The 9 Best Glacier Glasses for 2021 - Greenbelly Meals

The 9 Best Glacier Glasses


A guide to the best glacier glasses, considerations and and how to use.
Published: December 22nd, 2020

glacier glasses for hiking and mountaineering
© Caro

Glacier glasses aren't your average eyewear. They come with quite a list of perks, both in functionality and protection. In this post, we’re taking a deeper look into what exactly makes this gear item a must-have for mountaineers, climbers, and alpine ascenders alike.


Weight Polarized Primary frame material Removable side shields Price
Julbo Vermont Classic Glacier Sunglasses 1.4 oz No Metal No $113
Julbo Explorer 2.0 2.4 oz Yes Composite Yes $113
Julbo Cham 2.4 oz Yes Metal Yes $173
Oakley Clifden N/A No Plastic No $138
Sunski Treeline N/A Yes Plastic Yes $89
Revo Traverse 1 oz Yes Plastic Yes $175
Vuarnet VL1315 Glacier Sunglasses N/A No Steel and Acetate Yes $499
Electric JJF12 1.2 oz No Bio-plastic No $240
Bertoni ALPS 0.70 oz Yes Polycarbonate No $68

Considerations


what are glacier glasses


UV PROTECTION: SHOULD BLOCK 100% OF UV LIGHT

Never settle for any lenses that offer less than 100% UV protection. Luckily, this is a common feature among glacier glasses. With UV protection there are two key types of UV rays your eyes need to stay protected from:

  • UVA: This is the most common radiation, and it can go directly through the eye’s cornea causing damage to both the retina and lens. Long-term exposure to UVA rays has been linked to cataracts, vision loss, and even macular degeneration.

  • UVB: These rays are often found at higher altitudes. Although they aren’t capable of passing through glass, they can still reflect off surfaces and damage eyes.

Something else to watch for is sunglasses that have a UV400 rating. This means the sunglasses are considered top-notch in protection against rays that fall on the high end of the wave spectrum (400 or below), including both UVA and UVB rays.

glacier glasses worn by man in Salomon hat© Brendan McCue


LIGHT PROTECTION:
NOTHING BELOW SPECTRON 3CF OR 4

When light meets a lens it can reflect, absorb, or transmit. How dark a pair of sunglasses are or how high/low their VLT is will be broken down on a scale of 0-4. Each pair of sunglasses is rated on this scale and their measurement refers to the protection they offer.

  • Spectron 4: Though the more expensive option, level 4 offers maximum light protection making them a necessity for mountaineering expeditions. This level blocks upwards of 90% of visible light, and they have the darkest lens.

  • Spectron 3 CF: This rating still offers a high amount of UV protection and glare and is suitable for mountain activities and moderate level expeditions. It will block around 80% of visible light.

leather side shields and rubber nose on glacier glasses
Removable leather side shields and rubber nose pad (Revo Traverse)


POLARIZATION:
 SHOULD GLACIER GLASSES BE POLARIZED?

There are some excellent benefits to polarized lenses. They minimize glare, contrast different textures, and can help those with sensitivities to light. But do they belong in the mountains?

Some say yes while others say no. The big concern with polarized glasses is how they can make it harder to judge landscapes because of distortion caused by the polarization. This can become a safety concern for mountaineers, especially when spotting crevices and terrain changes are of the utmost importance.

glacier glasses displayed in snowPolarized lenses with blue mirror coating (Bertoni ALPS)


RESISTANCE: 
SCRATCH AND SHOCK RESISTANCE

Although lenses can’t be 100% scratch-proof, many have an anti-scratch treatment applied to them which is a hard, clear coating for an added layer of protection.

Naturally, polycarbonate lenses are the most durable, scratch-resistant lenses. Because of this, they’re commonly used in sport shades (including glacier glasses.) It’s not a bad idea to also have a cloth bag or hard case for storing your glasses when not in use.

Another detail you may want to consider is “shock resistance.” What this means is that the glasses are more or less “impact-resistant” and made with materials that can bend and contort easier than a regular pair of sunglasses. They’re also less likely to shatter if dropped.


FRAME MATERIAL:
PLASTIC VS METAL

Sunglass frames determine a lot in the way of weight, fit, and durability. Metal and plastic are the two main types of materials commonly used for frames.

