If you’re on the hunt for new ski goggles for the 2017/18 season, wipe the fog off your lenses and check out this Active Junky Goggles Buyer’s Guide. Whether you’re finally retiring a pair of goggles that have been around since the era of straight skis and Day-Glo or you’re simply looking to step up your optics game, this guide includes goggles from top brands like Bolle, Dragon, POC, Scott, and more. Not only that, but we’ve included goggles across a range of price points, from affordable, value-driven picks to premium, top-of-the-line models.
We’re optimistic about the state of optics right now: goggle technology, styles, and options have never been better or more diverse, making 2017/18 the right season to upgrade. This Active Junky Buyer’s Guide will help you gain the clarity needed to make a smart purchase. We’ll break down three crucial elements you should consider when purchasing new goggles: lenses, frames, and fit. Finally, we’ll break down some of the best ski goggles of 2018 as well as some of our favorites from last year that are still solid options.
Lens Technology 101
Lens technology is the most pivotal factor when picking out your goggles. If your lens fogs up, or fails to provide optical clarity and contrast, then what’s the point? In this section of the buyer’s guide, we’ll go over lens types, tints, and the benefits of interchangeable lenses.
Cylindrical vs. Spherical Lenses
Cylindrical lenses look like they’ve been sliced out of the side of a silo—the crescent-shaped lenses are curved horizontally, but they aren’t bowed vertically at all. This makes them easier and cheaper to make, although they deliver subpar optics compared to their more expensive spherical cousins. If you run through goggles quicker than an adolescent boy jumps through shoe sizes, are shredding on a budget, or don’t spend too many days on the slopes, then we recommend going with this more affordable route. That said, some premium cylindrical goggles, like the Dragon NFX2, are actually preferred by some serious shredders.
Spherical lenses are bulbous—they bend outward in multiple directions (like a sphere, hence the name), rather than just one direction as cylindrical lenses do. This multi-directional curvature reduces the faults of cylindrical design—namely glare and fogging as well as optical distortions and imperfections. Plus, they deliver better peripheral vision. If shredding is life, spherical nears necessity.
Deciding on a lens tint can be overwhelming given the seemingly infinite options, but once you get the hang of it, tints make perfect sense. Essentially, different tints filter and allow in different levels of light. The scientific measurement you need to know here is called “Visible Light Transmission” (VLT), which is the percentage of light able to penetrate through a lens.
A lens with 0% VLT would allow no light through, and 100% VLT would be completely clear (perfect for night skiing). In between those extremes, low light lenses (yellow, green, rose, gold, etc.) often range from a VLT of 60% to 95%, lenses prime for variable conditions have a wider range from 20% to 60%, and lenses best for sunny days will go from 20% down (black, brown, gray, copper, etc.).
Photo Credit: Lionello DelPiccolo
It’s important to consider the VLT, rather than just the lens color. For example, Dragon offers a Blue Ionized lens (VLT 50-60%) and a Blue Steel lens (VLT 20-30%). Going off color alone, it’s tough to tell the difference. Only when you dive into the VLT measurement does it become clear that the Blue Steel is preferable in sunny conditions, while the Blue Ionized will excel in variable, partly cloudy conditions.
Polarized lenses will set you back a pretty penny, but your eyeballs will thank you even if your wallet won’t. While polarized lenses are sought after in most outdoor pursuits, they’re especially useful when skiing, as they filter and block out horizontal lightwaves bouncing and reflecting off the snow.
Oftentimes, lenses with low VLTs that are designed for sunny days will have a reflective outer coating. As we mentioned earlier, make sure you check the lens VLT and don’t base your decision strictly on whether a lens is described as mirrored or not.
Most goggles have some sort of hydrophilic anti-fog coating to minimize those moments where you have to head into the lodge to clear up your lenses. However, companies like ABOM have started to push anti-fog tech in an entirely new direction. By integrating an electric heating element into the lens itself, ABOM’s goggles defy convention and de-fog at the push of a button.
Dealing With Varying Conditions
Every day on the mountain isn’t the same. Unless you’re quite literally a fair-weather skier and you only hit the slopes when it’s sunny, you need to be prepared for variable conditions. There are three solutions to this problem:
Photo Credit: Drew Zieff
Most brands these days offer interchangeable lens goggles. These models typically come with two lenses, and you can purchase additional lenses to a) replace broken or scratched lenses or b) expand your optical arsenal. A single pair of interchangeable lens goggles with two lenses is our preferred method for dealing with changing conditions. Goggles like the Dragon X2s and the POC Orb Clarity boast this tech.
