The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

How We Tested Sports Sunglasses

Wednesday September 16, 2020

These days the performance sport sunglasses market is saturated with countless models each claiming to be the best. It's a daunting prospect to try and sift through the mire and come up with a list of truly quality sunglasses, so we decided to put in the work and answer the question for you. After loads of research to narrow the list down, we tested 12 of today's best models side by side and rated them on five key metrics to provide you with a clear picture of the top performers. Read on to learn exactly how we did it.

Lens Quality


A quality lens is key to a good pair of sport sunglasses. After all, what are sunglasses for other than to protect your eyes and help you see in a variety of light conditions? First and foremost, we evaluated each pair's lens based on the protection it affords your eyes from harmful light. Today's best sunglass lenses can protect from UV rays, HEV light, and even infrared transmission in some cases. Additionally, polarized lenses help protect the eyes from horizontal light waves that can wear out and damage your eyes over time.

Given that these glasses were all designed for performance in high-speed sports, we also paid close attention to the quality of their optics. We tested each model out in a variety of light conditions and activities to seek out distortion or imperfection in the lenses and to asses their ability to improve contrast and definition. We rated each lens' versatility by defining the light conditions in which it could viably perform based on its visible light transmission percentage and our experience in the field. We also noted whether the lenses included things like anti-scratch or hydrophobic lens treatments as a way to measure their durability alongside our experiences in testing.

Testers found these large coverage glasses to be comfortable  though the more rigid frame may squeeze some head shapes a little tightly.
Testers found these large coverage glasses to be comfortable, though the more rigid frame may squeeze some head shapes a little tightly.

Fit and Comfort


Along with lens quality, the fit and comfort of a sport sunglass model is critical to the user experience. Nobody wants a pair of glasses with fantastic lens quality if it gives them a headache after five minutes. In order get a proper assessment of each model's fit and comfort, we first went over their frames to check for flexibility and adjustability. If a frame is too stiff, the arms won't easily flex to accommodate larger head sizes. Likewise, if the nose piece doesn't offer any adjustability, it might be a tough fit for someone with a narrow nose. Frame material also played a role in our assessment here. Some models feature hard plastic frames that can feel a bit uncomfortable on the face no matter how good the fit, while others have soft, flexible material that's easy on the skin.

Beyond analyzing the frames and checking the fit on ourselves, we recruited friends and family to get these glasses on as many faces as possible. We handed each pair out to as many people as we could in the hopes of reaching a wide variety of face structures and head sizes, and we asked each of them to provide us with their thoughts about the fit, adjustability, and long-term comfort of each model.

A well fitting pair of glasses will make you smile every time.
A well fitting pair of glasses will make you smile every time.

Coverage


In today's world of huge-lensed sport sunglasses, coverage is the name of the game. In recent years, athletes have continually demanded larger lenses, and it has done wonders for the coverage and protection of the average sunglasses. A model's coverage is largely based on the size of its lens, so that's the first thing we did to determine our ratings in this metric. We measured the lens size of each model and compared the overall area of coverage.

Lens size alone doesn't equate to coverage and protection, however. We also paid close attention to the way the glasses fit on the face, how far the lenses wrapped around the sides of your face, and how many air vents or scoops the frames had. These things can make a huge difference in the feel of a model's coverage when flying down a high-speed descent. Some of the top coverage performers in our test didn't have the largest lenses, simply because a quality, close-to-the-face fit can provide fantastic wind protection. That said, the larger-lensed models generally provide more protection from rock, bug, or branch impacts when you're flying down the trail.

The large lenses protect your eyes from wind and impact at high speeds.
The large lenses protect your eyes from wind and impact at high speeds.

Frame Quality


A quality frame is crucial to the longevity of your sunglasses. You don't want to spend a couple hundred dollars on a fancy pair of glasses and have the frame snap the first time you take a digger on the local group ride. Also, quality frames can provide adjustability of fit, comfortable, grippy contact points, and easy lens swaps. We paid attention to each of these things when deciding upon our ratings for this metric.

Our assessment of each frame's material quality involved a lot of research into material properties as well as some good old fashioned bending, flexing, and twisting to test for brittleness. Some of the frames we tested are made from super-high-quality shatterproof thermoplastics, and others are made from materials that are meant to look and act like super-high-quality shatterproof thermoplastics, so we had be super thorough in our analysis. We swapped lenses countless times to make sure frames held up to repeated flexing.

The Sutro has a durable and quality frame  though a little rubber on the ends of the arms would help hold them in place.
The Sutro has a durable and quality frame, though a little rubber on the ends of the arms would help hold them in place.

Field Performance


On top of all of our other metrics, we wanted to provide an assessment of how each model actually fared out on the trails and roads. If a model boasts a superb lens and quality frame construction but fogs up as soon as you start moving, it's useless. We based our ratings in this metric off of each model's ability to avoid lens fogging, channel sweat away from the lenses and eyes, stick in place when you get sweaty, or things get rough and allow you to stay focused on the trail when things get tricky. Each of these things can ruin a ride or race if your glasses aren't cooperating, so we weighted this metric slightly move heavily than all of the rest.

To test the glasses for this metric, we simply used them a whole lot. We tested each model in a variety of weather conditions and light conditions while doing a variety of different activities, including mountain biking, road cycling, gravel riding, trail running, hiking, and backcountry skiing. We even used these glasses for some lounge time at the beach and some work in the yard. By the end of testing, we had a solid picture of how each model performed in a variety of conditions and felt confident giving our recommendation.

Field performance testing involved a fair bit of this.
Field performance testing involved a fair bit of this.