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Note: Much of the information below also applies to ski goggles.
Why Wear Sunglasses:
Sunglasses are important especially in the spring and summer on the water or snow to protect you from snowblindness, and other types of eye damage.

  • Comfortable vision. The sun's brightness and glare interferes with comfortable vision and the ability to see clearly by causing people to squint and the eyes to water. Light over about 3,500 lumens is uncomfortable.
  • Improve sports performance.
  • Prevent photokeratitis (snow blindness), which is a temporary but painful sunburn of the eye's surface.
  • Reduce the risk of other eye problems, cataracts, macular degeneration and pterygiums.
  • Quicker dark adaptation when transitioning to nighttime or indoor light levels.
  • Protection of skin around the eyes from skin cancer.

Features: (In addition to tint/light transmission options discussed below the following are also considerations.)
  • UV blocking: Ultraviolet rays can increase your risk of developing problems such as cataracts. Color doesn't affect UV blocking. They should block 95% or more of UVA and UVB; Opthamologists recommend 99.75% blocking. Up to 80% of UV radiation makes it thrugh a cloud cover, so UV protection is important even on cloudy days.
    Always look for a hangtag or sticker that says "blocks 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays" or "absorbs up to 400 nm of UV radiation."
  • Light Transmision Factor - LTF or VLT: General purpose sunglasses transmit from 8 to 40% of light [LTF/VLT]. Fashion sunglasses range from 9-70%; Most people choose sunglasses in the 15 to 25% range. Unfortunately Oakley is the only manufacturer which listed LTF and even they are inconsistent. The Smith table below is no longer available.
    REI lists LTF under Specs for their sunglasses.
    Oakley recommends LTF for 4 light conditions.
    Extremely bight    9-12%
    Medium to bright  13-18%
              Medium  19-30%
               Low    40-86%
    Source: Chart in their store.  Web specs have Sunny: 9-17%; Partly cloudy; 18-35%; ...
    The darkest are:
    - Maui Jim Neutral Grays all 7.5% LTF according to Sunglass Hut, but I couldn't find any confirmation of this. They are also double gradient and she didn't know if 7.5% applied to the top or center. See Flexon Sunglasses
    - Oakley Black Iridium, Titanium Iridium, 24K Iridium and Ice Iridium are 9%.
    - Smith Green Mirror and Blue Mirror are 9%.
  • Bi-gradient or double gradient coatings are darker at the top and bottom with a clearer lens in the middle. Single gradient lens are darker at the top and gradually get lighter; preferred by pilots who need to read instruments thru the bottom.
  • Polarization to reduce reflected glare.
  • Wire frames are lighter, nylon are more flexible.

  • Metal hinges are more durable than plastic.
  • Side protection - Wide plastic temples and wraparound lenses give more protection from dust, snow, wind, rain and glare that may come in from the side.
  • Lens material - Glass, Polycarbonate, CR-39, High-index, Trivex. See eyeglasses.
    Glass is more scratch resistant but heavier. Maui Jim Super Thin (ST) ($220-260) are lighter glass.
  • Lens quality
  • Lens coatings - Scratch-resistant, Anti-reflective, UV protection. See eyeglasses.
  • Fit and comfort
  • Some sports models have "air dams" molded into the frame that direct the flow of air over the inside of the lenses or small ventilator holes to reduce fogging.
  • Cosmetic - Different lens shapes conpliment different face shapes.
  • iCoat - Mirror Coatings hide the wearer's eyes because they are reflective from the front. They are sometimes an option that can be added prescription glasses. Handy if you want to look at bikinis at the beach. They also reduce light transmission by 10-60%.
See How Lens Treatments Enhance Sun Lenses at totallyoptical.com

Hiking, backpacking, mountaineering sunglasses.

