The Best Sunglasses of 2016
Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
The realm of sunglasses runs deep. They obscure the eyes, the windows of the soul. Concealment was, indeed, the whole point for 12th-century Chinese judges, who wore darkened lenses to hide their emotions. Today’s poker pros don them for the same reason. And admit it: you lurk behind your lenses and secretly scope out others. Cloaking devices and facial pheromones are what we’re talking about. That, plus performance and safety—seeing the world more clearly in the sunshine, so you can play better while protecting your eyes from discomfort and even permanent damage. Eyeballs are precious and irreplaceable. They deserve primo shades like the ones in our mix.
Gear of the Year
Compromise is overrated. The Stacker avoids the bland middle ground between fashion and sport, managing to be both très chic and goggle grade when it comes to performance. The linchpin is the genius snap-in, snap-out eyecup gizmo. It works like the leather side shield on old-time glacier glasses, but it’s translucent and instantly detachable. Pop the thing off and you’ve got stylish eyewear that doesn’t look the least bit gear-weenie. The big, flattish polycarbonate synthetic gray lenses recall yesteryear’s anchorman glasses, but in a good way. Dropped temples, which meet the frames below the top, bump up the urban factor. Sticky rubber patches—a must-have for sweaty athletics—don’t show a bit. Nor do built-in slits for defogging ventilation. We love the Stacker for paddle sports, cycling, and shaking things up.
Best For: Ultrarunners who smile and say hello.
The Test: Those round lenses—instead of the pointy arrowhead-shaped ones found on most running shades—give these performance glasses a refreshingly friendly look. Frames and temples in festive hues support this vibe. But the Breeze is in it to win it. Coverage, optics, comfort, and security are all stellar. Photochromic Zebra Light lenses adjust quickly to the low to middle light levels that can complicate the view at daybreak and late afternoon, when most of us train. Temples bend into the shape of your choice. Size and fit favor average-size heads or smaller, which makes the Breeze a winner for women, too. Not for the street, except in Chamonix.
The Verdict: Love that funny, sunny, ultra-athletic face.
Native Eyewear Hardtop Ultra XP
Best For: Mountain biking with your girlfriend’s parents.
The Test: You see what it is—a light performance unit, with half-frames that are just right for going all-out. Still, you don’t quite believe it, because the design comes off as sort of dressy. Tortoise frames are fine for the street in mountain towns and pretty much anywhere on weekends. The optics are also all-around performers. Polarized bronze-tinted polycarbonate makes hazards stand out long before impact. No worries about fog, thanks to concealed vents up high. Light green mirroring adds flash, but the look is still quiet. This larger-lens model offers more coverage than the popular Hardtop Ultra.
The Verdict: Ride hard—then roll into town.
Price $129 and up
Rudy Project Synform
Best For: Euro-style roadies.
The Test: Think of the Synform like a Lamborghini—gorgeous, Italian, crazy expensive, and not for everybody. These superlight glasses look like they’re racing (and winning) even before you put them on. This is Rudy’s first folding frame, and it’s a joy just to take the Synform out of its compact, egg-shaped case and open it up to full size. Ride all day: ImpactX-2 photochromic synthetic lenses auto-adjust from nearly clear to dark enough for full-blast sun. They change amazingly quickly, and the optics are delicious. Even the unpolarized Laser Black (a.k.a. gray) tint pops detail and depth. Temple and nosepiece are infinitely adjustable, making fit part of the perfection.
The Verdict: High-strung, expensive beauty.
Best For: Long drives and hikes in gorgeous places.
The Test: People keep buying sporty glasses with wrap-back lenses, and for good reason. They’re crossover performers up to reclevel athletics and acceptable for the street. This pair is better than acceptable, with squared-off lenses and general elegance that doesn’t seem so wrappish. Springy arms hang onto your head, sticky rubber is artfully concealed at the nose and temples, and the optics are great for action, rendering the world sharp and vivid. Polarized bronze synthetic lenses feature Smith’s ChromaPop+ tech to punch up color. Design-wise, the Colson comes across as old-school—a comfort to some, meh to others.
The Verdict: Solid melding of street and sport.
Best For: Knock-around Saturdays.
The Test: The 527 riffs on cool 1950s sunglasses but with a supremely relaxed, light touch. There’s a lot to like for the money, both for street and for casual outdoorsiness. The gold-mirrored polarized synthetic lenses (one of many options) are tinted amber, which punches up and sharpens the view. Premium lens coating repels water and oil. But this frame comes down on the stylish side of the fashion-sport divide. It’s playful and even shares a little secret with the wearer—pastel mod patterning inside the temple pieces that nobody else can see. Note: fits medium-sized heads best.
The Verdict: Retro refreshed, and we’re digging it.
Best For: Skate parks and dance clubs.
The Test: This new fashion number’s name refers to a tricky mechanism that involves a little band of springy stainless steel. The hinges latch into closed position, so your glasses grab securely onto your collar and stay put. (Think of a pen’s pocket clip.) Oakley puts an edge on a familiar round-lens design with a keyhole-shaped gap at the nose. The temples are sleek and straight, and there’s that ineffable Oakley-ness. Mirroring on the Ruby Iridium synthetic lenses gives you eyes of fire with a lightish tint that’s more for the street than bright sun; the optics are fine but not polarized like the Latch’s less intense color options.
The Verdict: Monster style.
Best For: Après surf.
The Test: Dark gray polarized polycarbonate lenses with water- and oil-shedding coatings, detachable temples, floating leashes, and the name SeafarerX attached to them suggest something more nautical than the design really is. A little too much light leaks in at the sides for long hours on open water. Not a problem, though, because this dark and handsome piece is more about living the ocean dream of big-wave hero Shane Dorian. (The SeafarerX is his signature model.) And who wear shades on waves, right? Hard not to dig the camouflage dashes on the slate gray temple pieces, like a code from outer space.
The Verdict: Supreme eyewear on or near sand.
Maui Jim Mavericks
Best For: Brunch in the islands.
The Test: Even narrow heads can look macho and mysterious wearing this downsized titanium aviator with blue mirroring. The world sees nothing but reflection and flash, while you enjoy a sharp, glare-free view. New polarized Blue Hawaii glass works optical wonders with a basic gray tint that’s dense enough for high noon. The mostly flat teardrop lenses don’t cover quite well enough for full-on photon hells like open sand and water, and the vibe isn’t right for action sports. But aviators are more about big, bad things done elsewhere. So bad that maybe you don’t want to talk about it.
The Verdict: You, sir, are a steely-eyed aviators kind of guy, or you are not.