Best Overall Performance Sunglasses
: Medium-Large | Lens
: High-contrast, 15% VLT, 100% UV Protection
Sharp, high-contrast optics
Two lenses included
The Smith Wildcat is an all-around fantastic pair of performance sunglasses. This large-lensed model performed well across all of the metrics in our test without any weaknesses or compromises. We tested the Chromapop Red Mirror lens that transmits 15% of visible light and protects from 100% of harmful UV rays. Smith's Chromapop technology increases contrast and definition in bright light without any distortion at the edges of your vision, and the large, impact-resistant lens provides plenty of protection for the eyes. The Wildcat's fit and comfort were the best of any model in our test. The soft, flexible TR90 frame construction easily flexes to fit a variety of face sizes without pressure or discomfort, and hydrophilic rubber contact points at the nose and ears are grippy and comfortable. The nose piece adjusts vertically and has two width settings to fit a variety of nose shapes. Additionally, the Wildcat comes standard with a spare clear lens for low light conditions and a rigid, zippered storage case.
We really had to dig to find any faults with the Wildcat. This pair of sunglasses doesn't have a real weak point, but our job is to nitpick. The one potential issue we encountered with these glasses was with their dust protection. Due to the off-the-face fit and good breathability, we found that they didn't keep the dust out of our eyes quite as well as some other models in the test. This was only really a problem when mountain biking closely behind another rider in dry, dusty conditions. Even then it was barely noticeable, but it means that we wouldn't recommend these as a direct replacement for mountain biking goggles.
Read review: Smith Wildcat
Best Bang for the Buck
Pit Viper Polarized
: Versatile | Lens
: Polarized, Mirrored, 14% VLT, 100% UV Protection
Pit Viper's Originals offer the best value in our test for someone who's looking for near-top-quality performance without breaking the bank. These glasses come in at less than half the price of our other top-rated models and provide solid all-around performance. With nose piece, arm angle, and arm length adjustability, the Originals have the widest-ranging fit of any model in our test. Once dialed in, they will stick to just about any face shape or head size comfortably. Out in the field, they'll rarely, if ever, fog up on you, and the frame does a great job of channeling sweat away from the lens. The pair we tested has a polarized lens with a mirror finish that transmits 14% of visible light and protects against 100% of harmful UV rays. This was the only polarized lens in our test, and we appreciated the extra eye protection. We didn't notice any of the typical drawbacks of polarization, but we definitely wouldn't want to use this particular lens in low-light conditions. Pit Viper offers a variety of lens tints for the Originals, and you can get a non-polarized pair for even less money.
One should be wary that, while they're high-performing, the Originals make a few small sacrifices compared to the more expensive models in the test. The biggest compromise we noticed was in the frame construction. Pit Viper doesn't provide a lot of material specs for their glasses, but it's clear that their frame was not made with the same high-quality materials as the other models we tested. We didn't have any durability issues with our Originals, but the frames have a cheaper feel, and we worry about eventual failure at the many adjustment points. Additionally, all of Pit Viper's glasses have a loud and in-your-face style that isn't for everyone, but if you're willing to rock it, this model won't let you down.
Read review: Pit Viper Polarized
Top Pick for Coverage and Wind Protection
Goggle-like coverage and protection
Two lenses included
Large fit may be too big for some
Of all the models we tested in this new era of large coverage sunglasses, the Glendale provides the closest imitation of goggle performance. We appreciated their eye protection so much that they had to be our Top Pick for Coverage and Wind Protection. The massive lens measures at 165mm wide and 65mm tall, and offers sharp, high-contrast optics. Constructed from impact-resistant polycarbonate, the lens will also keep your eyes safe from potential impacts out in the field. The Grilamid thermoplastic frame wraps close to the face to protect from dust and wind interference at high speeds and also has air scoops below the lens to prevent fogging at low speeds or in humid conditions. Hydrophilic rubber contact points at the nose and temples allow you to wear these glasses all day without pain or discomfort.
Our only real qualms with the Glendale relate to the fit. This massive model has a large fit and doesn't offer a ton of adjustability to suit smaller face sizes. Our smaller-headed testers had some problems with the frames sliding down the front of their face during higher-impact activities like mountain biking or running. The adjustable arm tips helped with the problem, but we worry that these glasses might not fit well on smaller faces. That said, our small-headed testers still loved these glasses for high-speed road and gravel riding.
