If you’re in a rush and want to find out what the best mountaineering sunglasses are, we recommend the Julbo Explorer 2.0 glacier sunglasses.
Mountaineering is an activity that requires a lot of gear. By time you’ve remembered your boots, rope, layers, ice pick, crampons, and so on, it can be easy to overlook one key item – sunglasses.
But not just any sunglasses will do. With all the snow reflecting the light back at you from all directions, you need eye protection that will provide a much broader range of coverage. To make sure you get the best mountaineering sunglasses, we went and handpicked some of our favorites, writing up their features and a few pros and cons below.
In this article, we’ll be reviewing the following best mountaineering sunglasses:
- Julbo Explorer 2.0 Glacier Sunglasses – Best Overall
- Julbo Montebianco 2 Spectron 4 Sunglasses – Best Cheap, Category 4 Sunglasses
- Oakley Men’s Clifden Round Sunglasses – Best Bang for Your Buck
- Serengeti Leandro Glacier Glasses – Best Photochromatic Sunglasses
- Vuarnet Ice 1709 Polarized Sunglasses – Editor’s Choice
- Smith Embark ChromaPop Polarized Sunglasses – Best All-Purpose Sunglasses
What Are Mountaineering Sunglasses?
Different from regular sunglasses, mountaineering sunglasses are designed to block out as much light as possible. Snow blindness is a real phenomenon and should be taken seriously, especially since it can lead to permanent blindness, in rare cases. At the very least, even if you do recover your vision, you’ll be in quite a bit of discomfort for a few days if you don’t protect your eyes against the intense light.
Mountaineering sunglasses are often designed with side shields to keep the reflected sunlight from sneaking in around your lens. Many also have bridge shields over the nose portion for a similar reason. Eyewear that has these shields and darker lens are often referred to as glacier glasses, and we’ll be taking a look at a few examples in the review below.
Mountaineering glasses can be made out of a couple of different materials. When it comes to lenses, polycarbonate is going to be the best option because of how durable it is. Frames can either be made of polycarbonate or metal, though you will find the occasional plastic frame thrown into the mix as well. Metal is nice because it’ll bend, not break, if you drop your glasses or sit on them. On the other hand, they are the heaviest material you can get, which makes the lighter polycarbonate an attractive alternative.
Visible Light Transmission (VLT)
VLT is a rating used to indicate how much light is passing through your glasses. It falls into four categories, but you should only concern yourself with category 3 and 4 – these are the only ones strong enough to keep your eyes protected. Category 3 has a rating of 8%-18% VLT, making them most appropriate for mixed conditions with heavy cloud cover. On the other hand, category 4 has a rating of <8%, which is ideal for those bright, sunny days.
We already talked about it briefly, but the amount of coverage that your sunglasses provide is one of the most important factors to consider. Standard sunglasses protect you from the UV radiation emitted by the sun, but they only provide coverage for the front of your eyes. Usually this isn’t a problem, since the light is coming from a fixed position – the sun.
Things get a little more complicated when you throw snow into the mix, though. That pretty, white powder reflects about 80% of those UV rays back at you from all direction. When the entire ground turns into a light reflecting mirror, the coverage of normal sunglasses becomes insufficient.
Without the side and bridge shields found on glacier glasses, enough light will slip in around the edges of your lenses to cause damage. So while you may be tempted to wear your normal sunglasses instead of buying a new pair altogether, it’s always best to play it safe and protect your eyes as much as possible.
Getting the Right Fit
Mountaineering sunglasses should be snug but comfortable on your face. You want them to form a seal around your eyes, ensuring that there aren’t any open gaps for light to pass through unobstructed. At the same time, you don’t want them to be painfully tight on your head, otherwise you’re just exchanging one misery for another!
All glasses come with measurements, indicated by millimeters expressed in an XX-XX-XXX pattern. For example, the glasses that I currently wear have a measurement of 53-18-139. The first number refers to the lens width, and usually lands somewhere between 40-60 mm. The second number is the width of the nose bridge that separates the two lenses, and the third number is the temple length – also known as the length of the arms that rest on top of your ears.
If you already have a pair of glasses like I do, you can use those same measurements to help you find mountaineering glasses that fit perfectly. Otherwise, you can measure your head yourself.
