Review: A Little Bright Out? Think Polarized.

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, July 1998

Review: A Little Bright Out? Think Polarized.

By Bob Howells


Those who work and play around water have long favored polarized sunglasses for their ability to temper glare. Using tiny filters that act like vertical blinds to ward off bounced-back light, these protective optics let mariners scan horizons without singeing their retinas and anglers watch as subsurface prey snub their offerings. But glare is obviously not exclusive to aqueous environs: Sand dunes and skate paths can create the noxious effect — occurring when reflected rays align themselves along a single plane that makes a blinding beeline for your eyes — just as easily as a trout stream. So, despite their heretofore specialized appeal, polarized shades can come in handy for just about any sunny endeavor.

Of course, you'll still want the usual array of sunglass essentials: 100 percent protection from UVA and UVB rays, frames that'll withstand a mild beating, and a lens material suited to your favorite form of locomotion. While glass gets the prize for acuity, it leaves you with the unsettling knowledge that it can shatter upon impact — so it may not be the wisest choice for throw-your-body-around pursuits such as beach volleyball or mountain biking. Typically, though, glass works wonders on deck, streamside, and naturally, around town. On the other hand, plastic lenses, usually in the form of polycarbonate, can stand up to a face plant or two — but often at the price of a few annoying scratches. We reviewed the best of both lens types in the following collection, leaving you with the fun part: Deciding which models best suit your style.

The beauty of brown glass lenses is in their ability to perk up contrast, even in dim light, which makes the Bucci Steady ($130; 800-999-2822) a great choice for freshwater fishing in any light. The frames curve around your head slightly — they're considered moderate wraparounds — for a gentle fit, and so that those sharp lenses will enhance your peripheral vision. Ray-Ban's new Daddy-O Square Wrap ($149; 800-828-1430) mimics the Bucci's shape but uses strong recessed hinges to snug up the fit. Combine that full coverage with dark brown lenses and the Daddy-O shines brightest in places like the Mojave, where the wind is as unrelenting as the sun. If you'd rather see the world's palette true to life, slip on the Ultrasol Tremor ($130; 310-371-7762), which has exceptionally crisp green lenses. But beware: Its beefy frames cozy up best to broad faces.

For spending long hours exclusively in extreme light, consider Vuarnet's Venger ($160; 800-348-0388). Its green lenses block 94 percent of visible light, and the antireflective coating would have no difficulty turning back high noon on a placid stretch of Pacific. On the other hand, Hobie's Eclipse ($155; 800-554-4335) offers supreme versatility and large, squarish lenses that wrap around for goggle-like protection — a worthwhile trait when facing 20 knots of quartering breeze. Best of all, though, is that the high-contrast copper-colored lenses are photochromic, so they adjust to any light condition.

Given these top-shelf options, can Revo (800-444-7386) justify the $295 price of its Small Wrap? It makes a strong case among sailors: Clearer-than-reality brown lenses crank up contrast and are coated to reduce water spotting, while silicone nose pads keep the wrapped frames in place, whether during a high-speed regatta or the high-times party that ensues.

Too few sports shields are endowed with polarized lenses, which is what makes the Uvex XS 07 ($55; 888-616-8839) so unusual — and ideal for staring down shimmering asphalt from the vantage of in-line skates or a road bike. The high-contrast orange lens also facilitates ducking in and out of shadows on the trail, though it's too light to cruise directly into the setting sun. The Wiley X Rebel ($100; 800-776-7842) lets you choose colors on the go with its four interchangeable lenses. Whether you prefer polarized lenses in gray or nonpolarized lenses in gray mirrored, yellow, or clear, your eyes will be well protected by the severely wrapped frames. You can also switch lenses in the Smith Slider SL2 (800-459-4903), which sports nonslip nose pads. The basic package, with nonpolarized brown, yellow, and clear lenses that effortlessly slide in and out, costs $95; the gray polarized lenses add $48 to the tab.

A different sort of sports shield is Serengeti's gray-lens H2Optix Tahiti ($100; 800-525-4001), which is most notable for its tiny side lenses — an appealing design for fisherfolk wanting to guard the flanks of their eyes — and its face-hugging curve. More fashionable, and very nearly as protective, is Oakley's Frogskin ($115; 800-403-7449), which combines a swept-back wrap with squarish gold lenses that have an antireflective coating on the back — stylish, but not ultrahip. You'll feel equally well outfitted in the clear air of a mountaintop or the smoky haze of a jazz joint.

Photographs by Jim Cooper

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