You’ve chosen your boots, agonized over your backpack, and have finally figured out how you’re going to feed yourself on the trail… but wait – have you thought about sunglasses? If you’re heading above the snowline – you better have the best mountaineering sunglasses to protect those eyes!
Hikers need decent, rugged sunglasses that aren’t going to break when they’re dropped, and will keep the UV rays at bay – and make you look cool, that too.
We’re pretty good at remembering to pack the sunscreen – a good pair of hiking sunglasses is like sunscreen for your eyes.
While you might think you’d have plenty of sunglasses to choose from, you’d be mistaken. There are far more pretenders than contenders, so we’ve compiled a quick list to help you find the best.
We’ve also included handy buying tips which cover everything from sizing to coatings.
What You'll Learn
- Best Sunglasses for Mountaineering
- Choosing the right Sunglasses for Hiking
- Protect those peepers…
- The Air up there…
- Snow Blindness & How to Prevent it
- The difference between VLT and UV
- Lens Category
- Polarization, Coatings, and Tint…
- A note on “Transitions” lenses
- Anti-Scratch & Rain-X for Shades
- Lens Colors & Tints
- Sunglass Sizing: How does it work?
- A note about warranties
Best Sunglasses for Mountaineering
Before we get into all the nitty gritty of lens-coatings, UV protection and the horror of snow-blindness, let’s take a look at our top picks for those high-altitude hikes.
Julbo is by far the top manufacturer when it comes to mountaineering sunglasses.
While a significant portion of their arsenal is suitable for higher altitudes, our favorite is the Julbo Explorer 2. They are more modern than Classic glacier glasses and come in a wide variety of styles as well.
- Lifetime Warranty
- Adjustable temples
- Good ventilation
- Removable shields
- Protection against UVA, B, and C
- Could be too large for some
The vented design certainly helps as these sunglasses will remain comfortable regardless of the weather.
Julbo went with a flexible grip insert for the bridge and put “Grip Tech” around the temples to help keep your shades in place. A cord may not be necessary although something we highly recommend.
We also like the 360-degree adjustable temples and the fact you can choose from four types of lenses and seven frame styles.
Before we got to those hues, we want to talk about the lenses.
If you need the best, you’ll want the Spectron 4’s. These polycarbonate lenses have a VLT rating of 5% and an anti-reflective coating.
While they aren’t resistant to fog or oil-repellant, the Zebra and Camel Photochromic lenses are, and range from category 2 – 4. If you want to learn more about the lenses, be sure to check this out.
These sturdy frames have a lens depth of 47mm and a temple length of 135mm.
They are available in seven color combos depending on your preference of lens and come with a neck cord and lifetime warranty.
Finding a true set of Women’s mountaineering sunglasses can be difficult.
While there are several stylish options, many are lacking when it comes to protection. We’re pleased to say that’s not the case with the Julbo Monterosa Mountain Sunglasses as they handle rays or fine powder reflection with ease.
- Class 4 lenses
- Lifetime warranty
- Top-tier quality
- Excellent fit (unless you have a very narrow face – see below)
- Close fit may bump those eyelashes
- Smaller shields are easier to lose
Julbo provides a similar set of options in the lens department on their high-end sunglasses, so we’re going to focus on the build quality first.
These frames are considerably smaller than the Explorer 2.0 but are just as tough on the trail. The temple length is 5mm shorter, and there’s an 8mm swing in lens depth as well.
The side shields on the Julbo Monterosa are smaller, but get the job done and can be removed as needed. Compared to other glacier glasses, these actually look normal with or without those shields.
Other features to note include grip tech around the curved temples and slots for a cord on each arm. They are snug, and comfortable despite the conditions outdoors.
If you want the Julbo Monterosa Mountain Sunglasses with the Category 4 Spectron lens, your color options are a bit limited, unfortunately.
The only frames available are dark Blue with Grey and Coral accents or Black on Black. You can get Army and Pink with Spectron 3 lenses if you’re willing to drop down a Category and options like Zebra Photochromic and Camel Photochromic are also available.
The Revo Traverse may not have the same “pop” as the Julbo Explorer 2, but don’t be fooled by their looks. These simple sunglasses are full of flagship features and will protect your eyes from anything nature throws your way.
- The coating keeps oils and sweat at bay
- Elastomeric nosepads
- Digital Polarized Plus tech
- Ample protection against UV rays
- Shatterproof lens
- They’re pricey
- Limited lens options
Overall, the feel good on the face and aren’t too heavy. They nosepad has good grip as well so it’s unlikely they’ll slide off your face.
