When testing running sunglasses, we focus on five main categories: Comfort, Security of Fit, Lenses, Peripheral Vision and Wind Protection/Coverage. We feel like with these categories, it touches on all the crucial information you need to make an informed decision when looking to purchase sunglasses. We also focused on two main types of sunglasses, casual and performance. There is a proliferation of “casual” styled sunglasses that also offer high performance features. We tested more than 15 pairs of sunglasses and narrowed it down to top eight performers. For this specific test, we used three testers of varying running ability in very different conditions. We tested in the Rocky Mountains, Pacific Northwest, and Southeast. Each with very different demands on sunglasses and each one on both trails and roads. The testing ran for long time, from April to October. Each tester wore each pair of sunglasses for a few weeks and in as many different situations as possible. From long runs, speed sessions, bike riding, while driving or hiking, in the rain and bright sun, at dawn and dusk, every situation was covered.
Overall, with this test, you definitely see the performance orientated sunglasses outperforming the casual sunglasses but people also want stylish sunglasses that can go from the trail to bar or to any normal day to day activity. The sunglasses tested range in price from $100 to $250 so they are not budget sunglasses, but it was clear throughout the test, you generally get what you pay for.
The Julbo Renegade is a stylish yet performance centric pair of sunglasses that combine a comfortable style with sophisticated lens technology. Best suited for casual riding or running, it performs well in a variety of situations.
The comfort of a pair of sunglasses can be fairly subjective at times but since we have several different testers we look for common issues (both positive and negative with each pair that helps us determine our comfort level. Across the board, the Julbo Aerospeed (and really all of the aero line from Julbo) was rated as the most comfortable. The Aerospeed had a lot of features that made it the most comfortable. These included the “air link temple” that acted as a shock absorber and also helped to relieve tension along the side of the head. The frameless design also helped because it allowed a small about of flex in the lenses that helped to reduce additional pressure. The Zeal Incline tied the Julbo Aerospeed in comfort but went about it in a very different way. The Incline has a fairly wide set frame that still manages to grip your nose well and does not put pressure on the side of your head. The Incline, however, scored really low in the security of fit due to its wide base. As the case with most things, there are some sacrifices to make.
Security of Fit
Security of fit was an interesting category this year because there was not one pair of sunglasses that seemed to stand out as exceptionally secure. Six out of the nine tested scored an 8. All did it a little differently, however. The Julbo Aerospeed was one of those six but achieved what no others did and that was a high comfort and security score. There were three, (Bolle Aeromax, Julbo Renegade, and Smith Attack) that scored 8’s for both comfort and security. One of the most secure sunglasses was the XX2i Bermuda1, however, it was the lowest scoring in comfort because it achieved its security by being very narrow and pinching the side of your head. Conversely, the Zeal Incline scored very high in comfort, but the lowest in security. The top all-around performers all featured some sort of adjustability, whether that was on the arms or the nose.
This year we went in a slightly different direction from years past. We have been wanting to be able to objectively quantify the clarity of lens, but outside of spending huge amounts of mo.ney to independently test each lens or just taking the manufacturers word for it, we were not able to find a way to rate the clarity. So, we decided to focus on the lens as a whole and looked at the quality, materials, weight, flex, features (polarized, photochromic, etc) and subjective clarity. We felt like this gives a much better understanding of the sunglasses as a whole. If you have experience with fairly high-end sunglasses, then it should not be a surprise that both Zeal sunglasses, the Incline and Decoy, tied for top spot. Zeal has been making the highest quality sunglasses and lenses for a long time and all the while using plant-based materials as opposed to every other company using petroleum-based plastics. Most companies use two types of plastics: polycarbonate or Trivex NXT. All of the more expensive brands used Trivex NXT which is superior to polycarbonate in pretty much every way (clarity, weight, impact resistance, etc) but is also more expensive. Zeal uses a proprietary process to make their Ellume polarized lens that is in the Incline. In the Decoy, it uses the same Ellume polarized lens but adds in photochromatic capabilities to adjust to changing light conditions.
There were really two distinct categories for peripheral vision, full frames and half or frameless. The full frames which tended to be the more casual looking sunglasses ranked pretty poorly on peripheral vision because both the arms and lower edges of the frames usually blocked your view. Half frames like Bolle Aeromax and frameless like the Smith Attack both achieved good scores thanks to their large lenses that wrapped around the face and helped push the arm hinges out of the way. The Julbo Aeromax scored the highest thanks to its frameless design, wide wrapping lenses and thin arms. The Julbo Renegade scored the lowest here because the frames were fairly large and the arms just seemed to sit right at the line of sight when using your peripheral vision or even looking to the side.
