The Best Sunglasses for 2018

July 17, 2017

  • by
  • Aaron Bible

We here at Active Junky understand the importance of protecting our eyes, both for health and performance reasons. We, of course, choose to reach for a top-quality pair of shades, and preferable a pair that looks cool while offering top UV protection, all-around coverage, all-day wear and functionality.

We selected some of the best sunglasses on the market to test to help you pick the best pair for your activities and conditions, some of the highest performing and best looking models to take along to the trail, water or crag. And don’t forget to sign up for Active Junky for exclusive deals and cashback on your gear purchases.

Russ Hennings/Oakley

Sunglasses Brands Reviewed

  • Bolle
  • Bureo
  • Costa
  • Hobie
  • Kaenon
  • Native Eyewear
  • Oakley
  • Smith
  • Spy
  • Under Armour
  • Zeal

How to Choose the Best Pair of Sunglasses

Sunglasses come is a huge variety of frames, lens technology, colors and styles. To help you choose the right pair for you, start by answering these questions.

What is your primary activity?

Keep this question in mind as many brands and pairs of sunglasses are function-specific, so you’ll want to find the best suited model for fishing or road biking, for example. However, many pairs are designed for all-purpose outdoor action if you’ll be using these glasses as your go-to active pair.

This consideration also comes in to play with frame style: how much wrap and peripheral coverage do you prefer? Many sunglass models for biking will have unobstructed peripheral vision for safety purposes, while mountaineers are less concerned with field of vision and more concerned with full protection and coverage.

Which lenses do I want?

Another key purchasing consideration is lens technology, which could be an entire guide itself. Points to keep in mind with lenses are protection, material and tint. Doctors recommend a lens with 100 percent UV production up to 400 nanometers. Polarization can help block glare as well.

Different colors absorb light differently, affecting which parts of the light spectrum pass through the lens, so tint should be a consideration. Some colors work well in multiple situations while others are preferable for specific lighting. Some brands offer interchangeable lens models so you can keep your main frame and swap the lens accordingly.

Lenses are typically made from glass or plastic, which is becoming more popular today than glass lenses, as glass is typically heavier than plastic and can shatter and therefore not recommended for full-contact sports. Plastics like polycarbonate makes lenses that are lighter, shatterproof and scratch resistant, and perform nearly as well as glass.

Russ Hennings/Oakley

Which materials are best?

From metal to plastic to wood and bio-resins, sunglasses are made from all kinds of materials. Plastic frames are most common and the least expensive to make, and many brands are moving away from oil-based plastics in favor of organic material like castor oil and plant-based resins that can achieve the same construction. Various metals are of course still commonly used in frames like aviators, and wood is becoming more common in lifestyle-oriented frames.

Universal Attributes

Each pair of sunglasses was reviewed based on five universal attributes, which all models exhibited to one extent or another. Each pair stood out for one attribute, which testers listed as the key attribute in the reviews below.

Optics: This is where you put your money with the best sunglasses. The better the plastic or glass, the more expensive and higher performing your pair will be. Higher quality optics often also come with extra features like anti-glare, anti-fog or polarization.

Functionality: This considers how each pair of sunglasses performs in its specified activity, or all-around performance in many cases. Sports-specific sunglasses should be lightweight and stay secure on your face, while lifestyle sunglasses may not be the best idea for trail running.

Style: Let’s face it, looking good is feeling good, and feeling good means performing at your best. Retro styling is currently trending, so don’t be surprised to see nods to previous decades. Find a style that suits your personality and your features, and rock it with confidence.

Coverage: Coverage comes down to need and personal preference. Mountaineers aren’t taking any chance of UV light and wind sneaking around their lenses, while road bikers require unobstructed peripherals. Identifying your primary activity will help in this decision.

Versatility: Not everyone wants multiple pairs of glasses or lenses to swap out, so sometimes you’re looking for a pair of sunglasses that packs technology and style into a single package, one that performs just as well at the pool as at the crag.

Aaron Bible

Oakley Flak 2.0 Prizm Green Fade

Oakley flak 2 prizm main Oakley Flak 2.0 Prizm Green Fade Starting at: $180.50

Best Sunglasses for Active Pursuits

Our top choice for active pursuits like hiking, biking and running goes to performance model Flak 2.0 from Oakley. Constructed with the company’s O-Matter flexible nylon to avoid snapping, they come in a variety of color combinations, with preferred lens color included with specific models, like Prizm Deep Water or Prizm Road. Or you can customize your own frame-lens combination. The pair we tried: Limited edition Green Fade with hand-painted frames and Baseball Prizm lenses that block out 100% of UV rays, constructed with a magenta base color for increased contrast and better performance on the trail or field.

Tester Comment: “Oakley definitely knows how to make a great pair of sunglasses for top performance both protecting your eyes while also looking great. Testers loved the classic throwback look, and frameless bottoms are great for cruising around on your bike so your downward vison is unobstructed.”