Read review: 100% Glendale
Top Pick for Versatility
Smith Attack Max
Two lenses included
Easy to swap lenses
Smith's Attack Max was an all-around tester favorite throughout the review process. This model came in a close second in our overall ratings, and it performed so well across all of our metrics that we awarded it our Top Pick for Versatility. Each pair comes standard with two of Smith's Chromapop lenses, one Rose and one Red Mirror. Their 48 and 15 percent respective visible light transmissions mean that the Attack Max performs in nearly any light condition, and the frameless design's magnetic arm attachment system makes swapping lenses easier than any other model we tested. The spherical Chromapop lenses provide some of the best optics in our test and wrap closely to the face for coverage and wind protection despite being one of the smaller lenses in our test. Hydrophilic megol rubber contact points at the nose and temples keep the glasses firmly in place even when things get rough, and the open frame design breathes well enough to protect from lens fogging. The Attack Max's versatility means that it's a viable model for nearly any outdoor activity you might want to try out.
Like the other top scorers in our test we had to work hard to find any faults with these glasses. Our main concern with the Attack Max is the price tag. It's one of the most expensive models we looked at, but Smith's inclusion of two high-contrast Chromapop lenses largely mitigates our concerns since you're basically getting two pairs of glasses and a wide range of viable operating conditions for the price. We also weren't huge fans of having to remove the arm pieces every time we wanted to store these back in their case, but the magnetic arm attachment system makes it fairly easy to do.
Read review: Smith Attack Max
Testing the 100% Glendale on an autumn gravel ride in the Sierra.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our sunglass testers have decades of experience in the outdoors and have been religiously using many of the brands that we tested for much of that time. Jeremy Benson is an obsessive year-round adventure sports athlete. The author of two guidebooks published by Mountaineers Books, Mountain Bike Tahoe and Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Routes California, he stays busy all year in the mountains from his home base in Truckee, CA. Whether backcountry skiing in the winter months or training for and racing gravel and mountain bikes the rest of the year, he has developed an appreciation for quality eyewear that protects his eyes from the sun, dust, debris, and especially the wind. A former sponsored ski athlete, Benson has years of experience in product design and testing and has been working with OutdoorGearLab for over two years.
Zach Wick has been religiously riding and racing road and mountain bikes for the last 17 years and has accumulated extensive knowledge of performance eyewear in that time. Zach spent his teenage years road racing as an elite amateur, racking up a state championship in the process. He has since broadened his horizons to include mountain biking, cyclocross, and gravel riding. He has years of experience in product design working in a mountain bike brand's test lab and can differentiate between quality products and pretenders. When it comes to performance eyewear, he is incredibly picky and won't ride with anything that compromises his vision in the field.
These two put every model in our test through the wringer to make sure we provide the best information possible. They tested these glasses for five months while racking up countless hours of road, gravel, and mountain bike ride time along with time spent trail running, hiking, and backcountry skiing. They used their years of experience and expertise to tease out subtle differences in what turned out to be an incredibly high-quality group of sunglasses. They also applied their knowledge of product testing in a lab to run non-destructive tests and decipher which models were toughest.
Related: How We Tested Sports Sunglasses
Being able to see the world around you clearly is one of the most important elements of any performance sunglasses.
Analysis and Test Results
We rated each pair of performance sunglasses in our test based on five key metrics: lens quality, fit and comfort, coverage, frame quality, and field performance. Each model received a score from 1-100 in each metric for easy comparison, and the metrics are weighted according to their importance. Additionally, we compared our overall performance score for each model against its price to determine which models offer the best value. Read through each section below to learn the rating criteria for each metric, and how each model fared.
Related: How To Choose the Right Sunglasses
All of the sunglasses we tested are high-end models geared towards optimal performance and protection for your eyes. These aren't your ordinary gas station sunglasses, and the sun protection, optical quality, comfort, and durability they provide comes at a premium. The glasses we tested fall into a wide range of price. While the more expensive end of the spectrum usually comes with higher-grade materials, we found that, as with many things, price doesn't necessarily reflect value.