It should come as no surprise that the large and extra large frames would excel at providing excellent face coverage and wind protection. For this, we paid close attention to sun protection, debris, and wind protection. The Julbo Aerospeed and Bolle Aeromax tied for the lead with the Zeal Incline and Decoy coming in next. The Aerospeed and Aeromax provided amazing wind protection and did not have any problems with fogging or condensation on the lenses. Because of their wide wraps, they also provided excellent lateral protection from sun glares, crosswind and blowing debris. The worst performer was the XX2i Brazil1. Typically square lenses provide at least decent protection but because the Brazil1 has a low base curve, meaning the frame does wrap around your face but is rather straight, wind (especially head on) was able to blow right in. This was surprising since every other pair of sunglasses was at least decent in this category.
Review Results Intro/Summary
Testing all of these sunglasses was very interesting and everyone involved learned a good deal more about what makes sunglasses stand apart from each other and the value of a good pair of sunglasses. This test was really broken into two parts, performance style sunglasses, and casual style sunglasses. Both have pros and cons and it ultimately comes down to what you are looking for. Before leading this test, I always wondered if $250 sunglasses were really that much better than $100 sunglasses. I think, from this test, it is clear that up to a point, you get what you pay for. Having worn a lot of sunglasses in the $25-50 price point, they just don’t compare in terms of technology and durability. I have no doubt all of the sunglasses tested would last years, whereas a $25 pair of sunglasses barely lasts a season. Another thing that really stood out, is how much more advanced casual sunglasses have gotten. Most of them, above the $150 price point, pack as much tech into them as the performance style sunglasses do. I was expecting to see pretty big differences in on trail performance but there really wasn’t that big of a difference.
At Gear Institute, we take our testing very seriously and are constantly seeking ways to improve and provide less subjective and more objective reviews. Sunglasses are, admittedly, fairly subjective since each person is looking for something different in a pair of sunglasses and each pair fits a person’s head differently. We acknowledge this but still feel confident that by taking each all the categories as a whole, you will be able to find the pair of sunglasses that fits you best. Each pair of sunglasses was tested over several months to test how different temperatures and weather affect the wear. Each tester wore several times for several hours at a time and wore them around town, while running, biking, hiking, and driving. They were tested in the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, and the Southeast.
For the comfort category, the main criteria that we looked at were how comfortable were the sunglasses after prolonged wear of at least a couple of hours. Could you wear them for only 30 minutes or could you wear them for 6 hours without thinking about it? With this in mind, we focused on what made them comfortable or uncomfortable. Were the arms too stiff or hard, was the nose piece adjustable, how heavy were they? All of these things play into how comfortable the sunglasses were.
Security of fit is slightly less subjective than the comfort category but again, every pair acts differently on every person. The main focus areas were, did they move when you started sweating, how much bounce was there while running downhill or over technical terrain and then focusing on any other situation that could make them not slip bounce or fall off.
This year we modified the lenses category. In previous years it used to be clarity, but that is so hard to do objectively without proper testing equipment. And even though you can judge how clear a lens looks, that can change from day to day and person to person. So, we decided to generalize it a little bit more rate the lens in general. Clarity is certainly a very important part of that category, but we also consider durability, flex, weight, special features like are they polarized or photochromic, as well as material they are made out of.
Peripheral vision is a pretty straight forward category. Do the frames block your peripheral vision or not. Most performance style sunglasses did very well with category since their lenses tended to wrap further around the face and there was frame to get in in the way. Full frame sunglasses did rather poorly here.
Coverage and wind protection is also pretty straight forward. Did they block wind, debris or sun from hitting your eye? That is a fairly straight forward answer. Here, it was a mix of performance and casual sunglasses that performed really well.
What are Running Sunglasses?
There is not one specific definition of running sunglasses. Really you can run in any pair of sunglasses, just like you can run any pair of shoes, but you are not using the product for its intended purpose and are missing out on a lot of benefits of using a product for its intended purpose. For running sunglasses, fit and comfort should be a top priority. Most likely you will be spending hours a day in these and so they need to fit. Next, it is important to think about the type of conditions you will be running in. Here in the front range of the Rocky Mountains, it is very dry and very sunny, so I would want a pair of sunglasses that prioritizes a darker lens. If I was in a place like the Northwest, I would look for sunglasses that are photochromic or have a light brown lens that works well in darker forests or changing light conditions. In the South, I would want something that has good ventilation and is very secure since it is more humid. So, realizing your needs is very important. Obviously, the price point is important too, but know that you do get what you pay for in the most part. Anything above $150 is going to be a good product. When you start getting to the $250+ price point, you do need to do a lot of research since that is a lot of money and some are maybe over priced there.