Best Mountaineering Sunglasses – Reviewed
With adjustable arms, side shields, ventilation, and style, the Julbo Explorer 2.0 glasses are the best mountaineering sunglasses overall, especially when you consider the reasonable price.
Julbo is a brand that’s known for making glacier glasses, so you’ll see their name come up a few times in this review. However, from a purely functional perspective, I’d have to say that the Explorer 2.0 glasses are some of the best out there.
Whether you find them to be too tight or too loose out of the box, you’ll be glad to know that the arms are fully adjustable. It really helps you get the form fitting effect without causing painful pressure points on your temples. The nose pads are also quite grippy and shock absorbent, so you won’t have to worry about your glasses sliding off your face once you work up a sweat.
The side shields provide excellent coverage, and they’re removeable, in case you want to use these glasses when you’re off the mountain too. There’s even ventilation built in to keep the lenses from fogging up while you hike. Overall, if you’re looking for a pair of glacier glasses that are reasonably priced, cut the glare, and look good on your face, these are the ones to go with.
– Well ventilated
– Great coverage
– Adjustable arms
– Nose pads are comfortable and grippy
– Strap secures around the back of your head
– Paint likes to chip a little
Best Cheap, Category 4 Sunglasses
The Julbo Montebianco have powerful lenses that cut back on light while maintaining an affordable price that’s perfect for mountaineers on a budget.
One of the cheapest options that we’ve reviewed, the Montebianco are perfect if you’re look for a budget friendly pair of glasses. As you can see, the light transmission is at 5%, just like the Julbo Explorers that we mentioned above. But while you aren’t sacrificing lens quality, you will notice that the frame itself feels a little cheaper. I’m also not a fan of the shorter arms, but then again, I do have a larger head.
The shields work well to block out excess light from sneaking in, though they aren’t quite as full coverage as I’d like to see – especially in the bridge area. However, the side shields are great at protecting your peripheral vision, and have enough ventilation to keep the glasses from steaming up.
While not as adjustable as the Explorers, the arms are fairly ergonomic and will fit most head shapes. There’s also a band that wraps around the back of your head, allowing you to keep them snug against your face.
– Good ventilation
– Blocks and adequate amount of light
– Not very adjustable
Best Bang for Your Buck
Oakley is a brand known for making athletic glasses, and the Clifden’s are some of the best you’ll find for the price, especially when you consider the amount of coverage they provide.
Oakley is a well-known brand in the sport’s glasses world. The Clifden’s certainly live up to the reputation, offering fantastic coverage with their large lenses and well-placed side and bridge shields.
As a little disclaimer, you’ll want to purchase the glasses that have the black lenses. Most of the other colors don’t actually provide enough protection against the sunlight, as they typically have a light transmission higher than 10%. Aside from that, and the fact that the lenses are made from plastic, there’s little to complain about with this product.
They’re pretty lightweight, and the style is able to fit most head shapes without too much issue. I will say that the hinges on the side shields are a little flimsy, and unfortunately, Oakley doesn’t sell these parts individually. You’ll also find that the customer support for these glasses is rather lacking. But even so, they get the job done when you need a pair of sunglasses that block a lot of light, sit comfortably on your face, and make you look good in the process.
– Great coverage
– Large lenses
– Blocks a lot of light
– Shields are well placed
– Customer service is pretty bad
– Some portions of the glasses are a little flimsy
Best Photochromatic Sunglasses
Essentially a pair of transition lenses, the Serengeti Leandro sunglasses work well both on and off the mountain, making them a great pair of everyday glasses.
If you’ve ever had transition lenses, you’ll appreciate the photochromatic quality of the Serengeti Leandro. UV radiation is more intense when it’s brighter outside, so the molecules in the lenses expand to make them darker. Likewise, when there’s less radiation as it gets darker, the molecules contract to let more light in.
The effect isn’t good enough to label them category 4 lenses, but they’re still suitable for more overcast days on the mountain. I also appreciate the fact that they’re polarized (something that seems to be a rarity in mountaineering glasses), since this is a feature that cuts back on glare. Not to mention, they work wonders at eliminating harmful blue light as well.