The Pit Viper Originals were the least expensive model in the test by far, and their performance compared favorably with some of the most expensive models in the test.
Smith's Chromapop lens increases contrast without any distortion.
Lens quality is the first thing you notice when donning a pair of sunglasses and is one of the most important things to consider when seeking out new specs. Every model in our test was designed with high-speed outdoor activities in mind, often specifically mountain biking or road cycling. In these settings, its important that a lens provides sharp, clear optics without distortion as well as protection from the sun. We tested each model in a variety of light conditions to test its versatility and protection. It's important to consider a lens' UV protection and visible light transmission, optical quality, and durability when searching for a good pair of performance sunglasses.
Each of the performance sunglasses models that we tested protects from harsh sunlight but in varying degrees. All of the models protect from 100% of harmful UV rays but vary in their visible light transmission (VLT). Among the models we tested VLT ranged from 12 to 68 percent. Lower light transmission is generally easier on the eyes, but low-VLT lenses are darker and typically only perform well in bright light. We found that models around the 20% VLT mark including the Oakley Sutro (20%), POC Aspire (22%), and Oakley Flight Jacket (20%) performed in the broadest range of light conditions while still providing good protection. Smith's Wildcat and Attack Max along with 100%'s Glendale and Speedcraft each came with two easily-changeable lenses to perform in an even wider range of conditions and apply the necessary level of protection for the situation.
The Sutro's 20% VLT Prizm lens works well in medium to bright light.
The Pit Viper Originals were the only model we tested with lens polarization. Polarized lenses provide extra protection for the eyes by blocking horizontal light waves but also let in less light than their non-polarized counterparts. We found that the Originals lens performed well in bright light conditions, but, at 14% VLT, we wouldn't recommend them for medium or low light. Pit Viper offers the Originals in a variety of lens tints for different light levels, however.
All of the models we tested have lenses with high-quality optics. Deciphering differences in optical quality at this level of performance can be difficult as differences are often very minor, but a few models definitely stood out from the pack. The Oakley Flight Jacket and Smith Attack Max impressed us the most of the models we tested. Their spherical lenses combine with Oakley's Prizm and Smith's Chromapop technologies to provide super-clear, distortion-free optics with increased contrast and definition. The cylindrical lenses of the Smith Wildcat and Oakley Sutro feature the same technologies and provide the same high-contrast optics but without the benefit of the spherical shape. The Julbo Aero and Pit Viper Originals offered the least impressive optics in our test, but they were by no means bad. The optical standards set by this group were incredibly high.
Most performance sunglass lenses are designed with durability in mind. For the most part, we found that every model's lens stood up to our test. Very few of them showed any sign of wear and tear by the time we finished testing them. A few models including 100%'s Glendale and Speedcraft feature anti-scratch coatings on their lenses that work wonders. We were surprised when, after repeated t-shirt cleanings neither of these models had any apparent scratches or imperfections.
The Smith Wildcat is one of the most comfortable sunglasses we've worn.
Fit and Comfort
While lens quality is an important piece of the performance-sunglasses puzzle, the fit and comfort of a model carries just as much weight. A high-quality lens is useless if the glasses give you a headache after five minutes. It's key that your glasses fit your face well and not create discomfort when you can be wearing them for up to ten hours at a time (depending on just how hardcore you are). We rated models in this metric based on their fit versatility as well as the comfort of their frame materials. To generate our rating for each model, we had each of our testers try them out and provide notes on how they fit naturally, whether they could be adjusted to fit properly, their feel on the face, and if they created discomfort over time. We also recruited the help of friends and family with diverse head sizes to make sure we got the full picture on each model.
Midway through our testing, it became clear that one model stood out from the rest in this metric. The Smith Wildcat was a unanimous favorite among everyone who tried them on. The Wildcat's TR90 frame construction is soft and flexible and can expand to fit most head sizes without a hint of pressure on the temples. The adjustable nose piece can conform to most nose shapes, and its hydrophilic rubber contact points are comfortable and grippy and allow the frames to disappear from your thoughts when they're on your face. Smith's Attack Max was a close second in this metric with its frameless design and similar hydrophilic rubber contact points, but we noticed that its arms are a little bit stiffer and don't conform quite as well to the sides of the head.
