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checking the surf with beach sunglasses

Before checking the surf, you have to be able to see… so you might as well look good doing so. Photo: James Ferrell//The Inertia


The Inertia

Shades, sunnies, beach eyes, or just plain old sunglasses. Call them what you will but they’re an essential part of any beachgoing experience. It’s a bit of a conundrum that one of the most vital pieces of gear for surfers and ocean enthusiasts isn’t actually worn in the water. But given how much time ocean lovers spend staring directly at the ocean — essentially a giant mirror that reflects the powerful rays of the sun straight into the retinas — it makes sense that outside of being immersed in the water, one would try to protect those eyeballs as much as humanly possible. And if you’re doing activities on the water — like kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding — a great pair of sunglasses is essential.

A high-quality pair of shades is as much a question of style as it is proper eye health. Not to get too grim, but prolonged sun exposure can lead to an increased risk of a variety of conditions that can leave permanent damage. These days, sunglass options are virtually endless, with an overwhelming list of options depending on color, frame style, price point, and the like. The world of eyewear is also chock full of jargon – some technical, some gimmicky – and can often be difficult to navigate. Is one company’s mono-ocular-panoramic-ion coated lens better than its competitor’s, which goes by a different name, or is it all just marketing-speak?

These are the questions we aim to tackle when testing as many frames as we can get our hands on. As surfers and general active ocean and water sports lovers, we have a good grasp on what makes a solid pair of sunglasses. And all of the shades included here fit that description. To see how they stack up to each other, check out our Comparison Table and Ratings Chart, below. And if you’d like to know a bit more about what makes a good pair of sunglasses, we broke that down a bit further in our How To Shop For Sunglasses section.

The Best Sunglasses of 2024

Best All-Around Sunglasses: POC Will
Best Women’s Style: RAEN Huxton
Best Sunglasses for On The Water: Bajio Caballo
Best Budget Sunglasses: Goodr BFG
Most Stylish Sunglasses: RAEN Rece
Best for Narrow Faces: Ray-Ban Round Metal
Best Wrap-Around Sunglasses: Smith Boomtown
Best Photochromic Sunglasses: Glade Westslope w/ REVEAL Lens


Best All-Around Sunglasses

POC Will ($130)

best beach sunglasses poc will

Frame Material: Plastic
Lens Material: Nylon
Polarized? Yes
Pros: Stylish frames with enough sporty-ness to go for a bike ride
Cons: A bit understated of a look (a pro or a con, depending on your POV)

If the fact that Sweden-based POC, a company best known for outfitting some of the world’s best skiers, snowboarders, and cyclists, lands at the top of our list of sunglasses for surfers and ocean enthusiasts surprises you, you’re not alone. It surprised us as well. But, if POC lenses have been the premier choice of many in bright, high-alpine conditions where glare from the snow is serious, it’s no wonder POC’s offering would perform equally as well around the ocean. POC bills their Will frames as lifestyle frames that also offer sporty, performance attributes for multi-sport use. What we liked so much about the Will is the frames have a classic square shape that’s stylish, but they also feature some technical aspects that are great for athletic endeavors: rubber at the nose and temples to stay grippy when wet and a subtle curve that offers a better field of vision and greater comfort. 

These are the frames we’d choose, for example, for a quick surf check in the morning, then to stay put in the afternoon when going on a run or mountain bike ride, or in any other pursuit that demands your shades stay put on your face. They’re understated enough, especially in the polarized all-black version, for a nice outing but technical enough for everything else. We tested the non-polarized version of the Will for this test, which was the only knock. The lenses we tested had a VLT (visible light transmission) rating of 24-15%, which worked well in cloudy conditions, but we’d really recommend going for the polarized version with 10% VLT.

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Best Women’s Style

RAEN Huxton ($185)

Raen Huxton

Frame Material: Zyl Acetate (Wood pulp and cotton)
Lens Material: Zeiss CR-39
Polarized? Yes
Pros: Great style, solid coverage
Cons: Oversized frames aren’t the sportiest

While RAEN’s Huxton may be billed as a unisex style, and there are some guys that may be able to pull them off, we found them to feel a bit too feminine in the tortoise color we tested. When asked to name her top pick, our female tester chose the Huxton hands down for comfort, style, and clarity.

