We researched over 80 of the most popular, high-quality sunglasses available in 2019 before selecting the 12 best to test side-by-side for hundreds of outdoor hours. For four months, we rocked six everyday pairs and six water-specific pairs, pushing each to their functional limits. We did it to determine which ones offer the best lens quality, all-day comfort, and coverage. We boated, biked, drove, hiked, paddled and lounged across three continents and seven countries from dawn 'til dusk. We wore these glasses in high altitude sun, at sea level, in hot and cold climates, and on high and low UV days. We made all of our friends try them on and rate their look, comfort, and lenses. In short, we got to know these shades exceedingly well, identifying their strengths and weaknesses so we could pass our findings on to you. No matter what you desire of your sunglasses, we're here to help you find the perfect pair.
The Best Sunglasses in 2019
|Price||$144.99 at Backcountry|
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|$188.95 at Backcountry|
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|$249.99 at Amazon|
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|$245.00 at Backcountry||$124.75 at Amazon|
|Pros||Great clarity, excellent contrast with little color distortion, flexing frames, works for most faces||Excellent protection, great clarity, extremely comfortable, good for active endeavors, good for many faces||Excellent eye protection and coverage, durable design, great contrast with minimal color distortion, superb case||Great lens clarity, universally flattering style, surprisingly comfortable, durable build, good eye protection||Good contrast, superb clarity, excellent protective coatings, stay in place, lightweight, all-day comfort|
|Cons||Peripheral coverage not ideal, cleaner bag a little stiff, may be sporty-looking||Developed a slight lens defect, fit is less secure, coverage could be better||Heavy, large overall size and fit, expensive||Not polarized, heavy, large, case not overly protective, expensive||Not very stylish, lighter tint suffers in bright light, copper lens distorts colors, too small, expensive|
|Bottom Line||A high-quality blend of functionality, versatility, and style.||Great protection and amazing comfort, but not completely perfect.||A high-performing pair of shades with great coverage and exceptional lens quality, though a bit heavy.||These shades are protective, clear, and very cool.||These incredibly lightweight glasses have high quality lens and perform well, especially for water-related sports.|
|Rating Categories||Kaenon Clarke||Costa Del Mar Spearo||Maui Jim Kahi||Vuarnet District Medium Round||Costa Del Mar Hinano|
|Lens Quality (30%)|
|Frame Quality (20%)|
|Style And Versatility (15%)|
|Specs||Kaenon Clarke||Costa Del Mar Spearo||Maui Jim Kahi||Vuarnet District...||Costa Del Mar Hinano|
|Lens Tested||Grey 12 Pacific Blue Mirror||Blue Mirror||HCL Bronze||Brown Lynx||Copper 580P|
|Ideal Activity||water sports||water sports||everyday||everyday||everyday|
|Ideal Lens Light Conditions||Bright light||Bright light||Medium to bright light||Medium to bright light||Low to bright light|
|Polarized||Yes||Yes||Yes||No, but it is available||Yes|
|Visible Light Transmission (VLT)||12%||10%||15%||9%||12%|
|VLT Protection Index||cat 3||cat 3||cat 3||cat 3||cat 3|
|HEV/Blue Light Protection||not specified||100%||95%||97%||100%|
|Infrared Protection||0%||0%||"infrared effective"||93%||0%|
|Neutral/Contrast||Increased contrast||Increased contrast||Increased contrast||Increased contrast||Increased contrast|
|Lens Material||plastic - "SR-91" polycarbonate||glass - 580 Polarized (polycarbonate available)||glass - "SuperThin Glass"||glass - mineral glass||glass - 580 Polarized|
|Protective Coatings||Anti-reflective back, hydro-oleophobic, mirror||Anti-scratch, hydro-oleaophobic, mirror||Anti-reflective on front and back||Anti-reflective back, silver bi-shade mirror||Anti-scratch, oil repellent, water repellent, naturally scratch resistant|
|Can take prescription lens?||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Case Included||Rigid zippered and soft/cleaning bag||Rigid zippered and soft/cleaning bag||Hard rigid clam case and soft/cleaning bag||Semi-rigid flex case and cleaning cloth||Rigid zippered and cleaning cloth|
Best Overall Sunglasses
The Kaenon Clarks are an impressively functional blend of high-quality traits, solid fit, and a style that works for a wide variety of people. With lightweight, polycarbonate lenses the Clarks still manage to provide a high degree of clarity and excellent contrast without as much color distortion as many others. They're a good compromise of being dark enough to block out the harsh rays of sun you experience on the water or in the car without being so dark you can't wear them during that awkward sunset hour. Solid semi-flexible frame construction helps these shades be easy to wear while standing up to much daily abuse. Embedded Variflex nose pads help keep these sunnies in place through above normal sweat and movement, while still remaining comfortable and not too tight. Kaenon has also managed to find that sweet spot of style that works on a wide variety of face shapes and sizes without looking too sporty or an outdated fashion. And if the case that comes with your expensive sunglasses is as important to you as it is to us, we like the Clark's zippered shell the most out of all models we tested, as a blend of rigid protection, ease of use, and solid construction.