Both have their pro’s and con’s, and really, a lot of it comes down to preference and style per user. Metal frames give off a more “retro” look while they make for a bit of a heavier pair of glasses. That being said, metal is also known for being both durable and flexible. Plastic is often cheaper and lighter, and because of this, it’s used for many modern-day sport sunglasses. One downfall is it doesn’t allow as much pliability or “give” as metal frames.


SIDE SHIELDS:
CAN BE REMOVABLE

Side shields are usually made of either leather or plastic. Just as their name suggests, their purpose is to “shield” the peripherals from the sun. Shields can often be removed which is a nice feature if fogging becomes an issue in damp or humid conditions which happens if the sunglasses lack ventilation panels or haven’t been coated with an anti-fog treatment. Many wearers also remove the side panels when hiking at lower elevations where the extra side protection isn’t necessary.

glacier glasses with removable side shields
Removable side shields (JJF12 glasses by Electric)


NOSE GUARD: 
FOR EVEN MORE PROTECTION

Nose guards are especially important because they give another level of coverage by blocking light from coming in between the eyes. When comparing plastic vs. rubber nose guards, rubber ones with built-in nose pads are more comfortable, a better fit, and they don’t slide as easily.


WEIGHT: 
KEEP IT UNDER 2 OZ

Glacier glasses are light, usually weighing in no more than 2oz, and that’s on the high end. The weight from pair-to-pair can vary depending on the glasses design, “extra” features, and the materials used for the frame, side flaps, temple grips, and lenses. Although heavier glasses may feel more robust and higher value, they can become uncomfortable if worn over a long period of time. Their increased weight also makes them more likely to slide off your nose.


SIDEARMS: 
GOOD COMFORT, FIT AND GRIP

Sidearms are important for keeping your glacier glasses snug on your face. You'll find models with extendable sidearms that will help you get that perfect fit. Some sidearms are also made flexible at the temple to allow you to wrap them around your ears for a secure fit. In addition, some manufacturers include rubber pads on the inside of the sidearms, or alternatively, make them entirely from a soft rubberish material to increase their adherence. With the latter, it's important you make sure the material doesn't stick to and pull your hair before buying.

glacier glasses with perforated side shields
Perforated side shields keep glasses from fogging up (Sunski Treeline) 


LOOK: 
RETOR VS SPORTY

There are a couple of style options you can go with: circular and retro or sleek and sporty. This can be left up to preference, although it’s noting that larger lenses have their benefits because they give a bigger circumference of protection around the eyes.

For fit, make sure your glasses have a close and secure fit—both so they stay tight in windy conditions, and because a snug fit seals out the sun and gives better all-around protection.


WARRANTY:
DIFFERENT OPTIONS TO CHOOSE FROM

Most glacier glasses come with some kind of warranty, either two-year, limited lifetime, or lifetime, and the coverage offered varies from brand to brand. Many cover damages relating to manufacturer defects or the big stuff like busted hinges or cracked frames. Some even offer replacement lenses, within reason.

glacier glasses revo worn by woman in snow


Models


Julbo Vermont Classic Glacier Glasses

julbo vermont glacier glasses

Weight: 1.4 oz

Polarized: No

Primary frame material: Metal

Removable side shields: No

Price: $113

A classic and timeless style, the Julbo Vermont glasses are made with flexible, soft, moldable ear grips for extended comfort, leather side shields for added protection, and traditional durable metal frames that have been trusted by generations of mountaineers. The polycarbonate lenses are an ultra-dark, Spectron 3 or 4 mirrored finish (depending on which you choose) with 5-12% VLT. There are also removable, vented leather side shields along with a leather nose piece to help block rays from filtering in between the eyes. These glasses are comfortable, shock-resistant, and come with rubber temple arms and a hard case.

Available at Amazon


Julbo Explorer 2.0

Weight: 2.4 oz

Polarized: Yes

Primary frame material: Composite

Removable side shields: Yes

Price: $113

An ultra-light, sporty design created for modern-day mountaineers, the Explorer 2.0 offers Spectron 4, 5% VLT protection, ventilation, and it comes with an anti-fog coating. The lenses are polarized UV polycarbonate and there’s the option to choose a special Reactiv technology lens that either darkens or lightens depending on surrounding conditions. The glasses are a comfortable fit and made with removable side shields, soft-grip temples with adjustable stems, a shock-absorbent nose piece, and mirror-reflective lenses in a brown shade that isn’t overly dark. The glasses also come with a neck cord and a microfiber pouch to protect against scratches. Their design makes for a secure fit without feeling too tight. The glasses weigh in at 44 grams.

