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Shopping Guide for Best Sports Sunglasses

Tennis, hiking, bicycling, running. The benefits of exercise, especially exercise in the great outdoors, are many:

  • Stronger muscles

  • Healthier heart and circulatory system

  • Reduced body fat

  • Decrease in depression, anxiety, and other negative mental states

  • Improvement in health conditions like high cholesterol, diabetes, and arthritis

  • Better sleep and boosted energy

However, one part of your body that might not appreciate so much time spent outside is your eyes.

The sun’s UV rays are quite damaging to these delicate windows to the world.

Cataracts, eye cancers, macular degeneration, and keratitis are just some of the conditions caused by excessive exposure to the sun.

Add in wind, dust, and squinting due to overly bright light, and the problem becomes even worse.

Did you know that even if sunlight doesn’t bother your eyes, it’s in your best interest to wear sunglasses? Sports sunglasses in particular are designed to protect your eyes from harmful rays that could lead to retinal damage.

So do lovers of the outdoors have to settle for staying inside?

Not if they have a good pair of sports sunglasses. These shades go far beyond the average sunglasses in protecting eyes and vision from the sun’s damaging rays.

Here at BestReviews, we’re dedicated to bringing you unbiased information about products that improve your life, whether by making it easier, more effective, or more fun.

So if you’re ready to buy a pair of sports sunglasses, check out the options in our matrix, above.

If you want to learn more about choosing this essential piece of outdoor equipment, read on.

EXPERT TIP

If you participate in an especially vigorous sport, a sunglass strap will keep your glasses in place should you take a tumble.


Staff  | BestReviews

What are Sports Sunglasses?

While your regular sunglasses might look great as you drive around town on errands, their main function is looking stylish. Protection from UV rays is more of a secondary purpose.

Sports sunglasses, on the other hand, are designed specifically to protect your eyes as much as possible from UV rays, dust, dirt, and wind. Most of the benefits of sports sunglasses are in their design:

  • They wrap slightly — or a lot, in some cases — around your eyes, rather than sitting in front as regular sunglasses do.

  • Most have nonslip nosepieces, so you won’t lose them while you bike or run.

  • Sports sunglasses generally have polycarbonate lenses. Some are made with an even stronger plastic, such as Trivex.

FOR YOUR SAFETY

Properly fitting sunglasses should fit securely on your nose without pinching, sliding, or rubbing.

  • Their frames are lightweight plastic and very strong.
  • Many sports sunglasses have adjustable frames, so you can tweak them for the perfect fit.

  • The lenses come in a wide range of colors that are suited to outdoor activities.

  • Some sports sunglasses allow you to switch out the lenses so you can match light intensity or color needs.

  • The best sports sunglasses block not only 100% of UV light, but also high-energy visible radiation (HEV), otherwise known as blue light. These are often labelled “Blue Blockers.”

  • Good sports sunglasses are injection-molded into their wrapped shape, which lowers the amount of distortion through the lenses. Lower-quality sunglasses are bent into shape after production, which distorts vision.

EXPERT TIP

Exposure to high-energy visible light, also known as HEV or blue light, may cause macular degeneration and other eye problems. If you’re concerned about your exposure to blue light while outside, consider a pair of “Blue Blocker” sports sunglasses.


Staff  | BestReviews

Lens Tint and Lens Darkness

Unlike regular sunglasses, which usually have either a gray or brown tint, sports sunglasses can be found in a wide range of tints.

While the perfect color for your lenses is, to a certain extent, simply a matter of style and preference, it’s also true that the right sunglass lens tint can help you in your preferred sport by increasing contrast between your object of focus and the background.

  • Gray is a neutral tint. It’s good for just about any activity in bright outdoor light.

  • Green lenses provide just a little bit of contrast, but they don’t interfere with color perception and are excellent for sports like baseball and golf.

Mirrored lenses cut down on glare, but they are also likelier to scratch.

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  • Brown or dark amber lenses block a great deal of blue light. They’re a suitable choice for sports where you want contrast against sky or grass, such as golf, bicycling, hunting, and water sports.

