Looking for great shades that won't break the bank? We've tested 16 of the best cheap sunglasses around. We sifted through hundreds of pairs before choosing our lineup for everything from paddling and hiking to trail runs and backyard naps. We tested these sunnies in all kinds of lighting, from intense road glare on long trips to the direct hit of the setting sun. We asked our friends to try them on to see how well they suit different people's faces and styles. Just because you're here on a budget doesn't mean you can't still get a great pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes and augment your style.Editor's Note: We updated our budget sunglasses review on April 7, 2023, to include several new pairs from GoodR, Kent Wang, Sunski, and Tifosi.
The 6 Best Cheap Sunglasses of 2023
|Price||$54 List||$28.00 at REI||$54.95 at REI||$59 List|
$65.00 at Amazon
|$25.00 at Backcountry|
|Pros||Solid protection, versatile style, comfortable, well-priced, great warranty and exchange policy||Good colored lenses, solid construction, lots of color options, decent value||Great coverage, good lenses, nice case, solid value||Fashionable, interesting lens color, cool case||Stay put well, sturdy feel, versatile style|
|Cons||Not a bold style, unimpressive case, minor longevity issues||Back glare is intense, a bit tight over long periods, smaller than expected||A bit small, style is uninspiring||Narrow bows may squeeze, hinges wear unevenly||Tight at the temples, limited lens protection, underwhelming style|
|Bottom Line||Good quality and well-priced shades with a classic style that works well on just about everyone||A solid set of medium wayfarers with lots of color choices to match any occasion at a good value price point||Decent lens performance and solid coverage from a smaller pair of fairly priced glasses||A solid pair of shades with a neat take on an oversized lens without being too big||A secure pair of glasses with good crowd appeal and a solid build, if a bit boring for some|
|Rating Categories||Shady Rays Classic...||Knockaround Paso Ro...||Suncloud Mayor||Le Specs Armada||Tifosi Swank|
|Lens Quality (30%)|
|Style and Versatility (20%)|
|Frame Quality (15%)|
|Specs||Shady Rays Classic...||Knockaround Paso Ro...||Suncloud Mayor||Le Specs Armada||Tifosi Swank|
|Lens Tested||Amber Woods Polarized||Amber||Polarized Brown||Smoke Gradient||Brown|
|Visible Light Transmission (VLT)||Not specified||Not specified||15%||Not specified||14%|
|VLT Protection Index||Category 3||Category 3||Category 3||Category 3||Category 3|
|HEV/Blue Light Protection (claim)||None||None||0%||None||None|
|Infrared Protection (claim)||None||None||0%||None||None|
|Neutral/Contrast||Neutral||Increased contrast||Increased contrast||Neutral||Increased contrast|
|Coatings and Lense Treatments||None||None||None||None||None|
|Prescription Lens Compatible?||Yes||No||No||No||Yes|
|Hinge Type||Standard||Standard||Standard||Standard||Autolocking, integrated|
|Case Included||Microfiber drawstring bag||Microfiber drawstring bag||Microfiber drawstring bag||Canvas bag with pocket and clam-shell top, microfiber cleaning cloth||Microfiber drawstring bag|
Best Overall Cheap Sunglasses
Shady Rays Classic Timber
The Shady Rays Classic Timber are straightforward unisex sunglasses with a well-executed wayfarer style. Their polarized lenses provide comfortable protection in bright light and high glare situations, and the woodgrain pattern on these plastic frames steps them up a notch over other similar styles in their appearance. They're a comfortable width for most heads, with a unique combination of a smooth exterior with just a hint of a matte finish to add extra grip when you need it most. Our lead tester has put their extensive "Live Hard Warranty" to the test several times over the years, adding even more value to a single pair of shades that can be easily replaced when they get lost or broken.
If you're on the hunt for super trendy shades, the Classic Timber lies more on the safe side of the trend scale. They also come with just a thin microfiber bag for a case, making us even more glad they have such a comprehensive coverage plan. Since we've been wearing a pair of these glasses for years, we've seen the woodgrain patterning start to rub off over the ears, but it took a long time to get to that level of wear. All in all, the performance, style, and first-rate replacement program of these unisex glasses make them an excellent value buy.
