The Sunglasses Guide Smith Dragon Oakley Native Eyewear Serengeti

The Sunglasses Guide

Sunglasses are an essential piece of gear for people who enjoy spending time outdoors. A good pair of performance sunglasses can cut road glare on a 50-mile bike ride, shed water when you're throwing a splitwheel in your kayak, and may even enhance optical clarity to help you better read the putting green.

Not sure where to start when it comes to choosing a new pair of shades? On the fence about polarized lenses or unsure what frame style will best suit your face? Don’t worry. This guide is designed to help you learn everything you need to know about sunglasses. Although we’ll be focusing primarily on performance eyewear, you can apply many of the principles covered in this guide when selecting a pair of fashion sunglasses, too.

The Lowdown on UV Rays

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Categorized as either UVA or UVB, these invisible ultraviolet light rays from the sun can cause serious damage to your eyes and lead to the development of cataracts, macular degeneration or even permanent retinal impairment. Sunglasses with a 100% UV protection rating will safeguard your eyes against both UVA and UVB rays. You may also see sunglasses labeled as “UV 400.” These block light rays with wavelengths up to 400 nanometers. In plain English, this means that even the tiniest UVA and UVB rays are prevented from ever meeting your eyes. Remember, UV rays are all around us during daylight hours, even on cloudy days.

Types of Lenses

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Although fit is a big consideration, the most important element of your sunglasses is undoubtedly the lenses. Sunglass lenses are made from either composite or glass, and each has some advantages and disadvantages.

Composite Lenses

These are lighter than glass lenses, but are more prone to scratching. They do, however, offer more shatter resistance than glass. Composite lenses are typically made from a polycarbonate material. Polycarbonate lenses are extremely light and nearly shatterproof, making them good for impact protection. Although most lenses will be labeled simply as “polycarbonate,” you may find some labeled “CR-39.” These lenses are lighter than ordinary composite lenses, scratch-resistant and provide 100% UV protection.

Glass Lenses

These lenses offer the best optical clarity and scratch resistance, but are heavier than composite lenses. They can also shatter or break on impact.

Here's a quick breakdown of the various lens types:

Optical Glass Lenses

Ground and polished to ensure that they are free of distortion.

Polycarbonate Composite Lenses

Generally the toughest and most shatterproof. Polycarbonate is scratch-resistant, lighter, and more impact-resistant than glass.

Polarized Lenses (Composite or Glass)

Ideal for water sports, cycling and driving. Light striking flat surfaces such as water, snow, glass and pavement can be reflected into your eyes. Because of the angle of reflection, this glare is more intense than normal sunlight, irritating your eyes and inhibiting your vision. Polarized lenses reflected block glare with a special film that incorporates horizontally aligned micro crystals, which work similar to shutters in a window.

Photochromic Lenses

Also called photochromatic lenses, these incorporate a light-sensitive layer within the lens that actually darkens when exposed to sunlight and lightens as conditions grow darker.

Gradient Lenses

Tinted from the top down, making the top of the lens the darkest. Gradient lenses can be made of composite or glass. They are a great choice for driving because they cut the glare from the sun without diminishing your view of the dashboard.

Lens Colors

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Lens color plays an important role in the performance of your sunglasses. You should choose a color based on the way your eye reacts to it. Different colors can cause different visual sensations in different people, so choosing your lens color is a very personal decision. In other words, if you really like grey lenses, you might not like switching to brown, and visa versa. To give you a better idea of what to expect, we’ll cover some of the basic characteristics of each lens color.

Grey Lenses

Grey Lenses

The most popular lens color for general use and ideal for bright conditions. Outside colors will remain the truest with grey lenses. This color also flattens light to help maintain normal depth perception. Grey lenses are good for everyday, all-purpose wear because they provide true color definition and shade the eyes in bright conditions.
Green Lenses

Green Lenses

Neutral color definition and also good for bright conditions. Green lenses also enhance contrast slightly.
Brown Lenses

Brown Lenses

Effective at filtering light in hazy, foggy and bright conditions. Brown lenses improve contrast in a range of light conditions, which makes them popular for skiing, boating and driving.
Yellow Lenses

Yellow Lenses

Enhanced depth perception. Yellow lenses feature less tint, which makes them ideal for low light, overcast weather and stormy conditions. Colors will be somewhat distorted, however. Great for shooting sports.
Amber Lenses

Amber Lenses

Similar to yellow, although with slightly more tint. Amber lenses are good for low light, moderate light and overcast conditions. This color also makes it easier to see terrain definition in certain conditions, which is why amber lenses are popular for skiing and snowboarding goggles.
Rose Lenses

Rose Lenses

Light filtering and improved depth perception, similar to a haze filter on a camera. Some people believe rose-colored lenses minimize eye fatigue over long periods of time. Ideal for low light and flat light conditions.
Interchangeable Lenses

Interchangeable Lenses

Some sports-oriented sunglasses have interchangeable lenses. These lenses can be removed from your sunglasses and easily swapped for a different-colored lens to adapt to changes in light conditions or activity.

