That rack of $10 sunglasses at the local discount or drug store? Walk right on past that thing while repeating after me: “You get what you pay for, you get what you pay for….”
Buy cheap sunglasses and you’ll get cheap sunglasses, poorly made ones that won’t offer good vision, won’t last long and, worst of all, might not protect your eyes from the damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun.
But buy quality ones—not necessarily pricey ones—and you’ll take care of your eyesight.
“Anytime you’re in the outdoors, especially around snow, water or rocks, there’s going to be lots of glare and reflection,” professional whitewater kayaker Brad Ludden says. “Since I spend 90 percent of my life outdoors, I’m at risk for eye problems such as establishing cataracts early on. That’s why I wear sunglasses whenever I can.”
Whether you wear shades to protect your eyes or simply to look like a rock star, here’s the good news: Sunglasses can be functional and cool—without you spending a king’s ransom. You just have to be a smart sunglass shopper. Here’s how.
Where to Shop:
“Never shop for shades on a street corner.” Ludden says. “You know, where they sell ‘Jokeleys’ (fake Oakleys).”
Sunglass-specific shops or outdoor stores usually have knowledgeable staff, and you don’t have to worry about buying fake or counterfeit sunglasses.
Plan to spend at least $30 to get a quality pair of sunglasses. Cheaper shades are likely to be of questionable quality. But don’t overdo it, either; over $100, you’re probably just paying for a trendy brand name.
Before you go shopping, consider what you’ll be using your shades for. Look at your hobbies. Are you around the water a lot? Do you love to ski or hike in the snow? Is cycling your thing?
“Figure out what you want before you go in the store,” Ludden says. “Then have them show you a few that match your criteria and fit your face the best.”
The Lens Matters:
For most outdoor sports, shatterproof polycarbonate lenses are best. Glass lenses are recommended only for low-impact activities like fishing or chilling out.
Also, make sure the lens provides 100 percent UV protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Most have a sticker on the lens to let you know.
“If you buy glasses with cheap lenses they can give you headaches, almost like a prescription that’s not right for your eyes,” Ludden warns. “It can also throw off your depth perception, and whether you’re kayaking or mountain biking or whatever, that’s really important. It’s worth spending a little extra money for better lenses.”
Polarization is a lens technology that reduces glare and the dangerous rays that can cause cataracts at a young age.
Get polarized lenses if you spend a lot of time around water or snowy conditions. Insist on glasses with polarization that’s sandwiched between two lenses — avoid those with spray-on polarization (it can wear off over time).”
Frame and Fit: Some frames are metal, but most sports sunglasses have durable and lightweight plastic frames.
Take a look at the frame and make sure the joints are strong. The arms and earpieces should feel sturdy and stay put on your face — but not so tight that it hurts or gives you a headache. The lenses should be close to your face so glare can’t seep in along the sides between your cheeks.
For high-speed sports or extra bright conditions, look for wrap-style shades that provide maximum coverage. Too close to your eye can be bad because you’ll get the dreaded eyelash bash on the lenses.
“You don’t want to know they are on your face,” Ludden says. “You want sunglasses to be so comfortable that you forget about them.””
Unless there’s a good reason not to wear a strap — say, while mountain biking, where it could snag on a limb — it’s wise to add a retainer. You paid good money for good sunglasses; you don’t want your last look at them to be them sinking to a river bottom.”