Stylin' at a resort above Lake Tahoe in the Nomads.
We scoured the market and were unable to find a pair of ski goggles (from a reputable company, at least) that incorporated a spherical lens into the design at a sub-$120 price. Spherical lenses provide a small optical advantage over their cylindrical counterparts, yet they are frequently only found on goggles costing closer to $200 or more. What's more, the Phoenix Mirror lens is photochromic, which means it adjusts to changes in light conditions. Zeal describes this lens as appropriate for flat light to partly cloudy skies.
View through the Phoenix Mirror lens on a mostly sunny day.
When the sun came out full force, our eyes winced under these goggles. As this model only comes with a single lens, it seems like Zeal aimed for the middle of the range of possible light conditions. This makes heavy storm and bluebird skiing less visible and less pleasant, respectively. While we didn't have a way to take measurements, we felt the adjustment to changing light conditions was greater in the Julbo Aerospace Snow Tiger lens.
The initial comfort of the Nomad is on par with most other models, yet after a few hours, we started to notice significant differences. The layer of foam that rests on our cheeks and forehead became irritatingly itchy. Our testers found themselves fiddling with these goggles in every lift line to try to relieve the discomfort. This itchiness reared its uncomfortable head most on warm days.
It looks the same as all the other models, yet this foam layer itched our faces more than most.
The moderately wide construction of this model isn't ideal for narrow faces, which could result in some gaps around the frame for small faces. For the varying shapes of our testers faces, it fit all but the smallest countenances. We didn't dock points for this sizing, but it's certainly worth knowing before making a purchase decision.
Getting some laps in with the Dragon NFX2 on the left and the Nomad on the right.
While the above assessment stands, some skiers might not stay on the slopes continuously enough to notice this drop in comfort. If you tend to break up an hour or two of skiing with an hour or two in the lodge, you will likely avoid the scratchy feeling that results from hours of relentless skiing. And in all other factors of comfort, the Zeal model performs fine. The goggle and strap stay in place and the flexible frame reduces the likelihood of pressure points.
Our discomfort in the foam fabric of the Nomad wasn't an issue when charging downhill. It was only noticeable when waiting in lift lines or sitting on the lift.
Ventilation and Breathability
The Nomad has ample breathability for resort skiing. With a forehead vent that is larger than most, two smaller vents below the eyes, and an Everclear anti-fog coating on the lens, we rarely experienced fogging. The large vent built into the frame also increases the volume inside the goggles. A greater volume requires more moist air for the lens to fog up.
The Zeal model has a wide vent at the top of the goggles that provides solid air circulation as well as increasing the internal volume between our hot faces and the cool lens.
The Nomad vents adequately, but can't quite match the supreme ventilation offered by the Julbo Aerospace and its unique pop-out lens design.
Ease of Changing Lenses
It isn't exactly difficult to change the lenses of the Nomad, it just isn't nearly as easy as some of the more user-friendly models on the market and in our test selection. Zeal uses a standard lens attachment style, with notched cutouts in the edge of the lens that line up and snap onto several posts within the lip of the frame. Virtually all goggles used to share this lens attachment style and it works reliably, albeit with slightly more difficulty than many modern designs. One of the drawbacks to this style of lens attachment is that when you do change lenses you can't help but get fingerprints all over them, plus you have to pull on the frame which can result in damage, especially to the vent foam.
The standard notched lens edge of the Nomad's spherical lens.
If you're the type who likes to change lenses frequently, we suggest checking out the Anon M4 and the Smith I/O Mag both of which easy to change magnetic lenses. The Oakley Airbrake XL and Dragon NFX have more user-friendly lens systems as well.
These goggles still looked great at the end of the testing period. Where other models suffered minor scratches and nicks in their lenses, the Nomad emerged unscathed with an out-of-the-box look after a few months of use. The strap still has its snap, too. We don't have any reason to believe this pair was not built to last.
This pair survived being packed in and out of backcountry ski packs well in its simple cloth stuff sack.
We tested the Turquoise Clay version of this model and fell for the muted, earthy tones it shows off. Our testers and friends agreed pretty overwhelmingly that this fly pair wins in the hip department. Of course, this is subjective and you should make up your own mind on style. At least you now know our collective opinion. This pair looks great.
The Nomad looks brilliant, and our tester is trying to live up to them here.
The Nomad is a fine pair of goggles that suffice all over the mountain. We found it suitable for fair weather backcountry runs and resort laps. Our main reservation with this model is its long-term comfort. If you ski bell to bell, you might find this model too itchy after a few hours, distracting from the all-out joy skiing brings.
Tester Steven ripping up a backcountry lap off Trimmer Peak above Lake Tahoe in the Nomad.
At $119-$129, this model is a great value. You will be hard-pressed to find a quality pair of goggles with a photochromic, spherical lens that resists fog and scratches at a price even close to this low. Had it been more comfortable, it would have likely snagged our Best Buy Award. It was that close.
The price is right for this pair of eye protectors.
The Zeal Optics Nomad has some impressive specs that result in solid performance. They also look fantastic. If they felt as good on our faces as they appeared, it would have found its way into the winners' circle. It fell short, but this model still represents good performance at a modest price.
Transitioning under the protection of the Zeal Nomad.
Other Versions and Accessories
Zeal produces a full line of goggles and replacement lenses, including the Nomad we tested, in a wide array of frame colors and lenses. Variations of the Nomad range in price from $119-$249 depending on the lens. The Turquoise Clay model we tested is one of the least expensive at $119, models with their polarized lenses range from $199-$249. Zeal also makes a huge range of replacement lenses for the Nomad.