Picture this: you’re hiking in the mountains; it’s been a rocky, sweltering climb to the top but the view makes it worth it - the sky is a vivid blue and the view is awe-inspiring, the sun is shining...but wait - sun glare.
While we often associate a pair of sturdy hiking boots and a durable backpack as key components of the mountaineering survival kit, we often neglect eyewear. But if you’re heading above the snowline, sunglasses are an absolute mountaineering essential.
We’re not talking about Prada or Gucci shades, either.
A good pair of mountaineering sunglasses will have a “wrap-around” style to protect the entire eye area, may have removable side shields, and will ideally have a category 4 lens that will have a VLT rate between 5-10%.
They also need to be durable enough to endure being dropped or squashed in your bag.
These aren't shades for the beach or garden, so it's vital that you understand the dangers of sun exposure while at high altitude, and that you take measures to protect yourself. Just like you wear sunblock to protect your skin while climbing, protecting your eyes is just as important.
Why Are Sunglasses Essential for Mountaineering?
You’re probably aware that the atmosphere becomes thinner the higher you climb - which is why the altitude can have an adverse effect on climbers.
This isn’t the only aspect to be concerned about when you’re up in the clouds: UV radiation increases by around 10-12% per 1000 meters you climb.
As the UV rays become stronger, they’ll also bounce off of any snow or ice-covered surface, which can cause Photokeratitis, commonly known as “snow blindness.”
This is an extremely painful condition which is the equivalent of your eyeballs getting sunburnt, causing temporary blindness and inflammation of the cornea.
Snow reflects 80% of the sun’s rays, and, seeing as it’s not uncommon to witness snow on mountain tops, mountaineers often experience overexposure to UV rays.
However, don’t be fooled thinking steering clear from polar expeditions is enough; even a small amount of snow can cause this, or no snow at all. The intense UV rays you experience when you’re at higher altitudes can also trigger snow blindness, as can water and white sand.
So your safest bet is definitely to take precaution wherever you’re headed, and protect your eyes from those harmful UV rays…
Interested to find out more? Let’s take a look at some of the best mountaineering sunglasses on the market.
Top 5 Best Mountaineering Sunglasses
OUR TOP PICK
The Julbo Explorer strikes the perfect balance between quality mountaineering sunglasses and modern design.
These sunglasses are built to stay on thanks to the flexible grip insert bridge and “grip tech” around the temples which help lock the glasses in place, plus the 360-degree temples are also adjustable so they easily fit under your helmet.
With 5 types of frames to choose from with multiple color options for the lens and 3 different lens types, you’re spoiled for choice, though in our opinion, the best are the Spectron 4’s. These lenses are crafted from polycarbonate and have a VLT rating of 5%, plus an anti-reflective coating.
These shades are built with a natural front venting and have a wide lens surface for maximized field of vision. They also provide side shields for increased sun protection, but these are also removable.
The Julbo Explorer model comes with a lifetime warranty and an adjustable neck cord, so you can rest assured these sunglasses are built not only to protect your eyes but to see you through all your upcoming adventures.
- Flexible bridge and adjustable temples for comfort
- Multiple lenses, colors, and frames to choose from.
- Polycarbonate lenses
- Natural front venting
- 5% anti-reflective coating
- Wide lens for maximum field of vision
- removable side shields
- Lifetime warranty
- Not fog-resistant or oil-repellent
Female mountaineers can have a notoriously hard time finding a quality pair of mountaineering sunglasses that offer maximum protection, fit well, and look good.
Similar to the explorer, you’ve got a wide range of colors and lenses on offer with the Julbo Monterosa, so you can find the exact match for your needs.
The main difference between these and the Explorers is that they’re considerably smaller, but that doesn’t in any way make them weaker or less durable. They also feature removable sun shields that offer all-round protection without looking overtly obvious.
Like the Explorers, these fit snugly on the bridge of your nose thanks to the grip tech around the curved temples, plus they have slots on the temples for a cord to ensure you don’t drop them.
These are non-polarized for optimal vision while climbing, and the Spectron 4 Polycarbonate brown color lens delivers just 5% VLT, meaning it’ll block out 95% of sunlight. The only drawback is the color choice is more limited in the category 4 Spectron lens.
- Removable sun shields
- Grip tech for a snug fit
- Block 95% of UV rays
- Can be attached to a cord
- Anti-reflective, non-polarized lens
- Designed for an optimal fit for women
- The plastic frame is less durable
- Limited color options for Spectron lens
Revo was founded in 1985 on a space-based technology to create high-performance eyewear.
The Traverse Glacier model utilizes Revo’s Light Management System to offer a myriad of benefits: including hydrophobic coating to repel water and sweat, polarized film to reduce eye strain, and oleophobic coating to reduce fingerprints and marks.
These glasses provide 100% protection against UVA, UVB, and UVC and provide superior contrast for the sharpest vision.
Not only will these glasses provide failsafe protection, but they’re also designed to give you more defined images, meaning you get the best of both worlds.
Revo offers a range of colored lenses depending on the terrain and level of brightness you’ll be walking in.