  • The solar radiation at 8,000 ft elevation is almost 50% higher than at sea level, so a darker tint is recommended. A LTF of 9-12% is best for bright conditions and higher altitudes. Unfortunately most manufacturers don't list VLT. I went to the mall and visited 4 stores selling sunglasses, Sunglass Hut, LensCrafters, Oakley and Optical World. Oakley was the only one who could tell me the LTF. I went back to Sunglass Hut and a different sales person did know a few of the LTFs.
    Sunglass Hut at the San Francisco Airport did have a list of LTF for Oakleys.
    REI lists LTF under Specs for their sunglasses.
    Manufacturers web sites are not any better. Pictures of lots of beautiful people in beautiful places, but no LTF specs.
  • Glacier glasses for very high altitudes and snow have a VLT of around 4-10%.
  • Polarized glasses will reduce glare from water, which is useful for fishing or to see the bottom in stream crossings.
  • Photochromic lenses automatically adjust to changing light intensities to protect you in a wider range of conditions. They are frequently recommended, but have some problems. They don't get nearly as dark in warm weather. They are slow to change in cold weather. They don't work when driving a car (UVB rays do not penetrate your windshield). See Photochromic below.
See How to Choose Sunglasses at REI

Lens Tints: Click on sport for more information below.
Lens color skiing boating fishing driving cycling running golf tennis hunting pilots Contrast low-light variable-light Comments
Gray   x x   x x x             all-purpose
green       x     x x         x varying light conditions
orange x               x x x o   cloudy, hazy or foggy conditions
Gold & yellow x   x   x   x x x   x x   overcast flat light
Amber x               x x x o x contrast, depth perception
Brown or Copper x x x x x   x       o x x Enhanced depth perception, hazy sun
Melanin (uvex)     x x     x       x     High contrast, UV protection
Ignitor (Smith) x           x       o     highlights shadows / increases color definition
Violet x           x       o     contrast
Vermillion x               x     x   Depth perception
Rose x                   x x   Highest contrast - low-light
Red x   x           x   o     Contrast, early morning or evening
Lens color skiing boating fishing driving cycling running golf tennis hunting pilots Contrast low-light variable-light Comments
Mirrored x                         high altitude
Rose Platinum -Smith goggles x                       x Reflective mirror coating to reduce glare in bright sunlight, while the tint continues to increase definition and still provides low-light contrast.
Vermillion Gun -Bolle goggles
Pewter/Ice Iridium     x                     Oakley uses iridium for their mirror effect.
Light Blue         x   x x           Increase in contrast for better depth perception in low light or hazy conditions.
x - Recommended; o - Optional

