archival photo of Elton John, wearing sunglasses, listening to music on Sony hi-fi equipment
(Photo: SSPL/Getty)

Debate: Cheap Versus Expensive Sunglasses

Are expensive sunglasses worth it? Two Outside gear editors don’t exactly see eye to eye.

archival photo of Elton John, wearing sunglasses, listening to music on Sony hi-fi equipment

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Cheap Means Expendable, Which Also Means Less Stress

By Ariella Gintzler

I was five miles into an eight-mile run, cruising along a sandy, winding trail down a ridge high above Santa Fe, when I yard-saled. I don’t remember what I tripped over. But I do remember landing belly down in the dirt, with my hat and sunglasses ten feet away in opposite directions. I was fine; my sunglasses, however, were toast. Thankfully, they’d only cost me $25.

I have expensive taste when it comes to gear: My choice sports bra is over $70. My preferred winter puffy is $300. My favorite running shoes are nearly $200. But sunglasses are an exception. This has to do with the fact that I am both a klutz and can be a tad absentminded when enjoying my surroundings outdoors. Proper care and cleaning only get me so far, because inevitably I drop my sunglasses. Or I stuff them, caseless, into my pocket. I fall and launch them into the dirt. I forget they’re perched above my hat brim and then send them flying when I remove my cap. In an effort to be mindful, I carefully set them to the side during a trail break, only to sit on them or thwack them with the butt of my backpack while digging for trail mix.

Sure, when it comes to specialty eyewear for specific sports (like goggles for skiing or an endurance shield for road biking), I still rock the pricey stuff. But for everyday use on runs, hikes, and travel days, I’m perfectly happy with the cheap stuff. Actually, I’m happier, because I can enjoy myself without constantly worrying about ruining the most delicate and accident-prone part of my kit. Does a $25 pair of shades provide the sharp optics of a $100 or $150 pair? No. But I’m more than willing to make that sacrifice for some peace of mind.

Expensive Sunnies Offer Exceptional Protection, Optics, and Style

By Will Taylor

As a surfer, cyclist, river rafter, trail runner, and all-around gear tester, I’ve tried just about every variety of sunglasses out there, at the full run of price points. And while I’ve lost some to the bottom of the Pacific, broken others in bike wrecks, and scratched still others beyond any serviceable utility, I remain in favor of spending the money on shades. With apologies to ZZ Top, life’s too short for cheap sunglasses. Quality eyewear is essential outdoor equipment, protecting one of the most important parts of your body, and it makes life under the sun more enjoyable.

UV-blocking and shatter-resistance ratings are usually impressive with higher-end offerings, so you’re treating your eyes better. And because superior hardware is used on expensive models, they last longer than the convenience-store options. And I don’t baby them: I tend to use a single pair for everything I do outside, nor am I concerned about wiping them down with a T-shirt or dropping them in the dirt or the drink. I also admit that I’m vain; I like good-looking shades, and when you spend more, a bump in steez is generally part of the deal. But what you’re really after is excellent optics. Gazing across the ocean or a whitewater rapid through an outstanding pair of polarized specs is alone worth the investment. What’s that old saying? Oh yeah: you get what you pay for. That’s certainly true of eyewear.