Best Bang for Your Buck
Knockaround Paso Robles
When it comes to value and performance, we love the Knockaround Paso Robles. The amber lenses we tested are a very pleasant color with consistent polarization, good contrast, and quality clarity. This easy wayfarer style looks good on most people, and they come in a ridiculous array of possible frame and lens color combinations to go with just about any look you might throw together. They're sturdy and held up well through all our testing, with all the right elements for a pleasant wearing experience.
The Paso Robles are a tad narrower than we expected, given their "medium" sizing, but they weren't too restrictive on most of our testers. We're less impressed with the amount of glare coming off the backs of the lenses, which can be distracting in certain conditions. And if you don't want people to see your eyes through your shades, these lenses may let you down. However, all things considered, we're really big fans of these low-cost sunnies from Knockaround.
Best on a Super Tight Budget
Merry's Polarized Aluminum
The Merry's Polarized Aluminum performed far better than their shockingly low price would suggest. The dark lenses are great on a bright day, while the larger size adds both coverage and extra style. Even our friends who aren't normally into this type of look found themselves enjoying the vibe they got while wearing these shades. On top of that, the keyhole bridge is just enough to add a little flair to this already pretty cool pair of cheap sunglasses. The Merry's also come with two cases and a cleaning cloth, all of which are great quality, adding even more value to this impressive budget pick.
Dark lenses are only ideal in certain kinds of light, and the Merry's predictably fall a little short in low-light situations. They're not outstanding lenses, though they're not distorted or cloudy like some other models we tested at this price point. The hinges on ours loosened at slightly different rates during the several months of our testing, but they're easy to adjust and retighten. Bottom line: if you need a solid pair of cheap sunglasses for a very low cost, these are the ones we'd pick any day.
Best for Comprehensive Coverage
If you're a person who's sick of cheap sunglasses that let light in all around the lenses, then the Suncloud Mayor are for you. These shades have just enough of a wrap to hug close to your face without becoming a pair of goggles like some sporty models. All our testers felt very protected wearing these glasses, and they're well-balanced, helping them to feel nice and light. On top of that, a secure fit keeps these quality lenses attached even on a midsummer run.
The Mayor is on the narrow side of the glasses we tested, with a medium-small fit. That said, our wider-faced testers didn't find them uncomfortable to wear — they just preferred the look of something better matched to their faces. The Mayor isn't the most stylish pair we tested, falling on the sportier side of the spectrum — though not to the degree that we couldn't pair them with a nice sundress or a polo. Bottomline, for long days in the sun when full coverage matters, we love wearing these specs.
Best for Performance-Oriented Fashion
The lightweight Sunski Yuba offers a more stylish than sporty look, but with a versatile performance we found ourselves loving. Their lenses have good clarity and contrast and are pleasant to look through and wear. Though they're a touch on the small side, they quickly became a well-loved pair for those they fit. They stand pleasantly away from most faces, helping them be one of the more comfortable pairs in this lineup for small-to-average-headed wearers. The thin but sturdy frames come in a decent variety of colors, allowing you to match your vibe.
Since these don't touch the face much, sunlight can sneak in at the extra room around the edges. Compounding that issue, the backs of the lenses are quite reflective — in many situations, we could clearly see our eyeballs looking back at us. Folks with larger heads should look at other options because the Yuba runs small. But, if you have the right-sized head to wear these, we like the added style they bring to a pretty solid all-around performance.
Best Cheap Aviators
Aviators are classically stylish sunglasses, and the Tifosi Shwae are our favorite pair when on a budget. These cool shades have a great mirrored finish and excellent shape that our testers appreciated. The lenses are pretty good, with a slight rosy tint to their brown shade. The Shwae also have numerous small hidden features that put them a step above the other aviators we've tested, like texturized rubber grips at the backs of the bows to hold them to your face and nose pads in sturdy metal plates rather than brittle arms that get stuck in long hair.
Those nose pad plates are, however, not particularly adjustable. The lenses also aren't ideal in lower light conditions, and some back reflections can make them challenging in certain bright situations. The flattened, open aviator design also lowers overall coverage in all the ways you would expect. But at the end of the day, when we want inexpensive aviators, it's the Tifosi Shwae we reach for.
