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

How We Tested Sunglasses

By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Thursday September 12, 2019

There are thousands of sunglass styles to choose from, and hundreds of high-tech options claim to be the best. It can be an overwhelming journey to narrow down which sunglasses really are. It's our goal to answer that question for you, by testing some of the top-performing and most popular sunglasses out there side-by-side. We used five metrics to create a complete picture of which pairs are the best combination of quality protection, all-day comfort, and timeless style. Here's how we did it.

Putting sunglasses through the ringer by testing them in on a hot Caribbean beach.
Putting sunglasses through the ringer by testing them in on a hot Caribbean beach.

Lens Quality


The lenses are the most important part of any pair of sunglasses. Without good lenses, your eyes won't be protected from the sun, which is the main reason to wear shades. We evaluated each pair on the actual protection they give your eyes from all kinds of light — UV rays, HEV blocking properties, polarization, and even infrared transmission. We also evaluated what each lens is made of and how that material affects its clarity and durability. Some lenses come with additional features such as anti-scratch coatings, mirror or reflective coatings, and even hydrophobic coatings that change the nature, usage, and resiliency of the lenses. We took all of this into account during our evaluations.

We paid special attention to the optics of each model and whether or not they enhanced, detracted from, or didn't change our perception of contrast and depth. We tested them in all kinds of environments, including driving west at sunset, spending a day on a bright Caribbean beach, high altitude trekking, boating on an overcast day, and swimming at midday. We noted how well each pair protected our eyes from glaring surfaces and if we ever felt the need to squint while wearing them. During this process, we also discovered which lenses collected dirt, fingerprints and hairstreaks easily and which are easiest to clean quickly.

Testing polarization with two pairs of polarized glasses is easy. If you line up two lenses at a 90-degree angle and both are 100% polarized  they'll black out all light.
Testing polarization with two pairs of polarized glasses is easy. If you line up two lenses at a 90-degree angle and both are 100% polarized, they'll black out all light.

Comfort


We think that comfort is just as important as lens quality — after all, anyone would get sick of wearing even the most amazing lenses if the frames they're attached to pinched, slid, or generally had a bad face feel. Because everyone has a different face and head size and shape, we enlisted as many of our friends and family as we could to help us compare how each model works best and for whom.

We and our sunglass testing posse took note of how each pair felt at our temples and on the bridges of our noses. We wore them for hours at a time to see how that comfort might change over the course of a long day in the sun. We noted if sunglasses were touching our eyelashes or eyebrows, and how well the arm length and shape matched our faces. We also gauged their weight and balance and how that affected their wearability. Each wearer rated their overall level of comfort and happiness about being stuck in any given pair of shades for an entire day in the sun.

But are they comfortable enough to sleep in?
But are they comfortable enough to sleep in?

Frame Quality


A pair of sunglasses is only as useful as the frame that holds it all together, and we examined the materials, construction, and quality of every model. We scoured the internet for claims and complaints that others may have had, and made a special point to test out any complaints we could find.

Our experts inspected each frame for obvious weak points and potential flaws or concerns with frame quality. We tested their durability through several months of intense use. We wore them biking, tossed them on sandy beaches, stuffed them into backpacks and suitcases, stored them in our cars, and noted any scratches and dings we acquired along the way.

Little grippy nose pads like these add comfort to a pair of sunglasses while also helping them stay put.
Little grippy nose pads like these add comfort to a pair of sunglasses while also helping them stay put.

Style & Versatility


We recognize that everyone's idea of style is incredibly diverse and there's no objective way to measure such a thing. We did our best to choose styles that we thought would work as well for men as women — that would look as good at the beach in a bathing suit as in formal attire at a wine mixer.

We had a score of people try on every pair and give us honest feedback, not only on the fit and functionality of the sunglasses but on how much they liked the style, and we tell you all about the results.

We carted these cases around and tested their ability to keep our sunglasses safe no matter what.
We carted these cases around and tested their ability to keep our sunglasses safe no matter what.

Coverage


Coverage is an important factor in keeping your eyes protected. Reflection and glare can potentially enter at any angle around your sunglasses. Additionally, depending on what activities you're taking part in, what the weather is like where you are, and other environmental factors, it may be easy for dust, debris, and wind to enter your sunglasses and bother your eyes. For these reasons, we carefully considered the coverage of each pair of sunglasses in this review.

Sunglasses come in many different shapes, some of which provide better coverage than others. We observed the curvature of frames, the size and shape of lenses, and how those fit on all the faces of our testers and friends. We noted any excessive gaps in coverage and considered how much these gaps inhibit each pair's intended function. We wore them on boats and in the car with the windows down and even in front of a fan in the living room to see how each pair truly protects our eyes.

Testing coverage on a blue sky day at the lake.
Testing coverage on a blue sky day at the lake.

Case Quality


Though perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind when testing a pair of sunglasses, a good case can make all the difference between a scratched lens or bent frame and sunglasses that remain like-new for years. It can also be difficult to find an aftermarket case that fit your glass's specific shape, and that offers the protection your fancy specs deserve. And if you're spending that much on a pair of sunglasses, they should come with a case that matches your investment.

Though we didn't include this category in the overall ratings, we did include our notes about it for each pair we tested. We considered the material and stiffness of each case and if it comes with the sunglasses or costs extra. We tested case durability by cramming and stuffing them into all kinds of nooks and crannies in cars, bags, and drawers. We also took note of which sunnies came with a cleaning cloth for keeping those lenses in tip-top shape, and which didn't.

Look good  feel good  and catch more grapes with those excellent optics preventing distortion.
Look good, feel good, and catch more grapes with those excellent optics preventing distortion.

At the end of the day, we know you'll choose a pair of sunglasses that will look great on your face. We hope that this review goes beyond helping you decide what looks good, and gives you an in-depth, scientific look at the protection and quality of some of the best sunglasses on the market.