Sunglasses Buyer’s Guide

September 30, 2015

  • by
  • Drew Zieff

Unless you venture out by moonlight, shades play a major role in every adventure. Barreling into the backcountry on a bluebird day? Cut down glacial glare with a face-wrapping frame and polarized lenses. Road tripping with friends? Rely on a stylish pair of casual shades for hours of comfort. Mountain biking? Keep out dirt as you bank turns without concern for blinding rays.

Wherever you travel, bringing the right pair of shades is crucial. Chain them to your neck with a pair of Croakies, tuck them into that handy nook in your car, glue them to your eyebrows—whatever you do, you don’t want to lose these sunglasses.

We’ve tested these picks (and others that didn’t make the list) from Chicago’s lakeside parks to the beaches of Costa Rica, the wilds of Wyoming to the fjords of Chile. Read on to find the right pair for you.

Key Attributes:

Each pair of sunglasses possesses these attributes, with one selected as key.

Style: a factor in casual styles, takes aesthetics and design into account

Performance: for the athletic, active individual, performance picks are the way to go 

Durability: put ‘em through the ringer and they’ll come out OK

Versatility: functionality in a wide range of scenarios

Value: low-cost, high-value options that are half the price of their competitors

Casual Sunglasses:

These picks focus namely on style, though versatility and value are also important factors.

Revo Huddie: Premium Fashion, Quality Optics

Revo huddle02 Revo Huddie $119.04 - $179.55

Style: Revo earned major points in this category, building off classic Wayfarer styles by adding a gentle, curving architecture to the frame. The multi-tone colorways are subtle and noteworthy. Anti-slip nose pads add a nice touch while putting more friction into the mix. 

Lens Tech: Revo stocks the Huddie with shatterproof polycarbonate lenses for a focus on UV protection, strength and clarity. Testers noted that the Graphite Serilium lens performed solidly in everyday situations.

Reviewer Commentary: “Style is inventive yet still classic, definitely an everyday favorite.”

Key Attribute: Versatility

Best For: Driving shades, everyday casual use

Sunski Headlands: The Cheapest Polarized Shades You Can Find

Sunskis headlands01 Sunski Headlands $43.16 - $45.12

This style’s named after Marin County’s iconic Headlands, the gateway to towering redwoods and the guardians of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Sunski’s definitely bring a California vibe, noting (aside from the shocking price) the flashy lens options and the keyhole nose bridge. 

Lens Tech: Polarized sunglasses for under $50? Yes, please. Though not as durable as others (testers noticed inside coatings were quicker to peel than those of competitors’ more expensive models), this grade of polarization is uncommon below $80. 

Reviewer Commentary: “I’m truly surprised by the quality, especially at the price.”

Key Attribute: Value

Best For: People who frequently drop their sunglasses, lose them in rivers or sit on them 

Adventure and Multi-Sport Sunglasses:

These picks focus on durability, versatility and performance—they’re sleeker than casual shades and designed for adventure of all types.

Oakley Radarlock Prizm Sunglasses: Old-School Style, Futuristic Optics

Oakley prizm trail radarlock path sunglasses men s 12 Oakley Radarlock Prizm Sunglasses $209.70 - $221.35

Style: The Terminator goes trail running. Few brands resonate in the optics category like Oakley. Ironically, the futuristic style of the Radarlock pays homage to Oakley’s long history (think Oakley in the 80s) of wonky and wild single-lens designs. Aerodynamic and flashy with wide peripherals, the Radarlock suits athletes who don’t want to miss anything (and can handle staring onlookers).

Lens Tech: Oakley’s Prizm lenses are expensive, but are they worth it? Yes if you’re a serious athlete (in this case, a trail runner or mountain biker). Oakley’s Prizm tech targets specific activities before building the lens from the ground up. The Prizm Trail lens makes reds and browns pop to whip down trails without popping tubes on nearly-camo prickly pear cacti. Sport-specific Prizm even advances two distinct lenses for baseball players; one for infielders, another for outfielders. 

Reviewer Commentary: “Prizm makes a noticeable difference. Based on the price tag, though, only go down this road if you’re ready to invest.”

Key Attribute: Performance

Best For: Anything and everything trail—namely mountain biking and running

Julbo Bivouak: Big-Eyed Adventure

Julbo bivouak01 Julbo Bivouak Sunglasses $84.38 - $90.00

Style: Putting the “eye” in “wide,” Bivouak is not a casual pair of shades for chill-out sessions.  Rather, its versatile style emphasizes functionality and performance. Case in point? Magnetic side shields, the first of their kind, convert the Bivouak into a pair of glacier glasses. No goat leather flaps necessary.

Lens Tech: Julbo’s photochromic lenses are converting outdoor enthusiasts everywhere you look. Why switch lenses if one adapts to the job? Instead of snagging multiple shades with different lenses or buying extra for a favorite pair, turn to the photochromic Julbo array to beat back a smattering of different light conditions. 

Reviewer Commentary: “Photochromic is worth trying, and the magnetic feature makes these a winter/high-alpine favorite.”

Key Attribute: Versatility

Best For: Glacier travel, mid-winter backcountry adventures, mountaineering

Smith Dockside

Smith dockside01 Smith Dockside Sunglasses $152.10 - $197.10

Style: A bit bug-eyed but definitely on the casual side of the adventure sunglasses spectrum. Wide peripherals and glare-defying geometries make Dockside more relevant to fishing and hiking than high-octane pursuits. Generous, spring-loaded arms along with hydrophilic nose and temple pads add style plus a sense of stability.

Lens Tech: ChromaPop lenses mesh polarization with high-contrast color management for ultimate clarity. Lens creation encompasses multiple layers and including anti-scratch protection and hydrophobic treatments. Smith’s proprietary tech (especially the blue mirror lens) is ideal for folks like fly fishermen needing to read between the riffles. 

Reviewer Commentary: “These are a game changer on the water. Anglers, go with the blue mirror.”

Key Attribute: Durability

Best For: Water-lovers including fly fishermen, surfers, wakeboarders, etc. (note: other lenses excel in other environments)

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