Revo went with a polarized Serilium lens for the Blue Water version of the Traverse. It has 100% UV protection with 3-6 layers of mirror coating and back-surface protection. Like glasses with coatings? Well, these offer protection against fingerprints, sweat, water and oily skin. They are also shatterproof and digital-friendly despite their polarization.
The Revo Traverse has a lens width of 57mm, a bridge of 19mm and the temple length is 135mm. The frames are White, but you get a choice of lens color between Blue Water and Solar Orange.
They come with a 2-year warranty against defects, but not scratches so be sure to keep the case or soft bag handy.
While these sunglasses may have a low rating and not much feedback, if they can handle the French Alps, they’re good enough for us.
When you name your sunglasses after the baddest man around, they better be able to live up to the hype. The Tifosi Dolomite 2.0 Wrap Sunglasses exceeded our expectations and are a nice alternative to traditional glacier glasses.
- Sturdy frames
- Interchangeable lenses
- Excellent ventilation
- 100% UVA/UVB protection
- Minimal wind protection
- Not for hikers with small heads
The sides are open towards the back of the arm, so there’s a bit of shielding close to the frame but room for ventilation. The airflow extends to the lenses as well with two slots on each side.
While those vented lenses certainly look cool, we’re pleased to say they are very functional and work as intended. They won’t fog up in a critical moment and will hold up better than most as well.
The lenses are made from decentered polycarbonate which is shatterproof (to a degree) and eliminate distortion. They aren’t polarized, but do provide you with 100% protection from those harmful UV rays.
Like shades that are adjustable? Well, you’ll love these as the nose piece has enough wiggle room to fit any face. It’s also made from hydrophilic rubber along with the ear pieces which have a bit of flex.
The lenses are 67mm wide with a height of 37mm. This model comes with a regular smoke colored lens along with clear and red lenses.
The Dolomite’s are best suited for folks with medium to large-sized faces and have a sweet price point to boot. While we like this lens combo, several options are available including a slick smoke blue set.
No matter which color you choose, each pair comes with a zippered shell case and cleaning bag.
Rounding out our list of the best sunglasses for mountaineering is another set of shades from Jublo. They also happen to be the most budget-friendly glasses to make the cut while still providing you with 100% protection from UV rays.
- Solidly built for this price point
- Class 3 lens
- Won’t hold up like high-end models
- Limited options
The lens depth or eye size is 45mm which makes them larger than the Monterosa but smaller than the Explorer 2.0’s. The bridge is 19mm while the temple length is short by design at 110mm.
Those arms wrap around the back of your lobes to ensure a tight fight. The standard side shields are present but made from leather and removable.
The frame may look frail, but it’s made from a sturdy composite material. The Sherpa’s are lighter than other glasses, but still protect your peepers with non-polarized Category 3 lenses.
There is a lot to like about the Julbo Sherpa including its very reasonable price tag. They’re considerably cheaper than other glacier glasses in this range but still come with the quality you’d expect from Julbo. These glasses come with a neck strap, hard case, and the company’s excellent warranty.
Choosing the right Sunglasses for Hiking
Protect those peepers…
Most folks don’t particularly like squinting into the sun, and chances are you’ve got your favorite pair of shades for driving.
Well, you need to be extra careful if you’re heading up a mountain, or even in exposed, windy areas, of a non-mountainous trail.
Protecting your eyes is extremely important when trekking at altitude – as the air gets thinner, the UVB light gets stronger. And just as your skin can get burned, so can your eyes.
The conditions you experience on the trail will vary, Mother Nature is fickle, so just because the forecast predicts cloud cover, doesn’t mean the sun won’t blind you by mid-day.
While you can’t predict the thickness of the ozone layer, you can head out with confidence if you follow these tips and focus on the wind, sun, and snow.
Before you get your mind set on a style or brand, consider where you’re off to and the conditions you’re likely to deal with. What works at your base camp may not do you any good as the air gets thinner and solar radiation increases at higher altitudes.
If you’re doing a bit of scrambling, then a good fit is important – you don’t want them falling off. And if they do fall off? None of us like seeing those $500 Pradas lying broken on the ground!
The Air up there…
The higher you climb, the thinner the atmosphere gets. While you won’t go floating off into space, you will have to deal with more UV radiation. It increases by around 10 – 12% per 1000 meters and will bounce off any snow or ice-covered surface.
This means your sunglasses have to be able to block UV rays from above, below (and sides) if you want to avoid photokeratitis.