While our testers appreciate the middle ground of decent style with excellent functionality, it does come at a slight cost in the coverage of these frames. With a base curve of 6, these shades are more flat than curved. Along with the average-width bows, this does leave a lot of space for light reflecting off the water to hit you smack in the pupil if you're at the wrong angle. And depending on your face shape and how high you like to wear your sunglasses, you may also discover a gap at the top of the Clarks that let high noon inside your face cave of darkness. Though with some shifts in how you wear these during those key times, we don't think their shape or coverage is particularly awful stacked up to the competition. And if you're in the market for the most stylish pair of shades out there, you're probably not going to go ga-ga over these specs, though we still maintain that they're more stylish than many others we tested. At the end of the day though, we think the quality and versatility of these excellent sunnies are top-notch.
Read review: Kaenon Clark
Best Bang for the Buck
Native Eyewear Highline
The Native Highlines easily takes home our Best Buy award for the second year in a row. Not only are they one of the least expensive pairs we tested, but they also continue to impress us with their solid eye protection and surprisingly low weight. Their plastic, poly-crystal carbonate, lenses offer superb protection against UV light, glare, and HEV. They also provide some of the best infrared and blue-light blocking powers on the market. They are impact-resistant, scratch-resistant, and easy to clean. The Highline's slightly curved design and well-placed Cushinol padding had us forgetting we were wearing them at all!
However, these lenses and frames are a bit on the small side, which affects their coverage and stability on medium to large faces. We also collected a number of scratches on the frame during our testing, but none on the lenses. The Native Highlines are versatile, high-quality shades that can go from hiking up a mountain to shopping around town.
Read review: Native Eyewear Highline
Top Pick for All-Day Comfort
Costa Del Mar Spearo
Costa del Mar's 580P lenses bring a lot to the table, offering some excellent protection for on-water activities. One of the few lenses we tested with 100% polarization, the Spearos also absorb 100% of HEV, or harmful blue light rays. With coatings to decrease glare even further (mirrored coating), prevent scratches to the lenses (passing with an impressive 7+ on the Bayer Abrasion Test), and keep water and oil more easily at bay (hydro-oleophobic coating), these lenses are built to protect along with the best of them. If that's not enough, the Spearo frames are incredibly comfortable for just about everyone who tried them on. Straighter bows, cleverly embedded nose pads and bow pads that not only grip but also help channel sweat away from your face all in a high-quality frame help to make these shades our Top Pick for All-Day Comfort. And though some of our testers with narrower faces found them to be ever so slightly large, some well-placed holes through the backs of the bows allow for easy attachment of a leash - always a good idea when on the water! We also love the cleaning cloth that comes with these dudes more than any other pair and frequently used it to clean off the other shades we were testing.
Unfortunately, our pair of Spearos also developed some lens defects over the course of our testing, with irregularities in some of the corners. Though we can't see them at all while they're on, the rapid onset of these spots after just a few months of testing and travel is a bit of a bummer. Fortunately, Costa offers a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects - a helpful safety net for some spendy specs! Aside from that development, our only other knock on the Spearos is that their straighter shape, while increasing our love of their look, also decreases their coverage for some. But despite these few setbacks, the Spearos are consistently our favorite choice for a pair of glasses we can comfortably wear all day.
