The world of sunglasses is almost as diverse as the people who wear them. Sunny summertime is probably the season you most frequently reach for a pair, with whatever styles you wear often being picked solely based on aesthetics, since you’re wearing them practically every time you step outside. But everyone knows sunglasses are a year-round accessory, and although trendy shapes and lens colors serve their purpose when you’re grabbing your morning latte at Ground Support or sitting out in Central Park, they can actually get in the way if you’re wearing them during more physical outdoor pursuits.
Like their more fashionable cousins, the best sunglasses for active wear protect your eyes from sun damage, cut glare to keep your vision sharp (very important for any sporting activity), and generally make you more comfortable, whether you’re kayaking through open water, hiking above the timberline, or skiing down a powder-white slope. But, unlike their more fashionable cousins, active-wear sunglasses should not have nose pads like those on wire-framed aviators or other sleek shades (an accidental tumble on a run or hike could lead to a serious eye injury), nor should frames be so oversize that they partially block your field of vision, so undersized that they don’t fully protect your eyes from the sun, or have lenses tinted so dark that they make it harder to see clearly.
Over the past dozen or so years, I’ve worn almost a dozen different pairs of sunglasses for hikes, climbs, paddling trips, trail runs, and other outdoor activities. Below are the five styles I swear by, all of which I wear often — and some of which could even pass as stylish.
For canoeing, kayaking, or rowing
I live about a mile from a bay that opens onto the Long Island Sound, and it’s a great place for kayaking and canoeing, both activities I enjoy regularly in all seasons. And, no matter the season, I need a good pair of sunglasses to cut the glare of the sun reflecting off the water. I used to wear a pair of Ray-Ban aviators when paddling, and while I loved the coverage the large lenses provided, ultimately the nose pads were just too uncomfortable — especially once the sweat and sunblock started to run. So I replaced those with Sunskis, and although I used to wear its rounder Dipsea style on the water, I’ve moved to the Topeka, which has a slightly wider lens, blocking that much more sun. Plus, no matter how much water (or sweat from my brow) splashes on it, its lenses rarely streak. It also doesn’t have nose pads like my old aviators, and is generally a solid pair — after my many trips out on the salt water, neither the lenses nor durable plastic frames show signs of corrosion.
All Sunski sunglasses are polarized, meaning they filter out horizontally oriented light waves to reduce glare. As a result, they offer excellent visibility and eye protection even on the brightest of days. Most Sunski glasses also look nice, too, which is just an added bonus. The only consistent complaint I have about Sunski sunglasses is that they make it difficult to read screens, which is rarely an issue while paddling, but can be problematic when I check my GPS while driving to a new spot to get into the water.
For high-altitude hiking
Hiking at higher altitudes means more potential for sun damage, as the thinner air scatters less light. That’s why you need sunblock when mountaineering in all seasons, and it’s why UV protection is especially important when choosing the best sunglasses for hiking. The Roka Oslo sunglasses block 100 percent of the sun’s UV light, a claim few others can make (even most polarized lenses don’t block 100 percent of UV light). A pair also weighs less than an ounce, so it adds almost nothing to your gear’s weight — a big plus on any distance hike or high alpine ascent (and, for the record, they function just as well on lower altitude hikes, too).
Oslos have hydrophobic lenses that stay clear even as you sweat or as the rains set in, and come with three different nose pads that sit flush against your nose (instead of perching on it like those of wire-rimmed glasses), ensuring you get a nice, snug fit that’ll keep them in place during sweaty or rainy treks. They’re not cheap, but I think these are worth it for all their technical design elements, especially the grip — because if your sunglasses slip off your face as you head up a vertical pitch on El Capitan, you’re not going to climb back down for them. Also, for performance sunglasses, the Oslos are actually pretty stylish; you could easily wear them every day, no matter the altitude.