As with the Rece (detailed below) and all of RAEN’s frames, the Huxton’s frames are made with bio-acetate, which creates a heavier yet more flexible frame. The oversized frames offer great coverage and are also among the most stylish we tested. Not the most sporty shades on the market, but for ladies looking for a reliable yet stylish frame that offers great clarity of vision, look no further.

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Best Sunglasses for On The Water

Bajio Caballo ($209+)

best sunglasses for on the water

Frame Material: Plastic
Lens Material: Polycarbonate
Polarized? Yes
Pros: Excellent color and clarity
Cons: Large frames may be too large for some faces

While Bajio may be one of the least familiar brands to make our list, we’re confident that this won’t be the case for long. Launched in the midst of the pandemic by a cohort that cut their teeth at Costa before it was acquired by Luxottica, Bajio has sport fishing in its DNA.

In this context, it’s no surprise that Bajio’s offering ended up becoming our choice to meet the demands of those that spend hours and hours on the water — whether on a boat, doing some flat water SUPing, or any other prolonged activity on the water. Without question, the pair of shades that stayed put on the face the best during our test was Bajio’s Caballo — this was due in large part to grippy contact points on the nose and temple. On bright full-sun days, the Caballos also offered the most clarity of vision of any pair we tested. Colors were vivid and bright while reducing glare.

Further evidence that the Caballos are designed for on-water enthusiasts is their two-way hinges. Any fan of Croakies, Chums, or other eyewear retainers knows that they’re great for keeping you from losing your shades, but they can make getting your sunglasses off your face a little cumbersome. The two-way hinges of the Caballos allow you to widen the sidearms a bit to make this process a little bit easier. 

For how technical the Caballos are under the hood, the tortoise frames with grey lenses also earned major style points for us. As some of the largest frames we tested, the Caballos are ideal for those looking for maximum coverage, but they may be a little too large for certain face shapes. For something narrower, Bajio’s Calda frames may be a better choice.

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Best Budget Sunglasses

Goodr BFG ($35)

Goodr BFG

Frame Material: Plastic
Lens Material: Triacetate Cellulose
Polarized? Yes
Pros: Great value, grip coated frame, no frills style
Cons: Flimsier than other frames

Goodr is a company that has cornered the market on decent shades at an affordable price. And no pair embodies that more than the BFG. The BFG is a larger version of Goodr’s flagship frame, the OG, which is great for larger noggins or those looking for more coverage. A non-slip coating keeps the frames in place when wet. And overall they were extremely comfortable for all-day wear. 

These shades are affordable, but that’s not to say they look or feel cheap. We were actually super impressed with how solid they did feel for the price point. Comparing them to others on our list that cost upwards of triple what the BFGs cost, the frames were somewhat flexier and the lenses didn’t offer the same clarity, which does make us somewhat leary of the durability of the BFGs long term. But, hey! Polarized shades at this price point? For an every day carry or back-up pair, it isn’t a bad idea to give the BFGs a try. And for narrower faces, check out Goodr’s OG or Circle G styles.

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Most Stylish Sunglasses

RAEN Rece ($185)

best style sunglasses raen rece

Frame Material: Zyl Acetate
Lens Material: Zeiss CR-39 with UV coating
Polarized? Yes
Pros: Bio-based frames
Cons: Not great for active days

RAEN has gone all-in on bio-acetate as a material for their frames, and in a world of mostly injection-molded plastic sunglasses, the frames they supplied for testing stood out. First, compared to other pairs we tested, RAEN frames had a weight to them that imbued quality construction — all RAEN sunglasses are handmade. Second, not that it has anything to do with the performance of the glasses themselves, but worth noting is that each pair of RAEN’s shades comes in a classic leather hard case, as opposed to a soft case or even a flimsy microfiber lens pouch, which is a touch that says “we took a lot of care in crafting these, so here’s something to protect them.”

