Glacier Glasses – They are not just sunglasses….
by RJ Fleming
Glacier glasses are much more than sunglasses, and for good reasons. While expensive and well-designed sunglasses are available for most activities, only glacier glasses are appropriate for mountain use since the alpine environment presents unique environmental situations. For one, proper glacier glasses wrap-around the face to guard against peripheral solar infiltration and protect against reflected UVA and UVB radiation (the same reflected rays that can severely burn the retina and inside of nasal passages).
In the mountains sunlight does not just come from above and in front, but is strongly reflected up from the snow surface in such a way that it slips beneath the lower edges of most standard sunglasses and can cause painful and potentially damaging burns to the eyes. Glacier glasses are designed to hug the face and leave as little room for such intrusion as possible.
Additionally, certified category 3 & 4 glacier glasses offer 100% protection against both UVA and UVB radiation, the types that cause both short-term and long-term damage and are often misunderstood or not fully appreciated. Damage from sunlight can either cause immediate blindness or sometimes delayed irritation and detrimental effects that manifest themselves only hours or days after exposure. It is therefore important to use complete eye protection in the mountains, even during overcast weather where sunlight intensity is not evident, when radiation is penetrating the cloud cover and still strong and dangerous.
Lost or broken eye protection in the mountains is a serious affair, and mountain history is full of stories of climbers who suffered eye damage due to sun and snow blindness. We recommend that you do not consider shortcuts when purchasing one of the most important safety articles of equipment.
Since real glacier glasses are both important and not cheap, it is good to know that certain ones represent a good value, while others offer no additional protection but might be priced according to perceived value and branding schemes. It would be difficult to find even the most basic, properly designed glacier glasses below $50 (€40), and one should expect to pay between $60-120 (€45-100) for quality glasses that will also last. Glasses priced above this range are no better in any way.
When purchasing, one brand we suggest you consider is Julbo or another high-quality, reasonably priced brand. Such brands offer the best protection and are well worth the expense. Although several companies make great glasses, we have used Julbo glasses for three decades and consider them perhaps the best value on the market. You do not have to buy the top-of-the-line models – any pair they make is excellent. Be sure to get Category 3 or 4 for the mountains (a measure of darkness/tint), and if you have blue or sensitive eyes, get Cat. 4 for sure. Many come with a hard case and neck lanyard, but if not, be sure to buy these separately to ensure you protect these glasses and don’t lose them.
*SPECIAL NOTE: Studies have identified a serious issue in the making and selling of children’s sunglasses. Cheap sunglasses for children sold routinely at gas stations, toy stores and markets are one of the most dangerous items you can use for a child. These are often inexpensive, cute, dark looking and seemingly a good idea. However, unless certified as 100% UVA/UVB, many of these offer less than 100% solar protection and some might offer nearly no UVA and UVB protection at all. Exacerbating this problem is the fact these glasses are usually dark, falsely inferring that they protect the eyes. In fact, by being dark tinted these can actually cause MORE damage by forcing the eyes to adjust to darker situations and allowing in even more damaging rays, causing extensive harm that potentially may not show up until later in life. Please never buy such ‘glasses’ – they are neither protection nor sunglasses in the true sense of the word. The eyes of children need 100% solar protection provided by serious sun glasses.