Available at Amazon


Julbo Cham

Weight: 2.4 oz

Polarized: Yes

Primary frame material: Metal

Removable side shields: Yes

Price: $173

The Julbo Chams are an updated re-release of an old favorite. Their appearance with leather side flaps, a leather nose shield, mirror lenses, and metal frame design is sure to invoke some nostalgia in those that remember the original path-blazing mountaineers. The polycarbonate lenses offer the option of either Spectron 3 or 4, and there’s also the choice between polarized or mineral lenses, which are well-known for their high level of scratch and shock resistance. Regardless of the Cham’s old school look, the glasses remain lightweight and they offer a lot of adjustability with flexible frames and comfortable nose pads that can be molded to fit. A nice feature, but they have been said to fall off for some users in the past.

Available at Amazon


Oakley Clifden

Weight: N/A

Polarized: No

Primary frame material: Plastic

Removable side shields: No

Price: $138

The Clifden’s are Oakley’s first mountaineering sunglasses, and they are right in line with the typical athletic Oakley design. Outfitted with large round tinted lenses with UV400 protection and a sleek frame with a matte finish, there’s a specialized Oakley technology used in the lenses to enhance surrounding color and texture for better visibility of landscape details. The side shields and nose bridge on the glasses are removable and the lenses offer 17% VLT. There’s also a woven steel neck leash, a bag, a case for safe storage, and specially designed nose pads with enhanced grip to keep the glasses in place against the wind, snow, or sweat. They come in a polarized or non-polarized option.

Available at Amazon


Sunski Treeline

Weight: N/A

Polarized: Yes

Primary frame material: Plastic

Removable side shields: Yes

Price: $89

These strike a similar resemblance to a pair of regular sunglasses, but don’t let their friendly price or simplistic, straightforward design fool you. The Sunski Treelines are made for those venturing into the mountains, or, as their name suggests, hiking along a treeline. They’re made from recycled plastic, have foldable, ventilated side flaps for better visibility and air-flow, non-slip nose pads for comfort and enhanced fit, an attachable strap for security, and large polarized lenses for glare reduction. There are 4 lens options ranging in tint colors and VLT levels of 10-15%. The Sunski Treeline’s minimal design makes them lightweight, flexible, and practical for either men or women. They’re a versatile pair of sunnies backed with a lifetime warranty suitable for climbers, skiers, hikers, or for wearing poolside.

Available at REI


Revo Traverse

Weight: 1 oz

Polarized: Yes

Primary frame material: Plastic

Removable side shields: Yes

Price: $175

These glasses protect against many eye dangers like harmful ray glares off the mountains and even damaging blue rays on digital devices, all while simultaneously improving the clarity of both landscape features or details on a screen. They have a flat front profile with a lightweight build, and to cut additional weight these glasses dropped a lot of the “extras” for a simplistic style, making them feel and look more like an everyday pair of sunglasses. Despite their minimal appearance they provide extended protection with thick, almost goggle-like frames. They have removable leather side flaps, shatterproof nylon blue water polarized lenses, nose pads, and slip-resistant sidearms. The glasses are designed for both men and women. Size-wise, they run a little wide.

Available at Revo


Vuarnet VL1315 Glacier Sunglasses

Weight: N/A

Polarized: No

Primary frame material: Steel and Acetate

Removable side shields: Yes

Price: $499

Daniel Craig famously wore Vuarnet glacier glasses in two James Bond movies: Spectre and Time to Die. These Italian-made designer shades are chic and have a futuristic feel, and they’re going to cost you a pretty penny. They’re comfortable and versatile, ready to take on a day spent in the woods, snow, or even around a city. The frames are made of durable, lightweight steel and the glasses come in 14 different colors all with the same iconic aviator design. The Vuarnet VL1315 are made with category 3 anti-reflective mineral lenses that protect up to 93% of harmful blue lights and 90% of infra-red lights. The lenses also have an anti-scratch, oleophobic/hydrophobic coating, leather side panels, and a matching, natural leather neck strap. For added protection, the lenses have a “raised bumper” to keep them from shattering if they take a tumble.