Color: (Numbers in [ ] are transmission level.
Gray Offer the least amount of color distortion; good for all-purpose use and clear days. allows true color perception; popular neutral color; good general purpose tint; does not enhance contrast; good tint for golf, cycling or running.
Gray 3 [20%] reduces the maximum amount of visible light. Good for bright sunny days and heavy glare situations. Best uses include driving, deep-water fishing and general use.
Gray 1 [41%] a lighter shade - Good for partly sunny to bright days.
green Wavelength Enhanced: 505nm - 575nm
Has slightly better contrast than the gray colors, but is not considered a high contrast lens. Green maintains true color balance and is a good choice for varying light conditions. allows true color perception; popular neutral color; good general purpose tint; fair contrast in low light; reduces eye strain in bright light.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) suggests green for most uses, because it offers color contrast with little or no color distortion.
orange Wavelength Enhanced: 625-675nm
Block blue light, offering a brighter view on cloudy, hazy, or foggy days. Good for hunting, biking and skiing. blocks blue light; brightens cloudy, hazy or foggy days; world looks yellow or orange; excellent for contrast; minimizes eye strain; good tint for sportsmen, pilots, skiers.
Gold & yellow Wavelength Enhanced: 585-625nm
Add contrast; best in flat and dim-light situations.
Yellow provides the maximum light transmission. Popular for hunters and for night driving. excellent depth perception and contrast in low light; ski industry standard for overcast days;
Amber Wavelength Enhanced: 650-700nm
Block blue light, offering a brighter view on cloudy, hazy, or foggy days. Hunting, Golf Tennis.
Brown, Copper, Bronze Wavelength Enhanced: Bronze: 650-700nm; Brown: 650-685nm
Best for enhancing depth perception. better in hazy sun; enhances contrast; good tint for high-glare sports, such as skiing, fishing or sailing.
Brown 3 [15%] - excellent contrast and improves visual acuity. Good for bright sunny and varying conditions. Reduces blue light. Best for driving, golfing and shallow water fishing.
Brown 1 - is a lighter shade. Improves contrast. Good for partly sunny to bright sunny days.
Melanin Blocks high amounts of blue light, while maintaining true color balance. Melanin provides high contrast for better visual acuity and is good for bright sunny and varying conditions. Great for golfing, driving and fishing, or any one with macular degeneration.
Melanin is a pigment in your skin, eyes and hair that provides natural visable light and UV protection. It absorbs the higher energy light more strongly than the lower energy light. So it absorbs UV more than blue, and the blue more than green - and so on. It provides near optimum protection to the retina by filtering the different colors in proportion to their ability to damage the tissue of the retina.
Vermillion Wavelength Enhanced: 675-700nm
Excellent depth perception in low light; contrasts objects against blue and green backgrounds; good tint for skiing or sportsmen..
Vermilion, the AAO says, has the worst color distortion.
Rose Wavelength Enhanced: 625nm - 700nm
Has the highest contrast and best low-light image resolution.
Red Increases contrast. Often used for fishing in early morning or late evening hours. Also used for skiing and hunting.
Violet Wavelength Enhanced: 400nm - 450nm
increases contrast and dampens certain backgrounds. Violet is often used by hunters in average or bright conditions. Also used for skiing, snowmobiling and golfing.
Mirrored Reduces the amount of light that reaches the eyes; good at high altitudes.
Gradient Shaded from top to bottom. (A double-gradient lens is dark at the top and bottom, and lighter in the middle.) Driving glasses are often gradated so that you can see the dashboard clearly.
HEV (380-500 nm)
UVA (320-400 nm)
UVB (290-320 nm)
UVC (200-290 nm)
See light under technology

Sources: Sunglasses 101 at HeavyGlare.com | Color Analysis at SportsVisison.com

Smith tints
Smith from store.yahoo.net (click for larger image)
keanon tints
Kaenon tints
Numbers are % light transmission
Ray-Ban G-15 Classic G-15 tint, which is a combination of gray and green. It is the original tint that Bausch & Lomb used in their Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses for pilots. It is still popular.
Oakley Tints at RubensMenswear
Oakley Tints

Golf Copper-colored Improve depth perception and make the contours of the ground more distinct.
Golf frames - some manufacturers offer special frames with minimized bridge and extended bottom flaps to reduce the visual distraction of the frames during your swing
Green slightly better contrast. Green maintains true color balance and is a good choice for varying light conditions.
Violet Helpful finding the ball in the rough.
Tennis blue or green Allow the blue wavelengths to pass through the lens, highlighting the background and enhancing the contrast with the yellow ball.
Snow skier or snow boarder Browns, coppers, ambers Excellent low to mid light lens, amber lenses filter out blue light to improve contrast, and increase depth perception in varying light conditions for better definition of contours and textures of the snow's surface.
Plastic frames - sturdier and more flexible than metal frames
Wraparound frames - offer the best protection against wind and snow.
Polarized lenses - absorb glare off the snow, although some say you will not be able to see ice with them and they reduce contrast. There doesn't seem to be any general agreement on this.
Yellow, Oranges, rose and red Help the skier see shapes, objects and bumps in the snow more clearly because they help block out blue, or hazy, colours that are common. Often, these lens tints are called "blueblockers" because of this blocking ability. They work well on overcast days
Mirror effective because they limit glare.
Boaters and fishermen neutral gray Enhance dark fish and are best for deep water fishing. Amber lenses accentuate sandy bottoms of shallow water
Brown bring out grassy water bottoms
Yellow is the most effective in low light or highly overcast situations.
Red increases contrast. Often used for fishing in early morning or late evening hours.
Blue Best suited for open ocean.
Hunting yellow or amber Light up the viewing area along with providing contrast.
Cyclist mirror Reduce reflections
Wraparound frames - offer the best protection against wind and dust
High-contrast browns
and coppers
Enhance the perception of the road or track surfaces in bright light
Yellow Most effective in limited light conditions and is superior in contrast enhancement.
Sources: Sunglasses for Sports - Choosing the Optimal Lens Color at EyeTopics.com
Choosing Ski Goggles at SimplyPiste.com

