Gear Guy


How Tough Are My Sunglasses?

To find out, I torture-tested five top brands by, you know, smashing them with a kayak and running them over with my Camry

How Tough Are My Sunglasses?
Your sunnies are tougher than you think. (Joe Jackson)

Some weeks I interview microbiologists about water filters or take naps in hammocks for the Gear Guy column. This week, I got to beat the crap out of top-shelf sunglasses ($713 worth) to find out just how durable they really are. Here’s how my five picks stacked up in ascending order.

The Test

To start, I called several top brands and asked them to send me their most durable pair of shades. Then, to replicate the most common sunglasses mishap, I dropped each pair 10 times from shoulder height, lenses down, onto gravel. Next, I placed them, lenses up, on my couch and sat on them five times in a row. Moving on, I dropped my 48.5-pound Dagger Nomad kayak on each pair three times with the lenses face up on a patch of gravel. I took it a step further by running over each pair with my mountain bike. Finally, frustrated that I couldn’t do more than put scratches on these rugged sunglasses, I ran over each pair with my 2000 Toyota Camry.

The Results

#5. Electric Stacker ($180)

(Joe Jackson)

The Drop: Twenty scratches on these glasses—nine of which I would characterize as large and distracting. To be fair, these glasses had the largest lenses in this test, so there was more surface area to pick up nicks.

The Sit: Zero damage.

The Kayak: More scuffing on the lenses, but very minimal. Less than five scratches on the frames. The secondary part of the frame, which acts as side shield, popped out, but I was able to pop it back into place.

The Mountain Bike: Minimal scratching and the protective side cover popped out again. 

The Car: One of the arms popped off and the metal hinge that attaches the arm broke, rendering the glasses unusable.

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#4. Oakley Silver XL Prism Daily Polarized Woodgrain Collection ($180)

(Joe Jackson)

The Drop: The glasses collected 24 scratches—seven of which I would call large. They were the most scratched of the sunnies we tested, and barely wearable after this test. They did have the second-largest lenses, so there was a lot of surface area to mess up.

The Sit: Zero damage.

The Kayak: Two significant scratches on the lenses, and three small scratches on the frame. Still fully intact. 

The Mountain Bike: Minimal scratching and the right arm popped out. But I was able to pop it back in after. 

The Car: This test popped both of the arms off the frame, but, again, I was able to put them back on.

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#3. Spy Rover ($110)

(Joe Jackson)

The Drop: Nineteen scratches—five of which I would characterize as large. But I would definitely still use these.

The Sit: Zero damage.

The Kayak: Two significant scratches on the lenses and one large scratch on the frame. Still structurally intact.

The Mountain Bike: No discernible damage.

The Car: Some scratching on the frames, but still fully usable.

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#2. Smith Frontman Elite ($120)

(Joe Jackson)

The Drop: Seven small scratches—these were barely perceptible with the glasses on.

The Sit: Zero damage.

The Kayak: Two large scratches on the lenses and three small scratches on frame, but still fully structurally intact.

The Mountain Bike: No discernible damage.

The Car: Very similar to the Spy Rovers—a few scratches on the frame, but still totally usable.

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#1. Julbo Explorer ($125)

(Joe Jackson)

The Drop: Four tiny scratches—no real perceptible damage with glasses on.

The Sit: Zero damage.

The Kayak: One small scratch on the lenses and one small scratch on the frame at the bridge of the nose.

The Mountain Bike: No discernible damage.

The Car: Two small scratches on the lenses, but that’s it.

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The Verdict

Most sunglasses are tougher than you'd think. Yes, they'll scratch when dropped, but I had to smash them with a car to get any of these to break. And three of the models didn't break even then.

In terms of a test winner, the Julbo Explorer definitely stood out. Besides a few minor scratches on the lenses, they showed very little wear. The only downside? They look great on a glacier, but maybe a bit dorky around town.

The Smith and Spy’s were almost tied because they were scratched up but still fully usable. While I was able to put the Oakley shades back together, the arms did pop off, so I ranked them third. The Electric sunnies came in last, but to be fair, they stood up to everything but my Camry. And they’re easily the most steezy of the bunch.

Of course, there are plenty of other durable sunglasses out there. If you have a pair that's stood up to seasons of abuse, let us know. 

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