Lenses aside, the frame is stylish and works well at fitting most heads. If your face is particularly wide, though, you may find that the side shields dig into your cheeks uncomfortably, so I’d recommend checking out a different pair of glasses. For people with narrow and average faces, on the other hand, there shouldn’t be any problem.
– Cuts back on blue light
– Not quite dark enough for clear, sunny days
My favorite pair in this list, the Vuarnet Ice 1709 sunglasses are both stylish and effective, cutting back on sunlight and glare, while enhancing your color and depth perception.
A luxurious pair of mountaineering sunglasses, the Vuarnet Ice 1709 are a great option both on and off the mountain. The mineral lenses offer a strikingly clear view of everything around you, even in the harshest conditions. And considering it’s both oleophobic (sheds oil) and hydrophobic (sheds water), there are few environments that could get the best of these glasses.
You’ll also find that they work great when it comes to color perception and glare reduction. Various lighting tricks can make it difficult to gauge distance in the mountains, which is why these particular features are so helpful to have. When you factor in how well they block blue light, infrared, and UV radiation, there’s little to dislike about these lenses. In fact, the biggest downside that I can think of is that they only block out 90% of incoming light. Suitable for cloudy mountaineering, but you may want something darker if you’re experiencing full sun.
Good looking and made from quality materials, you could easily make these your everyday sunglasses. Whether you like them with or without the shields, you can add or remove the extra sun guards depending on the style and functionality you’re going for.
– High quality lenses and frame
– Blocks blue light, UV, and infrared
– Great at cutting back glare
– Good looking
Best All-Purpose Sunglasses
A durable pair of glasses that work well for glacier travel and light mountaineering, the Smith Embark sunglasses are a great all-purpose option for folks who want a pop of style while hiking.
They might be a little expensive, but the Smith Embark sunglasses have a lot going for them. Polarized lenses cut back on glare, and the side shields do a great job of preventing unwanted sunlight from getting through to your eyes. They also come with Smith’s ChromaPop feature, which helps enhance the colors of various objects, providing more contrast and vibrance.
The sun shields are both effective and removeable, and they provide enough ventilation to keep your lenses from fogging up. Speaking of lenses, they’re both anti-fog and smudge resistant, giving you clear vision regardless of the environment. Or, you know, if you’re the type of person who likes to touch their glasses a lot.
Adjustable nose pads and temples let you tweak the fit until it’s perfect. They also come with a strap that can go over the back of your head, keeping the glasses firmly in place. For a stylish pair of glasses that can be worn both on and off the mountain, I’d say the price tag is more than justified for the Smith Embarks.
– Adjustable fit
– Removeable side shields
– Good for cloudy alpine environments
– Sufficient ventilation
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What are the Best Mountaineering Sunglasses?
We’ve found that the Julbo Explorer 2.0 glasses are the best ones out there. Because of their superior VLT and adjustable arms, there are few others that can outperform them for the purpose of mountaineering.
Can You Use Ski Goggles for Mountaineering?
Unfortunately, the answer is “no.” They don’t provide enough ventilation, and they don’t block enough light to protect your eyes on a glacier or snowy mountain.
Do I Need Polarized Sunglasses for Mountaineering?
Polarized glasses can help you see color better, and cut back on glare, but they aren’t required for mountaineering.
How Do I Choose Mountaineering Sunglasses?
Your mountaineering sunglasses should have category 4 lenses and side shields to block out as much light as possible. It’s also important for them to be well ventilated so they don’t steam up, and they should be fairly form fitting on your face.
When you’re getting ready to mountaineer, it’s easy to prepare for the common environmental factors like cold temperatures and high altitudes. However, sunlight can be just as big of a problem if you don’t take proper measures to protect your eyes.
The best mountaineering sunglasses are going to have a visible light transmission of 5%-10%, with side shields to block light coming in from your periphery. They should be well ventilated, comfortable to wear for long periods of time, and have adjustable arms that allow you to tailor them to fit your face. With all that in mind, we felt that the Julbo Explorer 2.0 glacier sunglasses checked the most boxes. Not only will they work well at protecting your eyes, they’re also pretty middle of the road when it comes to price as well, making them the best overall option.