We landed on RAEN’s Rece frames as our best style pick because of their classic silhouette and timeless feel. While the Rece was far from the most technical shades we tested, they definitely were the most stylish and versatile. Think being able to go effortlessly from surf check to beach day to early evening date night.

Where the Rece lost points for us was in the sporty category. These are not the first shades we’d pick, for example, to wear for a run or hike. The Rece also have a bit of a forward tilt to them that is difficult to discern when buying online. The technical term for this is pantoscopic tilt, which means the top part of the frame angles forward. Style-wise, this can be flattering for some face shapes but may not be ideal for practical use as it can let in additional light from above the frame.

For testing, we also tried the Remmy and the Huxton. We found the Remmy a little narrow for wide faces but a great option for narrower faces. The Huxton was our pick for women looking for stylish oversized frames.

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Best for Narrow Faces

Ray-Ban Round Metal ($188)

Ray-ban sunglasses with a blue tint and gold frame, circular shape.

Frame Material: Metal
Lens Material: Crystal
Polarized? Yes
Pros: Classic look, multiple size options
Cons: Not a ton of coverage

It’s really hard to argue with a classic that has endured for so many years. And Ray-Ban fits that description like a round peg in a round hole. Their sunglasses have achieved legendary status and are recognized the world over — you’ll be hard-pressed to find a sunglasses store that doesn’t carry at least a few styles from Ray-Ban. The Round Metal frames are a top pick when it comes to style, with a timeless fashion that looks good on almost anybody (wider faces might prefer another style like the Ray-Ban Aviators).

A favorite aspect of the Ray-Ban Round Metals is that they’re available in three different lens widths: 53, 50, and 47 millimeters. We tested the 50mm version and found them to fit great on a medium-width male face. They’re the size Ray-Ban recommends for most face sizes, but it’s nice to know that if need be, there are smaller (and larger) sizes available.

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Best Wrap-Around Style

Smith Boomtown ($185)

 smith boomtown was our pick for the best wraparound sunglasses. They had a unibody design for the lens and a smoke gray color.

Frame Material: Evolve bio-based
Lens Material: Polycarbonate
Polarized? Optional
Pros: Wraparound style without being overly flashy
Cons: Close fit means it’s prone to smudging and fogging

These days, the wraparound shades that were endemic in the ’80s are having a bit of a moment. Fashion, as they say, comes full circle. But, beyond simply being a fashion choice, wraparound-style shades offer added face coverage that can be particularly useful around the water or on the mountain. If you can pull off the oversized look, that is.

Of all the wraparound styles we got our hands on for this test, we found Smith’s Boomtown to be the most understated of the bunch, which meant they could go effortlessly from beach to trail to slope without looking like you’re making a statement. They were incredibly comfortable and had a curve that offered an enhanced fit. One of the downsides of the Boomtowns is they fit somewhat close to the face, which at times led to smudging and fogging around the bridge. That said, the increased field of vision due to that closeness was a major benefit.

We also loved Smith’s Chromapop lens tech and found the clarity of vision the Boomtowns offered to be insane. While other eyewear companies equally boast about their proprietary lens tech, Smith’s Chromapop blew us away in our test. The lenses cut glare while making colors more vivid.

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Best Photochromic Sunglasses

Glade Westslope w/ REVEAL Lens (69$)

Glade Westslope

Frame Material: Rilsan G850 RNEW
Lens Material: Tritan copolyester
Polarized? Yes
Pros: Great value, photochromic lens adjusts to conditions, solid price
Cons: Lenses don’t get super dark

Above we mentioned why Southern California may in fact be the best testing ground for sunglasses but we’ll say it again. While we’re known for an abundance of sunshine, we also have running jokes about pervasive marine layers: from May gray to June gloom to no sky July. This can result in weird little conundrums – is it too cloudy for sunglasses? Is it too bright for my eyeballs? This is precisely why we were so excited to test out the Glade Westslope upgraded with the company’s REVEAL photochromic lens technology. Photochromic lenses change tint to automatically adjust to changing conditions, which would seemingly solve this issue.

First, a word on the frames themselves. Glade’s Westslope frames are a classic stylish large square frame that we found offered an ideal balance of coverage without being too big for the face. For smaller faces, we’d recommend Glade’s Townie frames.

