Sunglasses haven’t changed much since they caught on in the late 1920s, when an entrepreneur started selling them in New Jersey. Styles have evolved, frame materials and lenses have gotten better, but the nuts and bolts of their construction today are essentially the same as those first ones sold on the Jersey Shore. That’s what makes the shades from Ombraz all the more intriguing. Instead of traditional sidearms, the company uses a thin nylon strap to hold them on your face, like a permanent version of sunglasses straps that you can tighten.
Ombraz has a few models, all of which feature the same technology and are billed as nearly indestructible and prime for adventures like paddling, biking, and climbing. We were excited about the design when the brand launched two years ago, and for the past few months I’ve been testing a new model, the Leggero ($140). I’ve run and biked a few hundred miles wearing them, climbed with them, and happy-houred with them, and I basically lived with them glued to my face for a week during a bikepacking trip through the desert when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. After constant testing in the field and around town, I love the Leggero. I also hate it. Let me explain.
What I Like
I dig the big, squarish frames; they make me look like a morally bankrupt film producer from the seventies, which I like. And there’s a lot to love about these sunglasses beyond aesthetics. Ditching the sidearms is more than just a shtick—it’s pretty damn smart. Most sunglasses rely on tight sidearms to keep them snug against your face, but they can cause annoying pressure points behind your ears, which can turn into headaches if you wear them for too long. The nylon strap with two sliding toggles on these keeps them secure without any noticeable points of contact, so the Leggero remains surprisingly comfortable, even after a long day of use. And I like hanging them from my neck, locked and loaded for when the sun breaks through.
The lack of sidearms also cuts weight (the Leggero is 20 grams, on par with high-end running glasses), while eliminating those tiny screws that are a hassle to get back in when they inevitably fall out. And, yes, eschewing sidearms for a strap makes them hard to crush. I threw them on the ground and stepped on them while wearing hiking boots, and they always emerged unscathed. I put them in my back pocket and sat on them repeatedly, and they came out good as new (which says something, as I weigh 190 pounds). Granted, the lenses—polarized glass from Germany—will collect scratches, but the frames themselves are pretty pliable.
Sounds like a love affair, right? Not so fast.
What I Dislike
Putting these glasses on and taking them off is a pain in the ass.
The process is not technically difficult—it’s just loosening or tightening the nylon strap, but those actions require two hands, and a lot of the things I do in sunglasses also require two hands. That means I have to take both hands off the handlebars or off the rope when I’m belaying (don’t do this). If I’m wearing a helmet, there’s an added layer of complexity, because the Leggero’s strap gets caught in the helmet’s strap. And if I’m drinking a beer and it gets sunny all of a sudden, I have to put down my brew. Unacceptable.
I have a few minor gripes, too. I’d prefer grippier nose pads—the Leggero requires more tension to prevent slippage when I’m working up a sweat. And there’s a slight learning curve to the tightening process: it took me a few days to eventually find the sweet spot with the strap tension.
So, yeah, I hate these sunglasses a little bit, but does that outweigh my love for them? Hell no. The highest compliment I can give to a pair of shades is that they disappear on my face. And that happens all the time with the Leggero. I put them on, I do the things I’m doing, and I totally forget I’m wearing them. Bravo. So even though I’m hyperaware of the Leggero during any transitions (when they become cumbersome and require two opposable thumbs), I’m still planning on wearing them on bluebird days when I’m skiing this winter. I’m also looking forward to strapping them on at the beach this spring and summer. I will absolutely paddleboard, and maybe even surf, with these glasses. And I’m positive I won’t lose them, because they’re glued to my head.