The Pit Viper Originals impressed us in this metric with their wide range of adjustability. The arm angle, arm length, and nose piece adjustments on their frame combine to make their fit super versatile. Everyone who tried on our set of test Originals was able to adjust the fit to suit their facial structure, no matter their head size. This made them easily the most versatile fit of any model in our test. If it wasn't for their hard plastic frame construction, they could have been the most one of the most comfortable models in the test as well. In contrast to the Originals, the Oakley Sutro offers no adjustment, and we found that it had a more limited range of fit. Larger-headed users often found that the Sutro would put pressure on the sides of the head and create discomfort over time.
Glasses that fit well and are comfortable fade into the background so you can focus on the task at hand.
Most of the models we tested offered a limited range of adjustment and a decent range of fit. The POC Aspire and 100% Glendale are both comfortable, but lack the adjustability to match the top performers in this metric. They both have fixed nose pieces and bendable arm tips for a close contour to varied head shapes. We found that this adjustment was helpful, but not enough to adjust the fit between small and large heads adequately. Both of these models fit large heads, but small-headed testers struggled to get them dialed in.
The Glendale provides unbeatable coverage for high speeds.
The latest trend in performance sunglasses has been ever-increasing lens sizes. Many of the models in this test more closely resemble goggles than their counterparts from the 1990s and early 2000s. This is due in large part to the fact that brands have been focusing on improving coverage and protection for high-speed activities. When you're flying down a fast descent on a road or mountain bike, it's vital that your sunglasses protect your eyes from the wind as well as potential impacts from bugs, rocks, branches, or anything else that could be flying through the air. During testing, we had a run-in with a broken glass bottle on a road ride that sent tiny shards of glass flying through the peloton. In situations like this, your glasses should give your eyes security so you can stay focused.
To thoroughly rate each model's coverage, we took into account the size of their lenses, how closely they wrap to the face, their materials and construction, and their performance at high speeds. We ran each model through a series of downhills on our road, gravel, and mountain bikes in a variety of conditions and tracked their ability to block wind interference.
Most of the models in our test have a very similar lens construction. Each of their lenses is plastic as opposed to glass, and most are made of polycarbonate. All of them provide impact protection that meets ANSI Z80.3 standards for impact resistance, so we weren't concerned about a lens breaking from a rock strike out on the road. We didn't run into any situations during testing where a lens failed to protect our eyes or face from an impact.
The highest-coverage model we tested was the 100% Glendale. Its 165mm wide by 60mm tall lens is the biggest in the test, and the frame's close-to-the-face fit provided the best wind protection. Of all the goggle-esque sunglasses in our test, the Glendale most closely mimicked goggle-quality coverage. The 100% Speedcraft and Smith Wildcat had the next biggest lenses in the test and also provided excellent coverage. The Wildcat fit a little bit further off of the face than the two 100% models and experienced a little bit more wind interference, but it was nothing serious.
The Sutro has large coverage lenses that protect your eyes from the wind and debris with a massive unobstructed field of view.
A few smaller-lensed models also provided excellent coverage due to their spherical lenses and close fit. The Smith Attack Max and Oakley Flight Jacket's lenses aren't exactly small, but at 135x53 and 140x53mm respectively they weren't among the largest in our test. Despite their size, they offered some of the best coverage in our test. Neither model had any wind interference at high speed, and we had no concerns about the smaller lenses not protecting our eyes.
The Julbo Aero was the lowest scoring model in our coverage metric. With the smallest lens in our test at 130x43mm and an open, airy frame design, we experienced a good amount of wind interference on high-speed descents. Compared with the traditional performance sunglasses of the last twenty years, the Aero is actually above average coverage-wise, but in today's large-lensed age they don't quite match the top performers.
We found Wildcat's the soft, flexible T90 frames super comfortable and tough.
Along with your lenses, its important that the frames of your glasses stand up to the test of time. When you're paying this much for a pair of high-quality sunglasses you hope that the frames will stand up when dropped on the ground or thrown in backpacks and luggage. You also hope that they won't meet their demise the first time you take a quick dirt nap or asphalt slide on a bike ride.
