Smith Wildcat Review
Cons: dust protection
Manufacturer: Smith Optics
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Our Analysis and Test Results
For decades, Smith Optics has sat atop the performance eyewear market with just a few other brands for company. Recently their roots in ski goggle design have given them a leg up on the competition as athletes demand more goggle-like sunglasses. The Wildcat represents Smith's latest model in the new large-lens, high-coverage era, and we found that it lives up to their sterling reputation. Throughout our testing, we came to especially appreciate the fit and comfort of the Wildcat's soft, flexible frame, and we couldn't find a category in which it didn't excel. Read on for a full analysis of the Wildcat's performance in our test.
Smith has a reputation for high-quality lenses, and the Wildcat's 5 base cylindrical lens lives up to the hype. They offer three different options in their signature Chromapop lens for varying light conditions. Our test model came with a Chromapop Red Mirror lens that provides 15% visible light transmission for bright conditions and protects from 100% of harmful UV rays. Along with the Chromapop lens, the Wildcat comes standard with a clear lens for low-light situations. Both lenses are made with Smith's impact-resistant carbonic lens construction and feature a hydrophobic coating to repel water and sweat.
The Chromapop Red Mirror lens provided excellent optics and performed among the top models in our test. Differentiating between the high-quality lenses of performance sunglasses can be difficult, but Smith's offerings definitely stand out from the crowd. Their Chromapop technology increases contrast and allows you to see features or terrain variation clearly at high speeds. We couldn't find a discernible drop in optical performance from the higher-priced spherical lenses of some other models to the Wildcat's cylindrical lens. We didn't notice any distortion in the edges of our vision, and the mirrored finish does a great job of cutting down on glare. We also noticed the Wildcat's hydrophobic lens coating did a great job of keeping our vision clear. Blasting through puddles and creek crossings on a mountain bike wasn't a concern as water would roll right off the front of the lens.
Throughout our testing we put both of the Wildcat's lenses through the wringer, and they came out the other side remarkably unscathed. Despite muddy rides, multiple cleanings, and some questionable treatment in backpacks and luggage, the Chromapop lens showed little sign of wear. We did notice that the clear lens started to show some minor scratches after a slew of cleanings, but it wasn't enough to negatively impact its optics.
Fit and Comfort
The Wildcat blew us away with its comfort and versatility of fit. We loved this model's feel so much that we couldn't help but award it our highest possible score in this metric. These glasses have a soft and flexible frame that can easily expand to fit most head sizes without squeezing the head. We had no issues with headaches, ear pain, or discomfort of any kind on long rides. The adjustable nose piece moves vertically and has two width settings to fit well on most nose shapes, while soft, hydrophilic megol rubber yields grippy and comfortable contact points at the nose, ears, and temples. None of our testers had any complaints about the versatility of the Wildcat's fit.
At 32 grams, the Wildcat all but disappears from your consciousness while out on the road or trail. The soft contact points and flexible frame make it easy to forget you're wearing sunglasses at all, especially when using the clear lens. The off-your-face fit and great airflow of this model means that it never feels hot or claustrophobic like some other goggle-esque sunglasses can. The design prevents contact at the forehead, brow, or cheekbones that can cause discomfort over time. If comfort is your biggest consideration when searching for a pair of sunglasses, we would recommend this model in a heartbeat.
True to the goggle glasses trend, the Wildcat provides ample coverage and protection during high-speed activities. At 135mm wide and 62mm tall, the lens is one of the biggest of any model we tested. It offers a wide field of vision, and you have to work to see the frame in your peripheral vision. While these glasses don't wrap as closely around your face as some of the other models in our test, the sheer size of the lens alone provides sufficient protection. Along with their UV-filtering properties, these glasses will keep your eyes safe from bugs, rocks, and branches, so you can focus on the trail or keep track of your competitors.
Due to their roomy fit away from the face, these glasses don't provide quite as much wind protection in high-speed situations as some of the other models in our test. On some high-speed descents, we noticed a bit of swirling wind interference behind the lenses. It was nothing like the tear-inducing, squint-for-your-life wind speed that you get when descending without glasses, but it was enough to make you blink a few times, which can be a nuisance when a situation requires full focus. Despite this small coverage hiccup, we think the Wildcat provides fantastic coverage for most situations and activity types, though we feel there are better options for road cycling.