Now that you've chosen the color of your lenses, you'll need a frame to hold them. Sunglass frames are generally made from composite, nylon, metal or an alloy.

Nylon Frames

Frames made of nylon are created using the same polymer used to make nylon fabric, although in a form that is more similar to molded plastic. Nylon frames are lightweight and relatively flexible. This allows the frame to bend slightly and return to its original shape, which makes nylon a good choice for high-performance eyewear.

Plastic Frames

Plastic, also called thermoplastic or composite, is a lightweight, strong, flexible and inexpensive material for creating sunglasses. Although not as strong as nylon, high-quality plastics used to create sunglasses are still quite durable.

Metal Frames

Heavier and more rigid than polymer frames, metal frames are slightly more prone to bending or breaking at stress points. However, because metal frames are more rigid, many models have spring-loaded hinges to help them stay in place and provide a flexible fit. The ends of the ear pieces and the bridge over the nose often have rubber grips attached for comfort. Metal frames are general more suited toward casual wear.

Cellulose Acetate Frames

A plant-based plastic, cellulose acetate has been used to make eyewear for more than 60 years. Modern acetate is strong and is capable of being crafted in a wide range of colors and transparencies.

Sports Sunglasses

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The popularity of outdoor sports like mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking, skiing, golfing and fishing has created the demand for performance-oriented sunglasses. To meet the various demands of both recreational and competitive athletes, sunglass manufacturers are producing lightweight and flexible sunglasses made of durable materials featuring grip components and high-tech performance lenses.

Sport Lenses

Optical quality and visual clarity are the most important aspects of good sport sunglasses. For this reason, polycarbonate lenses are the most widely used. Glare-blocking polarized lenses are also very in many outdoor sports.

Glass lenses are used occasionally in sports sunglasses because of their excellent optical quality. However, many people involved in more extreme sports shy away from them because of the potential for shattering. Glass lenses are appropriate for low intensity activities like golf, which emphasizes visual acuity.

Follow these guidelines to determine which specs are right for your sport.

Skiing and Snowboarding

  • Grey, Brown, Gold, Amber and Rose are all popular lens colors for winter sports, depending on the light conditions.
  • Polarized lenses reduce reflected glare from ice and snow.
  • Interchangeable lenses are a great investment to allow you to adapt to changing conditions.
  • Also look for fog-resistant coatings and coating that shed water.


  • Look for a lightweight pair of sunglasses that will fit closely to the face, block the wind and provide good peripheral coverage. Sport sunglasses with a “wrap-around” fit are ideal.
  • Sunglasses with interchangeable lenses are very popular for cycling because they allow you to swap out the lenses during a ride if conditions change. Consider looking for a pair with a clear set of lenses you can wear during dusk and nighttime.
  • Polarized lenses will significantly cut glare from the road and car windshields.


  • Look for sunglasses that offer good coverage and a comfortable fit. If you wear a hat, be sure to pick a pair that will fit comfortably with your hat.

Hunting and Shooting Sports

  • Wearing sunglasses with yellow lenses allows for the greatest depth perception and highest contrast.
  • Most shooting eyewear is made with impact-resistant lenses that are designed to provide added protection in the event of a misfire.

Frame Size: Choosing a Frame to Fit Your Face

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Face shapes are categorized into five types: square, round, triangular, oblong and oval. Follow these guidelines to help you select the frame that will best complement your features.

Square Face

Look for frames that are curved slightly. The top of the frames should sit high enough on your face to downplay your stronger jaw line.

Round Face

To offset a predominantly round face, look for frames with straight or angular lines. Frames in a darker color also minimize fullness.

Triangular Face

A triangular face is characterized by a broader forehead with a narrower mouth and chin. Frames with a thin rim and straight vertical lines will help balance out a triangular face. Make sure that the frames don't sit too high on your face or they will exaggerate the shape. Large frames, bold colors and square shapes should be avoided on triangular faces.

Oblong Face

Oblong faces are longer than they are wide and close to the same width across the forehead, jaw line and cheekbones. Most frames look good on oblong faces, as long as the size of the frames is in proportion to the rest of your face.

Temple-to-Temple Measurements

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An accurate temple measurement will ensure that the frames will sit comfortably on your face without sliding down your nose or rubbing behind your ears. Since manufacturers offer slightly different temple sizes on select models of frames, we recommend you use the following guidelines to get an idea of the size you need. (Note that the temple-to-temple measurements will be included in the product details online.)

Temple length is measured in inches across the top of the frame, from one hinge point to the other. The temple sizes below correspond to the type of fit they provide.

  • Frames that measure up to 4 15/16" will provide a narrow fit for narrower faces.
  • Frames that measure between 5" and 5 5/16" will provide a medium fit for average-sized faces.
  • Frames that measure 5 3/8" and up will provide a wider fit for round or square faces.
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