What do you look for when buying a pair of sunglasses? That they match your extensive wardrobe? That they are affordable? That they don’t make your bum look big?
What you should perhaps consider is that the glasses are going to protect your eyes from the harmful effects of sunlight – both the visible and invisible aspects of the spectrum.
Solar radiation comprises approximately 5% ultra violet, 39% visible light and 56% infra-red. Roughly speaking UVA tans your skin, UVB causes sunburn and UVC, which is the most dangerous and harmful, is largely absorbed by the earth’s ozone layer. Infra-red radiation carries heat and is largely absorbed by water contained in the eye’s transparent media. There is a risk, however, of the cornea over-heating in extreme conditions.
So your glasses should not only filter out the harmful rays but they should fit well and hug the contours of your face, thereby minimising the amount of radiation reaching your eyes. This is particularly important if you are going to be using them in a bright environment where there is going to be a lot of glare (bolted limestone cragging), or if there is be potential for light being reflected and intensified by reflective surfaces (glacier travel and snowy surfaces).
Snow reflects 85% of UV and the intensity increases by 10% for every 1,000m of altitude (there is less atmosphere to absorb the UV). Needless to say, snowy peaks at altitude on blue sky days is the most hazardous environment of the lot.
There are various European standards that govern the categorisation of protective eyewear and, without boring the pants off you, a summary is as follows:
The Optical Class governs the amount of optical distortion. You should be seeking Class 1 lenses that are recommended for extended use, otherwise you’ll have a headache in a very short period of time.
The Category of lens determines the amount of light that is allowed through the lenses. In very simple terms this is accomplished by using a coloured lens material, adding some form of reflective coating to the outside and a tinted coating to the inside. For outdoor activities don’t settle for anything less than Category 3 lenses. Cat 3 lenses allow a maximum of 18% and minimum of 8% of visible light through to your eyes. For Cat 4 lenses these figures are 8% and 3% respectively. Additionally, the lenses should filter 100% UVA and UVB. If you find yourself squinting with your glasses on then they are not a strong enough category and your eyes are being damaged. (Category 4 lenses are not suitable for driving.)
If the lenses are made from glass they have to be subjected to a drop ball test to make sure that they can withstand impact (say, from rockfall, gravel being kicked up whilst mountain biking etc). For Polycarbonate lenses this is not the case as they are shatterproof (try hard enough and you may be able to break them but the frame will go first). So why not always go for Polycarbonate lenses you may well ask – especially as they are lighter? Well with glass lenses the optical clarity is generally better.
And lastly, another regulation drawn up by those clever people in the EU is that the glasses must be fireproof, which is good news for all those smokers out there.
If you are trying glasses on I would suggest that 10 seconds in front of a mirror is not enough. You are about to shell out some serious money to protect one of your most valuable senses. Put them on and shake your head around and up and down (however foolish you may feel) – do they stay put? Get someone to shine a torch in and around your face – can you see light creeping in from around the edges? Pop a helmet on to see how they sit together – do they get dislodged by the cradle and strap? And lastly, go and read the guidebooks for half an hour – do they cause you any discomfort, particularly behind the ears?
Most of these glasses were put through their paces on an expedition in Greenland where we were subjected to 24 hours sunlight, of which about 16 were extremely intense. Some of the comments are a little subjective but then we all have different sizes of heads and shapes of faces.So rather than settling for your local chemist’s own brand of Category 1 sunglasses that don’t match the contours of your face and come complete with visual distortion that will give you a headache, go and try on the following:-
Adidas Elevation. Cat 4 £89
Adidas have extended their eyewear range to accommodate a wider range of user. The Elevations are not as prone to fogging as some of the other glasses around which is accomplished by a foam pad across the top with vents that allow air to circulate freely. The foam pad also doubles as a perspiration blocker so you don’t end up with sweaty suncream in your eyes. They have an adjustable nose bridge and a ‘Tri.Fit’ system that allows you to alter the angle of the sidearms, so pretty much whatever shape face you have these will fit you. The arms are removable and easily replaced with a headstrap (supplied) for a little more security for, say, snowboarding. In this mode they fit closer to the face but you don’t quite get a complete fit so they are not as weatherproof as goggles. They also come with a second set of lighter tinted lenses to allow for variable light conditions and as a result the case is quite bulky.