A table for Smith Tint at backcountryoutlet.com had the following. The site is not available now and I couldn't find the information on Smith's page.
Visual light transmission (VLT) recommendations.
Lens Tint Options
Polarized Green Mirror High glare & bright 9%
Polarized Blue Mirror High glare & bright 9%
Polarized Platinum Bright 12%
Polarized Gray Mirror Bright 12%
Polarized Brown Mirror Bright 12%
Polarized Copper Mirror Bright 12%
Polarized Bronze Bright 12%
Platinum Bright 12%
Blue Mirror Bright 12%
Photo Polar* Gray Medium to bright 12-34%
Photochromic Gray Medium to bright 12-35%
Photo Polar Copper Medium to bright 13-23%
Polarized Brown Medium to bright 14%
Polarized Gray Medium to bright 14%
Polarized Copper Medium to bright 14%
Lens Tint Options
Bronze Bright 15%
Gray All-around 15%
Photochromic Brown Low to medium 15-40%
Brown All-around 18%
Photo Polar Brown 18-28% 18-28%
Photo Polar Yellow Low to Medium 21-31%
Polarized RC22 Medium 22%
RC30-Rose Copper Medium 30%
Polarized Yellow Low 31%
Ignitor Medium 32%
Green Medium 40%
Gold Lite Low 55%
Rose Low 59%
Yellow Low 68%
Clear Mirror Low to night 70%
Clear Night 98%
Oakley Lens Tints Explained

* Photo Polar - Photochromic and Polarized.

Glacier glasses (special sunglasses designed specifically to protect your eyes from the intense light at high altitudes) have a VLT/LTF of around 4-10%. Most glacier glasses also have shields to protect your eyes from light coming in from the sides of your lenses. Glacier glasses should not be used for driving or other everyday activities.

How Do I Clean My Sunglasses?
  • Use a soft, line-free cloth (such as a microfiber) to clean your lenses.
  • Avoid wood-based materials, such as facial tissue, which are too abrasive for safe cleaning.
  • A spray-on lens cleaner or just plain water should also be used, since dry lenses are more susceptible to scratching when rubbed.

AAO: American Academy of Ophthalmology

AR: Anti-reflective (coating)

EPF: Eye Protection Factor - In 2004 EPF was proposed to be to non-prescription sunglasses what the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is to sunscreen. It is an index from 1-100 proposed by Dr. Gary Hall, M.D. Phoenix, AZ. The EPF rating is based on frame coverage, ultra-violet (UV) protection, blue light protection and infrared protection, or the ability to shield the eyes from heat. The final EPF rating is a result of averaging the scores of these four factors known by the acronym FUBI. As of 2011 it had not seen widespread usage.

The Australian radiation protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has an EPF scale from 1 - 10 with 9 and 10 blocking most UVR.

HEV - High energy visible light (wavelength = 500-380 nm)- Recent research indicates that Blue-Violet (HEV) light might contribute to macular degeneration, or loss of vision detail.
See HEV at facebook and wikipedia

Light Transmision Factor - LTF: Percent of light transmitted. General purpose sunglasses transmit from 8 to 40%.
Lenses with 85% LTF are used for fashion tints. Same as VLT. See Smith table below.