Now to the lenses. True to form, the Westslope’s REVEAL lenses got darker in brighter settings and lighter in low-light settings. But the change wasn’t as dramatic as you’d expect. We also found that when driving the lenses wouldn’t darken as much as when actually outside, which could be a bit annoying during a full-sun commute to the beach. 

Weirdly, what drove home the benefit of photochromic lenses for us, though, was working outside. While we get out and play as much as we can, occasionally we sit and plug away on the computer at articles like this one. And doing so outside is a great way to make it feel less like work. But, on bright days, a pair of shades may block out sunlight and the light of your computer screen, resulting in eye strain. The Westslopes, though, actually reduced the effect of glare from the sun while helping us to see our computer screen. And if that means fewer days working indoors, chalk that up as a major win.

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Best of the Rest

Most Unique

Ombraz Teton XL (160$)

Ombraz Teton XL

Frame Material: TR-90
Lens Material: Zeiss polyamide
Polarized? Optional
Pros: Unique cord design is durable, keeps glasses in place
Cons: Some wiggling on the face

You have to hand it to the dudes at Ombraz for thinking outside the box. Eyewear has largely held to the same design principles – lens over each eye, sidearms resting above the ear to hold them in place – since the early days of bifocals. But, Ombraz has removed the most common point of failure in every pair of glasses – the hinge and sidearm – and replaced it with an adjustable cord that doubles as a leash to keep the things on your face. Better still, when not in use Ombraz’s shades lie flat so they won’t immediately break if you sit on them, roll over them, or step on them. More recently, Ombraz has introduced removable rubber side shields as an add-on to its different styles. Again, because the side shields are rubber they don’t compromise the durability of the sunglasses themselves.

For this test, we took Ombraz’s Teton frames in XL for a whirl and found they offered great coverage for large faces. The polarized grey lenses, the darkest of the lens options, offered superior clarity, and even with the side shields they didn’t fog up during active pursuits. The cord was easy to adjust, though it did take some getting used to. We did find that the Ombraz would wiggle on the face a bit because they lacked the support of traditional sidearms.

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Best Sunglasses for Beach Sports

Costa Del Mar Tuna Alley Pro ($280)

the best sunglasses for beach sports - costa del mar tuna alley pro

Frame Material: Propionate
Lens Material: Crystal
Polarized? Yes
Pros: Tons of features
Cons: Very pricey (but can be found on sale)

Anyone who has tried on a pair of Costas will likely tell you about the lens quality. It’s the real deal. Their patented 580 lens tech refers to the 580nm yellow light that the lenses keep out of your eyes. Other colors, such as green, blue, and red, come through to give stunning contrast and clarity that lives up to the hype. Add in the fact that all their lenses are polarized and it’s easy to see why Costa have been a favorite of fishermen (fisherwomen, too) and water sports enthusiasts for 40 years.

The Tuna Alley Pro is designed for long days out on the water, but we found it to be a winner on land as well. While jumping around on the sand playing volleyball, playing a game of pick up football, or even general roughhousing on the beach (as it always seems to go), the frames stayed put through it all. But where other close-fitting frames have their drawbacks, these glasses stood out. The main example is in the ventilated sides and “sweat management channels” that provided a fog-free experience, even through exertion in the hot midday sun. The frames also have metal loops to attach a leash and adjustable nosepads to give you the type of features one would expect in such a premium pair of shades.

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Runner-Up: Best Women’s Style

Costa Del Mar Aleta ($269)

The Aleta by Costa Del Mar was an honorable mention for best women's style.

Frame Material: Plastic
Lens Material: Crystal
Polarized? Yes
Pros: Incredible clarity
Cons: Style is a bit old-school

There really is something to be said for Costa’s 580 lens tech. The colors and contrast of the lenses, combined with the fact that every model is polarized, make these a favorite for people spending ample time near the water. While fishing and ocean sports seems to be their specialty, they also create some great stylish glasses that perform exceptionally well.  The Aleta model for women checks all the boxes for looking great, but more importantly, they give stunning clarity next to the water as well.