Another option is to purchase multiple goggles. We don’t recommend this as much as interchangeable systems. However, if you already have a pair of goggles with, say, a low VLT lens for sunny days and don’t want to invest in a new interchangeable system, bolstering your existing kit with a cheaper pair of high-VLT cylindrical goggles can be a smart play. Cheaper goggles like the Bolle Scarlett make this route affordable.
You know those sunglasses that adapt and adjust tint when exposed to sunlight? Those rely on photochromic lenses, and they’re one of the more exciting developments in goggle technology right now. They amplify the range of conditions that a lens can handle, and minimize the need for purchasing multiple goggles or lenses. Goggles like the Bolle Tsar bring photochromic technology within reach.
Breaking Down Frames
While lenses are the most important piece of the optics puzzle, frames can make or break a pair of goggles, as they’re responsible for style and fit. Goofy looking frames, uncomfortable foam, awkward shapes—ain’t nobody got time for that.
Frames vs. Semi-Frameless vs. Frameless
Full frame goggles have a rim that wraps around the lens. This is a more traditional design—they typically don’t have a futuristic look to them, but they often don’t have a futuristic price tag, either.
In between full frame and frameless goggles, semi-frameless kits often have several attachment points that secure the lens in place.
Frameless goggles make it seem as though the lens is just floating in place. That futuristic, streamlined look comes with a high price tag.
Breaking Down Sizing
Goggles come in several sizes, ranging from smaller sizes that children and some women will gravitate towards, to XL models more apt for larger riders and those skiers who think oversized equals stylish.
OTG (over the glasses) models allow you to rock the goggles over your prescription glasses, which is preferable if you don’t wear contacts or you don’t want to drop a mortgage payment on a pair of prescription goggles.
Some goggle companies have started to make helmets, and vice versa. Making sure your goggles are compatible with your helmet is key for both style and comfort. The dreaded “gaper gap,” the abysmal abyss between goggles and helmets responsible for the occasional brain freeze, is akin to putting your ski boots on the wrong foot—you just don’t want to do it.
There are a couple ways to avoid gaper gap:
- Check to see if your helmet brand makes goggles. This is the best way to ensure compatibility.
- Purchase your goggles, then try them on with your current helmet. Either return them if they don’t sit flush, or consider buying a new helmet.
Each pair of goggles was evaluated against five major attributes. We then selected one key attribute in which each pair excelled, and listed it below in each review.
For the performance category, we focus mainly on the optical properties of the lens. How well do the goggles manage incoming light? Do they fog up? How’s the optical clarity? Peripheral vision?
Is it easy to swap between lenses? Do the goggles use photochromic technology? If so, do they truly enable a single-lens approach to a ski season?
Do the goggles fit snugly? Are they comfortable? Fit also refers to helmet compatibility.
Is this pair of goggles bringing something new to the table? This might mean advanced materials, innovative design elements, and more. And we don’t care about innovation just for the sake of innovation: it needs to improve the skier’s experience.
Goggles get scratched, that’s just a fact—but some are less susceptible to damage than others. A durable pair of goggles needs to handle regular wear and tear—as well as unintended, unexpected, and unavoidable abuse.
Active Junky Top Picks
Ready to update your goggles? Here are a few of our top optical options for 2018 and beyond.
Best Cylindrical Ski Goggle: The Dragon NFX2 is tough to beat, with its high-performance Lumalens lenses and easy-to-operate interchangeable lens system. The overall style is unmatched in this buyer’s guide, and the price isn’t going to seriously dent your shred budget.
Best Spherical Ski Goggle: Our favorite spherical goggle of 2017/18 is Scott’s LCG. The sleek frame, wide peripherals, and reliable lens-swapping system earned it top marks amongst our discerning test squad.
Best Optical Quality in a Ski Goggle: The POC Orb’s new Clarity lenses (designed by the legendary optical gurus at Carl Zeiss) make eagle-eyed shredders’ dreams come true. However, the price tag is steep and the aptly-named Orb comes with a single lens. As such, your best bet is to go with the mid-light version as it handles the highs and lows fairly well while crushing partly cloudy days.
Best Women’s Ski Goggle: The Dragon X2s offers the classic, spherical style of the lauded, futuristic X2 in a smaller size, making it a favorite of our female test team. Of course, you don’t need to be a lady to love the slimmer fit and more helmet-compatible frame, as the X2 borders on gigantic.
