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Darn it, lost my sunglasses. Replacement shopping decisions.

Rest break on a December hut trip in Colorado. The big perk of photochromic lenses, which adjust to the light conditions, is their versatility. They were perfect for this meadow, yet still usable in shaded forests and sunny alpine snowfields.

Rest break on a December hut trip in Colorado. The big perk of photochromic lenses, which adjust to the light conditions, is their versatility. They were perfect for this meadow, yet still usable in shaded forests and sunny alpine snowfields.

Last month I sadly lost my Julbo Dirt sunglasses, which I’d owned since late-2011 and which I’d used for hundreds of days in the backcountry: Colorado, Wind River High Route, High Sierra, Alaska, Escalante, Big Bend, and even a few sunny days back East too. I thought I had left them behind at a Salt Lake City hotel, but search efforts by housekeeping turned up nothing. So last night, I finally resigned myself to purchasing a replacement.

Actually, I purchased two pairs:

Both pairs were heavily discounted on Backcountry.com — last season’s colors I assume, and the Run appears to be a discontinued model. Since my purchase exceeded $50, it qualified for Backcountry’s current free 2-day shipping offer. Relative to the bewildering high retail prices of performance sunglasses, I think I scored.

That I kept with Julbo was no surprise. In fact, I did not even look at other brands. First, I knew they would fit, which avoids the need to buy several pairs online and keep only those that fit and look best. Second, the durability of both the frames and the lenses was proven through three years of hard use. I don’t baby my sunglasses: they get stuffed in my backpack and carry-on messenger bag, whacked by slide alder and willow, and exposed to fine sand. I’ve tried before low-cost sunglasses, but long-term I’ve found that it’s a more expensive and less satisfactory approach: the frames fall apart and don’t fit as well, and the lenses offer less optical clarity and scratch resistance.

The tougher decision was which lens to choose. With Julbo and others, there are four basic options: photochromic (“transition”) or not; and polarized or not. Of course, each option has at least a tradeoff:

  • Non-photochromic, non-polarized lenses are the least expensive, but they have the narrowest usable range (due to fixed VLT, or visual light transmission) and they offer little protection against glare;
  • Non-photochromic, polarized lenses offer glare protection and are reasonably priced, but they still have a narrow usable range;
  • Photochromic, non-polarized lenses can be used in the widest range of light conditions, but they are expensive and they offer no glare protection;
  • Photochromic, polarized lenses would seem like the best type, but the polarization actually limits the photochromic range, making them less versatile than comparable photochromic, non-polarized lenses. They are also the most expensive.

The proper lens choice ultimately depends on the expected light intensity during use. For my purposes, the polarized, photochromic Falcon lens (9-20% VLT) covers nearly all of my needs, though they will be too dark in shady forests and/or overcast days (when I really don’t need sunglasses anyway). If you live in a less sunny part of the country and/or travel on snow less frequently or not at all, a non-polarized/photochromic Zebra lens (7-42% VLT) is probably the way to go.

The additional Julbo Run with Spectron 4 Lens (5% VLT) was a more discretionary purchase, but I figured for $30 they will be good insurance against those really bright days I will soon encounter during spring skiing and early-season backpacking trips.

Our honeymoon paradise in Tulum, Mexico. For bright, high glare conditions like this, I find that non-polarized lenses -- even those rated to low VLT -- are beyond their comfort limit. I should note that Amanda was delighted that these sunglasses were lost (not a fan of the color) and would feel the same about that hat.

Our honeymoon paradise in Tulum, Mexico. For bright, high glare conditions like this, I find that non-polarized lenses — even those rated to low VLT — are beyond their comfort limit. I should note that Amanda was delighted that these sunglasses were lost (not a fan of the color) and would feel the same about that hat.

Posted in on February 12, 2015
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5 Comments

  1. Katherine on February 12, 2015 at 11:16 am

    Two questions:

    Which color option did you pick for the Run glasses? Do you have any pictures of them in use yet? (and Amanda is right about the lost pair).

    What’s the difference between photochromic — which seems like it’s usually sort of mirrored and found on sporty glasses — and the clear-to-smokey-to-fulled-shaded lenses you sometimes see in prescription lenses?

    • Andrew Skurka on February 12, 2015 at 12:38 pm

      Price drove the color choice: Mat/Bleu Cyan SP4, which I think is Frenh for “White/Blue Cyan Spectron 4). They are definitely more obnoxious than the black/orange option, but I figured they will at least be easier to differentiate with the Dirt model, which are black.

      No photos yet. Ordered them last night.

      A photochromic lens is simply one that adjusts to light conditions, getting lighter in darker conditions, and darker in bright conditions. All photochromic lenses do not all have the same features — they can vary in tint and in topical coatings (anti-oil, anti-fog, and anti-reflection. So the differences you have observed are not necessarily due to the lenses being photochromic or not, but something else.

  2. Aimee on February 12, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    Thank you for the timely article. I have been looking for sunglasses for the Rockies trip. I would prefer sunglasses with bifocals. I have read some good things about DUAL Eye wear and considering a purchase . Does anyone have any experience or suggestions for bifocal sport sunglasses?

    • Gabe on February 15, 2015 at 4:10 pm

      You made a good buy! I’ve owned the Julbo Run with Falcon Lenses for some time now and they’re awesome shades. They STAY on your face and fit close to my eyes – which otherwise gives me a headache when bright light seeps in. I don’t like that they fog up in cold weather, though you may be keen on a solution. They have well balanced photo-chromatic range. Apparently they get darker behind the windshield of car, which I haven’t noticed. The little chrome Julbo badges fall off the sides if abused. (but who really cares) Great shades

  3. Bill on February 16, 2015 at 8:15 am

    Since I now have to use reading glasses or bifocals to read maps or other devices, my sun glass options have become limited. I have never been happy with photochromic prescription glasses. They don’t darken enough or they take a long time to darken or they take a long time to lighten. I haven’t tried any non prescription photochromic sun glasses, so I can’t speak to them. I’ve had various color lenses, but almost always get brown lenses. I like the contrast enhancements of brown and amber lenses. Dim light often seems brighter with these lenses than no lens at all.

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