Available at Amazon


Electric JJF12

Weight: 1.2 oz

Polarized: No

Primary frame material: Bio-plastic

Removable side shields: No

Price: $240

The JJF12 were named both SIMA sunglasses of the year and Outside Mag’s “Most Versatile Sunglasses of 2020”. These award-winning shades were designed in collaboration with two-time World Champ Hawaiian surfer John John Florence. Besides John’s love of the water, he’s also an avid snowboarder and took both of these environments into consideration when helping create the eco-friendly JJF12’s design. The glasses have a Rilsan frame and 100% polarized lenses that protect 98% of blue light and have been treated with anti-reflective, anti-water, and anti-oil coating, and they’ve been injected with melanin to mimic the properties of sunscreen to protect the skin around the eyes. Each pair has removable plastic side shields and comes with a recycled nylon bag and ink-free box.

Available at Amazon


Bertoni ALPS

Weight: 0.70 oz

Polarized: Yes

Primary frame material: Polycarbonate

Removable side shields: No

Price: $68

The Bertoni Glaciers, created by a popular Italian company, are made for trekking through the mountains when going up against tough weather conditions. They have anti-fog lenses and curved, flexible arms that wrap around the ears for a secure fit. There are also leather side guards, two options for lenses (either blue mirror polarized smoke, 12.1% VLT, or polarized brown, 14.1% VLT), and they come with a soft pouch and durable case for protection when not in use. They come with an elastic neck cord, anti-mist vents on the sides of the glasses, and they have a removable nose-bridge. The glasses are made from plastic frames and come in weighing under an ounce.

Available at Amazon


Glacier Glasses FAQ


What Exactly Are Glacier Glasses?

Think of glacier glasses as specially crafted, heavy-duty sunglasses that are meant to do a knock-out job at protecting eyes from blinding glares and dangerous UV rays. Especially in high altitudes.

According to NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin), UV levels increase by around 5% for every 1,000 feet of elevation above sea level. So, the higher up a mountain you go, the more of a danger solar radiation becomes.

Ever heard the phrase “going snow-blind?” Essentially, this is when eyes get sunburnt. Besides being painful it can also cause temporary blindness. This is a common concern for mountaineers, as the sun’s glare and the high-intensity rays reflecting off the white landscape of snow-covered fields and glaciers can be dangerous enough to permanently damage eyes. Even when it’s overcast!

glacier glasses worn in alpine setting© Mari 


Glacier Glasses vs. Regular Sunglasses

So, why can’t just a pair of regular old sunglasses do the job of glacier glasses?

To understand this, let’s first look at VLT (Visible Light Transmission).

VLT is a measurement of how much visible light transmits through a lens. For sunglasses, the percentage of VLT also refers to the lightness or darkness of the lens's tint. The lower the percentage, the darker the glasses will be. Glacier glasses are specifically designed to provide high-level protection against intense UV rays. For example, standard sunglasses usually let in around 40-60% VLT while glacier glasses only allow about 4-7%.

Another difference lies in the construction of glacier glasses. The frames are larger and thicker to protect against glares coming in at all angles (from the bottom, top, sides, etc.), and they're made to fit closer and more securely to the face than normal sunglasses.


When to Wear and When Not to Wear?

Glacier glasses are commonly worn by mountaineers, climbers, and for use during ski sports or other alpine activities, although, they can definitely be worn far beyond the mountains.

They’re also great for hiking through the desert, along a high ridgeline, fishing, boating, or even while just hanging around by the pool. Really, anywhere that a high level of sun exposure is a concern, your glacier glasses can go. To make glacier glasses more, well… normal-looking, many pairs come with removable side flaps and nose bridges that, when taken off, make them look just like a regular pair of sunglasses.

Times, where glacier glasses wouldn’t be the best option, are in darker conditions, as the shade of the lenses can become hard to see out of, or if performing an activity where you really need the full range of your peripherals (biking, driving, etc.), because the side flaps and other features can be limiting.



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By Katie Licavoli: Katie Licavoli is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast who specializes in articles, blog posts, gear reviews, and site content about living the Good Life spent exploring The Great Outdoors. Her favorite days are ones in nature, and her favorite views are any with mountains.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.

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