Best For: Road biking, mountain biking, active field sports like baseball, watersports and fishing

Key Attribute: Functionality

Costa Trevally

Costa trevally main Costa Trevally Starting at: $143.10

Best Sunglasses for Extreme Conditions

A solid mix of good-looking style and performance, Costa’s sunglasses were conceived by a team who spends their life on water and wanted lenses that could stand up in those conditions, reducing glare and increasing clarity. And the boys at Costa delivered with the best pair we tested for extreme conditions. Think deep sea fishing extreme. The Costa Trevally were one of our favorites, available in several lens colors from Blue Mirror to cut down blinding bright lights to Silver Mirror for those cloudy days on the water. Throw in some smooth colored frames and you have a high performance pair that transitions seamlessly from fishing boat to city street.

Tester Comment: “Everyone who has spent time on the southeastern coasts knows that Costas are a must-have since they’re made for water. Designed by fishermen, the Costa team works to protect the world’s waterways, which is a cause we can get behind.”

Best For: Water activities and pursuits from deep sea fishing to white water rafting

Key Attribute: Functionality

Zeal Isabelle

Zeal isabelle main Zeal Isabelle Starting at: $134.06

Best Lifestyle Sunglasses

Zeal’s Ellume lenses are made for performance, and set in the Isabelle frame, they’ll have you seeing well and looking good too, which is why this attractive pair is our favorite lifestyle sunglasses. Ellume lenses are plant-based rather than petroleum-based, which makes them lighter weight while still impact resistant and offering top-of-the-line clarity. Polarized and eco-friendly both in prescription-ready lens and bio-plastic z-resin frames, Isabelle comes in three styles: smoked tortoise with dark grey lens, matte tortoise with copper lens, and matte crystal with horizon blue lens.

Tester Comment: “These are really an affordable pair of sunglasses that look amazing too. Made of bio materials, testers noted how lightweight and comfortable they are. This is definitely a pair you can wear all day. While more lifestyle based, this pair is still versatile from trail to city.”

Best For: Casual biking, climbing, hiking, water sports, these sunglasses can do it all

Attribute: Versatility

Bolle 5th Element Pro

Bolle 5th el pro main Bolle 5th Element Pro $138.22 - $194.00

Bolle definitely knows how to make a good looking pair of shades whether they be part of their lifetime or performance models. The 5th Element Pro are a standout pair of performance sunglasses, with photochromic lenses that wrap far back on your face and frameless bottoms for an increased unobstructed view perfect for sports like cycling when conditions can change quickly and peripheral vison can mean the difference between winning performance and wiping out. It comes in 10 styles of varying frame and lens combination. The 5th Element is an impressive pair, both in look and performance, and packed with technology.

Tester Comment: “I’ve owned several pairs of Bolles, and they are some of my most important pieces of gear. They’re always with me when I’m biking either on the road or on the trail. We rocked the matte white/red frames with clear grey lenses that were ideal for overcast days on the bike.”

Best For: Cycling for leisure or competition when unobstructed views are critical

Key Attribute: Functionality

Kaenon Clarke

Kaenon clarke main Kaenon Clarke $133.44 - $206.91

A casual lifestyle pair of sunglasses, the Kaenon Clarke doesn’t skimp on the technology. Lightweight plastic comprises the frames with classic vintage colors or simple black frames housing SR-91 lenses, Kaenon’s polarized technology that reduces glare, improves clarity and remains impact-resistant and lightweight. These will look good and feel good all day on your face with nose pads that keep them in place. These sunglasses are ready to hold your prescriptions as well, in frames choices of black, abalone, gold coast, tortoise or cola. If you’re not sure which lenses to choose, the Kaenon website can help with simulations of situations like ocean, golf course or road and shows how each lens tint filters.

Tester Comment: “We’re glad we finally found Kaenon, because they clearly produce sunglasses where performance and functionality meet high-end fashion. The polarized lenses are perfect for all our on-water adventures.”

Best For: Water sports with black matte lenses that reduce glare and perform in varying light

Key Attribute: Optics

Smith Drake

Smith drake glasses main Smith Drake $179.74 - $198.63

Smith is a well-known brand for performance eyewear from goggles to sunglasses. And for good reason. Their time-tested technology and construction make for a great looking pair of shades that also protects your eyes, and Smith Drake is no exception. Frames include out-of-sight hinges, and are constructed with a balance of eco-friendly Rilsan Clear, a biobased copolyamide that is lightweight and tough. Several Drake models come with ChromaPop lenses, polarized technology that separates and filters colors your eyes can sometimes confuse. Colors stay true while clarity and definition improve; in addition, ChormaPop is impressively resistant to scratching.

Tester Comment: “We’ve always loved the products Smith puts out, and even though they’ve grown a ton, they don’t skimp on quality. We can count on them to make top performing glasses that are filled with value and tech. The Drake is a top performer, comfortable and a great looking pair of sunglasses.”

