Our Guide to the Five Best Hiking Sunglasses

When you go hiking, it’s essential to make sure you protect yourself from the elements, be that sun, wind, or rain. It means making sure you have the right boots or sandals for the terrain and the right travel coat for the weather.  What many hikers forget about, however, is protecting the most sensitive part of their bodies, the eyes. Which is why sunglasses should be a crucial part of your hiking kit, and why we’re looking at five of the best hiking sunglasses available today.

Why you need Hiking Sunglasses

According to the American Optometric Association, whatever you’re doing in your day to day life, you should wear sunglasses during daytime hours.  Not wearing them can put you at risk of cataracts or macular degeneration because of the sun’s UV rays or what is known as ‘blue light.’

When you’re hiking, this exposure to light can be more intense. This is especially true if you’re in areas where there is lots of sun and little shade such as the Manjuyod Sandbar or where you might have to deal with the glare from a sudden snowfall such as the Walker’s Haute Route.

Which is why wearing sunglasses is essential while you’re hiking. And, why it’s important you choose ones that can protect you from not only UV rays but strong winds, snow glare and anything else mother nature can throw at you.

To help you find the right glasses for your next hiking trip, we’ve looked at some of the best you can buy and picked our top five. First, though, we’re looking at what you need to look for when choosing hiking sunglasses.

What to look for when choosing the best hiking sunglasses

When it comes to looking for the perfect pair of hiking sunglasses, the first thing you need to consider is what type of hiking you need them for. Are you the type of hiker that does mainly day hikes in good conditions, for example? Or, are you more likely to be taking on longer trips at higher altitudes? Is there a chance of snow on your hike, in which case you’ll need to think about how your sunglasses protect you from glare.

Style and price are other key considerations. Not everyone cares about how something looks if it serves a purpose but, let’s be honest; most of us want to look good if we can. And, while we aren’t all looking for the least expensive pair of sunglasses, we all want to feel like we’ve got good value for money.

We’ve considered style and price in our selection of the best hiking sunglasses, as well as:

Lens Types

Lenses are probably the most important part of sunglasses when it comes to hiking. You need to look for ones that reflect light, blue light, and UV rays. Trying to find the right ones means understanding lens terminology, including:

UV Protection:

Many sunglasses offer UV protection but don’t always say what type of UV they are protecting you from because there are three types: UVA, UVB, and UVC. Of these, UVB protection is the most important as it’s UVB rays that have been linked to increased risk of skin cancer.

Visible Light Transmission (VLT):

These are the most common lens type. They reduce how much light makes it through to your eyes. There are two different types of VLT sunglasses you might come across. Those with high levels (which you don’t find that often) work well for overcast conditions. Those with low levels work best in bright conditions and are the ones you’re most likely to find.

Polarized lenses:

These aren’t something you would typically look for in lenses for everyday use. They are, however, something worth considering if you’re looking for hiking sunglasses. This is because they reflect light and reduce glare, improving your vision as a result, and making colors seem richer.

You can’t really do without polarized lenses in the snow, or if you will be spending a lot of time near water (which can cause just as much glare on sunny days). Other times, you’ll be o.k. without them. Though, once you try them, there’s a good chance the improved visibility in all conditions will leave you unable to use any other type of lens.

Something to remember when buying polarized lenses is that the color of the lens has an impact on the colors you see. Grey, for example, will give you a look that’s close to real, while brown offers a more vintage look.

Lens Material:

Lenses are made in a number of different materials, the most common of which are plastic, polyurethane or polycarbonate. Each has benefits and downsides. Polycarbonate, for example, offers high quality vision and is impact resistant, making it a good choice for hikers, especially in rough terrains. At the same time, if it doesn’t have an anti-scratch coating, it can be easily damaged if not taken care of.

Polyurethane is a synthetic mix that aims to imitate glass and polycarbonate. It’s more expensive than other lenses, but hikers will benefit from just how lightweight it is.

Polyurethane lenses tend to be the most expensive while plastic is the cheapest. They are, however, also the least durable and most prone to scratching.

Whichever material you choose, check whether it has any coatings that can make it a better fit for you. As well as anti-scratch, this could include anti-glare or water repellent coatings.

Lens shape:

The shape of the lens you choose is down, in part, to personal preference. Not all shapes will suit all faces. However, different lens shapes will offer different levels of protection. Wraparound frames, for example, provide a higher level of protection from the sun and extreme weather conditions.

If wraparound frames don’t appeal, you could always look for glasses with side shields which offer the same type of protection.