  • Red or pink lenses distort color, but they’re helpful in cloudy conditions where you need a lot of contrast, such as hunting, skiing, water sports, and cycling.

EXPERT TIP

The weight of your sunglasses should feel evenly distributed across your face; there should be no sag or heaviness across your nose or cheeks.


Staff  | BestReviews
  • Yellow or orange lenses provide excellent contrast, but they distort color. As such, they’re best for overcast or low-light situations and for indoor sports like handball and racquetball.

The darkness of your sunglasses is another factor to consider.

Obviously, if you have very light-sensitive eyes, you’ll want darker lenses. The same applies if you spend concentrated amounts of time in bright, sunny areas.

But if you mainly cycle in the early morning — or if you live in an often-cloudy climate — you would probably be happy with lighter lenses.

Some manufacturers sell their sunglasses with interchangeable colored lenses. For example, you might wear blue lenses on the beach, yellow lenses in the evening, and so on. This feature enhances versatility and adds value to your purchase.

Staff
BestReviews

Visible Light Transmission

Sports sunglass manufacturers use visible light transmission (VLT) to indicate how much light the lenses allow to pass through. The lower the VLT, the less light that passes through the lenses. Often, the VLT is given as a category from 0 to 4.

VLT categories

Category 0

These are for use in very low light or nighttime conditions.

EXPERT TIP

Look for lenses that are large enough to fully cover your eyes, with a partial or full wrap to keep dust, wind, and light from hitting the sides of your eyes.


Staff  | BestReviews
VLT categories

Category 1

These glasses are good for cloudy or poorly lit locations. They’re also suitable for use early in the morning or at dusk.

VLT categories

Category 2

These glasses are designed for use in average lighting. This is the best bet for most people.

DID YOU KNOW?

When sunglasses fit right, the earpieces are comfortable with no rubbing or squeezing. If your eyelashes rub against the lenses, the glasses do not fit properly.

VLT categories

Category 3

Sunglasses in this category are good if you’ll be wearing them mostly on bright, sunny days.

VLT categories

Category 4

These sunglasses are designed for the brightest conditions, such as snow skiing on a very bright day.

U.S.-made sunglasses that are marked with a “Z87” meet certain safety standards as established by the American National Standards Institute, or ANSI.

Staff
BestReviews

How Much Should You Spend on Sports Sunglasses?

You’ll find sport sunglasses with prices ranging from $15 to $150.

Generally, the cheapest sunglasses are the least likely to fully protect your eyes from 100% of UV rays and are much less likely to block out HEV.

The most expensive sunglasses will provide you with excellent protection, superb fit, and a range of colors to choose from.

But for most people, sport sunglasses towards the middle of the price range will be just right.

UV eye protection isn’t just for adults. Kids may spend even more time in bright outdoor light than adults, and their eyes need protection from the sun’s damaging rays, too.

FAQ

Q. What are polarized lenses, and should I make sure my sports sunglasses have them?

A. Coated with a film to protect the eyes, polarized lenses reduce glare more than regular lenses. You may find it easier to see clearly when wearing polarized lenses than non-polarized lenses.

Athletes who work and play outside — runners, golfers, cyclists — appreciate polarized lenses in particular. However, not all sports sunglasses include polarized lenses. If this feature is important to you, check the specs before investing in a new pair of sports eyewear.

Q. I’m intrigued by the thought of owning a high-quality pair of sunglasses. But what if I spend a lot of money and then break them?

A. Ideally, the pair of sunglasses you buy will be extremely durable and capable of withstanding all types of abuse. Lots of high-end sports sunglasses come with some sort of warranty to help allay consumer fears about breakage. If you’re concerned, look for a manufacturer that stands by its lens and frame quality with a warranty.

Q. Can I put my prescription lenses in a pair of sports sunglasses?

A. Some sports sunglass frames can accommodate prescription lenses. For example, EyeLove offers several frame designs that will do this. But not all manufacturer models do, so be sure to read the fine print on any pair of shades you buy if this is your goal.

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