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How-To: Choose Sunglasses

Gear for the outdoor world is defined by its many options—and mostly this is a great thing. But when it comes to finding the perfect pair of shades, the options can overwhelm. And we sympathize. From retro aviators, sport-specific frames, and cat-eye styles to sunglasses with lenses that boast all sorts of filters and tweaks to set themselves apart from the pack, the variations on sunglasses are downright exponential. But the key to happiness can be streamlined to one central guideline: to find the perfect pair of sunglasses, match them to your activity.

Lens Color

The lens color not only affects how much light reaches your eye, but also how well you see other colors and contrasts in the terrain. For moderate to bright conditions, you can’t go wrong with brown/gray/green lenses that will cut down on overall brightness without any color distortion. Think sports like paddle boarding, road cycling, and other activities where you’ll spend most of your time in the sun. For moderate to low-level light conditions, a yellow/gold/amber lens can enhance your depth perception—great for skiing or mountain biking to make terrain traps pop in flat light conditions. Finally, rose-colored lenses do indeed make everything seem brighter—perfect for low-level light conditions such as skiing in cloudy weather, hiking or biking through shaded forests, and driving on that road trip. Some models actually come with interchangeable lenses, so you can dial in the tint with the conditions of that day. Otherwise, just go for a color that matches 75% of the conditions for when you exercise

Mirrored vs Polarized
For water sports, polarization is a must as it cuts down on glare and reduces eye strain. You can also see into the water, a huge benefit for fishing. These lenses are not the best, however, for driving, as they may create blind spots in your windshield and make it difficult to read LCD screens. This is where mirrored lenses come into play. They also reduce glare, but do so by simply reflecting light off the lens surface.

Photochromic
Photochromic lenses automatically adjust to changing light intensity to offer protection in a wide range of conditions. These lenses excel in sports where you constantly move in and out of shade (mountain biking), or want one lens to handle all mountain conditions (skiing, snowboarding, climbing).

Category
In addition to color, lenses usually come in tint categories rated 0 to 4. Cat 0 signifies little to no tint—basically your everyday reading glasses. Cat 4 is what most high-altitude mountaineers wear to block out as much sunlight as possible. The average is Cat 2, while most water sport sunglasses, mountaineering or bright-condition skiing goggles/glasses will come in at Cat 3.

Style
This one’s the easiest. In most instances your personal taste will help you choose the ideal model, from sophisticated and sleek to the fashion forward, to sporty or even retro. And of course the manufacturers make it easy by categorizing styles to specific sports. Just be sure you try on your options in the context of your favorite activities; sometimes the arms on the perfect pair of sunglasses won’t fit comfortably with your bike helmet’s strap system, for example.

One last thing: Make sure your sunglasses filter out 100% of the harmful UVA and UVB rays. You spend a lot of time outdoors and want your eyes to remain in good health for years to come.

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