Frame Material:

As well as the material that have made your lenses, you need to look at what materials are used for the frames too as this will have an impact on how much they weigh, how comfortable they are and how durable. The most common type of material in hiking sunglasses is nylon, or a nylon/plastic mix. 

You might also find ones made of aluminum or titanium. The latter are best avoided as they can be heavy and they can get hot in the sunlight. Ones made solely of plastic aren’t ideal either as they can break easily.

Comfort:

Picking lenses and frames that are lightweight will add to how comfortable they are to wear, as will the design. When it comes to hiking sunglasses, this could include a nose piece, so they are less likely to slide down your face when you’re on the trail. If you’re worried about high winds, wraparound sunglasses are a good choice.

Remember, even if you’re only going for a day hike, you’ll have your sunglasses on for a long time, so they need to fit well.  Before you make a purchase, check the return policy in case they aren’t right for you. And wear them for a day or two before you go on a hike to see how comfortable they are.

Finally, for those who need a prescription, you’ll need to decide whether you want to buy prescription hiking sunglasses. If you wear contacts, you probably don’t need to, but if you don’t and need glasses to see, it’s an option worth exploring.

Speak to your optician about the type of lenses and frames that are available and factor whether these options will work for what you need when making a final decision.

Our pick for the five best Hiking Sunglasses

When it comes to finding the best sunglasses for your next hiking trip, there is plenty to consider. You need to look at the type of lenses, the materials they’re made of (along with the frames) and just how comfortable they are. You also need to consider how you’ll be using them and the conditions you’ll be hiking in.

We’ve picked five of the best sunglasses we think are great for hikers because they offer a right balance of all of these critical features.

1. Oakley Flak Sunglasses 2.0

Specification

Oakley is a leading name in sunglasses, including those for hikers and those who take part in vigorous activities. They offer a high level of performance and are extremely durable (their impact resistance meets ANSI z87.1 standards for high-mass and high-velocity impact).

And, one of the nice things is, is that if your lenses get scratched, you can buy replacements without having to buy a whole new set of sunglasses.

The lenses themselves provide great vision, which Oakley says is better than real sight because it works to change depth perception slightly, meaning your eyes don’t have to do as much work.  They are made of polycarbonate and polarized. The lenses provide UVA, UVB and UVC and blue light protection (up to 400 nm).  

The downside is that the Visible Light Transmission is low (at 11%), which means they aren’t ideal for low-light environments. Another is that Oakley doesn’t offer a warranty, meaning if you break your sunglasses, you will need to pay for a new pair, which could be costly.

Given the level of comfort these sunglasses provide, not having a warranty is probably a risk worth taking. The sunglasses have a three-point fit that holds the lenses and frames in place and optimized for peripheral vision.

Features

  • Plastic frame
  • PolycarbonateAlthou lenses
  • Polarized Iridium lenses
  • 100% UVA, UVB, and UVC protection
  • Protects against blue light to 400 nm
  • Lens Size: W: 59mm x H: 38mm
  • Bridge: 12mm
  • Arms: 133mm
  • Three-point comfort fit with optical alignment
  • Optimized for peripheral vision
  • Side protection with an 8.75 base lens curvature

Pros

  • Robust, sturdy and highly durable
  • Offers 100% UVA, UVB, and UVC protection
  • Protects eyes against blue light
  • Optimized for high-quality vision
  • Optimized for peripheral vision

Cons

  • More expensive than other sunglasses
  • No warranty
  • Lenses are smaller than other sunglasses

2. Maui Jim Ho’okipa 407 Sunglasses

Specification

For those looking for stylish sunglasses, the Maui Jim Ho’okipa 407 model is a great option. Available for men and women, they have rectangular frames that are scratch and shatterproof.

They are also coated to protect against oil and water through their patented SuperGlass lens material. It’s worth noting that SuperGlass isn’t available on all of the Maui Jim sunglasses so if you look at other models, check what you are getting.

The Ho’okipa lenses are polarized, meaning they work well in bright/direct sunlight. The polarization is available in a range of colors including neutral gray, HCL bronze, Maui Rose, and blue Hawaii. Each will change the way you see the work.

The grey provides rich colors, for example, while the brown has a warm tint and the rose works well for overcast days.

The downside of all this, however, is a price that is higher than a lot of other sunglasses on the market. However, you get a lot for your money, which makes it worth it if you have the budget.

This includes 100% UV protection (UVA, UVB, and UVC) and blue light. And the SuperGlass lens material is a glass/polycarbonate mix.