Why You Should Trust Us
We quite literally hunted through hundreds of cheap sunglasses to find the best budget-friendly models to buy and test. Once they were in our hands, we wore them practically non-stop, taking them on vacations and up mountains. We drove long distances and spent afternoons doing yard work, enlisting the help of our friends, family, and colleagues to help test and rate these cheap sunnies.Our testing of these affordable sunnies was divided across five different metrics:
- Lens Quality (30% of overall score weighting)
- Comfort (25% weighting)
- Style and Versatility (20% weighting)
- Frame Quality (15% weighting)
- Coverage (10% weighting)
Our lead tester for all these budget sunnies is Maggie Nichols, aided by our consultant, Bradley Nichols. Bradley has been an outdoor adventurer for most of his life, living and recreating around sunny Tahoe and the intense sun of the northern Nevadan desert. From summer hiking to winter skiing, Brad is always looking for the best pair of sunglasses to protect his eyes. Maggie has been a backcountry guide for over 15 years in some of the brightest areas of the planet. From exploring the Galapagos and paddling the Virgin Islands to backpacking the Sierra Nevadas and dog-sledding the North Pole, Maggie does it all. She's a self-described "glasses junkie" who's been wearing glasses since she was 4 years old and has a lot of demands for her eyewear. Together they make a knowledge team when it comes to this essential accessory.
Analysis and Test Results
Just about any pair of cheap sunglasses will sit on your face, but if you're here, you're like us and want to know that your money is well-invested in whatever pair you buy. We put all the models in this lineup through rigorous side-by-side testing to tease apart their performances across five metrics. Each pair is given an overall score by weighting these metrics based on their overall importance. Below, we break those scores down and get nitty-gritty with the details.
In a group of cheap sunglasses, there are still some pretty significant differences in value. Some of the best-performing glasses are far from the most expensive in this review. The Knockaround Paso Robles are one great example of this. They offer excellent clarity and color, fairly sturdy construction, and come in a staggering array of colors to suit your personal style. The Merry's Polarized Aluminum are another noteworthy pair. These classicly styled shades looked cool on most everyone, with dark lenses and solid coverage, all for a surprisingly low cost. Even our top-scorer, the Shady Rays Classic Timber, aren't the most expensive option we tested, but they have outperformed the rest for the last few years now.
Having bad lenses is the number one way to hate your sunglasses. And just because you need some cheap sunglasses doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your vision. We took this testing seriously, looking into all the specifications each pair claimed and testing them side-by-side to see how well they performed. We checked their tint, color, and clarity, and we wore them in all kinds of challenging lighting conditions. We noted details like the reflections on the backs of the lenses and how comfortable they kept our eyes for hours in the bright sun.
The best lenses in this lineup are the Shady Rays Classic Timber and Knockaround Paso Robles. Both these pairs have easy-to-wear amber lenses that increase contrast without making things look psychedelic. They're both consistently polarized, very clear, and work well in most lighting conditions. The Suncloud Mayor also features quality lenses. Their polarization isn't entirely consistent, but their clarity is above average, and they're comfortable to wear in both bright and lower light conditions.
The Le Specs Armada are a little bit more particular, but if you like their lens strategy, they do it well. These blue-ish purple-y lenses have an intense gradient that leaves the bottom of the lenses relatively light while protecting from top-down rays. They're not polarized, but they still work well in medium to bright light. The Tifosi Swank also have good lenses, with great clarity and just minor reflections off the backs of the lenses. They work well in versatile lighting conditions, and the brown lenses we tested offer just a touch of color enhancement. Both the Tifosi Shwae and the Sojos Round Vintage also perform well when it comes to color and clarity of lenses and have just an average amount of back-lens reflection. The Sunski Dipseas aren't a bad choice either, though we've tested several pairs of these over the years, and not every lens color is our favorite. The most recent brown lenses we tested are polarized and have good clarity but are a little light for very bright conditions.
The J + S Classic Aviator have average lenses that do just fine in most situations without standing out as particularly impressive. The Goodr OGs are similarly average — though they come in over 50 possible lens/frame combinations, making it difficult to make any accurate generalizations about their lens performance. The several pairs we've tested over the years have had passable lenses, but we still experienced glare coming off the backside of the lens. The GoodR Circle Gs are in a similar boat, losing points to intense back glare — made more obvious by a flattened shape that lets in more light. The Kent Wang Aviator offers average protection and a decent, if a standard, grey view of the world. However, they lost points because their polarization layer is astonishingly uneven.