The Wildcat's frame was noteworthy among models that we tested. Its TR90 and TPU hybrid thermoplastic construction is soft and flexible without being flimsy. A bit of digging taught us that TR90 is known for being a lightweight material that provides toughness and durability, and this definitely rang true throughout our testing. The frame is flexible but also holds its shape after bending or twisting. This material quality allows for a minimalist body that doesn't get in the way or block your field of vision.
The frame includes an adjustable nose piece that moves vertically and has two width positions. We noticed that the nose piece could fall off the frame fairly easily if you're a little bit overzealous with your adjustment, but it's not a huge concern since we didn't have any problems with it falling off when we weren't fiddling with it. Most riders will set the nose piece to their preferred position and forget about it. Both the nose piece and the contact points of the ear arms are made of hydrophilic megol rubber that provides comfort and grip even when things get sweaty during hard efforts or on hot days.
The flexibility of the Wildcat's frame makes swapping lenses a quick task. Moving from the Chromapop Red Mirror to the clear lens, the first time took us only a few seconds. The frame easily bends to clear the lens then pops back into shape to accommodate the new one, and when the lens is properly secured in the frame, it doesn't move or pop at all. We swapped lenses multiple times throughout our testing and didn't notice any worsening of the fit within the frame.
A pair of sunglasses can look nice, fit well, and provide good optics, but if they don't perform in the field, they're useless. The Wildcat held up incredibly well to our field testing and didn't raise any serious question marks. The quality fit and light weight meant that we had no problems with them rattling out of position, even while mountain biking on super rough singletrack or trail running down technical descents. They stick in place so well that most of our testers reported never having to reach up and adjust the glasses on their face once they had adjusted the nose piece to their preference.
Throughout our testing we didn't experience any problems with these glasses fogging, and we had minimal issues with sweat. Fogging can be a huge problem with some of the more face-hugging models, but the Wildcat's open design negates the issue. The away-from-the-face fit creates enough airflow that, no matter the conditions and even when stopping directly after hard efforts, the lenses don't fog up. The distance between the upper part of the frame and your brow allows most sweat to run down your nose the same way that it would without glasses. There were only a few instances under hard efforts where our testers had sweat drip onto the lens of the glasses, but in these cases, the hydrophobic lens coating did an excellent job of letting the sweat roll off and keeping the field of vision clear.
The one issue we encountered with the Wildcat's performance was with dust. In dry, dusty conditions, we noticed that the Wildcat didn't keep the dust away from our eyes as well as some of the closer-fitting models. The airflow between the lens and your eyes occasionally allows the dust to get behind the lens and cause some irritation. While this wasn't a huge issue, we wouldn't recommend these as a foolproof goggle replacement for mountain bikers in especially dry climates.
Like most goggle-style performance glasses these days, the Wildcat has a retro styling that harkens back to the 80s. While any model with this much coverage is going to stand out, we think the Wildcat represents a less flashy option to some of the gaudier goggle-style glasses out there. They're a great looking pair of glasses without calling too much attention, and we think they're versatile enough to fit with a wide variety of style senses.
The Wildcat comes standard with a rigid zippered case that provides fantastic storage. Inside the case is a sturdy foam pad with slots cut out for storing both the glasses and their extra lens along with a soft cleaning and storage bag. Our only complaint with this quality case is that it might be too big to lug along in a suitcase or backpack when storage space is tight. Otherwise, we're impressed with the case's well-thought-out design and quality.
At their retail price, the Wildcat is a bit pricey, but it's far from the most expensive pair of glasses we looked at. With its all-around performance, incredible comfort, and quality optics, we think that this model is a great value for anyone looking for their next pair of performance sunglasses. Add in the fact that Smith includes a rigid zippered carrying case, extra lens, and a storage bag, and we're one hundred percent sold.
Smith's Wildcat was a tester favorite throughout the review process, and it won our Editors Choice Award. With its light, comfortable frame, high-coverage Chromapop lens, and stellar performance, we think that it's the best model in our test and a great value for anyone in the market for performance sunglasses.
— Zach Wick