Features

  • Polarized lenses that enhance outdoor colors (depending on the color of the lens)
  • A range of lens colors
  • Robust, durable frames
  • Scratch and glare resistant lenses
  • 100% UVA, UVB and UVC protection
  • Protects against blue light
  • Glass/polycarbonate lenses that are impact resistant
  • Lightweight frames that are heat and UV resistant
  • Comes with a two-year manufacturer’s warranty (covers the original buyer only and purchase must be made from an authorized seller)
  • Comes with a case to keep your glasses safe.
  • Lens size: W: 64mm x H: 39mm
  • Bridge size: 17mm
  • Temple length: 130mm

Pros

  • Extremely lightweight
  • Comes in a range of colors to suit every style
  • High impact resistance
  • Glare and scratch resistant
  • Patented technology that offers great vision (which varies based on lens color) and high levels of protection
  • 100% UV protection
  • Blue light protection
  • Comes with a two-year warranty

 Cons

  • Not the best peripheral vision
  • Expensive compared to other models

3. Julbo Explorer 2.0 Glacier Sunglasses

Specification

We’ve included the Julbo Explorer 2.0 Glacier sunglasses on our list, for those who are more adventurous in their hikes or plan on combining hiking with mountaineering.

You can’t get a tougher pair of hiking sunglasses than these. They can handle extreme outdoor conditions easily, thanks to a sturdy design and strong materials.

The sunglasses come with large frames (they are 130 mm wide) that protect your eyes from the wind, rain, sun and snow glare. This protection is enhanced by side shields that follow the shape of your face, stopping any light getting in.

A downside of this is that the sunglasses are heavier than others we’ve looked at, though they don’t feel that heavy when you’re wearing them. In part, this is because of the way they fit; they are really comfortable, meaning you don’t feel like you have them on most of the time.

The nice thing is that you can adjust how they fit, you can adjust the ear stems for example and the side shields removed, to increase the comfort.  And, when you don’t want to wear them, you can still keep them safe thanks to a detachable lanyard that sits comfortably around your neck.

The lenses are polarized and offer 100% UV protection (for UVA, UVB and UVC light). However, with a VLT of 18%, they don’t work that well in low light, though if you are in snowy conditions, this won’t be much of an issue.

If you want a lens that has more flexibility, choose a model that has Camel lenses, which offer a VLT of 5%. Camel lenses also come with an anti-fog coating, which can come in useful in rough weather conditions.

Features

  • Offers high performance in extreme weather conditions
  • Provides full protection for the eyes from sunlight
  • Has removable side shields to increase sun protection
  • 100% UV protection (UVA, UVB, and UVC)
  • Ideal for more adventurous hikers and mountaineers
  • Camel lens option provides additional protection
  • Highly durable shatterproof lenses
  • Coated for anti-glare and anti-fog (Camel Lens)
  • Adjustable temples, ear stems and side shields
  • Polarized lenses
  • Lenses are in a range of colors, which will impact how you see the world
  • Comes with a lifetime warranty (for the original owner)

Pros

  • Perfect for more extreme weather conditions
  • Built to last of durable materials
  • Polarized lenses in a range of options
  • 100% UV protection
  • Anti-glare and anti-fog coating (on camel lenses)
  • Adjustable, making it easier to fit your facial contours

Cons

  • Not designed for day hikes or hikes in ‘everyday’ conditions
  • Bulkier and heavier than other sunglasses

4. Zeal Optics Unisex Drifter Sunglasses

Specification

Returning to sunglasses designed for less harsh conditions, the Zeal Optics Drifter sunglasses are a good choice for men and women. Their wraparound frame looks good and offers a high level of protection in one of the most lightweight models we’ve looked at.

What makes the Drifter sunglasses different is how they are made. They are designed to be eco-friendly, which will appeal to a lot of people. The frame, for example, is made of castor beans (a renewable resource) and the bridge and template are made of rubber from sustainable resources, which offers a good level of comfort.

What is even nicer is that Zeal has managed to make a pair of sunglasses that are less harmful to the planet without reducing the level of protection offered. This includes lenses with 100% UVA, UVB, and blue light protection (95%).

The lenses are polarized and come in a range of colors, including copper and dark grey. The copper is best for darker conditions, with a VLT of 14%, though neither is great in low lighting.

