Indefinitely Wild

The Julbo Chams Are My New Favorite Sunglasses

The indie French brand reissues its classic aviator-shaped mountaineering glasses

Bowie models the Julbo Chams. (Wes Siler)

Flying home from a ski trip a few weeks ago, I put my keychain, wallet, and sunglasses in the dog dish, then sent them down the conveyor belt into the bowels of the TSA X-ray machine. When the dish came out the other side, the glasses were gone. I begged, cajoled, and attempted to bribe the agents to find them. I even offered my incredibly bright FourSevens Mini Mk2 to aid in the efforts. But they were gone, eaten by bureaucracy. 

I was distraught. Not only were they my favorite glasses of all time—the Aether Explorers—but this was my third pair, after breaking one (well, Wiley broke them) and losing the other while paddling the Sea of Cortez. At $600 a pair, I couldn’t justify a fourth.

After a suitable period of self loathing, I set out to find a replacement. I’d fallen in love with the Aether’s glare-blocking side shields, their incredibly clear Zeiss glass lenses, and the light weight. So I knew I wanted similar features, just in a much more affordable package. 

I looked at Revo, but most of their glasses are just too flashy for the city. Then I remembered the classic Julbo Vermont—basically the original mountaineering glasses.

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Hardware is high quality and construction is excellent. (Wes Siler)

Julbo remains an independent brand based out of Chamonix, France. I liked its history, and the functionality and quality of its products, but otherwise excellent products like the Explorer 2.0 just look a little too Dame Edna for my taste. The leather shields on the Vermont had always appealed, but the round lenses gave them a mad scientist air I wasn’t sure I could pull off. They also came only with extremely dark lenses designed to cut the brightness of high-altitude snow and ice, which means they’re too dark for most mundane situations, like driving my truck.

I was playing around on Julbo's website, wishing for a better looking version of the Vermont, when I saw the Chams. And they were exactly what I was looking for. Leather shields? Check. Lenses suitable for sub-alpine wear too? Check. Good looks? Double check. $170 price? Sold.

My biggest concern while I waited on the Amazon delivery was that the polycarbonate lenses wouldn’t be as clear or as nice to look through as the Zeiss glass I’d gotten used to with the Aethers.

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The leather is thin and supple, and doesn't add much weight at all. (Wes Siler)

The package arrived the afternoon before a 4x4 trip to Death Valley. So, I threw them in my old Land Rover, and put them on for first wear as the sun rose over the Mojave desert. I was immediately taken aback by my vision clarity, and also by how much light they cut. They’re every bit as clear as the Aethers, but where those glasses had perforated shields that still allowed some light through, the leather on these totally seals out all light that doesn’t come through the lenses. The effect was transformative—when I wear them I can feel my eyes being more open and more relaxed, without even the tiniest bit of squinting in bright desert light.

When I ordered them, I hadn’t really understood what the flexible temples were, but that part has really helped improved both comfort and retention. The back half of each temple is covered in grippy black rubber, and flexes like heavy-gauge wire. You can leave them fairly flat, for easy on-off through casual wear, or twist them tightly around your ears. Doing that holds them tightly to your face through physical activity, meaning not only will they not fall off, but also that they won’t shift. After the looks, this is my favorite thing about the Chams.

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The leather shields clip right off if you just want a classic aviator shape without the added glare protection. (Wes Siler)

So far, they’ve worked great while driving, hiking, doing some moderate rock scrambling, and even skiing. I’ve also gotten compliments on them from virtually everyone, with the notable exception of my girlfriend. Her specific objection is to the leather shields—my favorite part—which is why I haven’t yet told her that they detach.

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