To truly grok the significance of sunglasses, it helps to view things through the lens of second-rate science fiction. As in, our world is enslaved by a giant off-planet entity, known as “the sun,” that gives life and light but also blasts us with invisible rays. Sunglasses are shields against eye damage, enabling accurate visual input and providing comfort. Do any of the other items in these pages stand up to an alien menace? Does it make sense, given the preciousness of sight, to be careless or cheap when purchasing sunglasses? Hell no—twice! Wise earthlings, select with care.
It’s a rare pair of shades that can be worn with confidence in New York City, Osaka, and Bozeman, Montana—driving, cycling, hiking, or (why not?) playing ultimate Frisbee. Read the full Gear of the Year review.
Best For: Brainiacs looking to hook up.
The Test: Applause for whoever thought to bridge the gap over the nosepieces with shiny gold wire. That bit of bling sexes up what could have been the same old round tortoise-frame glasses ($119). Brown polarized lenses, crafted from a proprietary synthetic, deliver optics as sharp as ground glass: colors throb, and details jump out. The lenses leak too much light for hard charging, but for playing around they’re just fine.
The Verdict: Instant classic. smithoptics.com
Julbo Vermont Mythic
Best For: The aggressively hip.
The Test: Julbo’s 1950 glacier glasses ($260) are suddenly steampunk chic. The reissue is showing up on catwalks, and if you opt for the white leather trim instead of the original black, it’s way over the top—in a good way. Safety warning: don’t drive or do anything requiring peripheral vision. Also, though it rocked on a scramble up a sun-hammered slope, the mirrored brown-tint glass is too dark for less than searing brightness.
The Verdict: High-price, extreme looks. julbousa.com
Best For: Power lunches.
The Test: Nowadays it looks businesslike, but the original Woody was created by the late Hobart “Hobie” Alter for Southern California lifeguards. The update ($140) does retro gracefully. Lenses are polarized glass in a copper tint that diffuses noon rays. You’ll want to avoid outdoor sports (glass shatters), and the flattish lenses let in too much light for the original purpose. Instead, consider the Woody great everyday shades.
The Verdict: Premium sunglasses with quiet style. hobiepolarized.com
Best For: Catching rays at the Mandalay Bay wave pool.
The Test: Alien robot eyes of fire are what these shamelessly loud shades give the wearer. The mirroring creates a blaze of color, a sort of hellish rainbow. With its wide single-blade lens, the Diamondback ($110) riffs on ultra-serious sports shields without actually joining the club. The gray, nonpolarized-polycarbonate glass is easy on the eyes but makes for a flat view. Still, this is high-quality knock-around eyewear.
The Verdict: Not for the shy or self-serious. bolle.com
Rudy Project Rydon
Best For: Trail runners.
The Test: The price gets less scary when you consider that the photochromic lenses make this the equivalent of several pairs of primo shades for every light level, sunup to sundown. The brown tint transforms from nearly clear to coffee dark so smoothly that you never notice. Sun on snow or water will be too bright, but the Rydon ($250) is rapture for those who do sweaty stuff off-pavement. Nice: adjustable temples and nosepiece enable a custom fit.
The Verdict: Happiness—for a price. rudyprojectusa.com
Under Armour Igniter 2.0
Best For: Jocks on a budget.
The Test: Lightweight temples hug the head with tenderness, as if the Igniter ($105) likes you. Sticky rubber at the ears and nose strengthen the bond, so you can bang around and still be one with your glasses. Others see orange mirroring while you get a sharp, high-contrast view through warm polarized polycarbonate. The half-frame design minimizes clutter, while lens coatings repel sunscreen and anything oily.
The Verdict: Go fast, save money. underarmour.com
Maui Jim Waterman
Best For: Sailing the downhill run to Papeete.
The Test: Normally laid-back Maui Jim gets intense with the truly watersports-engineered Waterman ($249). Let the gales howl, spray fly, tropical sun sear. Your eyes are sheltered behind dark gray (and superb) polarized-poly lenses. Vents around the lenses defog but block wind. Springy temples clad in sticky rubber are rigged with an elastic headband, so you and your shades are inseparable, even if you fall overboard.
The Verdict: Resets the bar for boaty shades. mauijim.com
Best For: Riding skinny trails on fat tires.
The Test: These tricky new frames ($200) open with a hidden nose-piece latch so you can swap out lenses, then bite down (hence “jaw”) on the tint du jour. They were initially designed for pro roadies, but Oakley’s new warm brown poly Prizm trail lens ($100), with purply mirroring, screams for singletrack. With brilliant optics, you’ll see what you don’t want to run into. Check the cutouts for fog-eliminating ventilation.
The Verdict: One technofied hottie. oakley.com