Our tester tried out the Polycarbonate lens, but they also come in a more durable, classier feel in glass. Whatever model chosen, the difference is well noticeable.

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Runner-Up: Best for Narrow Faces

RAEN Remmy ($175)

RAEN Remmy was on our list of the best sunglasses for the beach.

Frame Material: Acetate
Lens Material: Resin
Polarized? Yes
Pros: Lightweight
Cons: Not the greatest face coverage

It’s no surprise that RAEN’s frames are taking up three slots on our list. Many of the notes on construction and quality already mentioned about the Rece and the Huxton hold equally true for the Remmy. As a larger-faced human, the author’s biggest knock on the Remmy was that the round frames looked too small for his face. However, what may look odd on one face shape, may flatter another, which landed the Remmy solidly in our “narrow face” category. While they were just barely edged out by the Ray-Ban Round Metal as our top pick for narrow faces, the Remmy is a strong contender in that category and will surely be a winner for those who aren’t drawn to Ray-Ban’s wire-rimmed look.

Compared to other frames on our list, the Remmy lacked face coverage, so if max eye protection is at the top of your priority list, consider the Rece or the Will by POC. If style and quality are your primary considerations, though, and you find yourself having difficulty finding frames that don’t look giant on your face and make you look like an insect, the Remmy is your pick.

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Runner-Up: Best for On the Water

Electric 12 (225$)

Electric 12

Frame Material: Rilsan Bio-Plastic
Lens Material: Melanin-infused Polycarbonate
Polarized? Yes
Pros: Excellent vision quality, removable side shields, bomber feel
Cons: Price, tight fit

Several years ago, Electric collaborated with then-team rider John John Florence on what the brand billed as the most impressive sunglasses they ever made. Fast forward to present and the 12s remain some of the most well-made, premium feature-packed shades out there designed to meet the demanding needs of those that spend an inordinate amount of time in, on, or around water. Grippy rubber temples and nose bridge keep the frames in place, while the injection molded bio-resin frames feel incredibly durable and sturdy. Most important, though, the 12s offer superior clarity while reducing glare by 99.9 percent with polarized pro lenses. Removable side shields are a great touch for added protection from the elements, too. The only downside is we wish they came in bigger frame size to offer more coverage. 

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Runner-Up: Best Budget Sunglasses

Sunski Treeline ($89)

 sunski treeline was our pick for best budget sunglasses. They have a gold tint and side shields to help block out light.

Frame Material: Recycled Polycarbonate
Lens Material: Triacetate Cellulose
Polarized? Yes
Pros: Great value, removable side shields, lifetime warranty
Cons: Solid looks but not the most stylish on this list

“Budget” anything typically gets a bad rap. Let me start by saying that in a blind look, feel, and use test, the differences in construction, material, and lens quality of Sunski’s Treelines compared to that of other frames that retail for twice the price are entirely marginal. The Treelines perform extremely well. Full stop.

While the Treelines may be part of Sunski’s Alpine collection and designed with the mountains and snow in mind, they also were perfect for everyday use. The only pair in our test with removable side shields, this feature is particularly useful for added eye protection when hiking, on snow, or spending extended periods on the water.

Of particular note, Sunski offers a lifetime warranty on their shades. “We reserve the right to decide if your damage is covered under our Lifetime Warranty but tell us a good story, and we’ll likely be pretty lenient,” they say in the fine print. Some time ago, well before this review, I actually put this warranty to the test. I had crushed a pair of sunglasses on a trip in a manner that was entirely my fault and would have similarly broken any other pair. I emailed Sunski’s friendly customer service team and told them of my predicament, that it was entirely my fault, and they sent a replacement pair anyway. I found that sort of kindness particularly endearing, and I’m thrilled to be able to include the Treelines here today.

For those looking for a smaller, rounder shape, Sunski’s latest frame to drop, the Sunski Tera ($89), also features removable side shields.