Snow Blindness & How to Prevent it
You don’t have to head to polar regions to experience snow on a hike, and while pretty, the fluffy white stuff can wreak havoc on your eyes.
Photokeratitis is the scientific name, but we commonly refer to it as snow-blindness. It’s an extremely painful condition which is the equivalent of your eyeballs getting sunburnt.
Causing temporary blindness (which is scary!), photokeratitis is the inflammation of the cornea, as a result of overexposure to UV rays. It often happens on mountains as the snow reflects over 80% of the sun’s rays.
Snow doesn’t have to be involved, however. At higher altitudes, the more intense rays can cause it – believe me, 5 hours from Kilimanjaro’s summit is a bad place to suffer from this.
Similarly, water and white sand can have the same effect.
Put those shades on, people.
The difference between VLT and UV
Before we get into lens ratings, it’s important to understand the types of light sunglasses can block and what the terms UV and VLT mean.
While everyone has heard of UV, both are important when you need the best protection for your eyes.
UV stands for Ultraviolet Radiation, and it’s something most people will be familiar with. UV light actually consists of three bands with UVC, UVB, and UVA. Thankfully, UVC isn’t a significant concern due to atmospheric buffering, but UVA and UVB can toast your corneas. The latter increases significantly at higher altitudes, and ideally, you’ll want a lens capable of handling all three, providing 100% protection.
As for VLT, that’s Visible Light Transmission and measures how much light manages to get through the lens. For example, Oakley’s VR28 goggle lens has a rating of around 23-25% while the Jublo Shield has a VLT rating of 5%.
If you need true “Glacier Glasses” you’ll want a VLT between 5-10%. Now that you understand the UV and VLT ratings, it’s time to talk about the lens Classes or Categories.
Lenses for sunglasses are rated on a scale from 1-4 depending on how much UV protection they provide. There’s a category 0 as well although these are typically clear and more for safety than dealing with UV rays.
A Category 1 lens is generally considered “fashion” glasses and won’t block out much. Typically they’ll let in between 45-80% of UV light. Something from Category 2 could be worn on a daily basis around town, letting in 20-45% of UV rays.
When you step up to a Category 3 lens, you start to get some real protection as they block up to 80% of the sun’s rays.
Protecting you against strong sunlight, these would be what you’d wear on a beach holiday in the tropics, when driving and for general hiking use.
A good quality Category 3 lens will keep your eyes protected in most conditions.
There are plenty of mountaineering sunglasses in this Category; if you want to be really safe, you’d be better off choosing a Category 4 lens if you are going to higher altitudes.
These lenses provide the most protection against harmful rays and typically have a low VLT rating to boot. Category 4 lenses are not recommended for driving. Letting in 3-8% of UV rays, these are best used on the mountain, the lake, and the sea!
Polarization, Coatings, and Tint…
Another specification manufacturers like to throw out is polarization.
Well, that’s great if you’re fishing on the lake, but not necessarily ideal for the peaks or slopes. Polarization reduces glare – the way the sun bounces back off reflective surfaces such as water and snow.
The lens contains a filter that blocks intensive, reflected light, giving a sharper image and reducing squint.
Note:: Polarized glasses can make it hard to tell ice from snow, so they are not suitable for every condition.
A note on “Transitions” lenses
Some manufacturers have lenses which react to light and are polarized as well. Those would be photochromic or “transitional” lenses which can adapt to the situation outdoors and get darker as the sun gets brighter.
They won’t do you much good behind the wheel as windshields combat UV rays – but are an excellent choice for hiking.
They won’t give you quite as much protection as a dedicated pair of sunglasses but are good for prescription-wearers and for those times when you don’t need full sun protection.
If you’d like to learn a bit more about the magic behind these lenses, this explains things rather nicely.
Anti-Scratch & Rain-X for Shades
As for coatings, this is another area that varies by manufacturer, with anti-scratch being the most common. Anti-fog coating is also a popular option along with a hydrophobic coating. The latter acts as a permanent type of Rain-X for your sunglasses and is ideal for damp conditions or humid areas.
Oleophobic coatings can deal with fingerprints while a lens with back-surface coating prevents glare on the inside.
Lens Colors & Tints
What’s with the different colored lenses? Why would you want a different color?
Mirrored glasses are an option, but tend to make things darker so you’ll want to pay attention to the tint.
Gray and Green tints tend to keep colors even while reducing glare. They will keep your eyes fresh and are an excellent all-around choice along with Brown.
While these shades share some similarities, Brown lenses can provide more depth although they will slightly alter the color.
When it comes to lighter hues like Yellow, Amber or Red, things change considerably. Yellow lenses are suitable for low light or hazy conditions while Red is excellent in the snow.