Getting cheap sunglasses shouldn't mean you have to suffer in discomfort. Our full panel of testers checked and judged how comfortable each pair of these sunglasses are to wear for long stretches. We noted where each pair touched our faces and if they were tight on some heads or face shapes. We checked adjustability where applicable and considered any additional features like rubber cushioning and nose pads. We gauged if they felt heavy, imbalanced, or squeezed any of our testers over several hours of wear.
Across all our testers, our favorite shades to wear all day are the Shady Rays Classic Timber. Their standard size worked well across the medium and large-headed testers in our pack, and they have a smaller size that's an even better fit for narrow-faced folks. The Merry's Polarized and Knockaround Paso Robles are also relatively comfortable in a familiar sort of way. The Knockarounds are a touch narrower than we expected based on their advertised medium size but still provide a cozy, snug fit. The Merry's fit easily, though they are a bit larger lensed than most. This makes them front heavy, which we only really noticed when overly active, as sometimes they would slide down sweaty noses.
The Suncloud Mayor and the Sunski Dipseas are both more comfortable than average. The Mayor run a bit smaller than average, and we found them most comfortable on medium to narrow heads. The Dipseas are also a bit narrow but have flexible plastic frames that help them to be more adaptable. Skinny bows can add pressure points on wider faces, but our testing team didn't find this to be an issue. The Tifosi Swank has a similar fit to the Mayor, with a shape trending toward the wraparound style. The Swank has embedded nose pads that most of our testers like, but are a bit tighter over the temples than many others, which can create pressure points over llong-termwear. The Goodr OGs have a pretty standard fit with flexible plastic that works on most faces. If their regular size is too narrow (it does seem to be a bit narrower than most other pairs we tested), they also have a size XL that's designed for bigger heads and wider faces.
The Sojos Round Vintage, despite being exceptionally oversized, are surprisingly well-balanced and fit more securely than we expected from such a front-heavy pair of shades. They do have metal bow ends that sometimes scraped our faces as we put them on and took them off. The Sungait Designer Gradient, Wowsun Polarized Gradient, and Le Specs Armada are all rather similar in their fit, working well for most. The bows don't squeeze too much, and the front-heavy frames are reasonably balanced. The J + S Classic Aviator are also reasonably comfortable for most, with adjustable nose pads and a looser fit that doesn't constrict.
Style and Versatility
There's no single style that everyone will love, but we did our best to identify trends and highly loved models across our testing panel. Some glasses truly seemed to look good on just about everyone, while others had more specific fans or uses. We also considered the versatility across activities for all these sunglasses — do they work just as well for a backyard barbeque as they do for an all-day hike, or do they become slick and sweaty, falling down your nose?
Both the Merry's Polarized and Le Specs Armada impressed us with their unassuming yet elevated style. Our entire testing panel liked the looks of both these pairs. If aviators are your thing, the Tifosi Shwae are our favorites. These glasses have the classic aviator look but with details that make them better than other cheap options, like fully mirrored lenses and tortoise shell covers on the bow ends. The Sunski Yuba are also rather fashionable but more on the spectrum of activewear glasses. They're a tad small, so not all our testers liked how they looked in them, but for those they fit, the Yuba bring up the style.
The Sunski Dipseas are very similar in appearance to the Yuba, with a keyhole bridge, round lenses, and narrow bows. The Dipseas lenses are slightly more circular, while the Yuba have straighter sides — both appealed to just about everyone on our testing team. The Goodr OGs are available in over 50 different colors, patterns, and lens options, making it easy to find a pair you like. The Tifosi Swank offer a slightly sportier — but still versatile — look in a few dozen colors with plenty of options.
The Knockaround Paso Robles and Shady Rays Classic Timber both bring that classic wayfarer style, each with their own twist. The Paso Robles come in a huge variety of color options, while the Shady Rays have a faux woodgrain finish that takes them up a notch from your classic festival glasses. The Wowsun and Sungait offer a versatile style that many wearers enjoy seeing themselves in. The Suncloud Mayor is appealing to active folks, and if you dig aviators in all black, the J + S Classic Aviator lets you rock that vibe.
