As hikers, we spend a huge amount of money protecting our feet and bodies with the right boots, poles, thermals and shells.
But how much time do we spend thinking about our eyes and vision?
Some of us don’t even wear sunglasses because they end up sliding down our nose or falling off our face when we’re clambering down steep slopes.
However, long days in the blazing sun can do a huge amount of damage to our eyes and have short- and long-term impacts on our vision and health.
Our eyes are one of the most fragile parts of the body, so need proper protection.
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Virtually all sunglasses now come with a little sticker that says ‘UV Protection’ but this varies from minimal to 100%.
For more in depth information around protection levels and lenses, scroll down to our buying guide at the bottom.
There are glasses designed specifically for all sorts of outdoor activities that are constructed with technology to protect your eyes from UV rays, dust and wind, reduce glare, and stop you getting a headache from squinting.
With so many options available and things to consider, it’s hard to know where to start.
Luckily, we have pulled together some of our favourite options on the market right now.
So ditch your drugstore shades and upgrade to something a little more protective, stylish and functional.
- Lightweight polycarbonate lens
- Five functional shatterproof interchangeable lenses
- One polarised lens, all others UV400
- Removable nose bracket
- Lifetime breakage warranty
First up on our list are these sports sunglasses from Duco.
Coming in at under £20 they are by far the best budget polarised glasses on the market. Anyone looking for a versatile and decent UV wrap around need look no further.
The rimless design, polycarbonate lenses and TR90 frames work together to make them super lightweight.
But the deal clincher is getting five pairs of interchangeable lenses included in the price.
The blue lens filters blue light reflected by sea water and clear skies (though it does add a tint over everything), the multi-coloured lens has a high-density revo coating, keeping the original color and improving visual clarity, the yellow lens is for low light levels, and the transparent lens is for eye protection when cycling on overcast days.
Only the grey lens has a polarised film to eliminate reflected and scattered sunlight – making it the best protection when out on the trails.
The sturdy storage/carry case fits the sunglasses and extra lenses in and there is also room for the glasses bag, cleaning cloth and safety strap.
The removable nose piece can be moulded to fit your nose but is definitely at high risk of coming off and getting lost.
The main downside of these budget sunglasses is that they feel a bit plasticky and the Duco brand stamp makes them look cheap.
- Polycarbonate design
- Photochromic lenses
- Removable side shields
- Polarised filter and anti-fog coating
Julbo is a mountaineering specialist, blending traditional style with technical excellence.
For anyone that needs full protection, these glasses will do the trick.
The dimensions are particularly wide and tall, covering the eyes well at both the sides and above, preventing intense rays from reaching the eyes at any time of day.
The brown tint makes them as suited to mountain environments as everyday trails.
What makes them special though is the Reactive Chameleon photochromic lens that adjusts from Category 2 to Category 4 (in 22 seconds) based on the prevailing light conditions.
Grip tech inserts on the temples and nose flex to the shape of your face to make sure the glasses stay in place when looking down or travelling over rough terrain.
Both can be removed but there is built in air flow ventilation to reduce perspiration.
The anti-fog coating prevents condensation, which is often a problem in full wrap-around glasses.
Weighing in at 113 grams these glasses are super light but don’t skimp on coverage.
The plastic build is a bit so-so and doesn’t have a particularly high quality feel, which is a shame at this price point.
That said, the cost is associated with the polarised lenses and their ability to adjust to variable light conditions.
- Hassle-free switchlock lens changing
- Iridium lenses
- Blocks 100% of all UVA, UVB, UVC
- Surge ports for enhanced airflow
These futuristic-looking Jawbreakers will make you look and feel the part.
Although they are not polarised, their iridium lenses offer similar anti-glare properties that will help you to spot icy patches on mountainous trails.
Their name derives from the mean-looking design with aggressive lines and tough O-Matter frame. The wide and tall lenses not only offer additional protection but improve peripheral vision.
Grips around the nose and ears keep the glasses in place as you move, even once you’ve built up a sweat.
Surge ports along the side maintain airflow to avoid fogging up.
Sporting Oakley’s infamous Plutonite lenses, the glasses block 100% of all UVA, UVB, UVC and harmful blue light.
The lenses included are Prizm Road Jade and are designed for medium to bright light condition, boosting detail and colour vibrancy, but it’s possible to buy additional lenses.
The brand’s Switchlock technology enables users to swap lenses out with ease. It is worth having a lighter and darker set that you can switch in a moment when out on multi-day hikes.
They are as suited to cycling as they are to hiking, with great all-round vision and adjustable temple lengths that allow for a custom fit and outstanding helmet compatibility.
Coming with a soft sunglass case, micro-bag storage with cleaning cloth and Oakley guarantee, the only catch is the price tag.
