The swimming pro in Pasadena thought it was weird to pick up sunglasses floating in the pool. But then he put them on and went, “Whoa.” The goggles-ish Waves are rapture for river runners, stand-up paddlers, and the rest of the watersports set. Julbo’s polarized polycarbonate lenses handle light conditions from low to noontime bright and mitigate the glare that makes open water an optical hell. Soft, detachable frame skirting—the goggles-like feature—fends off side spray, while a water-shedding coating on the lenses sends the rest off in beads. Sunscreen wipes off smudge-free, too. Boating shades never really cut it for watery athletic recreation, but they were pretty much all we had—until now.
BEST FOR: Los Angeles, Saharan sun.
THE TEST: Spy, claiming that wavelengths at the blue end of the spectrum lift mood, engineered its new Happy Lenses to let in a bit more blue light. Buy this reasoning or don’t, the polarized and deeply tinted gray polycarbonate lenses are joyous in harsh light. My thoroughly sunglasses-jaded wife gave the Discords an instant ovation. She happened to be driving on an especially sizzling, high-glare afternoon—an ideal test, as is hanging around anywhere that’s sun hammered. As for hard playing and athletics, not so much, because the flattish lenses let in light and wind at the sides, and glossy frames can get sweaty and slick.
THE VERDICT: Retro-geeky fashion glasses with modern-future lenses.
BEST FOR: Knock-around street wear.
THE TEST: Aviators with teardrop lenses have been cool-guy shades since the 1930s. Problem was, the wire frames were scary for action sports, because they could puncture the wearer in a crash. Smith solves that with nylon that follows the original lines, more or less, with a bit of period-appropriate shaping at the temples. The tint of the poly lenses is also true to the gray-green aviator lineage, which has lasted 80-odd years because it’s good. Though nonpolarized, the lenses do fine for everyday, undemanding use, especially driving.
THE VERDICT: Versatile reinterpretation of a classic style.
Maui Jim Blue Water
BEST FOR: Cruising with the top down.
THE TEST: This is great sporty, if not exactly sportsworthy, eyewear. Give the Blue Waters points for coverage and protection, thanks to big wraparound lenses, nylon frames, and sticky-when-wet rubber patches at the nose. But above all, this is an optics story. The world is just more beautiful, with more depth and detail, seen through Maui’s HCL bronze-tint polarized lenses. Just keep to low-impact outdoor entertainment—dockside mojitos, a brisk walk to work up an appetite, looking at who’s looking at you—because glass won’t do for rough stuff.
THE VERDICT: Power shades to play in.
BEST FOR: Land-based recreation.
THE TEST: Kaenon, unashamedly elitist maker of swanky, fashionable sports sunglasses, makes a move highly reminiscent of Mercedes with the Baby Benzes. You spend less and still get the look, vibe, and feel. You also get a little less of what you might really want. Conspicuously absent are Kaenon’s polarized lenses, which you’ll miss only if you’ve tried them. Still, these are great-looking shades with a highly versatile copper tint, and the comfortable and secure nylon frames rise to the level of wearable sculpture.
THE VERDICT: Low end of the high end.
Revo Guide Extreme
BEST FOR: Water-based recreation.
THE TEST: The view is so hi-res through the Guide Extremes’ dark gray polarized lenses, I double-checked with Revo to confirm that they’re polycarbonate, not glass. In terms of optics, this is some drastic plastic. It also offers what may be the world’s best water-shedding coating. The styling is man-size, with lenses that cover high and wide and snap-on side shields to seal out peripheral glare. More important than styling: the Guide Extremes are made to stay put, with sticky rubber where you need it at the nose and temples. A smart detachable lanyard keeps your shades close when you’re not wearing ’em.
THE VERDICT: Boaty made beautiful.
Oakley Style Switch
BEST FOR: Not looking like you’re trying too hard.
THE TEST: The frames appear to be a standard one-piece, but they swing open for swapping out the lenses. You get two pairs: black iridium and amber for low light. Both offer razor-sharp optics, and between the two you’re optically equipped to cruise or go fast in serious-to-middling brightness.
THE VERDICT: Some true sports necessities—notably, sticky rubber on the frames and temples—go missing on the Style Switches, but they handle moderate exertion and banging around just fine.
BEST FOR: Tearing up trails on wheels or on foot.
THE TEST: You could wear the Eastrims anywhere, really, but you’re missing a lot of performance if you don’t take them out in the boonies and go fast and hard. The amber-hued, polarized polycarbonate lenses perform in sun and shadow, where they heighten detail, depth, and contrast. For the money, Native is generous with premium features like bendable and padded wire nosepieces that allow a custom fit. You can even cant the frames for head-down, eyes-up cycling. Elsewhere there’s grippy rubber and nice head hold from springy nylon. You can also swap in extra lenses, sold separately, not that you need to.
THE VERDICT: With the highly versatile tint and streetworthy looks, these could be all the shades you need.
Rudy Project Deewhy
BEST FOR: Hobnobbing at the Giro d’Italia.
THE TEST: Though the company leans toward serious road-biking eyewear, the Deewhys (why this name, Rudy?) are more about casual looks than go-fast performance. The frame and earpieces are glossy nylon, sans the sticky rubber padding needed by those who sweat for fun or trophies. These shades compensate with looks. The frames we tested were icicle clear, the lenses mirrored with searing orange. And there’s a nice bit of flash from metal panels at the temples. If you’re spending this much, you might want polarized lenses, and the gray polycarbonate lenses are not. But the mirroring mitigates glare, the optics are sharp, and the neutral tint means no color shift when you take your shades off as you head inside for another prosecco.
THE VERDICT: Ooh, you sexy shades.
BEST FOR: Rides or runs on the long, hot road.
THE TEST: Endurance-jock eyewear gets a makeover with these swoopy, lightweight sport wraps. The Speeds deliver all-around protection from sun and wind and stay put no matter how hard you go and how much you sweat. As for styling, the Welcome to Hell red mirroring belies the cool view through the polarized lenses, and rubber on the nosepiece and temples keeps them securely in place. Bear in mind that the color-neutral lens tint is better for on-road pursuits than trails, where warmer amber and copper tints rule.
THE VERDICT: Comes across vampirish but in a good way.