All in all the Adidas glasses have more features about them than other models featured.
Adidas Elevation Climacool Cat 4 £125
These glasses have a complete foam surround to the frames which means they provide total-all-round protection. The arms are removable and can be replaced with a headband for increased security. The foam pad has a ventilation system so they won’t fog up although I’m not sure whether they will keep all the Scottish weather out (but then would you ever need Cat 4 glasses in Scotland?). Again a second set of lenses (Cat 1) and a hardcase. Apart from this they have all the features of the Climacool featured above – but at a price.
Adidas Evil Eye. Cat 4 £115
These glasses fit extremely well, are made from light but tough materials and give a really wide field of vision. They have a removable foam strip across the top of the glasses (again a great sweat catcher) but I wasn’t happy to use them without it, as the light just comes pouring in from above. They have the variable nose bridge and Tri.Fit system as mentioned earlier, and the herringbone pattern on the sidearms works well as keeping the glasses in place. They come with a second set of lenses, a headband and a hard case but, as with the other Adidas glasses, they are a tad pricey.
Bloc Wolf. Cat 3 £40
Available in four different colours and two different lenses these glasses are great value for money. For the price these glasses have great lenses, are in a classy wrap-around style and stay put. They don’t come with a hard case but at this price I guess a cloth bag is all you’d expect.
Bloc Spike XR, Bobcat, Stoat XR. Cat 3 £35
These models are all fairly similar and vary from one to another in lens colour, frame colour and overall shape (although they are all wrap-around to varying degrees). The Stoat is also available for juniors (or for people with small heads) so you can rest assured that your offspring will look cool and will be protecting their eyes whilst at the same time you will be protecting your pocket. They don’t come with hard cases but at this price they are really really good value.
Cébé Cecchinel. Cat 4 £79
The Cecchinel model has been a long time Cébé favourite but has recently been revamped. Available in two sizes they have the typical look of traditional glacier glasses with oval dark lenses and leather side pieces. The lenses are available in glass or polycarbonate. The temples are adjustable to the shape of your head and ears and they have a neck loop to stop you dropping them. The side pieces are removable and are an improvement on the old ones that were a bit of a fiddle to replace. Hard case supplied.
Cébé Crux. Cat 4 £85
The concept with these glasses is that they are hinged at the centre by use of a rubber nose bridge (as well as having hinged arms). I was dubious at first but they do stay put and hug the contours of the face in the process. However, we all found they had a tendency to pinch our heads after only an hour or so of use. The lenses we had were very high quality and gave a great field of view with a slight blue tint. However, they don’t fold down small enough for my liking. The case measures 7″x4.5″x2.25″ which makes it totally impractical to take along for those multi-day trips where space is at a premium in your sack, or even days when you may start in the dark and not need your specs until later in the morning. If you can afford a few pairs of specs then they will be a nice addition to your collection – but it will only be a matter of time before they start gathering dust as other pairs are used in preference.
Cébé Spot. Cat 4 £35
These glasses are of a wrap-around variety to fit the contours of the face. To achieve that facial hug the lenses are angled quite steeply, so much so that all the blokes found that their eyelashes touched the lenses and they needed cleaning all the time (the lenses, not our eye lashes). The ladies on the trip, however, raved about them and generally gave them the top vote out of all the glasses with them having the narrowest fit. They have neat little holes at the end of the arms to accommodate their specially designed headstrap and removable rubberised side pieces for a change of look and added ventilation. The best value glasses out of all the ones tested.
