So you've decided to pick up a new pair of goggles, but with the multitude of manufacturers and models out there, how do you decide which goggle is right for you? We've selected, tested, and reviewed 13 of today's best and most popular goggles for you, compiling the results in our The Best Ski Goggles Review. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of things to consider when choosing a set of goggles. Keep reading to see what factors and finer points we based our reviews on, which may help you in your selection process.
Modern goggle lenses come in three general shapes; cylindrical, spherical, and toric. As lens designs and technologies continue to improve the performance between lens shapes are becoming less apparent, but there are differences that you should be aware of.
Cylindrical goggle lenses are those that curve only on the horizontal plane, or x-axis, meaning they curve from side to side but not top to bottom. This more traditional looking lens style is typically found on more affordable goggles because they are less expensive to produce than either spherical or toric lenses. In addition to the price, many people prefer the look of a cylindrical lens over the rounded shapes typical of spherical models. In general, the optical quality of cylindrical lenses is considered to be lower than that of their more curvaceous counterparts, presenting in the form of distortion particularly towards the periphery of the lens. That said, cylindrical lens quality has been improving, and there are many quality options on the market.
Lenses that curve on both the horizontal and vertical planes, x and y-axes, are considered to be spherical. As their name suggests, these types of lenses have a rounded appearance and a bulging or somewhat bulbous shape. The idea behind the curvature of a spherical lens is that it mimics the shape of the eye to provide a more optically correct and distortion-free field of view. The shape of the lens also allows for a larger field of view and clearer peripheral vision, as well as a reduction in glare compared to cylindrical lenses. Stylistically, spherical lenses often have a somewhat space-age or futuristic look, especially when they have bright reflective coatings or modern frameless designs. A side effect of the shape of a spherical lens is that it increases the air volume within the goggle which may help to reduce fogging. Spherical lenses are generally more expensive to manufacture and therefore are primarily found on pricier goggles.
Toric lenses are a spherical shape that is said to be the most optically correct. This style of lens seems to split the difference between traditional cylindrical and spherical lens designs and results in a spherical lens that is less curved on the vertical plane and more on the horizontal. As with regular spherical lenses, the curved shape is intended to reduce distortion towards the periphery, reduce glare, and provide a large field of view. Toric lenses also have a more subtle shape than regular spherical lenses.
All modern ski goggle lenses protect the user from the harms of UV rays, but some are designed with one of several additional lens technologies. If you are a frequent skier, then you're likely familiar with mirrored lens coatings, and you've probably already heard of polarized and photochromatic lenses. While each of these technologies is intended to improve the way you see on the mountain, there are major differences in the function of these different technologies.
Many lenses are produced with a mirrored or reflective coating and are primarily intended for use in the brightest of conditions. The reflective coating helps to reduce the amount of glare and visible light entering the lens by reflecting some of it away from you. Generally speaking, mirrored lenses are common for use in bright light conditions and have lower VLT percentages (more on that later). Lenses intended for low light conditions often have no mirrored coating at all or a lighter one that allows more light through the lens.
Polarized lenses are somewhat less common in snowsports as they are primarily intended for use on the water. Polarized lens technology is most useful in sports like fishing where they reduce glare and allow you to see through the surface of the water more clearly. Many goggle manufacturers make polarized lenses for their goggles, though they aren't as popular for skiing as they are for other activities.
Lenses that change tint automatically to adjust to changing light conditions are referred to as photochromatic. In general, they are more popular in non-snowsport eyewear, sunglasses mostly, but there are a handful of goggle manufacturers using photochromatic lenses in their goggles. A photochromatic lens is intended to provide the user with a wide range of lens tint, or VLT percentage, to negate the need for multiple lenses for varying light conditions. So far, photochromatic lenses have not become incredibly popular in snowsports. This may be due to the fact that light conditions change quite rapidly and the lenses don't react quickly enough, and also that most goggle manufacturers offer a range of lens choices for different light conditions, many goggles come with more than one lens, and changing them is becoming increasingly easier.
It seems that almost every goggle manufacturer has a different name for their own optical enhancement technology. Oakley has Prizm, Smith has Chromapop, Anon has SONAR, Giro has VIVID, the list goes on and on. When it comes down to it, all of these differently named optical enhancement technologies are intended to do the same thing. Their goal is to increase contrast, enhance definition, and generally make you see the world around you, and especially the snow surface, better than your eyes do on their own. They do so with varying degrees of success, but most quality goggle manufacturers make great lenses that truly do make a difference.
Lens Tint and VLT
When it comes to the tint of the lens you buy, there are a couple of factors to consider. Most manufacturers make lenses for their goggles that come is a vast array of colored tints, reflective coatings, and VLT (visible light transmission) percentages. Some goggles come with two lenses for different light conditions, bright sun and low light, and these goggles provide the user with the best of both worlds and typically provide a pretty good value.
