When playing outdoor sports on sunny days, sunglasses help to reduce the amount of glare and brightness. On hazy or overcast days, sunglasses increase contrast, improving your vision. Sunglasses also protect your eyes from harmful UV light, wind, rain and snow. When choosing a pair of sports sunglasses to be aware that you can customize your frame and lenses to suit your unique needs. Researching reviews online and soliciting the opinions of fellow athletes will also narrow your options.
Selecting a Frame
1. Think about where you will wear them: If you are buying your glasses for a specific sport, such as cycling, this should be easy for you; however if you plan to use these glasses for a variety of sports then you need to consider what demands and expectations you will place upon this product. Try to think of it in terms of percentages: I will use these glasses 50% for running, 10% for boating, and 40% for leisure.
2. Consider the frame material. Are you playing a sport where weight matters? If this is the case, then you will need to go with a lighter frame. Do you expect your glasses to fall on the ground at least once? Then you need a frame that can withstand some ‘abuse.’ Do you care about the cost? If so, your frame choice may be more limited.
- The standard plastic frame is a cheaper option. It is a bit heavier and less aerodynamic; however, a well-made plastic frame can last for quite a while. Acetate is a plant-based frame material that mimics traditional plastic. Its layered construction creates a strong frame that is usually rather lightweight.
- If you are concerned about the environmental impact of your purchase, you may want to go with a castor frame, which is made from castor plants. These frames possess similar qualities to acetate ones with the added benefit of being eco-friendly.
- For the ultimate in flexibility, look into a nylon or nylon-hybrid frame. These frames are designed for sport and can bend yet retain their original shape. Traditional nylon frames are also cheaper than a hybrid option.
- Metal frames are not usually chosen for sports as they offer less flexibility and can potentially cause injury when broken. If you do decide to go with metal you will most likely need to choose between aluminum, titanium, and stainless steel.
3. Understand the advantage of a wraparound-style: This type has a head-hugging design that allows for less light to penetrate inside the frame. It also tends to grip your head tighter resulting in less movement, even when participating in a sports activity.
- Some sports sunglasses also have a foam insert that allows you to have extra seal/coverage for sports, offering wind protection too.
- Wraparound sunglasses generally have a higher ‘base curve’ meaning that they follow the angles of your face closely. Standard non-sport sunglasses generally have a shallower ‘base curve’ as they draw away from your face and let additional light in. Note that if you have a high prescription you are at greater risk of having trouble adapting to glasses with a high base curve.
4. Factor in the fit with your other sports gear: If you are participating in a sport that requires other headgear, such as a helmet, you need to consider how your sunglasses work with, or against, these other items. Ideally, everything that you wear should function together to provide you with maximum safety, performance, and comfort.
- For example, if you are a cyclist, your new sunglasses will need to fit well with your helmet. If you are a motorcyclist, you need sunglasses that fit under your face-shield or act as independent protection with an open-faced helmet.
- To ensure the proper fit, it is probably a good idea to bring your helmet or other gear with you when trying on your sunglasses. Move your head around to check for motion. Look out from all angles to check for an obstructed view.
- Layers upon layers of gear can make things hot. Don’t forget to consider how much ventilation your sunglasses will provide. Some of the most protective pairs can also feel rather smothering in higher temperatures.
5. Consider a floating frame: If you are participating in a watersport, investing in a floating frame might be a very good idea. These frames are made of lightweight material and are designed to stay on the surface of the water (usually for quite a while) after falling off.
6. Pay attention to altitude. When you think of UV ray protection, special lenses probably come to mind; however, in snow sports, UV rays can reflect off snow and infiltrate the gaps in frames. Specialized frames designed for high-altitude sports minimize this damage by including shields on the side and over the bridge of your nose. The shields can actually improve your ability to look around without facing glare.
- High altitudes are another consideration for additional awareness of UV exposure as the higher you go, the thinner the atmosphere, and the greater the UV exposure.
