Picking the right sunglasses can be tricky. In addition to personal preferences for frame style and lens size, sometimes the right choice depends on where and how you’re running. We’ve been testing a handful of new styles in a variety of conditions, at a variety of prices points for your budget.
Basic Bargain: Tifosi Swoon
Last year, Tifosi introduced its Swank series of glasses, designed to provide technically advanced eyewear at an affordable price point. The Swoon is this year’s addition to the Swank series, with the new design twist of having vented lenses to decrease fogging potential. The vents are on the lateral side of each lens, so you’re still subject to fogging at the medial side, but in relation to the amount of coverage these lenses provide, the vents do a reasonably good job of optimizing airflow. Although they come at a bargain price, the Swoon includes some higher-end elements like shatterproof and distortion-free polycarbonate lenses, and lightweight frames made from Grilamid TR-90, a durable but flexible plant-based compound that resists weather damage. Small hydrophilic nose pads prevent slipping, and textured ridges above the ears provide further stability.
All Swoon lenses provide 100% UV protection, but only one model of the four available frame styles – the Leopard version we tested – comes with polarized lenses. Two other frame colors (Teal Dune and Onyx) come with smoke colored non-polarized lenses, and a model with Crystal Brown frames comes with non-polarized gradient brown lenses; these can be particularly useful for trail running, as the darker top half provides strong shading, but the bottom half allows better visibility for trail irregularities when you’re looking down. Non-polarized versions of the Swoon have an even lower price point, just $25 compared to $50 for the polarized style.
The Tifosi Swoon is available at www.tifosioptics.com
Road or Track Outings: Nike Windshield Elite
This one piece, wrap-around style from Nike positions ventilation channels precisely where you need them the most: right across the top of the nose so your midline vision always stays intact. The half-frame style allows maximal ventilation from underneath and on the sides of the lenses, and we like the height dimensions of these lenses for intense activity – they are tall enough to provide full eye protection, but not too big to attract moisture from the tops of your cheeks. We had a minor issue with the fit of these frames which come in one size and are non-adjustable. On long runs, the feel of the non-stick temple grips starts to feel tight against our head (our primary tester is a 6’2” male). The floating nose pad is also a bit tricky; it stays in place well during activity and doesn’t impede airflow, but it pops out of place relatively easily if you’re wiping the lenses.
Most of Nike’s vision wear is tailored for road or track running, and as such, does not come with polarized lenses because they feel it can cause some visual distortion on pavement. The optical clarity of these lenses is very strong, and the amount of tinting varies depending on the model you choose. We tested a mirror lens model available on two frames, but the Windshield Elite also comes with a low light lens option, a road tint option and a field tint option that has a bit of color enhancement and improved visual contrast. Price points vary by about $20 depending on which lens style you choose.
The Nike Windshield Elite is available at www.nikevision.com
Full Coverage, All Conditions: Julbo Aerospeed
This frameless model is most noteworthy for the size and dynamic functionality of its lenses. They are the tallest lenses in this group, and the wrap-around style plus small center window above the nose provide a truly panoramic field of vision. Most Aerospeed models come with polycarbonate REACTIV photochromic lens technology which adjusts its tint depending on external light conditions. On cloudy days or in tree cover they become virtually clear, and in bright sun they transition to a dark shade. The rate of variable light transmission on the black/gray model we tested is 12% to 87%, which is a huge range compared to many other photochromic lenses. Each side of the lens has a surface coating: the external face is anti-oil to prevent smudging and facilitate water runoff, while the interior surface has an anti-fog coating. Our one quibble with the Aerospeed is that the anti-fog coating has a slightly tacky feel to it which makes it harder to easily wipe dust or lint from the inside surface.
Otherwise, the Aerospeed is super comfortable and provides outstanding eye protection on long trail days or routine road training. Adjustable nose pads can accommodate every nose shape, shock absorber temples give lightweight stability above the ears, and the frameless design allows easy airflow from all directions. Some color options of this model come with a non-photochromic lens at a much lower price point ($78), but the REACTIV lenses on our test model are definitely worth their cost for high mileage use.
The Julbo Aerospeed is available at www.julbo.com.
Vintage Style Plus Performance: Tracksmith Charles
True to its New England roots, Tracksmith names this model after the recreational heart of Boston, where athletes of all persuasions and abilities train along the Charles River. And true to Tracksmith style, the Charles glasses are made with high-end materials and craftsmanship in a timeless design aesthetic. They are built in partnership with Article One, a Michigan-based eyewear specialty retailer whose frames are handmade by a small group of expert craftsmen in Northern Italy. The lightweight polymer plastic is exceptionally smooth against your skin, and the spring hinges are specially designed by another Italian specialty manufacturer. These hinges are remarkable in that they have four-way flex capacity, allowing the frames to fit on pretty much any size head; they also give the frames exceptional flexibility for easy stuffing into a hydration vest pocket without fear of breaking. Large silicone nose pads and small ear pads keep the glasses stable once they are in place, even with high-intensity track work.
The polarized (and Italian-made) lenses block 100% of UVA/UVB rays and have an anti-reflective coating on the interior surface to prevent visual distortion from light behind you. They are not advertised as photochromic lenses, but the tint definitely adjusts to variable light conditions, though a smaller range than the Julbo glasses above. Lens size is the smallest of our test group, and the full frame structure makes them the heaviest, which means the Charles wouldn’t be our first option for prolonged harsh exposure or ultra-distance trail days. However, they ride super comfortably for moderate distance road or trail training and tempo work, and if you’re looking to infuse your running with a bit of classic fashion, the Charles are pretty tough to beat.
The Tracksmith Charles is available at www.tracksmith.com.
|Nike Windshield Elite||Julbo Aerospeed||Tracksmith Charles|
|Single lens height x width (mm)||45 x 65||43 x 72||50 x 62||42 x 50|
|Total frame width (mm)||165||175||155||140|
|Special features||Peripheral vented lenses||Central vented lenses||Photochromic lenses, internal anti-fog coating, external anti-oil coating||Anti-reflective coating, slight photochromicity|
|MSRP (tested model)||$50||$150||$220||$255|