The brightness or intensity of light is measured in lumens. For example, when you are indoors, most artificial light is around 400 to 600 lumens. If you go outside on a sunny day, the brightness ranges from about 1,000 lumens in the shade to more than 6,000 lumens on a large stretch of concrete, like a highway. A large snowfield on a bright day can reflect light at more than 12,000 lumens. Our eyes are comfortable until we get to around 3,500 lumens. Light over 10,000 lumens can result in temporary or even permanent blindness.
Light over 4,000 lumens appears as glare (white light)
See Understanding Light at HowStuffWorks.com

Photochromic lenses (Transitions™ was one of the first companies to offer it in 1991) lighten or darken in response to sunlight's intensity.

There are They don't work when driving a car (UVB rays do not penetrate your windshield). The Transitions™ lens designed to work behind the car windscreen has transmission levels of 35% - unactivated, 22% - in the car, 12% in direct sunlight.
Older transition lenses did not get dark enough and took a while to change.
Newer technologies allow them to get darker. Some examples:

Brand Light Transmission Factor
state *
Serengeti Drivers 24% 9%
Smith Precept Polarized photochromic 20% 13%
Julbo Bivouak Photochromic 41% 7%
Julbo nomad photochromic glacier 41% 7%
Tifosi Wisp Photochromic 56% 17%
Zeal Tenacity Polarized Photochromic 28% 13%
Wiley-X Light Adjusting: 91% 33%
Transitions® XTRActive 1 89% 10%
Oakley Flak Jacket XLJ Transitions2 40% 8%
* LTF at 40° F. They don't get as dark at higher temperatures.
1. Transitions has 50% LTF behind a car windshield.
2. The Photochromic lenses on Oakley's web site are different models than the ones in their store.
They use Transitions® technology.

At lower temperatures the reaction speed is slower, but the lenses darken further. Conversely, at higher temperatures, the reaction time is quicker, but the lenses do not go as dark.
According the Transitions® XTRActive specs, a lens which has a bright sun LTF of 5% at 50° F is only 20% at 95° F
According to Perret Opticians a lens which has a LTF of 18% at 40° F is 40% at 95° F.
Many web sites say "darkening takes about 30 seconds, according to the AAO"; lightening, about 5 minutes.
The specs for Transitions® are the opposite; I takes 1.5 min to darken and 10-15 min. to fade back.
An article at EyeGlassLenses.com claims that Transitions™ fixes some of these problems.
Perret Opticians says it can take more than 5 min to darken. Kaenon calls their photocromic system Light Transmission Control (LTC) technology.
See Perret Opticians Photochromic Lenses
and Photochromic Sunglasses w/ Light Adjusting Lenses at OpticsPlanet.net

Polarization: Blocks glare from reflective surfaces. These lenses are ideal for water sports, bicycling, and driving.
Not available in some colors.
  Some places do not recommend polarized lenses for skiing, because you can't see ice. There seems to be an open debate on this issue.
  Another issue is the affect on LCD screens. I tried my Smith polarized glasses with my Palm PDA, Magellan GPS and Motorola Mobil Phone and although it did have some effect it wasn't significant. My Canon EOS DSLR camera screen blacked out when turned sideways (90°), but worked OK in normal (landscape) mode.
You can check for polarization by holding one pair of glasses in front of another and rotating one 90°; If they are polarized all light should be blocked.

A Dell LCD computer display, iPhone, iPod nano and touch and a gas station LCD blacked out with the sunglasses at a 45° angle (actually 39° according to one article) but was only slightly reduced otherwise.
There may also be issues with LCD screens on car dashboards, electronic games; I haven't tested them yet. See: Canteen Polarized Effects With LCD - Video at MetaCafe.com

Oakley says:

"Common techniques of incorporating polarization films into lenses by lamination (using adhesive to sandwich the film between lens layers) and drop forming (sandwiching then heating and pressing over contoured forms) can cause haziness and optical distortion. Oakley uses an injection-moulding process to infuse the lens material around the filter. This liquid fusion creates bonding at the molecular level."

