Outside magazine, July 1998
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.
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.
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