Look good and see better with these seven specs.
Vuarnet Tom Nightlynx ($310)
It takes some serious optical voodoo to make me go, “Whoa!” I’ve been reviewing shades since before the turn of the millennium, putting hundreds of pairs to the test. Until now, nobody won big at night—the intended milieu of Vuarnet’s deep yellow Nightlynx lenses, which are tinted and optically tuned for when the sun don’t shine. A shortish hop down the 405 and on Hollywood Boulevard made me a believer. The lenses worked wonders with oncoming traffic. But the Nightlynx do more than tame head-on glare. Peripheral details jump out, too.What makes darker lighter? By reducing available illumination by about 30 percent, the lenses filter out visual garbage. And when light is scarce, everything seems cleaner and clearer. The benefits really accrue when the sun is low or otherwise clouded over; these lenses aren’t for full-on brightness. When I tried them during a jog down a steep fire road sinking into darkness, I was able to make out details that would be lost to the unaided eye. I was smitten. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the name of the retro frame design, Tom, honors original eighties mustache stud Tom Selleck.
Bollé Heron ($99)
Best for those on a budget
Everything about the Heron is pretty damn good, starting with the polarized polycarbonate lenses, which are tinted a warm brown that performs like a champ. Those lenses provide maximal coverage, nestling in tight under the brows and dropping close to the cheek. Wide temple pieces block light and wind at the sides. The springy, lightweight nylon frames comfortably grip the head with sticky-when-wet pads at the nose and earpieces. All was secure during a brutally hot trail slog. But the Heron has a conspicuous extra that value-priced shades often lack: playful sass, which shows in the flashy green mirroring and bright highlights that wake up the dark frames. You get sport-wrap coverage without sport-wrap style, at a super cool price.
Rudy Project Sintryx ($300)
Best for cyclists
Once again, racy Italian eye-gear specialist Rudy raises the bar for aggro high design. The lenses on this light, go-fast number are high, wide, and wrapped back for huge coverage and an unobstructed view. What appears to be a decorative little logo above the nosepiece is in fact a button that unlatches the frame for swapping tints. On the other hand, you may never feel like changing out the polarized gray synthetic lenses, which are impressively glass-like in their resolution. Red-orange mirroring adds a demonic glow and knocks back glare. Springy frames hug the head to keep the Sintryx in place no matter what. Though gusts swatted me around and dust blew, my eyes were safe and completely comfy behind the big lenses, which are cleverly vented to kill fog.
Maui Jim Little Maks ($299)
Best for the street
Slipping on this study in elegance offers instant reward. I was blown away by the view through Maui Jim’s rose-tinted polarized lenses. Punched-up depth, detail, and color were more than worth a moment of pink shock. These are all you need for most everyday uses behind the wheel and on the boulevard. The lenses are made of lightweight glass rather than plastic, so the optics will stay sharp longer, and gradient mirroring, high to low, further fortify the Little Maks against the searing sky and light flares from man-made surfaces. Translucent over-ear pieces are a nice departure from the usual blah black or tortoise, but Maui’s quiet about it. Nothing here but class, though flattish lenses and a lightish tint mean you might be miserable in full-on glare.
Roka Monaco ($170)
Best for savvy style
Beverly Hills meets sports eyewear in this category smasher, which manages to perform like a racing shield—big coverage with super security and feathery weight—and do a celebrity-grade style number with swoopy, oversize lenses and opaque mirroring. Crystal-clear optics in a cool neutral tint take the sting out of sun on gleamy surfaces. The feel is minimal—almost forgettable—belying the glamorous style that others see. But don’t be fooled: the Monaco is equally adept at training hard and long, then helping you give the competition hell on race day. These shades really can sub in for an athletic shield, because that’s exactly what they are, in a stealthy, shape-shifting sort of way. Like with last year’s Gear of the Year–winning Phantoms, Roka has taken its triathlon heritage and added a little attitude.
Costa del Mar Montauk ($199)
Best for on the water
Hold the Montauk’s translucent frames up to the sun and dig the grainy pattern. Now put on this unashamedly old-school sports wrap and revel in the bombproofness. Sun ain’t getting anywhere near your eyeballs, no matter where it’s coming from—the sky, the water’s surface, or the boat deck and instruments. Ditto howling wind and spray, which are walled out by big wrap-back lenses and wide temples with sticky cladding at the ears. The pristine optics (the lenses are made of polarized synthetic) are downright spectacular. The tint lends itself to streamside and lake, where fish, rocks, and foliage lurk. Seashore name and vibe aside, I loved the Montauk for high-altitude hiking and sweaty trail running, too. Gill-like vertical vents move enough air to de-steam the lenses and fend off fog.
Kaenon Clarke ($209)
Best for everything
Gazing across a timbered mountainside in midafternoon sun in Idyllwild, California, is nice even without sunglasses. Then I looked again through Kaenon’s polarized synthetic Ultra lenses, which sport tech that makes colors jump up and holler. Whatever the hue, there’s extra oomph here—brighter, bolder, and more saturated—but without appearing cheap or special-effecty. Clarke’s look is easy, with a bit of flash from the blue mirroring. The lenses pull inward toward the cheek and wrap back at the sides just enough to boost coverage and protection without looking obnoxiously sporty. Add to that security from springy nylon frames and you’re good to go, be it a pickup game or a hike, though you won’t be embarrassed in the working world, either. Except for red-lined athletic pursuits, it’s hard to go wrong here.