Read review: Costa del Mar Spearo
Top Pick for Stylish Functionality
Vuarnet District Medium Round
When we set out to test the top sunglasses for hanging out around the town and on the water, we thought first about performance and second about style. The high-quality, Vuarnet District Medium Rounds take the cake for a timeless style that looks good on everyone who tried them, making them our Top Pick for Stylish Functionality. Their dark hue and mirrored finish help repel an impressive amount of glare. We're impressed that their total lack of cushioning pads in no way detract from their comfort and though the frames at first appear a bit thin, are extremely solid and well-constructed.
The Districts aren't polarized (though Vuarnet has many polarized options), but impressively they work pretty well even in situations with high glare. They're also a bit heavy - particularly in the front with their mineral glass lenses, and aren't our top pick for really active days with copious sweating, as that extra weight can make them slide down your nose. But for everyday style and comfort, around the town or on the open road, our male and female testers alike adore the look and functionality of these stylin' shades.
Read review: Vuarnet District Medium Round
Why You Should Trust Us
As an eyeglasses wearer since the age of four, our main tester, Maggie Brandenburg, is adamant about keeping her eyes protected. She spends more time outdoors than in, from leading high-alpine backpacking trips to teaching in the sunny Caribbean and kayaking on hyperreflective waters. For the past eight years, she's led global adventures for teens and adults from backpacking the Andes and Sierra Nevadas to trekking through the African Savannah. Every adventure demands a lot from her eyes. In turn, she demands a lot from her eyewear. An avid eyewear junkie, she keeps up with the latest protective options and tries on every pair she can. Maggie spent several weeks wading through the sunglasses market to narrow down the top contenders before donning the selected models and heading outdoors. She drove across the country and back, took sunglasses to Central America, Italy, and Vietnam and spent hundreds of hours comparing each pair to the others. Pacific sunsets, high altitude hiking, and 13+ hour days of driving — these glasses saw it all. Maggie has been testing and reviewing a variety of equipment for OutdoorGearLab for over three years.
Over the span of two summers and one warm fall, we wore these sunglasses incessantly. Our testers napped on beaches and boat decks. We rode mountain bikes and water taxis. We wandered the streets, markets, jungles, beaches, deserts, and mountains of seven different countries on three continents. We judged each pair on their functionality, quality, fit, and versatility. And, because we like to be thorough, we asked dozens of our friends and family to wear them. They told us how they fit, how comfortable and stylish they are, and how much they like the lenses.
Related: How We Tested Sunglasses
Analysis and Test Results
The five metrics we used to test these glasses are weighted by their importance to give each pair an overall comparable score somewhere between 1 and 100.
Related: Buying Advice for Sunglasses
The size and fit of your specs make a huge difference for more than just style. Arms that are the right length will keep them attached to your face while you play. A pair that is wide enough for your head will help prevent headaches. It's important to look at frame and lens sizes before you buy a pair of glasses. Not sure what size you wear? Grab a pair of shades you already know you love and measure those or read their measurements on the inside of the bow!
You can buy a cheap pair of sunnies at any department store or gas station, but they're not likely to give your eyes the protection they deserve. On the other hand, more money doesn't necessarily equal more protection. We tested options that range from fifty to several hundred dollars and found that price doesn't necessarily correspond with performance.
Though we never consider price when we score products, we recognize that it's an important factor when making a purchase decision. Glasses with the highest value in this review offer solid performance at a below-average price. For example, the Best Buy winners, the Native Highlines, offer impressive performance for a comparably low cost.
One of the most important qualities of any pair of shades is how good the lenses are. Since the whole point of wearing them is to protect your eyes — from UV, glare, dust, etc. — we weight lens quality scores heavily. We also recognize that not all glasses are made for the same purposes (i.e., light hiking vs. all-day paddling) and tested them accordingly.
To examine lens quality, we asked three main questions:What are they made to do?