Customizing Your Lenses
1. Protect your eyes from harmful rays: Look for a lens that promises to block at least 99% of UVA and UVB rays. Most sports sunglasses come with this protection but beware of cosmetic eyewear as it may not. This protection is especially important if you plan to wear your glasses for long periods of time.
- Cheap sunglasses that don't protect from UVA and UVB rays ay actually be more damaging than wearing no sunglasses at all, because they actually allow more harmful rays into your eye.
2. Pick a lens material: You have a handful of options here: glass, polycarbonate, plastic, or polyurethane. All of them possess particular advantages in terms of visual clarity, durability, and cost. You will want to try on a few different lens types before making a final decision.
- Glass lenses are often less attractive to athletes because they are more likely to break or chip if dropped. They are also a bit heavier, which can be an issue in weight-class sports; however, they do provide excellent visual clarity.
- Plastic lenses offer a similar visual appeal as glass without some of the breakage issues; however, they do scratch easily without a resistant coating. This can be a cheaper option for athletes looking for a pair of limited use or back-up glasses.
- Polycarbonate lenses are a very popular option among sports enthusiasts. They are light and impact resistant. For optimal performance, add anti-scratch and anti-reflective treatments to these lenses.
- Trivex NXT (NXT Polyurethane) lenses are the top-of-the-line choice. They are almost as clear as glass without the breakage concerns. They are lightweight and include the highest-level sunglasses technology. However, be prepared to pay more for these lenses.
3. Familiarize yourself with the advantages of various lens colors: Lenses come in all the colors of the rainbow. The color that you pick should depend on the sport that you play, the weather conditions of the sport, and the performance advantages that you desire. Be aware that you may also need to try on several lens colors before you find one that you prefer.
- Green provides some glare and contrast reduction. It is well-suited for general use, high-altitude sports, or boating/sailing.
- Yellow is a popular lens color and it improves visibility in murky, low-light conditions. It performs especially well early or late in the day. This lens is suitable for aviation, tennis, and biking.
- Blues and purples are often favored for fashion reasons and they also reduce glare and elevate color differentiation. They are often worn by golfers.
- Gray is a solid, generic use lens color suitable for most outdoor sports. It is easy on the eye, reducing fatigue. It also provides true color awareness and is good to wear for almost all weather conditions.
- Pink and red lenses lessen eye strain and increase depth perception. They are especially suitable for severe, snowy weather conditions. Many alpine and racing athletes prefer these lens colors.
4. Consider mirrored lenses: These lenses work to reduce glare. If your sport takes place on a highly reflective surface, such as the snow or sand, mirrored lenses can minimize the negative effects. These are also useful if you want to shield your eyes from your opponent. The reflective surface gives little to no indication of your eye movements.
- Because this is a mirrored coating be aware that your lenses may be more susceptible to getting scratched.
5. Purchase a pair of glasses with polarized lenses: These lenses are slightly more expensive, but they combine many admirable qualities. They block additional UV rays and they reduce glare from bright surfaces, such as a snowpack. Those persons participating in racing or fishing sports often choose these types of lenses as they improve the track and water visibility.
6. Wear photochromic (transition) lenses: This is a lens treatment that can be applied to almost any type of base lens, i.e. polycarbonate, glass, etc. These lenses adjust to changing light conditions. They grow lighter in low light. Their pigment/shade level increases in bright light, to resemble traditional sunglasses. These are especially useful for sportspeople operating in variable light conditions.
- Be aware that the transition between tints is not immediate and can be a bit slow in lower temperatures.
7. Consider hydrophobic lenses: This is a great add-on for watersports. It is an extra coating applied to the lens that repels water. Water droplets will essentially slide off the lens instead of pooling on the surface.
- Premium anti-glare coatings also have water, oil and dust repellent properties.
8. Purchase interchangeable lenses: Some frames allow you to customize your lens options depending on the weather conditions, the sport, etc. This is a great, but somewhat expensive, alternative if you like to play a wide variety of sports in varying settings. Also, if one set of lenses is damaged you can simply replace it and continue on.