To asses each model's frame quality, we scrutinized them to see just how much they could take. This involved a lot of flexing, twisting, and squeezing to test the limits of each frame's construction and make sure that none of them were too brittle. We also researched the material properties of each model's construction based on the material specs provided by the manufacturer and took into account each frame's adjustability and ease of lens swapping.
After testing, our favorite models in this metric all included some combination of TR90, Grilamid, and TPU thermoplastic construction. These materials each provide high flexibility and bending strength, good toughness, and low moisture absorption. Our favorite frames were the Smith Wildcat, 100% Speedcraft, 100% Glendale. Each of these featured some combination of these high-quality construction materials. The softness and flexibility of their frames gave us confidence that these models would survive just about anything we could throw at them and also made for quick, easy lens changes.
While we didn't like the stiffer, harder nature of Oakley's "O Matter" frame material as much as the Wildcat or 100%'s offerings, we gave the Flight Jacket a top score in this metric for its well-thought-out design including the Advancer nose piece that allows you to adjust the airflow behind the lenses and its multiple arm length options.
The Aspire has a quality frame construction but lacks adjustability and flexibility.
A few models had frames made of high-quality materials but didn't score as highly in this metric. The POC Aspire, and POC Half Blade each feature Grilamid thermoplastic frame constructions, but their frames are harder and less flexible than the Wildcat and 100%'s offerings. This worries us that the frames might snap in a crash or when TSA throws your bag on your next flight, and it also means swapping lenses can be a little bit tougher than with some of the more flexible models. These frames also provide minimal adjustment to dial in the fit.
The Pit Viper Originals had one of the most concerning frames in the test. While it offers a ton of adjustability, this frame has a cheaper, more brittle feel than any of the other models we tested, and the adjustability creates a variety of potential failure points. We were extra tough on these glasses to ensure that they were up to snuff. They made it through unscathed, so we're still excited about the value they provide. If given a choice, we would opt for the frame material of the Wildcat or Glendale over the Originals, however.
Despite a small stability issue, we found the Glendale worthy of some sending.
No matter how impressive a model's measurable traits are, it's still useless if it can't perform in the field. The field performance metric is the most heavily weighted in our test because it's a true and direct assessment of whether a model is worth the price or not. When using these glasses in the field, we focused on key traits necessary for athletic pursuits like lens fog prevention, lens water-shedding, stability on the face, and sweat channeling. If a $200 pair of sunglasses fogs up or falls off of your face every time you take it out for a mountain bike ride or trail run it's useless.
To asses each model's field performance, we simply used them. A lot. We took each model on countless hours of bike riding, trail running, hiking, and even some backcountry skiing to get a well-formed picture. By the end of our test, we had a very clear idea of which models were the highest performers.
Our favorite models in the field were the Smith Wildcat, Smith Attack Max, and Oakley Flight Jacket. Each of these models provided enough airflow to prevent lens fogging at low speeds while maintaining coverage and protection at high speeds. The Flight Jacket's adjustable nose piece allowed for the best of both worlds. The Attack Max had an occasional issue with sweat getting on the lenses due to its frameless design, but it wasn't a huge issue with the hydrophobic lens coating. The high-quality fit and frame material of each of these models meant that they also stayed in place remarkably well no matter how rough things got. Deathgripping down rough, chunky mountain bike trails on a hardtail was no issue for these three models. None of our testers reported any problems with them staying put on the face.
The remainder of the models we tested all performed solidly in the field. On the whole, we didn't have much to complain about with any of these sunglasses. We had a little bit of trouble with the 100% Glendale's larger fit on some of our smaller-headed testers. They found that when the going got rough, the nose piece would slip down and they would need to reach up and adjust. A small adjustment of the bendable arm tips helped with the problem, but we still have concerns about the Glendale's fit on smaller faces resulting in less stability than other models.
Resting our test models after a tough day out on the trails.
There's a lot to consider when searching for a new pair of performance sunglasses. Today there are so many options that, even if you have a good idea of what you're looking for, the search can be daunting. We did the work (actually it was a lot of fun) to provide you with the best information possible. We hope that this guide helps you make an informed decision and leads you to the perfect pair of glasses for your sporting endeavors.