff off the lenses: you might end up scratching the lens yourself!
I carry a small microfiber cloth like this with me for cleaning purposes.
Trail tip: It's a good idea to buy a multipack, and stash them in every backpack and jacket pocket. Use them to clean your camera lenses, too.
Just for the record, I wear prescription glasses which automatically turn dark when I'm outdoors.
I love that 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 your prescription pair of lenses?
In really sunny conditions I wear a pair of sunglasses called FitOvers right over my transitional lenses!
It pays to investigate that option here before purchasing a pricey pair of pretty eye protectors.
As with any other hiking gear, you get what you pay for.
And you want to pay for glasses that stop glare, block UV rays, minimize the amount of sunlight reaching your eyes, fit well, and look good.
Too much to ask? Nope!
Here's a company that makes decent sunglasses for hiking, with plenty of options for frames and lenses.
True story: Your hiking sunglasses look way better on you than me!
After all that work to find the perfect pair, don't put your sunglasses on a rock and then walk away.
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.
Maybe you should be using a lightweight cord around your neck?
That's how I keep mine year after year ;)
Best Hiking Sunglasses