I’ve worn these Salt + Aether Explorer sunglasses for two years now. Whether it’s off-roading my truck in Baja, pedaling my bicycle through Los Angeles, climbing Mount Baker, trying to paddle a kayak from Cuba to Florida, backpacking in the High Sierra, knocking down clay pigeons with my shotgun, or just lounging by a pool, they’ve proven themselves better than anything else I’ve ever worn.
Here’s why I think they’re the finest sunglasses ever produced.
What Are They?
The product of two small, high-end Southern California–based brands—Salt Optics and Aether Apparel—these combine everything Salt knows about making a quality set of glasses with Aether’s attempt to combine solid performance and high style.
The double-glass lenses are ground by Zeiss Optics in Germany, then shipped to Japan, where they’re fitted by hand into titanium frames. Perforated plastic fairings are then tacked on—these are intended to keep wind and glare out of your eyes without destroying your peripheral vision.
This Explorer shape is a squared-off take on the classic aviator. There’s also the more rounded Scout, which shares all the same technical attributes.
Who Are They For?
By packing the nicest-possible lenses into the strongest, lightest-possible frame (more on that below), and taking steps to minimize wind and glare, Salt and Aether have created super-high-performance shades. And they’ve done so in a package that looks as nice paired with as suit as they do with a set of swim trunks.
The big downside is price: an eye-watering $600. This is partly due to the high-quality materials and because the glasses are assembled by hand. So...if you can drop $600 on some shades, these are the pair you should get. As long as you don't lose them, they'll last decades.
Let’s start with the lenses. They’re made from glass, so they offer much sharper vision with far higher scratch-resistance than the plastic alternatives you’ll be familiar with. They’re also a double-lens configuration, with separate pieces of glass combined to form inner and outer lenses, which helps minimize fogging. The lenses are also polarized and photochromic—they darken or lighten to suit light conditions but always retain a fair degree of tint.
Like other glare-blocking sunglasses, the Explorers use a mirrored coating. Unlike other mirrored sunglasses, that fragile coating is applied to the front of the inner lens, protecting it from scratches.
Those lenses are mounted in titanium frames. There’s nothing special about the frame itself, other than that it’s really light and really strong. What is unusual are the beta-titanium temples. You’ll recognize that material from dental braces—it’s both flexible and heat-formable. That makes these wire-thin temples virtually indestructible and allows you to mold them to the individual shape of your head after first heating them up with a blow dryer.
The nosepieces are also titanium, rather than the more conventional hard plastic or soft silicone. This complements the look of the glasses and adds function by further reducing weight.
The plastic fairings give the glasses their unique look. Aether came up with them as a way to reduce wind blast while riding a motorcycle with your helmet visor open. The company added the perforations during testing to reduce turbulence and facilitate peripheral vision. Glare and wind blast are said to be reduced by 80 percent.
Invariably, anyone’s reaction the first time they handle these glasses is to remark on how light they are—under an ounce. I lack the equipment to accurately weigh them, but they’ll be far lighter than any plastic-frame sunglasses you’ve ever tried.
That feather-like weight is a large part of what makes the Explorers all-day comfortable. I’ve tested other glass sunglasses from Vuarnet and Revo, and those end up being painful after just a couple hours of constant wear due to their weight. I’ve worn these throughout many full days of activities and never experienced any discomfort. Honestly, I often forget I’m wearing them well into the evening, sometimes until someone makes fun of me for wearing sunglasses at night.
The most comfortable sunglasses I’ve ever worn, the Explorers also utterly eliminate eye fatigue. Long drives through the desert, days spent on a glacier or on open water—I’ve yet to end any of them with sore eyes from too much sun exposure.
And they stay on your head. The beta-titanium temples and nosepieces might sound slippery, but combined with the extraordinarily light weight, these glasses simply stay put. So well, in fact, that I never felt the need to leash them during sports. Having said that, I did manage to lose a pair when I rolled a kayak in heavy surf, and didn't have them on a leash. That it takes falling out of a kayak in big waves, and being tossed around under the surf, to make them come off is a testament to their fit. For that Havana to Key West paddle, I obviously wanted to put the new pair on a leash but had to resort to wrapping the thin wire temples in duct tape to make them bulky enough for a Croakies leash to fit securely.
Initially, the plastic fairings feel a little claustrophobic if you haven’t worn glacier glasses before. Your eyes are totally protected around their entire perimeter, but those perforations really do enable you to retain functional peripheral vision. Any portion of your view outside the glass is more of a sixth sense than it is anything you'll be focusing on, and there's enough light coming through the holes that you can sense stuff approaching from your sides, such as cars moving around you in traffic. There really isn't a downside to the shields.
- Look great in any setting, from a mountain to a fancy wedding.
- The fairings work as well as the extended frames and leather gaskets on dedicated glacier glasses at blocking wind and glare. Actually, they work better since these add less weight.
- All-day comfortable.
- Very secure fit.
- The clearest set of sunglasses you’ll ever look through—you actually see better in bright conditions with these on than you do without.
- Resist fogging better than anything else I’ve worn.
- Hugely strong. My 85-pound adult dog has jumped on top of them when they were sitting on a rock, and the glasses didn’t bend or break. My four-month-old puppy has chewed on them without leaving a mark.
- Polarized lenses cut through glare on water, enabling you to see terrain and fish beneath. While fishing, I have better vision and better eye protection than anything else I’ve tried.
- Available in a limited and fairly tame selection of colors and finishes.
- Haven’t found a leash that fits. (Anyone have a suggestion for wire temples?)
- Polarized lenses make it hard to see your phone or camera screen, gas pump readouts, or other LCD displays.
Should You Buy Them?
Look, I know $600 is really expensive. But setting out to create anything free of compromises is always going to result in a high price. If you can justify their cost, then you’ll be rewarded with the clearest view, lightest weight, and most comfort of any sunglasses you’ll ever wear. This Salt and Aether collaboration has produce the best sunglasses ever made.