The LCG is Scott’s premium offering. The pricetag is higher than some of the more basic goggles highlighted in this guide, but those willing to shell out a few extra bucks get not one but two OptiView spherical lenses (one for brighter conditions, one for low light) to make the most of Scott’s Lens Change System. Additional elements that make the LCG attractive to dedicated skiers and riders: molded 3-layer face foam for a snug yet comfortable fit, a sleek style that’s low-profile and helmet compatible, and an easily adjustable strap. Plus, it comes with a molded lens case—perfect protection when you’re on the road chasing storms.
Bolle claims the Tsar fits every face, due to what they’ve deemed “B-Flex Technology,” a ribbed internal frame that flexes based on strap pressure and forms foam to the facial shape. Testers are amped to put those claims to the test early this winter, as unpredictable goggle fit is the primary reason the purchasing process is so persnickety. If Bolle’s able to fill this gap in the market, these just might be the best goggles to buy for someone as a gift, or to get for yourself online if you don’t have the chance to try them on in person. Aside from fit, other key features are a fog-free ventilation system and a photocromatic spherical acetate lens that adapts to light conditions. If you’ve already got a Bolle helmet or you’re in the market for a compatible set, the Tsar might be the pair you’ve been looking for.
Why We’re Stoked: B-Flex Technology may very well be a game changer in goggle fit.
Off the bat, these goggles have one breathtaking aspect—the price. Cylindrical lenses help keep the price low, as do double-layer face foam (as opposed to triple in some of the higher-end models). Also, the simple Scarlett comes with just one lens and it isn’t interchangeable (not surprising given the pricetag), but it is coated with a “protective armor” called Carbo Glas that minimizes scratching and maximizes the life of the lens. And if you couldn’t tell by the color scheme or the name, these trim and streamlined Bolle goggles are designed specifically for the ladies. Silicone straps, Flow-Tech venting, and an Anti-Fog layer round out a standard package at an attractive price.
The beloved NFX was just the beginning: Dragon’s improved upon that classic with the NFX2. Dragon’s Swiftlock lens changing system pairs perfectly with the frameless design of the NFX2—and yes, the NFX2 comes correct with a spare lens. For cylindrical lens lovers, this kit may be as good as it gets before you tip into the spherical market. One thing that’s obvious as soon as you slide the NFX2 out of the box? Between the timeless Dragon logo on the strap, the frameless design, and the crispy clean cylindrical lens, the style is tough to beat.
Why We’re Stoked: Testers are most excited about Dragon’s Lumalens technology, which claims to filter out unnecessary lightwaves and subsequently improve clarity, contrast, and color.
For those who dig Dragon’s style and optical quality but prefer the peripheral vision supplied by a spherical lens, the X2s is worth considering. We’ve tested (and loved) Dragon’s X2 in previous years, but the size of the X2 can be overkill for helmet loyalists or even those who rock a beanie on a normal-sized noggin. The X2s is the same legendary design as the X2, just a bit smaller and more manageable. The Swiftlock interchangeable lens system makes snapping a new lens into the frameless goggle a breeze, and it’s worth noting that the X2s comes with an extra lens for low-light conditions. Like the NFX2, Dragon’s lenses are upgraded with Lumalens tech for more stark contrast, brighter colors, and overall optimized optical quality. Testers couldn’t be more hyped to put this stylish and stacked pair of goggles to the test early this winter.
POC ORB Clarity
POC’s earned a special place in our gear closets over the past few years: not only are the Swedish engineers crafting some sleek protective gear, but it’s also among the most effective on the market. From goggles and helmets to pads and even airbags, the brand is definitely one that we watch carefully. That said, we couldn’t be more stoked about testing out the new Orb Clarity. It’s definitely one of the most stylish goggles we’ve seen come out of the Swedish camp, but keeping with POC’s brand mission, the Orb Clarity values function over form. The exaggerated Grilamid frame accentuates the spherical Carl Zeiss lens for a broader range of vision. Clarity lenses have been developed with the Zeiss team—which can only mean good things—and are coated in a Unique Spektris mirror coating for further optical perfection. It’s no surprise that this is the most expensive pair of goggles in this buyer’s guide.
Why We’re Stoked: Technologically speaking, this is the goggle our team is most amped about putting to the test this winter. Hopefully, these new lenses live up to the hype!