Best For: Hitting the water or trail with polarized lens technology to reduce glare

Key Attribute: Style

Bureo Yuco

Bureo yuco sunglasses main Bureo Yuco

Bureo’s mission is clear: reduce plastic pollution in our oceans and waterways. To do this, they created Net Positiva, an initiative to collect old discarded plastic fishing nets in Chile and upcycle the plastic to make skateboards and killer shades like the Yuco, which are lightweight and high quality. The Ocean Collection includes three pairs of sunglasses, each with a stylish black frame that’s slightly larger or smaller with the Yuco falling right in the middle, perfect for average-sized faces. Choose either grey lenses for all-day wear, or amber for lower light situations and on-water activities.

Tester Comment: “We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of these sunglasses considering the source—recycled plastic fishing nets. It’s great that the company is taking initiative to keep trash out of our oceans and produce a great product in the process. Yucos are good looking and perfect for water sports and fishing.”

Best For: Foggy or low light situations with amber lenses or grey lenses for varying conditions

Key Attribute: Optics

Spy Frazier

Spy frazier main Spy Frazier Starting at: $141.00

From goggles to sunglasses, Spy’s products are top quality without breaking the bank. And they look great too whether you choose a lifestyle model or a performance-focused model. Spy Frazier’s simple style packs a ton of tech, like lightweight Grilamid plastic, choice of polarized or non-polarized Toric lens (choose non to save some money), Hytrel rubber on the nose and temple for comfortable all-day wear, and 100% UV protection. If your passions lead you to the water, especially if you’re an angler, you’ll love the polarized Happy Lens technology that shed water and oil while improving your view below the surface.

Tester Comment: “You can choose from so many color combinations, you can find a pair of Fraziers that are stylish and offer the lens you need for your favorite activity. We loved the blue tint in the model we tested when mid-day light can be blinding.”

Best For: Water sports with polarized lenses that offer complete UV protection and reduce glare

Key Attribute: Optics

Native Eyewear Eldo

Native eyewear eldo main Native Eyewear Eldo $110.90 - $125.13

A true mountain-man style with bold brow, far-stretching frame and large, durable lenses in a variety of colors combinations, the Eldo includes Native’s N3 polarized technology, which the brand says blocks out 4x more infrared light compared to standard polarized. The Eldo is an interchangeable model, so you can choose color lenses for varying situation from bright mid-day light to low evening light. Grey lenses won’t distort colors and are great for a variety of lighting. Or choose brown lenses for improved contrast and detail perfect for fishing. These sunglasses are a solid choice with no nonsense style and lightweight Rhyno-Tuff frames with temple boots for all-day comfort.

Tester Comment: “We couldn’t find anything wrong with these Native Eyewear sunglasses and loved the variety of interchangeable lens options. Eldo are stylish, affordable and top performers. Cruising around town, trail running, whatever activity, Eldo stepped up.”

Best For: Everyday wear and all-day comfort; switch out lenses for changing conditions

Key Attribute: Versatility

Under Armour Rival

Under armour rival main Under Armour Rival Starting at: $124.80

The Rival from Under Armour is built for performance – UA says specifically for baseball, but there’s no limitation. While a bit out of place in casual situations, when you’re cruising on your MTB, they’ll be right at home – and stay in place – on your face with three-point grip and adjustable nosepad. In white frames and choice of three multiflection colors, AmourSight lens technology wraps far back for clear peripheral vision, and rimless bottoms offer unobstructed downward views. Built with ArmourFusion titanium and Grilamid combination, these sunglasses can take a beating and keep performing, but are lightweight and comfortable for all-day wear.

Tester Comment: “These UA sunglasses are a tough pair that holds up to abuse in extreme situations. They’re strong and durable but also flexible—the Autogrip temples keep them in place, which we appreciate when activities required both our hands. The Rival is a sportsman’s best friend.”

Best For: Extreme and active sports when you need both your hands free

Key Attribute: Functionality

Hobie Phin

Hobie phin main Hobie Phin $63.05 - $93.00

Water lovers rejoice with the new Hobie Polarized Hydro Collection featuring Hydro Infinity Lenses. A hydrophobic coating covers the entire lens, and repels not only water but also grease, oil and smudges, and anti-fog gaskets prevent clouded vision. The Phin has a modernized classic style in five frame/lens combination, including Hobie’s Sightmaster lens. The lens technology was developed specifically for fishing, designed to pierce through water for improved distinction and contrast using a combination of yellow and green with a touch of copper. Add in an included retainer system and you have a pair of sunglasses no water-passionate person can pass up.

Tester Comment: “If you spend a lot of time on the water, these Hobies are a great pick. They’re perfect in any situation where you could lose them, but the retainer system makes sure you won’t. Phin is great for leaving on the boat so you always have them.”

Best For: Fishing, river rafting, SUP paddling, boating – all water sports and activities

Key Attribute: Functionality

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