Features

  • Made in Italy
  • Made from renewable/sustainable materials
  • Spherical polycarbonate lenses (Base 6)
  • Polarized lenses (non-polarized version are available so check which you are buying)
  • Lens width: 58mm
  • Temple size: 126mm
  • Bridge width: 17mm
  • Arm length: 130mm
  • 100% UV protection (UVA, UVB, and UVC)
  • Blue light protection (95%)

Pros

  • Eco-friendly/made of renewable materials
  • 100% UV protection
  • Blue light protection
  • Lightweight
  • Polarized lenses in a range of colors

Cons

  • Not as durable as other glasses we’ve looked at
  • Not great in low light
  • No warranty

5. Costa del Mar Blackfin Sunglasses

Specification

Costa del Mar’s Blackfin sunglasses offer great features at an affordable price and should work well for any hiker as well as those involved in other outdoor pursuits such as fishing. They have a wraparound style that protects the eyes from sun, rain, and wind as well as the glare from water (they probably aren’t as good if you will be in the snow).

One of the nice things about the Costa del Mar sunglasses is, if you don’t like the style of the Blackfin, you can choose from other models without giving up on any of the features the Blackfin offers.

This includes 100% UV and blue light protection as well as polarized lenses. Plus, Costa del Mar’s 580 lens filters out the bright yellow of the sun, making other colors look cleaner and clearer.

When it comes to frames, you can choose between gas and plastic. Each has pros and cons so it’s up to you to decide which works best for you and the conditions you’ll be hiking in. Plastic will be lighter, but glass offers better clarity.

Both, however, have been coated to make them scratch-resistance and long-lasting. You can tell if the lens is glass because there is a G at the end of the product code.

The bio-resin frames are made of durable materials, making them long-lasting and less likely to get damaged on the trail. At the same time, they are lightweight, meaning you can wear them all day without feeling weighed down. The nose and temples are made from rubber (hydrolite) which will stay on your face even if you are sweating.

Features

  • Comes in a wide range of colors (frames and lenses)
  • Polarized lenses
  • Yellow-filter coating that cuts back on glare
  • Choice of glass or plastic lenses
  • 100% UV protection

Pros

  • Great value for money
  • Range of color options for frames and lenses
  • Choice of lenses (glass or plastic)
  • 100% UV protection
  • Blue light protection
  • Works well near water
  • Lifetime warranty

Cons

  • Doesn’t offer a unisex fit

Final thoughts on the best hiking sunglasses

Sunglasses should be an essential item on any hikers list. They protect the eyes, one of the most delicate parts of our bodies, from sun, rain, wind and the glare from snow or water. Finding the right sunglasses, therefore, goes beyond finding ones that fit and look good (though these are obviously things you’ll want).

More important is finding lenses that offer 100% protection from UVB rays (with UVA and UVC protection an added bonus) as well as protection from blue light, which is thought to cause macular degeneration.

All the sunglasses we looked at here offer the high level of protection you need when you are on a hike and one, the Julbo Explorer 2.0, works in even the most extreme weather conditions. The Julbo Explorer 2.0 is designed for hikers who take on more adventurous trails or combine their love of hiking with a love of mountaineering. 

They won’t be for everyday use or be suitable for most hikers, which is why we wouldn’t say they were our top pick.

Better for most hikers are sunglasses that offer a high level of UV protection and a high level of comfort. Any of the other four sunglasses we looked at offer these. However, each has downsides too.

The Oakley Flak sunglasses, for example, have smaller lenses, which means a lower level of UV protection than others we’ve looked at. It is, however, one of the best-known brands we’ve featured, and their sunglasses have a reputation for being pretty much indestructible.

So Which One Is Our Favorite?

If they break, however, this could be costly. There is no warranty attached to these sunglasses, which means you’ll have to buy a new pair if you break them (or a new pair of lenses if they get scratched).

The Zeal Optics Unisex Drifter sunglasses also don’t come with a warranty, which is a shame because – otherwise – they are a great option for men and women on the trail. Plus, they have the added benefit of being eco-friendly.

Because we know that things can happen when you’re out hiking, and sunglasses can get broken or scratched, a warranty is something we consider quite important. This brings us down to two pairs: the Maui Jim Ho’okipa 407 Sunglasses and the Costa del Mar Blackfin Sunglasses.

Both offer the level of UV protection you need and polarized lenses that can help you get the most out of what mother nature has to offer.

Maui Ho’okipa sunglasses are more expensive, which we have taken into account. However, they also offer versions for men and women, which we like.

You don’t get this with the Blackfin sunglasses. This is why we’ve picked the Maui Jim Ho’okipa 407 sunglasses as our favorite when it comes to the best hiking sunglasses.

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