Being in the mountains can make you feel invincible. But when you’re at high elevations, with less atmosphere and endless snow, even light can be harmful. In the alpine, light reflects off the snow from all angles with blinding intensity.
To solve this problem, you need protective eyewear. Specifically, I’m talking about sunglasses made especially for mountaineering. These are glasses that protect your eyes from harsh sun and cold, ensuring your ascent into the high country is accident-free and fun.
Here, I’ll show you how you can protect your eyes by using sunglasses designed especially for use in the alpine. I’ll also go over some of the best brands and models on the market to help you find the perfect pair of mountaineering sunglasses for your needs.
My Review Process
As a life-long skier, mountaineer, and climber, I’ve been through a metric ton of eyewear. In short, I’ve made every mistake in the book, so that you don’t have to. Losing, breaking, or bringing the wrong kind of sunglasses for an alpine adventure can complicate or even ruin your ascent.
To prevent that from happening to you, I’ve compiled here the best sunglasses for technical mountaineering on the market. They’re weighed by what matters: design, functionality, and best intended use. So the next time you go out, you’ll have a reliable pair of mountaineering sunglasses to get you through your adventure safely, and in style.
Julbo is the premier manufacturer of glacier glasses on the market. Their glasses are obsessively designed to meet all the conditions of the alpine. Among their lineup, the Explorer 2.0 stands out as the most versatile, while still coming in at a reasonable price point.
The Julbo Explorer 2.0 features Spectron 4 (5% VLT) polycarbonate lenses with 100% UV protection and anti-reflective coating. The frames have removable side shields and vents to keep them from steaming up when you’re huffing and puffing. They also have flexible temples and are compatible with helmets. Another plus is that the Explorer 2.0 can be used with transition lenses that automatically adjust with ambient light levels.
Their suitability for outdoor enthusiasts and lifetime warranty seal the deal as my best overall pick.
If you’re planning to be on a glacier all day in the summer, your number one priority is not going blind. You need to block out or filter almost all light with high-altitude lenses. For that purpose, the Julbo Vermont Classic does a great job.
Its design features leather side shields and a cover for the nose piece/bridge. Leather is often preferred for its ability to mold to your skin. They use Spectron 4 (5% VLT) lenses with 100% UV protection and adjustable metal frames that wrap around your ears. They’re very comfortable, with rubber nose pads and padded arms.
Of course, performance in high-light conditions means that the Vermont Classic isn’t as well-suited to climbing when the clouds are out. They’re more specialized to doing one task, and doing it very well. The price tag is also a little steep for beginner mountaineers.
However, their comfort, functionality, and iconic design easily make them the best glacier glasses of 2023.
The Oakley Clifden is everything you need in a pair of mountaineering glasses, plus a lot of comfort. The Clifden would be a serious competitor for the all-around best, were it not for its steep price tag.
If having something you can wear all day with a helmet on is what you’re after, the Clifden is for you. It meets every qualification for tech specs, including either category 3 or category 4 lenses. Both options offer 100% UV protection. The arms have an integrated leash to make sure you don’t lose them if you fall while climbing.
They also have removable side and bridge blockers, and Unobtainium nose pads guaranteed to stop slippage. They're one of the best options for prescription mountaineering sunglasses on the market.
There are two drawbacks to this model. The first is price. The second is the lack of adjustability. At this price point, I would expect to see more adjustable arms and nose pads.
But for a premium pair of ice climbing glasses that are comfortable with a climbing helmet, the Oakley Clifden are hard to beat.
It’s tough finding a good pair of mountaineering glasses for kids. But as always, you can count on Julbo. The Cover is definitely the best piece of protective eyewear for kids on the market.
The Cover will fit kids 4-8 years old, meaning they’ll last a while even as your child grows. They feature Spectron 4 (5% VLT) lenses for intense high-light conditions. The frames feature soft arms and nose pads, increasing comfort and preventing slippage.
But, kid-proofing a pair of nice sunglasses tends to make them lose some features. The Cover isn’t ventilated and it’s not very adjustable. All in all, this isn’t much of a loss.
In summary, if you're after a comfortable pair of children's sunglasses that will offer great UV protection, the Julbo Cover are a great choice.
Pit Viper has been making a name for themselves the last 10 years or so as the ultra-cool flashy eyewear brand of the past/future. They lean heavily into aesthetics, presenting themselves as equal parts lifestyle and gear brand. This might not sound worthy of the alpine, but the tech specs will impress you.
You can’t get much better than the Pit Viper Grand Prix for the money. They use non-polarized category 3 lenses (16% VLT) with 100% UV protection. Category 3 lenses perform better on low light sunglasses. This is good enough for most ascents in mixed weather, though it won’t stand up to extended periods of full sun on a glacier.