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Interesting Feature: Plant-Based Sunglasses

Zeal Open Hearts Crowley ($179)

best plant based sunglasses- zeal optics open hearts crowley” width=

Frame Material: Plant-based Z-Resin
Lens Material: Plant-Based Polycarbonate
Polarized? Yes
Pros: Unique and colourful design
Cons: Not great coverage on the undersides due to round shape

Zeal  Optics teamed up with artist Pat Milbery and SOS Outreach to give a colorful reboot of their classic Crowley frames. The result is a pair that we couldn’t help but smile as we put it on. The inside of the arms include a bright motif that would elicit some happy emotions every time we brought it to our face, not the least of which was a bright red heart at the temple to remind us that, at the end of the day, perhaps love really is all you need.

But style points only go so far, and we are happy to report that the lens quality of the Open Hearts Crowley sunglasses were second-to-none and provided optimal clarity in both sunny and variable conditions. They are polarized, and so will do well at the beach or lake as well. The only downside we found was that with its round shape, light could get in on the undersides much more easily than other frames so this might not be the pick for larger faces. But it’s a great unisex design, and the plant-based materials helps lead by example that you can have a great pair of sunglasses while also being kind to the planet.

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Interesting Feature: Floating Sunglasses

Dragon Opus LL H2O ($219)

Dragon Opus LL H2o - floating sunglasses with a black frame and blue lenses, on our list of the best sunglasses.

Frame Material: Plastic
Lens Material: Plastic
Polarized? Yes
Pros: They float
Cons: Not great coverage on the sides

The Dragon Opus is an all-around solid workhorse of a sunglass, with solid round-frame style that’s never been out of fashion. Dragon’s Lumalens technology provides great visibility, and they’re polarized for better on-water performance. Speaking of on-the-water, having frames designed to float is also an incredibly helpful feature. However, what edged these out of the top spot for On-Water Sunglasses in comparison to the Bajio Caballo and Electric 12  was the round-lens frames. They sure look good, but lose points in the coverage category, which is where the Caballos shine, and with bright light coming at you from all angles on the water, coverage matters a bit more than usual. However, for a pair of sunglasses that can transition easily from water activities to drinks on the waterfront at sunset, look no further.

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Best Sunglasses Comparison Table

Model Price Score Category Notable Features
POC Will $130 9.0 Best All-Around Sunglasses Stylish but sporty
RAEN Huxton $185 9.0 Best Women’s Style Oversized style
Bajio Caballo $199 9.0 Best for On The Water No-slip contact points
Goodr BFG $35 7.75 Best Budget Sunglasses Polarized, great value
RAEN Rece $185 8.25 Most Stylish Sunglasses Bio-acetate frames
Ray-Ban Round Metal $188 8.5 Best for Narrow Faces Multiple widths
Smith Boomtown $185 7.5 Best Wrap-Around Style Chromapop lens tech
Glade Westslope $69 8.5 Best Photochromic Sunglasses Photochromic lenses
Ombraz Teton XL $160 8.25 Most Unique Adjustable cord instead of arms
Costa Del Mar Tuna Alley Pro $280 8.75 Best Sunglasses for Beach Sports Patented 580 polarized lens tech
Costa Del Mar Aleta $269 8.0 Runner Up: Best Women’s Style 580 polarized lens tech
RAEN Remmy $175 8.25 Runner Up: Best for Narrow Faces Bio-acetate frames
Electric 12 $225 8.75 Runner Up: Best for On The Water Removable side-shields
Sunski Treeline $89 8.0 Runner Up: Best Budget Lifetime warranty
Zeal Open Hearts Crowley $179 8.0 Best Plant-Based Sunglasses Plant-based materials, original artwork
Dragon Opus LL H2O $219 8.0 Interesting Feature: Floats Floats in water

Sunglasses Testing Lineup

Photo: Dylan Heyden//The Inertia

How We Tested The Best Sunglasses 

There may be no better testing ground for eyewear than a Southern California beach town, and not for the reason you may think. Sure, sunshine and a temperate climate may be Southern California’s best-known quality. But, as any resident will tell you, between foggy mornings, stubborn marine layers, and, yes, the occasional rain squall, the sun isn’t reliably shining at all hours of every day. These variable conditions often require shades that are able to offer protection in full sunshine but also aren’t too dark to be able to see in cloud cover. These conditions made testing particularly interesting. We also had some longer-term testing done in and around the California Bay Area, conducted by Senior Gear Editor Will Sileo.