A good pair of frames will help you be able to wear your shades for years of adventures. We assessed frame quality by prodding, pulling, twisting, and generally wearing these glasses across all types of activities. We researched their construction materials, monitored them for scratches, and noticed if the hinges or lenses became loose. We also scoured the internet to learn other users' common complaints and tested each of these pairs of cheap sunglasses for those potential pitfalls.
Topping the charts here are the Sunski Yuba and Dipseas with thin yet flexible frames. These sunnies have resisted breaking, warping, uneven hinge wear, and even most scratches over the years we've been wearing them. They seem flimsy at first, but we quickly discovered how sturdy these recycled frames really are. The one complaint we have about the Dipseas frames is that the translucent colors sometimes catch the sun at an odd angle, creating a painfully bright glare beneath the lenses. This didn't happen often, but certain sunlight angles can hit these otherwise great frames at the wrong angle.
The Knockaround Paso Robles and Suncloud Mayor both have pretty sturdy designs, too, with solid plastic frames and no obvious manufacturing flaws or weak points. The Tifosi Swank is built sturdily with solid-feeling plastic components and embedded nose pads in the frame. They're also one of the few models in this lineup with autolocking hinges that "snap" into place when you open them. The Shady Rays have decently reliable frames, though after a few years of wear, the woodgrain patterning has started to rub off on the bows where they touch the face.
A number of others performed decently but have components or aspects that we worry about long-term. The Le Specs Armada have a solid plastic frame, but the hinges continued to wear unevenly throughout our testing — a minor annoyance. The Merry's Polarized is similar, with unevenly loosening hinges and thin metal bows. The Tifosi Shwae are rather solid, with less adjustable nose pads (embedded in metal plates, rather than hanging off delicate arms), though here again, the uneven wearing of the hinges gives us pause. The Sojos Round Vintage do rather well with their full acetate frames. However, they have small metal loops on the ends of the bows that seem to serve a purely ornamental purpose, and we worry they might not last as long as the rest of the frame. The Kent Wang Aviators feel thicker and sturdier than some other aviators we've tested, but we read a lot of user reviews online that claimed the lenses pop out easily. We didn't experience this issue during our testing, but we read too many reports of this happening not to mention it.
We first evaluated coverage by looking at the obvious factors, such as the base curve of each pair of sunglasses and their overall lens size. We then went further, asking our range of testers to wear each pair and point out gaps and places they saw flaws in the coverage of each pair. As everyone wears their glasses a little bit differently and we all have different shapes and sizes of faces, coverage can vary between wearers. We noted where we found trends and glaring issues in any given pair.
The Suncloud Mayor blow the rest of these glasses out of the water regarding coverage. Despite their narrower fit, the Mayor has oversized lenses and a base curve that hugs the face, leaving less room around the edges for light to sneak in. No other cheap sunglasses we tested came close to matching the coverage of the Mayor. The next closest is the Le Specs Armada. Their oversized lenses help block more light, and they're comfortable to wear closer to the face — though they're much flatter than the Mayor. The Sunski Yuba also have larger lenses that, when worn close to the face, provide above-average coverage. The Tifosi Swank have a more curved fit than many, making it easy to wear them closer to the face. They're not without their gaps, but the embedded nose pads and tight temples stop them from bouncing — even during sweaty runs.
Also notable are the wayfarer-style glasses we tested, including the Shady Rays Classic Timber and the Knockaround Paso Robles. Though flatter than some, these wayfarers have decently-sized lenses and can comfortably be worn close to the face when you need extra coverage. The Merry's Polarized are in a similar boat to the Le Specs Armada, though they're not quite as large or as secure to wear close to the face. The Sojos Round Vintage have solid coverage, as they have enormous lenses, even though they are quite flat. For a pair of aviators (not known for their great coverage around the sides), the Tifosi Swank are better than expected. They still have gaps in all the typical places, but they sit closer to the face, helping to close those gaps more than most other aviators.
There are what feels like a million possible options to choose from for sunglasses, especially when it comes to cheap options. We hope that our thorough testing across a panel of sunglasses lovers will help you identify which pair is perfect for your eyes and your wallet.While some folks happily commit to one pair of sunglasses for everything, others appreciate having multiple pairs for different activities. If you're on the hunt for a pricier pair for special occasions or a specific application, we can help. From the best cycling sunglasses and sport sunglasses to our favorite sunglasses for women and best men's sunglasses, we've spent a lot of time testing sunnies.
— Maggie Nichols
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