Sunglasses for Hiking

Sunglasses are indispensible for any sort of outdoor activity. Whether you are hiking, fishing, backpacking, biking or floating, a quality set of sunglasses does many things.

Oakley Sunglasses
Oakley Sunglasses are excellent for outdoor activities such as hiking. See more Oakley's at Amazon.

Most obviously, sunglasses protect the eye from the sun's harmful rays (described below). While such protection is needed at all altitudes, in the higher elevations in Montana or elsewhere, protection from UV Rays is essential.

Secondly, a good pair of sunglasses will also provide suberb protection from dirt, sand, snow and other "impacts" that have a tendency to find their way into your eyes during active outdoor activities.

To help people who plan to hike in Montana, I've put together this fairly short article to help save their eyes from the harsh Montana summer sun.

This article covers the following topics:

The Sun's Harmful Rays

As most people know, the Sun throws out many harmful rays that, over time, can lead to some serious eye problems. Since few people know about the exact type of rays, this section describes the types of rays that is produced by the Sun that are also harmful to the naked eye - especially over extended periods of time.

The Sun's Ultraviolet (UV) Rays : What They Are

UV Rays are ultraviolet rays emitted from the sun. While some wavelenghts of UV Rays are visible (such as "black light"), the harmful UV rays that are emitted from the sun - and which you need to worry about - are invisible. As such, UV Rays are sort of a silent, stealthy light ray that can cause serious damage to the eye over time. There are three spectrums to UV Rays, the lower spectrum, the middle spectrum and the upper spectrum.

The lower spectrum consists of UVA Rays, which are probably the most "well known" of the Sun's ultraviolet radiation.

The middle spectrum consists of UVB Rays, which are more powerful - and harmful - than UVA Rays.

The upper spectrum, which consists of UVC Rays, are the most powerful of the Sun's UV light.

Shopping Considerations

Sunglasses, being fairly simple and staight-forward pieces of equipment, seem like they should be easy to shop for. But that's far from the case.

Protection from All UV Rays & Blue Light

The number one priority when shopping for sunglasses for hiking should be that the sunglasses provide protection from UV-A, UV-B, UV-C and Blue Light.

All other considerations, including how they look or what color they are, should be secondary.

Unfortunately, very few sunglasses sold today actually protect against UV-C and Blue Light. As a general rule, virtually all sunglasses provide protection from UV-A Rays. Better quality sunglasses provide protection from UV-B. But only the higher-end sunglasses (with, sadly, a price to match) provide protection from the most damaging UV-C Rays and Blue Light.

I'll stress again. If you plan to hike in the mountains of Montana or elsewhere, forget "making a fashion statement." Instead, limit your search for sunglasses that protect your eyes from all three bands of UV Rays as well as Blue Light. While the sunglasses are more expensive than the cheap glass that is bought at Wal-Mart, protection of your eyes is worth it.

Polarized or Not?

In addition to protecting the eyes from harmful UV Rays, sunglasses have the ability to "cut through the glare." The types of sunglasses that cut through the glare are called Polarized Sunglasses.

For water sports (fishing, boating, kayaking, etc...), polarized sunglasses are mandatory since the glare from the water can harm the eyes just as much as UV Rays can. Moreover, since polarized sunglasses cut through the glare, a person wearing them can also see through the water far better (thus allowing the person to spot fish, obstructions, how deep the water is, etc...).

Polarized sunglasses are also essential for hiking in bright-colored landscapes. If you'll be hiking across snow fields, glaciers or very light-colored sand, polarized sunglasses are also essential since these bright landscapes produce significant glare.

For hiking in the mountains that do NOT involve hiking in snow fields, polarized sunglasses aren't essential. Some experienced hikers don't like polarized sunglasses since they can distort colors of the landscape a bit (think ultra-blue skies, deeper greens). Other hikers, by contrast, prefer it.

Ultimately, it is a choice a hiker has to make. That said, my suggestion is to buy polarized sunglasses. This way, you'll have sunglasses that are good for "all terrain" and not just a simple walk in the woods.


Any sunglasses that are heading out on a hike must be durable. It defeats the whole purpose of wearing sunglasses if they break easily due to droppage, being bent a bit, or simply because they are cheaply made and fall apart at the least convenient time possible.

For hiking, it is essential that sunglasses have "some bend" to them. I can almost guarantee that, at some point, you'll sit on them, fall on them, or drop your sunglasses in such a manner that they'll bend. The ability to "bend" is one reason I dislike wire-frame sunglasses. Unlike plastic frames, metal frames - once bent - are almost impossible to re-bend back into aligment. By contrast, a well-made plastic lens will simply bend when under stress and then "bounce back" into shape once that stress is released.

Anti-Scratch Lenses

Related to durability, any sunglasses a hiker buys should have lenses that resist scratching. Sunglasses used for hiking will, without fair, rub against trees, branches and have sand/small rocks blown against the lenses. Pllus the odds are good you'll undoubtedly drop the sunglasses on the rocks at some point, too. Sunglasses that lack scratch-resistant lenses will quickly become "unpleasant to use" when used for hiking trips. After all, who wants to hike in Glacier National Park while having their view obscured by deep gouges and scratches in their sunglass lenses?

Ultimately, anyone who is shopping for hiking sunglasses should spend the extra money to buy sunglasses that have the most scratch-resistant lenses available.

Glass or Plastic Lenses?

A final question and one related to anit-scratch is whether to buy glass or plastic frames. Once upon a time, the choice was pretty simple to make. Years ago, glass lenses were far superior in resisting scratches than plastic lenses were. Today, however, good plastic lenses now almost match the scratch resistance found in quality glass lenses. Because of the improvement in plastic lenses over the past decade, I've come to prefer plastic over glass since the plastic lenses are less susceptible to breakage.

The Weight Factor

Okay. Wearing sunglasses isn't exactly akin to dragging around the proverbial ball-and-chain. Still, an ounce is an ounce. And over the course of a long day spent on the trail, every ounce always starts to feel heavier than it otherwise is.

Thus, the weight of sunglasses is something to consider when shopping for them. The less the sunglasses weigh, the more comfortable the sunglasses should be.

Suggested Sunglasses & Where to Buy Them

Due to the need to buy sunglasses that protect from UV-A, UV-B, UV-C and Blue Light, the "huge array" of sunglasses available on the market today actually becomes much simpler to navigate. The reason for this is because there aren't that many sunglasses available that actually protect from all the bands of UV Rays and Blue Light. The following sunglasses provide 100% protection from all bands of UV Rays and Blue Light, and are available at Amazon:

  • Oakley Sunglasses provide 100% UV protection for all bands, but only specific styles protect against Blue Light. Styles that protect from Blue Light include the Oakley Radarlock, Oakley Jawbreaker and the Oakley Razorblade
  • Maui Jim Sunglasses with PolarizedPlus2 Lenses
  • Smith Sunglasses - Most provide 100% UV protection for all bands of UV Rays, but only select styles protect against Blue Light.

When shopping for sunglasses, do NOT assume that they provide protection from all bands of UV Rays. Generally, unless the sunglasses description specifically states that it provides 100% protection from all bands of UV Rays, the sunglasses will not protect from UV-B or UV-C Rays.

As for the best place to shop for sunglasses, Amazon has the most styles of sunglasses to choose from - usually with the best prices, too.

View All Sunglasses at Amazon

Other good retailers to buy sunglasses include CampSaver, REI & Eastern Mountain Sports.