All the glasses in the test claim to block 100% of UV rays, but they vary in how much high-energy blue (HEV) and infrared light they block. They also allow varying amounts of visible light to transmit (VLT) through the lens and into your eye. VLT is tied to protection but is also an activity based choice, particularly when it comes to certain activities like mountain biking. If you spend a lot of time riding your bike through the trees, you may want to consider a higher VTL (which lets more light in) than you would on a bright and reflective lake paddling at high noon on a cloudless day.
All of the glasses we tested are polarized or, in the case of the Vuarnet District Medium Round, have a polarized lens option. This cuts down on the glare that reflects on flat surfaces like water and roads. Having a mirrored lens also cuts down on glare. Though the physical properties of polarized lenses can sometimes make reading certain electronic screens difficult, if you plan to wear your shades for a lot of driving or around water or snow, polarized lenses - or at least mirrored coatings - are really a must.
Different lens materials and other types of coatings also make a big difference in how glasses perform at a specific task. Depending on what you plan you use your eyewear for, you may want lenses that repel water or oils (hydro- and oleophobic), to stop you from having to pause and clean them constantly. And when you do need to clean them, these lenses tend to be easier to wipe those fingerprints and hair gel smudges off. If you're a bit of a clutz like some of us are, you might easily drop your glasses on the sidewalk or a rock or find yourself falling face-first into the ground. If that's you, you'll be wanting impact-resistant lenses. Many of the glasses we tested have impact-resistant lenses, and most of the ones that don't at least have anti-scratch coatings to help protect against minor damages.
We tested a lot of really impressive lenses here that offer some excellent protection against everyday wear. The Maui Jim Kahis HCL Bronze lenses are some top performers here. They offer a protective, yet easy to wear VLT of 15% with high polarity and both blue and infrared light blockage. They also have anti-reflective coatings on the front and back of each lens that cut down on stray glare. These coatings also keep your face from reflecting on the back of the lens at specific sun angles, which can make them difficult to see through. This suite of quality traits makes the Kahis an excellent choice for casual water recreation and all-around eye protection.
Both pairs of Costa del Mars we tested, the Costa del Mar Hinano and Spearos also offer impressive levels of protection. Costa's 580P lenses repel both water and oil while being incredibly protective from glare (100% polarized) and 100% effective at blocking blue light. These features make them an excellent choice for on-water activities as well. The two pairs of Native Eyewear that we tested are not only polarized but also block 90+% of harmful blue light and are up to 4x more effective at cutting out infrared rays as well. Their brown lenses also offer some impressive contrast, making the Native Highlines a solid choice for driving and everyday use.
How are the optics?
Sunglasses should protect your eyes and cut down on eye strain while providing a crisp/clear view of the world. Some lens are best suited for cloudy days, some for sunny, and some can span both, making them a great choice for patchy Caribbean clouds, afternoon desert rainstorms, and dawn or dusk. The Maui Jim Kahis impressed us with their ability to feel comfortable at high noon on the open ocean and when driving down the highway during intermittent Texan showers. The Native Highlines also provided excellent contrast and color enhancement, particularly in variable to low lighting.
We evaluated the clarity of each model by wearing them in different lighting conditions and noting how they reacted to variable light. We noted if the lenses distorted details, and if they enhanced, preserved, or detracted from natural colors. In general, glass lenses tend to provide a clearer picture, though new technology has made some excellent polycarbonate options. Most of the glasses lenses we tested, in the Costa del Mar Spearos and Hinanos, both Maui Jim pairs (Kahi and World Cup), and the Vuarnet District Medium Rounds retain excellent clarity. Impressively, the polycarbonate lenses in both the Native Highlines and Kaenon Clarks provide clear, detailed views without the added weight that typically accompanies glass lenses.
Additionally, most of the brown-colored lenses do a great job of increasing contrast, making them easier to see through even under challenging light conditions, like those around dawn and dusk or under cloud cover. The Maui Jim Kahis and Native Highlines stand out as being particularly excellent for these conditions. While we tested most water-centric glasses with grey or blue lenses, many still have contrast-enhancing technologies, designed to block out colors between blue, green, and red, the three main color receptors in the human eye. While the Costa Spearos and Smith Haywires both have this technology, giving them greater contrast, the Kaenon Clarks use of this light-blocking power really impresses us. And in the Grey 12 base-colored lenses we tested, this results in a great level of contrast without any color distortion.