- 62mm width, 38mm height
- Blocks 99% of reflected light
- Available in polarised or non-polarised lenses
Ray-Ban is renowned for its fashion and lifestyle glasses but the Predator 2 model is ideal for hikers thanks to its wrapped fit.
For those who want to hike in style, the Predator 2s offer a sporty look that is both casual and athletic.
If full protection isn’t a must, the traditional rectangular design with thin temples is great option that feels a bit lighter and open on the face.
Because of the standard lens shape and size, it is possible to switch them out for prescription lenses if/when required (though beware, the process won’t come cheap).
On the inside of the temple tips is a subtle striped texture treatment to help keep the glasses in place, no matter the conditions.
The crystal green lenses have 100% UV protection and improve vision in multiple light conditions.
Lightweight and durable, these sunglasses are a bit sturdier than others in the Ray-Ban range and will hold up against frequent use.
Included in the box are a cleaning and adjustment kit, as well as the Ray-Ban warranty.
The Predator 2 sunglasses come in a black and blue frame but it is possible to select from a variety of lens treatments including polarised, non-polarised and mirrored.
Note that this model is for men but equally suits female users.
- Seven-layer polarized lenses
- Flexible TR-90 frame
- Comes in various colours
Another budget-friendly option is the Duduma TR90 Sports Sunglasses.
Offering excellent value for money, they are super lightweight, feature wrap-around frames and polarised lenses, along with a flexible construction and seven-layer lenses.
The wrap-around style design ensures all angles of your eyes are protected when out hiking, even when the sun is directly overhead.
The frame is made of TR90, a strong, stress-resistant polycarbonate material, that is durable but with flex, to fit most faces well and offer good longevity.
The lenses are made up of seven layers, including UV400 membranes and UV filter, strengthening/shatterproof layers, polarisation film, and a scratch-resistant coating,
Duduma polarised lenses come in a range of different colours so users can trade up for a more vibrant, colourful pair or keep it simple.
The UV400 lenses offer 99% protection from UVA, UVB, UVC and harmful blue light.
The sunglasses’ stems are designed for sport, gripping around the ears without being uncomfortable.
Lacking somewhat in additional features, these glasses still provide decent protection for hiking beginners, though advanced individuals might seek something more.
The frames and lenses are, in theory, unbreakable when used and treated correctly.
As testament to this, the manufacturer offers a lifetime breakage warranty.
- Super thin glass lenses
- Scratch and solvent resistant
- Bi-gradient mirror
- Anti-reflective and polarised
- 24-month warranty
Another fashion-aware entry in our lineup is the Maui Jim Peahi sunglasses – coming from a brand that delicately balances style with performance.
These Maui Jim glasses feature PolarizedPlus2 technology, which enhances the colours around you, alongside the expected UVA, UVB and UVC protection.
The wrap-around frame is constructed from Grilamid (Acetate), a lightweight and flexible material. It is heat and UV resistant and built to last.
The lenses are glass, rather than plastic like the above competitors. Designed using super thin materials, the glass is 20% to 30% thinner than standard glass and is scratch and solvent resistant.
Which type of lens you opt for will be based on the environment you’ll most often find yourself in.
The brown and black sunglasses have HCL bronze lenses, ideal for changing light conditions, whereas blue Hawaii lenses offer colour enhancement and clarity, whilst the natural grey lenses are best suited for direct and bright sunlight.
All lenses offer sun glare protection and Maui Jim Bi-Gradient. This mirror finish is applied to the top and bottom of the lens to reduce the brightest light from above and below and removes any need for squinting.
This is ideal for long days outside as it lets your eyes relax. Even in overcast conditions late in the day, the tinting isn’t too strong to see clearly.
The Peahi sunglasses are available in four different styles, each with a slightly different coloured frame and lenses.
Their unisex design means that they’re popular with both men and women though the fit and shape isn’t perfect for everyone, so make sure you try them on before taking them out on the trails.
- Polycarbonate construction
- Impact resistant and anti-scratch
- 100% UV, HEV/Blue light blockage, no infrared blockage
For anyone seeking equal parts performance and style at a reasonable price, Oakley’s Holbrook Sunglasses are the ultimate piece of sporting gear.
The Holbrooks are one of few that block 100% of HEV or blue light, as well as offering a low VLT (visible light transmission), providing extra protection on super bright days.
The Holbrooks are a classic design merged with modern Oakley technology.
They grip snugly without feeling tight and the simple, sleek design is accented by metal logos on the plain matt black frames.
A major bonus is the endless combination of coloured frames and lenses that these glasses come in, with something to suit any age, style and gender.
The lenses are easily swappable, meaning that if you tire of them or damage them, there’s no need to ditch the glasses themselves. If you opt for the polarised iridium lenses, the layered film cuts out 99% of glare in any environment.