You can say the same for Blue and Purple lenses or ones with a gradient as they’ve been tested and shown to increase your depth perception which makes them ideal for mountaineering or skiing.
What are they made from?
Sunglasses manufacturers have used metal (steel, aluminum & titanium) and plastic (acetate, polycarbonate & nylon) for years, and both are still common in eyewear today.
When you get into specialty sunglasses, the materials become far more interesting as companies turn to exotics and metals like titanium. Composites are also just as popular as ever and help cut back on weight.
Titanium combines the lightest weight with the most durability. Indeed, I’ve got titanium specs that can almost be tied into a knot, the arms are that flexible!
Lens materials you’ll run into are:
- glass – great scratch resistance and optical properties, but not terribly durable, unless you favor the ‘cut face and broken glasses’ look
- Polycarbonate – strong and durable, won’t shatter when dropped. Does tend to scratch easily
- Polyurethane – the most expensive lens material. Strong, shatter- and scratch-proof with great optics and super durable. The advantage of these is that they don’t tend to need any coatings
- Plastic – ordinary plastic isn’t very durable and doesn’t have great optics but is cheap. Better suited to town glasses.
What about changeable lenses?
Some sunglasses come with different lenses that snap into place giving you the ultimate in versatility. The problem I have with these is that I end up losing the ‘spare’ lenses. Or, just leave them at home when I actually need them.
Metal is nice, but those sturdy frames may become a burden on longer hikes. Heavier glasses can also slip unless they have flexible temples, so you may need a cord to hold them in place. It’s a matter of preference for some and style for others, but weight shouldn’t be underestimated.
Nor should correct fit. You want your lightweight sunnies to cling to your head without making you feel that you’re in a vice-grip waiting for electric shock therapy. Nor do you want them too loose, so you spend every few minutes pushing the nose bridge back on your face.
A note about metal frames. Don’t learn the hard way, the way I did. At 6am in front of a glacier on Kilimanjaro, where it’s minus 2 zillion degrees, metal frames feel COLD. Yep, really cold.
Neither too tight, nor too loose – and what about when you get sweaty? That’s where that bit of extra padding on the nose piece comes in handy. Rubberized contact points by the ears and on your nose can stop the glasses moving around if you get a bit damp.
An adjustable nosepiece can make all the difference to whether you end the day with two red patches on either side of your nose or not.
Regardless of what the frames are made from, they need to provide you with coverage. When your skin’s exposed – particularly at higher altitudes – the wind is your enemy and not just when you’re trying to pitch your tent and settle in for the night.
The design of the sunglasses can help, as wraparounds with thick arms can give you some extra defense covering the side of your face. The best protection is side shields, something you’ll find on most of the best mountaineering sunglasses.
While handy, those shields can be annoying in normal hiking conditions. If you think they could be a hindrance, look for sunglasses with removable side shields.
One great advantage of removable side shields is you avoid the ‘blindspot’ problems sometimes associated with wraparound glasses. When choosing wraparounds, check the size of the lens allows for peripheral vision. If it’s all frame, you’ll end up with tunnel-vision.
Goggles are an option as well if you’re dealing with fresh powder on the slopes and need total coverage.
Note that with wraparounds, side-shields or goggles, you run more of a risk of them fogging up thanks to lack of ventilation. There isn’t much that a manufacturer can do to prevent fogging as humidity and ventilation play more of a role.
Sunglass Sizing: How does it work?
One of the most difficult parts of choosing sunglasses sight unseen, is you have no idea how they’ll fit – or how they’ll look. Just because Daniel Craig rocks those Oakleys, doesn’t mean you will.
Unless you know the brand well, or are picking up a replacement, you need to know the measurements and what they mean.
When you see something like 52 – 17 – 135, it’s pretty confusing, so we’re going to clear things up.
The first number you’re likely to see generally ranges from the low to mid-50s and is referred to as depth or lens size.
It’s followed by the bridge measurement which is basically the length between the lenses. The temple length tells you how long the arms of the sunglasses extend from the hinge to the end.
All the measurements are in millimeters, and some manufacturers may use different terms for parts of the frame as well.
While you can measure your head to get an idea, the easiest solution is to simply find a pair of sunglasses you own and compare their official measurements to the new ones.
A note about warranties
We’re not comparing your average $5 WalMart pair of spectacles here, so for any brand worth their salt, we’d expect a warranty – preferably lifetime.
This demonstrates that they stand by their durability claims, and means you can get a refund if they snap a few weeks later.