How well do the lenses hold up to normal use?
We wore these sunnies extensively for months to see how each pair withstood the daily durability test of constant use and abuse. We tested how easily they pick up grease and collect dust. Then we tested how easy they are to clean with a simple cloth, or a t-shirt if you're in a bind. We also considered how easily the lenses pick up microscopic scratches when you use that shirt to clean them in a pinch.
While we didn't pick up scratches, our field experiments and experiences showed that the Native Highlines and Oakley Holbrooks stayed pretty clean during regular wear and are quite The Kaenon Clarks are also remarkably easy to wipe with your t-shirt if you can't find your cleaning cloth in a pinch. All the pairs with oleophobic coatings (Kaenon Clark, Costa Spearo and Hinano, Maui Jim World Cup, Smith Haywire, and Native Sanitas) also stay clean and clean up a bit easier than those without.
Comfort matters quite a bit for a piece of gear you're going to wear nearly every day and potentially for 12 hours at a time. Even the best lenses aren't helpful if the frames they're in are uncomfortable to wear for longer than an hour. This category relies a lot on the feels, and getting input from a wide variety of testers with different face shapes and sizes was very important. We considered how each pair feels across the bridge of your nose, above and behind your ears, riding on top of your head, and whether or not they tend to contact cheeks, eyebrows or eyelashes. We wore sunglasses for full days to see how comfort changed or remained consistent over time. We also considered whether each pair is prone to sliding or moving around and if they are adjustable. Another important aspect of comfort is how heavy and balanced these shades are. We weighed each pair, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Medium-weight glasses that are front-heavy are more annoying and less comfortable than a heavier pair that balances the weight between the frame and the arms.
In general, lightweight, well-balanced shades with pads that grip your nose or ears are the most comfortable for all-day wear. The Costa Spearos are clear winners in this category. With rubberized nose pads and bows that grip without being sticky, spring hinges that allow the frames to flex with your face shape, channels for pulling sweat away from your temples, and a great overall shape that rides close without being too close, these specs are comfortable for everyone who tested them. The Native Highlines and Costa Hinanos are also excellent contenders in comfort; lightweight, with nose pad and bow grippies.
Though the Kaenon Clarks lack bow pads, their overall shape helps them to remain impressively comfortable. The Vuarent Districts aren't far behind, either. The Districts defy the rules and get away with it. They don't have any rubbery pads, are hefty and imbalanced, but we like wearing them anyway.
Frame quality is a big part of durability. We researched and assessed each model, and put them through the wringer to find out which ones are the most likely to hold up for years of constant usage. We spent a lot of time jamming them in bags and cars and flexing frames to see how well they withstand the pressure. We noted anything that scratched or failed to perform as intended.
Since we tested each of these pairs for only four months instead of the years of use you'd like to get out of them, we also looked for anything that seemed likely to cause issues in the future. We looked at each frame's materials and construction, paying particular attention to the hinges to see if they're a standard barrel hinge (i.e. don't overextend) or a spring hinge (i.e. are made to overextend). We also carefully examined any nose pads or bow grippies and their attachment points.
After beating up these glasses for months, through several countries and across the US and back, we are particularly impressed with the quality of the Kaenon Clarks. Though lightweight and flexible, these shades are well-built and easily handled anything we threw at them, from dropping them on the pool deck to tossing them in the lake to stuffing them in a checked bag at the airport. They're one of the only frames that we never had to tighten the hinge screws on and when we dropped them or they went flying, we felt hardly any worry that they would be just fine. We're also impressed by the ability of both the Maui Jim Kahis and Costa Hinanos to withstand a solid battering. The Vuarnet District Rounds are also very solidly constructed, despite looking more gracile than many other models.
Though we didn't rate each model on their return policy, we did take note of it. Some models offer return or exchange policies that allow you to test the glasses for several weeks to see if you like them. We also noted which ones have warranty policies, what those policies cover, how long they are, and what options exist for potential issues not covered under the manufacturer's warranty — i.e. is it easy to get broken shades fixed?
