Prescription Sunglasses for Mountaineering and Skiing
For many years, (before I got LASIK) I had
very poor eyesight, and so I had to wear prescription sunglasses. The best method I found for obtaining prescription
sunglasses is to have it done by a local optician who works with sports optics. I live in Boulder, and am lucky enough to
have several opticians who specialize in mountaineering sunglasses.
If you don't have a local shop that is competent in working with sports optics, you can get prescription
mountaineering sunglasses through Black Diamond Equipment. They've been supplying prescription sunglasses to climbers
for decades, since the company was called Chouinard Equipment.
More information on BD Mail-order sunglasses here:
In my experience, the best lenses and frames to use depend a lot on how
bad your eyesight is. If you have a relatively weak prescription, then the best lenses are glass, and the best frames are
the teardrop kind which give you the broadest peripheral vision. Good quality nylon frames of this sort are available
from REI and Mountain Equipment co-op for very inexpensive prices. There are a number of good glass lenses available, with
some of the best being photo-sensitive lenses which darken in bright sunlight. If you get these, make sure you get the darkest
ones possible, and you may also consider a mirror coat or the like to darken them even further if you spend much time above
tree-line or on glaciers.
If you are like I was, and have really bad eyesight and a really strong prescription,
then glass lenses in large teardrop frames are too heavy and uncomfortable, and tend to slip down on your nose because of
the excessive weight. The two things which can be done to combat this excess weight is to get a lighter lens and a smaller
frame. Round frames have smaller lenses than the traditional tear-drop shape, and still provide adequate vision.
You have a choice between plastic or metal frames, with metal frames perhaps
a little sturdier, slightly better ventilated, and a little more adjustable on the fit) The metal frames are typically more
There are a number of choices for lightweight lenses. The cheapest option
is the generic "optical plastic" or "CR39" as the opticians call it. It is light, strong and relatively inexpensive, and is
universally available at any optician. You can get CR39 lenses tinted in pretty much any shade you want. The drawbacks of
CR39 are that they tend to be a bit thicker than some other materials (which offsets the light weight somewhat), and, they
do not hold dark tints all that well. If you use CR39 lenses in bright sunlight a lot, you will notice that the tint gets
lighter and lighter. The darker the tint, the more you lose.
Ultimately, the glasses which were quite dark when you bought them end up
not dark enough for really bright conditions.
You can get around the drawbacks of CR39 by getting more advanced (and much
more expensive) lenses. A "high index" lens is thinner and lighter than a normal CR39 lens. To solve the problem of tinting
a CR39 lens, you can get a high-tech laminate or sandwich lens, which has 2 high index sheets with a very thin a layer of
tinted, polarized glass in between. These lenses are permanently tinted and will not bleach out as much as will regular CR39
lenses. In addition, the polarizing effect gives sharper vision in high-glare envirionments such as snow and water.
On any glacier glasses, be sure to get UV, anti refraction, and anti scratch
Over the years, I used all of the sunglasses described above. What I
have finally settled on are a pair of round, metal glacier glass frames with a high index polarized sandwich lens. They were
durable, light weight, comfortable, and perform well for extended trips on glaciers and snow fields. The polarization is a
nice bonus, because it makes them very useful for fly fishing (easier to see into the water) as well as giving me extra sharpness
when climbing and skiing.
I spent almost $300 on these glasses, but they use the most expensive components.
If you buy the frames at MEC or REI, you can get a decent pair of sunglasses with CR39 lenses for a total cost of about $70
including the tint, UV, refraction, and scratch coatings by taking the frames to a discount optician. If you spend a lot of
time in bright sun, you may have to go back to get them re-tinted every so often, but that extra trouble may be worth the
There are a number of options available for prescription goggles as well.
All of them suck compared with non-prescription goggles. I've tried large goggles with built in prescription lenses.
I've tried small goggles with built in prescription lenses (shown in the picture above.) Both fogged badly, with the
small ones fogging so badly, that I couldn't even wear them during very light activity without fogging up.
After a while, I gave up on prescription goggles, and when I really needed goggles, I just
wore my regular glasses, with a pair of Uvex goggles with a fan in them.
UVEX is one of several companies that makes goggles with
a built-in fan, but the UVEX ones are my favorite because the batteries are located in the goggle, not on the goggle strap.
With other fan goggles, I was never quite comfortable with having that heavy plastic battery case on the strap sitting right
on my temple. The UVEX solution is a bit safer and less obtrusive. Before my LASIK surgery when I was a glasses wearer, these
fan goggles were the only way I could keep myself fog free.