How to Choose Ski Goggles

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Selecting the Right Goggle

When you are recreating in the snow, it is important to protect your eyes from the damaging effects of the sun's UV rays. While skiing, snowboarding, or mountaineering some people swear by goggles, while others prefer their trusted sunglasses. If you are a dedicated goggle user, then this review is for you. If you are a sunglasses person, we encourage you to take a moment and consider these reasons to switch to the added protection of goggles:
  • 1) Light exposure
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    Paul testing Smith I/O goggles in Lake Tahoe's backcountry. These goggles fit him well and he liked thier peripheral vision.
In snowy conditions, the sun can reflect off any surface, making the effect on your eyes more intense and brighter. Additionally, fewer ultraviolet rays are filtered at higher altitudes where most of us practice snow sports. Sunglasses give only frontal protection; googles provide complete protection.
  • 2) Wind exposure
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    Fresh turns with the Oakley Airbrake and low light lens in a wet storm.
Skiing and snowboarding require speed which generates wind, leading to drying of the eyes and production of tear-clouded vision. For mountaineering, googles protect your eyes from more extreme weather at higher altitudes. If you can't see the trail in a storm, you might not find the top or, worse yet, your car. While sunglasses often contribute to dry or tearing eyes, googles keep eyes protected in the harshest weather.
  • 3) Foreign body exposure
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    Some days of testing are better than others. This day was filled with first tracks and mixed weather conditions.
While gliding quickly through the trees, there are possible obstacles that can injure your eyes. Goggles can add protection from errant branches when skiing or snowboarding because they encapsulate your eyes securely. Sunglasses, in contrast, offer no protection from the side and can easily be knocked off your face.

Choosing a pair of goggles

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The back country goggle testing crew about to drop deep in to the Sierra backcountry. Aaron with Oakley Splice, Andy with Smith I/O, Dave with Oakley Airbrake, Mark with Julbo Orbitor.
When deciding which pair is right for you, consider fit, style, and lens type:
  • The first step is to find a design that fits your face. Goggles are often designed with a certain type of face structure, shape, or size in mind. As not all faces are created the same, neither are goggles. Chose a pair that doesn't fit too snugly on your nose or around your eyes and it shouldn't cause you a headache from pushing in on your sinuses. Equally important, ensure it isn't too big for your face, allowing gaps or air to enter the sides and/or obstructing your view.
  • The second step is to find a style that you like. Many brands offer various graphics and colors in the same model. If you don't like the way it looks on your face, then chances are you probably won't wear it.
  • The third step is to determine what type of lens optics is important to you. The lenses come in two forms: flat or spherical. Your cost depends on this choice. See lens options below for more information.

To learn more about what makes a goggle work i.e. protection, breathability, comfort, lens quality, and durability, keep reading below. To see which pair we liked best read The Best Ski Goggles Review.



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How a double lens works to keep goggles from fogging
In the past, goggles were prone to fogging under even a small amount of moisture or cold. While none is completely immune to fogging, there have been three main advances in lens anti-fogging technology. 1) Companies have designed anti-fog coatings that repel moisture. Generally speaking you get what you pay for with the anti-fog coatings. 2) Most models now come with a dual lens system. This system works similarly to the double paned windows in your house. The trapped air between the two lenses works as a thermal barrier, making it more difficult for condensation to form on the inside of the lens. 3) Vents allow air to flow through them, drying any moisture forming on the lens. In this review we tested models with vents on the top, bottom, or a combination. It is a difficult task to find the right ratio of air ventilation to wind protection. Some models come with a fan to increase the airflow, but the price and weight make them more of a niche item.


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Flat lenses only curve horizontally decreasing the amount of peripheral vision and increasing the amount of glare and visual distortion.
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Spherical lenses curve horizontally and vertically. This decreases the amount of glare and visual distortion, because the light can enter your eye in a straight line.
There are two basic shapes of lenses available on the market: flat and spherical. Both types of lenses curve horizontally, but spherical lenses also curve vertically. The two dimensional curving of spherical lenses decreases the amount of glare and visual alteration while also increasing peripheral vision. While flat lenses make for a more cost effective product, the difference is noticeable in the quality of the view. Flat lenses tend to have more glare and peripheral vision is also compromised. Because the lens does not curve vertically, the edges of the frame stick out further from the face and do not contour as well to an individual's facial structure. In contrast, spherical lenses provide a clearer, sharper, visual experience. Because the lens is curved in all planes, like a human eye; there is less visual distortion. A spherical lens allows for a better fitting frame as well which in turn increases the peripheral vision.
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Andy stoked to skin up for another lap in his POC Lobes. He liked the optics of these goggles so much he often forgot he had them on.


There is little need to worry about the UV blocking protection of modern goggles; the majority of all major goggle companies now produce 100 percent UV protective lenses. However, there is a big difference in the amount of visible light transmission (VLT) allowed in different tints or mirrored coatings. Mirrored coatings can block an additional 10-50 percent of available VLT, making them ideal for brighter days. In this review, we mainly tested products with mirrored lenses. We did test one pair of goggles with a photochromic lens. (See Julbo Orbiter). Photochromic lenses change the amount of VLT allowed by adjusting the amount of tint based on the available sunlight and UV rays. There were also two pairs of goggles in this review that were supplied with two pairs of lens. (See Oakley Airbrake and Smith I/O). In both, one lens was designed for bright light and the other for low light.


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Three layers of foam. A wicking layer, a breathable layer, and a forming layer.
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Spy Targa III top view. Two layers of foam.
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Top View of Smith Scope. This goggle has one layer of foam.
Goggles manufactured today come with one to three layers of padding. All of the contenders in this review had three layers except for the Smith Scope (one layer) and the Spy Targa 3 (two layers). Generally speaking, more layers of foam equate to more comfort and protection. The three layers of foam most often consist of: a dense layer of foam attached to the frame, a more porous foam sandwiched in the middle, and a thin wicking layer closest to the skin. The three layers of foam also aid in increasing the ventilation.

Aaron Zanto
About the Author
Aaron Zanto grew up playing in the mountains of Colorado. While completing his degree in Physical Science, he realized he preferred spending his time learning about and playing in natural environments. He used his student loan money to pay for his first mountaineering expedition, Aconcagua. In 1999, he moved to Lake Tahoe and since then hasn't stopped exploring the High Sierra and other ranges at home and abroad. His passion is high altitude granite, deep powder, and long dusty trails. He spends the majority of his free time climbing, skiing, and exploring with his wife and daughter. The rest of his time is spent fighting fires in Northern California.