Style and Versatility
As much as we wish there was a magical formula for style, there isn't. There's no objective test for how you'll look in any of these glasses, but we know it matters. Because it doesn't exist, we didn't rate these using an objective style guide. However, we did ask a whole bunch of people with different styles and face shapes to try them on and tell us what they thought. Every tester took a peek in the mirror and rated how likely they would be to wear each pair based on looks alone.
A few pairs of shades perform well in other metrics but lose out when it comes to style. Some, like the Native Highlines and Sanitas run a bit small for many faces, making it harder to be universally flattering. A couple have patterns or specific shapes that are loved by some and despised by others, like the Hinanos and Haywires.
A couple pairs we love specifically for their style, despite other shortcomings they may have. The Ray-Ban Clubmasters were frequently described as classy, hip, and even too cool for me. This made them a popular choice, despite their many shortcomings in every other metric. The Vuarnet District Rounds are one of the most well-liked shades in this review, with one tester enthusiastically exclaiming, I look fantastic in these!
If you want to protect your eyes outdoors, you'll want your shades to offer good coverage. You know, so they actually do protect your eyes from sun, dust, and debris. The glasses we tested offer different degrees of coverage. To compare them, we analyzed the shape and size of their frames and lenses to see if they adequately filter sun, glare, and flying dirt from any angle. We paid attention to arm width by the temple to see if it blocks light as well. We also noted which face shapes and sizes left overly large gaps for unwanted light and foreign body entrance.
Curved frames and lenses, that contour around your face, offer better coverage than flat models. The Maui Jim World Cups have a base curve of 8 (most the rest are just 4-6), helping them to better wrap around your face and keep out sun and glare coming from unexpected angles. To add to that, they also have very wide bows that help to block side-sun. Though they may be a bit restrictive for a lot of driving, they're a great option if you're out on the water all day under a bright sun.
Sunglasses with larger lenses and a closer overall fit — like the Maui Jim Kahis, Oakley Holbrooks, Kaenon Clarks, and Costa Spearos — provide excellent coverage and protection from most light angles. Some of the everyday glasses we tested are fairly straight across, like the Vuarent District Round Medium, leaving lots of gaps. Others are more face-hugging, providing extra coverage. Both the Oakley Holbrooks and the Maui Jim Kahis fall into that sweet spot, having a more ergonomic curvature and large lenses that offer quite a bit of coverage, without completely wrapping your head like a shade ninja.
A good case can make all the difference between your expensive pair of glasses lasting you ten days or ten years. It's not impossible to find an aftermarket case that may provide more protection for your investment. If you're spending that much on a piece of gear, it's nice if it just comes with a case that does the job.
We tested how well each model's case protects it against something as simple as a key scratch and as demanding as being crammed in an overstuffed bag being handled by an airline luggage crew. Rigid cases, like that of the Maui Jim Kahis performed admirably at this task. Slightly less rigid, the zippered clamshell case of the Kaenon Clarks is also one of our favorites, with plenty of space inside, excellent protection, and a zipper that remains easy to use when others start to stick.
We also considered the finer details of each case, like its size and weight. And because we know you're out there having grubby, down-to-earth adventures, we also took into account what cleaning tools accompany each pair of shades. The cases included with the Costa Hinano and Native Highline provide a good blend of protection and portability, and both come with a cleaning cloth. Actually, we adore the cleaning cloth from Costa del Mar and often found ourselves taking it with for use on other shades as well. It's soft and absorbent, easily pulling smudges and dirt from lenses, and is thick enough to not transfer your finger grease through it while still being flexible enough to reach all the corners of your lenses.
There is a seemingly endless array of sunglasses available today, and it can be difficult to figure out which are the right choice for you. It's always our goal to help make your decisions easier by spending hundreds of hours testing the best products on the market side-by-side. We had a ton of fun testing and modeling these sunnies for months to hunt down the best and worst attributes of each pair. We hope that our expertise and experience help you find the perfect pair of shades for your next adventure.
— Maggie Brandenburg