Standard Plutonite lenses still block 100% of all UVA, UVB, UVC and harmful blue light up to 400mm.
The optics seem a bit less crisp than some of their competitors, possibly due to their lower visible light transmission rates and dark tint.
Although they’re super light, the lack of spring hinges and nose/ ear padding makes them less comfortable over extended periods of wearing.
This is a bit of an issue for hikers that want to use them all day without suffering pressure points.
The three-point fit system does a good job at keeping them on your face though.
- Category 4 High Mountain Lenses
- Flash treatment
- 100% UVA, B and C protection
Nevertheless, Julbo’s Vermont Classic Glacier sunglasses deliver in terms of looking good and performance.
Unlike those above, these sunglasses have round lenses and leather side shields.
The stems have a soft rubber coating, with a flexible wire inside that sits comfortably around the ear and holds them in place at any head angle.
The polycarbonate frame is lightweight and durable, resistant to shock and scratches and will last you for years to come.
The versatile lens is suitable for all types of bright sun activities, whether that be at altitude or sea level. Julbo’s Spectron4 lenses are Category 4.
Although they don’t have a polarised film, they offer 100% UV protection from UVA, UVB and UVC rays – making for great eye protection.
The lenses are also flash treated, improving visible light filtering with the mirror effect on them. Their anti-reflective coating provides decent relief from glare and reduces eye strain.
Unlike the original Vermonts, removing and replacing the leather side shields is timely and fiddly, requiring a small screwdriver and lens loosening.
The leather bridge shield is removable but slightly flawed in that the popper sits badly on the bridge piece and there are no nose pads – which is preferred by some but could be a deal-breaker for others.
Things to consider when buying sunglasses for hiking
Before you even start looking for sunglasses, consider what your primary purpose is and the likely environment/conditions you’ll find yourself in.
Some hikers will need specialised hiking sunglasses that are lightweight and vented, alpinists should opt for something designed for snowy/glare conditions, and others will just want all-rounders that won’t break the bank.
Once you have defined your usage, you’ll be able to choose the right style and features based on your budget and the below recommendations.
UV Filters and Polarisation
Most sunglasses today have UV protection embedded in the lens rather than coated over it, and most reputable brands list UV protection on their label.
For the best protection, look for a label that says “100% protection against both UVA and UVB” or 100% protection against UV 400.
UV400 protection provides our eyes with the highest level of protection, blocking 100% of all harmful light from the sun including harmful UV rays.
Polarised glasses take it a step further by filtering out horizontal light rays and glare.
Not only is glare a nuisance, but it impairs depth perception, distorts your view and colours, and can cause temporarily blindness in extreme environments.
That is why so many athletes and adventurists opt for polarised lenses.
Dark tinted sunglasses are ok for everyday use, blocking more light than regular glasses, but they still don’t eliminate glare.
Polarised lenses are a must when hiking under intense sunlight or in snow.
Otherwise lens categories 3 and 4 are perfectly suitable for hiking and outdoor use as they block out most UV light.
There are a variety of different lens types with differences that go beyond just UV protection.
Most lenses are made from some form of polycarbonate, with a few constructed from glass.
Polycarbonate lenses are much lighter than glass but prone to scratching. What it boils down to is how much you value weight over durability.
Photochromatic lenses have a special coating that darkens or lightens depending on the external light of the environment.
Weight and Comfort
Glasses with outstanding protection will be rendered useless if they’re always hanging round your neck because they fit poorly.
Heavy glasses or those that pinch the bridge of your nose or sides of your head will give you a headache or cause hotspots over extended periods of use.
Hiking and sport sunglasses are designed to be as light as possible so that it feels like you’re hardly wearing anything.
Lightweight sunglasses with a bit of flex should be so comfortable that you don’t need to remove them at any stage of your trek.
As well as making you look good, the design of your sunglasses will further protect your eyes.
Getting a pair that suits your face shape is key and a curved design protects all angles of your eyes.
Some glasses wrap around the face or have particularly wide stems to make sure no light sneaks in.
The design also dictates some extra features that improve ventilation or grip.
If you’re splashing out on eye protection, you don’t want to suffer a breakage half way through your trip.
The construction quality is particularly important during hiking or other outdoor activities as your gear may take a bit of a beating. Some hiking sunglasses are made from flexible materials, allowing them to bend and not snap so easily.
Opting for sunglasses like those listed above and others from reputable outdoor brands is the best way of ensuring they’ll stand the test of time.
Charlotte walks anywhere and everywhere she can. Although she hasn’t ticked off as many official routes as she’d like, she has walked her way around large parts of Latin America, Southeast Asia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
Bucket list routes:
Last update on 2021-01-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API