Kaenon uses their SR-91 lens material for polarized lenses. It combines the crisp optical acuity of the finest glass lenses, in an ultra light weight, impact-proof lens. Kaenon Polarized SR-91 lenses have an optical acuity and clarity rating of "40" - the highest possible score in the stringent ANSI Z.87.1 testing regimen. They also have a Glare 86 Polarizing technology. See dpShop.ch

Pterygium - An abnormal mass of tissue arising from the conjunctiva of the inner corner of the eye that obstructs vision by growing over the cornea; it arises from irritation of the pinguecula (a slightly elevated elastic tissue deposit in the conjunctiva (a transparent lubricating mucous membrane that covers the eyeball) that may extend to the cornea but does not cover it.)

Visible Light (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Violet) 500 THz - 900 THz / 400nm to 700nm.

VLT - Visable Light Transmission: See LTF.

VTO - Visable Transmission: Optics - See Photochromic

Glossary of Eye Care Terms at AllAboutVision.com

An article at Science Museum of Minnesota's Science Buzz says:
You will not get tan as fast wearing sunglasses.
The pituitary gland is tied to your optic nerve and is sensitive to sunlight. When light enters your eyes, it triggers your pituitary gland to produce a melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) that activates your melanocytes to produce melanin. Melanin is the material responsible for skin pigmentation, hair and eye color, so less melanin means less tanning and natural sun protection.

See: Eyeglasses for lens materials

Sunglass Hut
Costco has several models or Serengeti photochromic sunglasses for $70-75, but they are fairly dark in the store. Most I can't find on their web site.

Lenscrafters and Pearl Vision offer a 30% discount for AAA

There must be a high profit margin because more and more companies are selling sunglasses. A few of the more popular ones are listed below.

What's Hot:
* Maui Jim $149-$299
Kaenon Kore - Shades Of Light Transmission Can Be Selected
Oakley $70-205
  prescription lenses $245 incl polarization plus frame $150
* Smith $90-169
  prescription lenses $250 + $75 for porarized
* Bollé
Wiley X
In 1999 Bausch & Lomb sold their Ray Ban Sunglass line (Formed to make sunglasses for the Army Air Force in 1937) to the Italian Luxottica Group, but some lenses may still be made by B&L.
Wiley X and 7eye (PanOptx) make goggle like Sunglasses that has a foam eyecup which seals arount your eyes.
Flying Fisherman
Other brands listed at Consumer Guide to Sunglasses at eyeTopics.com

* Can get prescription lenses

I couldn't find any reviews. There are so many models and they change so much it would be difficult. Maui Jim and Kaenon were mentioned as high quality in a couple of forums.

Sunglass & Reader Division of the Vision Council
Glossary of Eye Care Terms at AllAboutVision.com
Sunglasses & the Health Effects of Solar UV Radiation at the Australian radiation protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA).
Sunglasses at BackpackGearTest
Eyevilla.com - Sunglasses
Sunglasses at the Sight and Hearing Assn.
Tips On Smith Sunglasses - at eyesave.com
About Maui Jim Sunglasses at LoveToKnow.com
HowStuffWorks "Mirroring and Scratch-resistant Coatings"
Sunglasses for Sports - Choosing the Optimal Lens Color at EyeTopics.com
How to Choose Sunglasses at REI
Sunglasses 101 at HeavyGlare.com
Choosing Ski Goggles and Eye wear at SimplyPiste.com
Lens Color Analysis at SportsVisions.com
Fishing Sunglasses at Technical-gear.com
Sunlight filters: eye protection and improvement of visual performance at INTERCAST EUROPE S.p.A
Sunglasses at HowStuffWorks.com
How Lens Treatments Enhance Sun Lenses at totallyoptical.com
Tinted Eyeglass Lenses
Sun Protection in health.

last updated 10 July 2011