- Water and sweat repellent
- Polarized for sharper images
- 100% protection against UVA, UVB, and UVC rays
- Oleophobic coating to reduce fingerprints and marks
- Not the most durable
The Dolomite 2.0 design is a sleek, full-coverage design with a frame made from Grilamid TR-90 nylon material for lightness and durability.
They’re also comfortable and designed to “beat the heat”, thanks to the vented lenses that increase air-flow and prevent fogging.
They’re also made from shatterproof polycarbonate that eliminates distortion and unwanted magnification.
The adjustable ear and nose pieces are made from hydrophilic rubber which increases grip the more you sweat, allowing for a custom fit that limits slippage and enhances your performance while you’re hiking or climbing.
- Lightweight frame that’s also durable
- Vented lens for increased air-flow/minimal fogging
- Shatterproof lenses
- Adjustable ear and nose pieces
- Polycarbonate lenses eliminate distortion and glare
- Very affordable compared to other brands on the market
- 100% UVA/UVB protection
- Not for small heads
- Minimal wind protection
The Julbo Sherpa is a traditional design with a modern lightweight twist.
Leather covers have been used for generations to protect mountaineers, and these breathable side shields can be removed for added versatility.
The curved, wrapping temples are shaped and cut for better grip around the ears while moving quickly in the mountains, while the polycarbonate lenses are lightweight yet durable.
Non-polarized lenses provide a sharper image and the blue color will deepen your depth of field, providing optimal clarity in all kinds of conditions.
- Traditional style
- Lightweight design
- Removable, breathable side shields
- Polycarbonate lenses for durability
- Non-polarized for clarity
- Blue lens for improved depth
- Unisex - will fit average-sized woman/man
- Julbo warranty
- Category 3 lens will suit amateur mountaineers but not those heading to higher altitudes
Best Mountaineering Sunglasses Buying Guide
When it comes to mountaineering sunglasses, not just any old pair of sunglasses will do.
There are a few specific requirements your sunglasses should offer so that they’re up to scratch to endure those extra-intense UV rays.
UV and VLT
UV stands for Ultraviolet Radiation, which you probably already knew, but there are three bands of UV light: UVC, UVB, and UVA.
UVC isn’t usually a concern because of atmospheric buffering, but UVA and UVB can cause significant damage.
The higher you climb, the more UVB in particular increases, and if you can, it’s best to get a lens that will block out all three, just to be on the safe size.
VLT stands for Visible Light Transmission. This measures how much light gets through your lens, and if you want to rest assured that you’ve got superior protection while mountaineering, you’ll want a VLT rating between 5-10%.
Sunglasses lenses are rated on a scale of 1-4 depending on how much UV protection they provide.
A category 1 lens isn’t going to do much good wherever you are. These are generally “fashion” glasses and will let in between 45-80% of UV light.
A category 2 lens is what you’d wear daily or in the summer when you’re walking around the city. These let in about 20-45% of UV rays.
Category 3 lenses are a step up again and will block up to 80% of the sun’s rays, making them good for beach holidays in warmer climates and general hiking use. However, serious mountaineers should opt for a category 4 lens, especially if you’re heading high up.
These lenses let in only 3-8% of UV rays, meaning they’re not for driving and are strictly recommended for protecting your eyes when mountaineering or when sailing.
Polarization is a term frequently used by manufacturers. This reduces glare and has the same impact that water and snow have on the sun - causing it to reflect or bounce back.
While polarized sunglasses create a sharper image which reduces your need to squint, it can be difficult to tell ice from snow when wearing these, so they’re perhaps best worn in bright conditions when you’re not mountaineering.
There are a few other coatings worth considering for mountaineering. Anti-scratch can be a good feature as you need a pair of sunglasses that are durable enough to be dropped or scratched now and again.
Anti-fog can also be ideal, along with a hydrophobic coating, as these ar good for damp or humid conditions. A back-surface coating prevents glare on the inside of the lens, while oleophobic coatings can protect the lens from fingerprints.
You may have noticed that some mountaineering sunglasses have different colored lenses.
Lenses with a gray or green tint usually maintain colors while reducing the glare of the sun. There’s also the option of brown lenses, which will provide greater clarity and depth, although these will alter the color slightly.
Lighter hues such as yellow are good for low light conditions, while red is the best color for snow. Blue and purple or colors with a gradient have been shown to increase your depth perception, making them ideal for mountaineering or skiing.
Mountaineering sunglasses are built to be a lot more durable than everyday styles, which are more likely to be made from plastic.
Titanium is a popular choice, as they combine weight with durability and flexibility.
While glass has great scratch resistance and optical clarity, they’re not the most durable, while polycarbonate is strong and durable, but scratches easily.
Polyurethane is the best all-rounder: this material is the most expensive lens material but it’s strong, shatter-proof, and scratch-resistant with great optics and depth. Another bonus of this type of lens is that it doesn’t tend to need additional coatings.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best sunglasses for mountaineering?
This largely depends on how high up you’re heading, and where, as this will impact the lens category that best suits your needs.
That said, Julbo is widely renowned when it comes to quality mountaineering shades.
Generally speaking, advanced mountaineers will need a category 4 lens to protect against harmful UV rays, and may benefit from a non-polarized, polyurethane lens for clarity and durability.
Oleophobic and water-repellent coatings are also good features to look out for, as well as anti-scratch properties.