The Grand Prix has removable side shields and an attachable leash. They come in a wide variety of frame styles and sizes. They’re also bombproof—made of ANSI Z87+ polycarbonate. This is the highest standard available for eye protection. So if you come head to head with a falling rock, they’ll protect your face. Plus you won’t have to replace broken glasses.
For the money, these are easily the best mountaineering sunglasses on the market today.
The Sunski Treeline is another great option for the budget-conscious mountaineer. Though Sunski is a newer brand, they’ve succeeded in making a very competent pair of hiking sunglasses for most outings in the alpine.
The Treeline features category 3 (10-15% VLT) polarized lenses with reduced glare, 100% UV protection, and removable side shields. The shields have ventilation holes to keep the lenses fog-free. They also have rubber nose pads to prevent slippage. The fit runs wide of average, which makes these sunglasses a winner for those with wider faces.
There are a few things missing, though. One is adjustability, which is lacking both at the hinges and nose pads. Another is durability. The frames are plastic, not polycarbonate. The lenses aren’t polycarbonate either - they’re a much lower-quality Triacetate Cellulose. Overall, the materials are not as high-quality as some of the other options on this list. This reduces the Treeline's durability and scratch resistance by a lot.
But if you have trouble finding wider sunglasses to fit your profile, it's worth checking out these Sunski Treeline glasses.
What Are Mountaineering Sunglasses?
Mountaineering sunglasses differ from a normal pair of shades in a lot of ways. The most important difference is that they have dark lenses to prevent snow blindness (and permanent blindness).
The extreme example of this are glacier glasses, which block out full sun on snow fields and glaciers. Glacier glasses also have “side shields,” or extensions that cover the sides of your eyes. Side shields prevent light from getting in around the lens.
How To Correctly Size Sunglasses
Mountaineering sunglasses should be perfectly form-fitting with your face. Ideally, you want the frames to form a seal around the lenses with your skin, so that light doesn’t pass under them from any angle. To achieve this, technical eyewear often has several different measurements to tailor the fit to your face.
These measurements are usually presented as three numbers separated by dashes, eg. 50-18-130 (all measurements are in millimeters). The first number is the lens width, which is usually from 40-60 mm. This number indicates the width of the front face of the frames. The second number is the bridge size, or the gap between the lenses.
Last is the temple length, or the length of the profile of the frames. Longer temple size means glasses with longer arms. The easiest way to find your size is to try glasses on until you find something that fits, and then look for sunglasses of a similar size. If you’re having trouble finding the right fit, you can also measure your head.
How To Shop For Mountaineering Sunglasses
VLT (Visible Light Transmission)
The main thing that makes a pair of sunglasses suitable for mountaineering is their ability to block out light. This is measured as VLT (visible light transmission), or the amount of light that can pass through the lens.
VLT ratings fall into four categories. You should only use category 3 (18%-8% VLT) and category 4 (<8% VLT) lenses when mountaineering. Category 3 lenses are for mixed conditions, while category 4 lenses are for spending sunny days on glaciers.
Coverage (Side and Bridge Shields)
If you’re hiking on snow, the sun will be reflecting back up at you both from the sides and from below.
Mountaineering sunglasses use side shields to block light from getting in around the lenses. Some models also include bridge shields, blocking even more light from coming in around the frames. Nicer models allow you to remove them when the light isn’t as intense.
The best material for lenses is polycarbonate because of its durability. Frames are often made of either polycarbonate or metal, both of which have benefits. Metal frames can bend rather than break if they get smashed or sat on, but they also make for heavier glasses. Polycarbonate frames are more lightweight.
Adjustability, Fit, and Helmet Compatibility
The more you can tailor the fit of your mountaineering sunglasses, the better. Having adjustable arms and nose pads lets you block out more light and improve how comfortable your shades are to wear all day.
Some designs also take your climbing helmet into account. This is a must for any technical ascent. Ideally, you want your sunglasses to be so comfortable that you can wear them for 10-12 and not notice them.
The Julbo Explorer 2.0 is by far the best pair of mountaineering sunglasses on the market. The Pit Viper Grand Prix checks a lot of the major boxes for a fraction of the price. For high light performance, the Julbo Vermont Classic is a standout.
Yes. Exposure to sunlight on snow for extended periods can lead to permanent eye damage.
Polarization isn’t necessary for mountaineering. It does improve your color perception, though.
Choose mountaineering sunglasses with category 4 lenses and side shields. They should be form-fitting to your face.
No. Ski goggles are not ventilated enough and do not block out enough light for glacier travel.
Glacier glasses are mountaineering sunglasses designed for the extremely intense light conditions that are common on glaciers.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.