Julbo Enak Excel. Cat 4 Goggles £70
Everyone I asked about Cat 4 goggles said that they didn’t exist. Well these guys do them and they are awesome. They are a reasonably specialist piece of kit I guess, but if you are planning on going to any altitude, and there is a remote chance of high winds, then there is no alternative (polar explorers or extreme snowboarders and skiers – these are a must). They come complete with carrying pouch which has a neck strap incorporated so you’re not going to lose it. The buckle is really chunky and, although I haven’t broken it as yet, I can see that it could be easy to break when trying to undo it. It is particularly awkward to manage with big gloves on. The buckle also adds considerable weight and personally I would rather have either no buckle at all, or a more slimline one and easier to undo.
Julbo Nomad glasses. Cat 3 to Cat 4 £70
Julbo have done it again with a really nice looking pair of glasses that have their ‘altichromic’ lenses which means that they vary from Cat 3 through to Cat 4 depending upon the intensity of the sunlight. This is great for those long days and means that you aren’t stumbling around in the semi dark at dawn or dusk and you don’t get dazzled under the midday sun. The ends of the arms (temples) are actually quite sharp and I invariable jabbed myself in the side of my head every time I put them on and some folk found that they fogged up. They have two sets of removable side pieces and offer a very wide field of view whilst hugging the face really well and keeping out any excess light. The arms are a little slack, however, and we found that they didn’t always stay in place. They come complete with a hard case and neck loop and have the most neutral and pleasant lenses of the lot.
The North Face Adrenaline. Cat 3 £80
A very stylish looking pair of glasses. The Adrenaline comes with interchangeable lens capability to suit different light conditions and with Polycarbonate lenses they are super light. Supplied with hard case and bag. The frames are available in a variety of stylish colours and come with a range of different lenses – but don’t go for the Spectra 20 as they only offer Cat 2 protection. We used the the Spectra 10 grey/silver flash lenses which allow approx 11% visible light through and found them to be great on all but the most extreme of days.
The North Face Summit. Cat 4 £109
These are nice. Very nice. Made from Titanium and with a choice of Polycarbonate or Mineral lenses (which reduce weight by 30% compared to regular glass) they are super light and comfortable. They are adjustable to suit the shape of your ears and have ventilated thermoplastic side shields for free air flow. They come with a hard case, cloth cleaning bag and neck loop. Not quite as much field of view as the wrap-around models. They allow between 4% to 6% of light in and so stop the glare on even the most intense days. Of all the glasses featured these were the ones that everyone fought over on a daily basis.
The North Face Himalayan. Cat 4 £65
Another pair of ultralight glasses in the Cat 4 range. They have a bit of a retro look about them and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. The temples are adjustable and the thermoplastic eyeshields are removable, but frankly they look pretty ugly without them and allow heaps of light in. Even with them on you will be very aware of the red patches in your peripheral vision, rather than having a wide field of view. They come with a hard case and a cleaning cloth and are also available with Cat 3 polarized lenses.
Oakley Half Jacket Plasma w/Gold Irid. Cat 3 £89
These glasses are super cool and look the biz. I half expected a message to flash up informing me that ‘my mission should I choose to accept it …’ However, great as they may look, they don’t sit at all well. The arms are quite broad and don’t hold the glasses in place and there is almost too much rubber along the length of them forcing the glasses forward once in place. (Or maybe it’s just the shape of my head.) As with all the Oakley glasses they come with a bag but no case. At this price I find that a bit tight-fisted since the cost of a case is minimal.
Oakley Monster Dog Brown Tortoise w/Bronze. Cat 3 £75
These have a very retro look about them and are perfect if you want to look like a French Mountain Guide. The quality is good and they were a great fit providing a very wide area of protection for the face and eyes. However, at this price I want a box to put them in when I’m not wearing them, rather than them rattling around in a cloth bag in my rucksack lid.
Oakley Unknown Polished Blk w/Blk Irid. Cat 3 £89
Another great looking pair of glasses for that chic continental look. Very stylish, a really robust feel to them and they keep the light out. As with all the Oakleys featured they are only Cat 3 lenses so not appropriate for really intense light conditions or any trips to even moderate altitudes.