Additionally, choosing the best sunglasses will always be a little subjective. Every person has their unique style, sensibilities, and needs. Not to mention face shape. However, for this test, we tried to center our analysis on the needs of those who spend extended periods in or around the ocean. For one, polarized lenses are essential. Second, we considered fit, comfort, and face coverage as features to evaluate for comparison purposes.


Best Sunglasses Ratings Chart

Model Overall Score Fit Comfort Coverage Style
POC Will 9.0 10 9 8 9
RAEN Huxton 9.0 9 9 8 10
Bajio Caballo 9.0 10 9 8 9
Goodr BFG 7.75 9 9 9 8
RAEN Rece 8.25 8 8 7 10
Ray-Ban Round Metal 8.5 8 9 7 10
Smith Boomtown 7.5 7 7 10 6
Glade Westslope 8.5 9 9 9 7
Ombraz Teton XL 8.25 8 8 9 8
Costa Del Mar Tuna Alley Pro 8.75 9 9 9 8
Costa Del Mar Aleta 8.0 8 8 7 9
RAEN Remmy 8.25 7 9 7 10
Electric 12 8.75 9 9 8 9
Sunski Treeline 8.0 7 8 9 8
Zeal Open Hearts Crowley 8.0 8 8 7 10
Dragon Opus LL H2O 8.0 8 9 7 8

Best Sunglasses Dylan Heyden

Photo: James Ferrell//The Inertia

Best Sunglasses Buyer’s Guide

Acetate vs. Injection-Molded Plastic Frames

Sunglass frames come in a variety of materials — including wood and metal — but by and large, the most common material is plastic. And under the larger umbrella of plastics, there are two primary constructions: acetate and injection-molded plastic. Whether acetate or injection molding, many manufacturers, especially those catering to surfers and ocean enthusiasts, are leaning away from petroleum-based plastics and instead use terms like bio or plant-based. The key difference between acetate and injection-molded plastic construction is that acetate is typically produced in sheets that are then cut into the parts that are then assembled as a pair of frames. Injection molding means that a plastic material is shot into a mold to create the frame. The advantage of acetate is it’s more flexible and hypoallergenic and that the material doesn’t need to be painted, dyed, or coated to create colors and patterns — those come from the material itself. Injection molded frames are generally lighter and, since made from a mold, can be curved or take on other shapes.

Raen Rece

RAEN’s sunglasses, like the Rece, are handmade with bio-acetate resin. Photo: James Ferrell//The Inertia

Plastic vs. Glass Lenses

Most lenses are made from either glass or plastic. However, most often other words for plastic are used to sound a bit fancier, such as polycarbonate, acrylic, composite (which can use other materials) and others. Plastic lenses are usually much lighter and impact resistant than their glass counterparts. Glass lenses, while often a bit heavier, generally offer superior vision quality. The downside is that they are more prone to breaking. Most lenses these days have some sort of scratch coating, but plastic lenses are often more scratch prone. And last but not least is budget: usually if a pair of sunglasses offers both a glass and plastic version of their lenses, the glass version is generally more expensive.

Additionally, some lenses are said to include crystal, which most of the time means glass, but a more refined process. These are generally reserved for premium models with the price tag to match—but with superior optics as well.

Ultimately it will come down to what you are doing while wearing the sunglasses that will help determine whether to get plastic or glass lenses. If you need to see in the distance or are shooting photos, glass might be the call. If you’re being active and there’s a chance of impact, plastic is the way to go.

Polarized vs. Non-Polarized

For anyone that spends an extended period on or around water, polarized lenses are essential. But what does polarized mean exactly? First, it’s worth understanding what glare is and how it works. Glare typically occurs when light reflects off of a flat surface in a horizontal manner and can be intense and make it difficult to see. Think how the ocean shines and shimmers on a bright sunny day. Polarized lenses have a chemical treatment that only allows for vertical light waves to pass through, blocking glare. While typically pricier than non-polarized lenses, polarized lenses have major benefits for surfers, fishermen/women and general water enthusiasts, including reducing eye strain and allowing you to see natural features and obstacles. Many sunglass makers have their own proprietary lens treatments in addition to polarization, but our best advice is to choose polarized when and wherever possible.

raen huxton makes a great pair of beach sunglasses for women.

