For years, I’ve gone without expensive sunglasses. When I was cycling a lot, I’d wear expensive wraparounds, but for everything else outdoor-related, my thought process has been: give me some inexpensive polarized shades and I’m good to go. I lose and break enough cheap sunglasses as it is. And as I watch the low-cost shades tumble from my face into a river, or as I take off in an airplane just as I remember leaving my sunglasses at the check-in counter, or I feel the crunch of sunglasses frames as I step on them in my tent in the middle of the night, there’s no drama. They didn’t cost me a mint.
But I’ve spent the past year wearing better, more technical shades and now I don’t think I can go back. My favorites in the all-around department has been the Kaenon Clarke ($179), almost entirely because of their SR-91 polarized lenses, made from a hush-hush proprietary resin, stronger and more scratch resistant than polycarbonate, and visually similar to glass. If I broke these, there’d be all kinds of drama. But the tradeoff is worth it.
I wear polarized shades for pretty much all outdoor activity, but they’re crucial when fishing, especially fly fishing, in order to see the fish. I haven’t used any other glasses while fishing since I got a pair of the Clarkes. The depth perception and resolution the SR-91 lenses provide is too good to pass up.
In the snow, they’ve been even better. The sharpness of mountaintops is impressive, as is the color separation, but it’s how the blinding glare of snow is cut that really stands out. I’ve spent all day in bright snowfields wearing these shades and felt no eyestrain whatsoever at the end of a long day.
The frame is TR-90, a relatively soft, pliable, lightweight thermoplastic that’s pretty comfortable and flexible. The nose pads and temple grips are soft and do a good job of holding the glasses in place. Wearing them all day induces a bit of temple pain, but that’s to be expected with my very large head. Your mileage may vary.
Fishing, hiking, trail running, nordic skiing, snowshoeing—these glasses have performed very well in all these activities with no fogging and no eyestrain all while providing impressive clarity and sharpness.
$179 • BUY
When I don’t necessarily need polarized shades the Julbo Chams ($170) are the go-to. A modern take on classic glacier glasses, they’re a well-built set of shades with a solid-feeling metal frame, leather shields and nosepiece, polycarbonate lenses, and flexible earpieces you can bend into place around the back of your ears for a couldn’t-shake-them-off-if-you-tried fit.
The lenses are category-three, meaning they let in enough light to be worn in sub-alpine situations, like driving your car, as opposed to the darker category-four lenses in true glacier glasses that block too much light for daily wear.
Though they’re not polarized, the Cham’s lenses cut enough glare to wear them in the snow, and the leather shields do a wonderful job blocking out light that doesn’t come directly through the lenses. It takes some getting used to, but with light restricted from entering through the side, it feels like the eyes can relax a bit while wearing the Chams. The shields come off too if you don’t want to look like a mountaineer.
$170 • BUY
We love these sunnies too
Don’t want to spend over $100 on polarized shades? The Sunski Taraval is a good option at $61. Great fishing and hiking glasses.
For a bit more aggressive frames with more peripheral protection, the Smith Parallel Max are an awesome set of unisex shades, great for cycling or trail running. $139
Spending lots of time above treeline? The Julbo Explorer 2.0s are built for high altitude sun protection. Photochromic lenses adjust to natural light levels, and side shields help reduce eye strain. $200