VLT is an acronym for Visible Light Transmission, and it is normally listed as a percentage. VLT refers to the amount of visible light that is allowed to pass, or transmit, through the lens to your eyes. The lower the VLT percentage, the less light is allowed to pass through the lens and vice versa. For example, a lens with a 10% VLT only allows 10% of visible light to pass through it while it blocks the other 90%. Therefore, you generally want a lower VLT percentage for bright sunny days and a higher VLT percentage for low light days. A good example of this is the Anon M4 we tested that comes with two lenses that are easily swapped out for varying light conditions. The SONAR Red lens is intended for sunny conditions and has a mirrored coating and a VLT of 14%, while the SONAR Infrared lens is meant for low light conditions and has a VLT of 57%. Most goggle manufacturers make a wide array of replacement lenses for their goggles so that you can get the ideal lens(es) to match your needs and preferences.
In addition to varying levels of VLT, lenses are produced in a huge range of tints and reflective colored coatings. Different tinted lenses will affect the way in which you view the world around you, and often this is a matter of personal preference. Generally speaking, darker lens tints like black and grey will also be affiliated with lower VLT's while lighter tints like rose and yellow will be more common with higher VLT's. In many cases, you can even get a colored reflective lens coating to match your kit or style.
Just about every pair of goggles has interchangeable lenses, the ease of switching them out, however, varies dramatically. Lenses are attached to the frame in a number of ways, and modern designs and technology are making swapping lenses easier than ever. This is especially important for people who may only have one set of goggles or who change lenses frequently to adjust for varying light conditions. The traditional style of lens attachment involves a number of notched cut-outs on the edge of a lens that snap into place within the lip of the goggle's frame. This style works reliably, although switching lenses can be a little cumbersome and time-consuming.
Recently, many goggle manufacturers have been working hard to make the lens change process more user-friendly, and that has resulted in innovative lens attachment systems. The quickest and most user-friendly of these are the magnetic lenses that many brands have adopted. This lens attachment style involves several small but powerful magnets that hold the lens onto the frame and lens changes can be done in mere seconds. Other brands have developed their own lens attachment styles with clips, seals, and other methods of connecting the lens to frame.
Not all goggles are the same shape or size and the fit may vary dramatically between brands and models. Likewise, not all faces are the same shape or size, so it is important to try and match the two for comfort and performance. Most goggles come in either a medium or large sizes, and many have a fair amount of crossover regarding fit. People with large facial structures and features will generally find a better fit, and more long-term comfort, from a goggle with a large fit. Those with smaller facial structures and features will probably be better off with a goggle that has a small-medium face fit. Fit isn't only comfort related, a proper fit will also help to prevent face-frame gaps and unwanted airflow.
Style is a very personal thing, thankfully the goggle manufacturers of the world are producing models in a wide range of styles to suit an equally wide range of tastes. These days, goggles primarily fall into one of three stylistic categories, frameless, semi-frameless, and framed, distinctions that refer to the amount of frame visible when viewed from straight on. The differences between them are quite self-explanatory really, but we will describe them briefly here.
Frameless refers to goggles that have large lenses that extend to the edge of the frame with no part of the goggle frame visible. The completely frameless style is quite bold and flashy in appearance and is currently quite popular.
Semi-frameless lenses are those that have at least a little bit of the frame still showing. Typically the amount of visible frame is limited to the nosepiece or contact points that secure the lens to the frame.
Until recently, most goggles were produced with a framed style. A framed goggle is one that has a visible frame all the way around the perimeter of the goggle lens. This is the more traditional, or classic, style of goggles and some prefer this over the modern frameless designs.
As you exert yourself during a day on the mountain, moisture can build up within the goggle and present itself in the form of fogging on the inside of the goggle lens. Most snowsport goggles these days come with double lenses which help reduce fogging by creating an insulating barrier between the warm air inside the goggle and the cooler air outside. The vast majority of lenses are also treated with some kind of anti-fog coating that further helps to reduce the likelihood of condensation building up on the inside of the lens. Additionally, modern ski goggles all have ventilation integrated into their designs which is intended to help keep air circulating and prevent fogging. Different brands have slightly different ventilation systems, but it is typically in the form of cutouts around the outside of the frame that are covered with an open-cell foam that allows for air to pass through. The ventilation capabilities of goggles varies, with some allowing for noticeably more air circulation than others. Some goggles are even being made with ventilation as a top priority. An example of this would be the Julbo Aerospace with a lens that can be extended out away from the frame to allow for increased air circulation.
Over the glasses (OTG) refers to goggles that can fit over people's everyday glasses. In the past, goggle manufacturers made models specifically for this purpose, and many still do. Many modern ski goggles are large enough that they are capable of fitting over people's glasses as they are. A good example of this is the Anon M4 which has a large fit and is claimed to be OTG compatible. How a set of goggles fits over your eyewear may vary, so it is worth trying them on before you purchase to ensure compatibility.
If you ski with a helmet, which we highly recommend, then you may be interested in how well a pair of goggles fits with yours. The majority of modern ski goggles are designed to be compatible with helmets, and many brands make both helmets and goggles which are designed to be used together. Goggle frames do come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and the way they fit with helmets may vary slightly depending on the goggle or the helmet you wear. It may be worth trying a model on before you buy it to make sure it fits well. In addition to the shape of the frame itself, the straps are also typically designed to be large enough to fit around a helmet, and they have silicone strips added to the inside for grip so they stay in place.
There are a lot of factors to consider when searching for a new set of goggles. We hope the information presented above helps you make a more informed decision when making this important decision.