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:
- Julbo Dirt with Falcon Polarized/Photochromic Lens, for $54
- Julbo Run with with Spectron 4 Lens, for $30
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.