The RAEN Huxton was our top pick for sunglasses for women. Photo: James Ferrell//The Inertia

Photochromic Lenses

First marketed toward glasses wearers frustrated with having to switch to their sunglasses outside and back again once inside, photochromic lens technology has been around for some time. In theory the idea is pretty simple. In brighter settings, the lenses get darker to protect the eyes, and in lower light settings the lenses lighten up to enhance clarity. Photochromic ski goggles have become more and more popular in recent years, leading mountain and outdoor-oriented sunglass makers to begin to experiment with photochromic lenses in their eyewear. In testing, we found that there were some weird quirks with photochromic lens technology. But, photochromic lenses are definitely worth your consideration if you’re looking for a single pair of shades that will function well in varying light conditions.

Blue Light Coating

Blue light-blocking lenses have recently become popular for their application in blocking harmful light that mostly comes from staring at screens all day. The logic is that spending a bunch of time staring at an illuminated screen disturbs our circadian rhythms and contributes to eye strain. The scientific evidence to back up these claims is definitely lacking, but there is some evidence to support the fact that blue light exposure can negatively impact sleep patterns. Some higher end pairs of sunglasses on our list like the Bajio Caballos and Electric 12s specifically mention the ability of their lenses to filter out blue light.

Ombraz Teton Sunglasses

Side shields and the unique drawcord design of the Ombraz Teton. Photo: Dylan Heyden//The Inertia

What’s The Deal With Side Shields?

These days it feels like every sunglass company is pushing its own version of sunglasses with side shields. So what’s the deal? Well, sunglasses with side shields have roots in mountaineering and iconic glacier glasses popularized in the 1950s. In function, side shields block out light from entering from the side of your frames and damaging the eye. While this may be overkill for casual strolls around town or morning beach checks, for extended periods in high glare environments like in snow or on the water, a pair of shades with side shields may not be a bad investment to give your eyes extra protection. They also have the added benefit of blocking wind and keeping out dust and other particles. Look out, though, side shields will reduce your peripheral vision – so activities like driving a car may be safer without ‘em.

VLT

Finally, a helpful concept to understand before pulling the trigger on a pair of sunglasses is VLT or visible light transmission. VLT refers to how much visible light is allowed to pass through a pair of lenses. Generally, this is expressed as a percentage; the lower the number, the darker the lens, and the higher the number, the lighter the lens. A VLT of 25% or less is generally appropriate for a bright sunny day, while on overcast and flat light days, a higher VLT is usually necessary (20-70%). Understanding VLT can be crucial when deciding what sunglasses to pull the trigger on, depending on specific use. For example, if you want a single pair of shades for a variety of conditions, from bright sun to overcast, a higher VLT might be beneficial. Whereas if you already own a pair of shades with a higher VLT and are looking for max light blocking, you’ll want to go very low VLT.

Inside the frame of the zeal optics open hearts crowley

The smile-inducing colorful artwork inside Zeal’s Open Hearts Crowley frames. Photo: Dylan Heyden//The Inertia

What are the Best Sunglasses for Surfing?

Surfing and sunglasses don’t usually go so well together. Not only are waves and the ocean a pretty easy place to lose sunglasses, but there’s nothing like trying to peer through a lens full of water droplets to make you question your decision to take sunglasses surfing in the first place. That said, we’ve found some styles that can reasonably be used in the water, whether that’s stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, engaging in windsports like kiteboarding, windsurfing or wing-foiling, and yes, even surfing.

If you don’t plan on getting the lenses wet (even the best hydrophobic coating will leave some water droplets on the lenses, obscuring vision), the Ombraz armless design of sunglasses makes a great companion for ocean activities. The arm-replacing cord provides a secure fit and can easily accommodate a leash for added security.

Editor’s Note: For more sunglass-styles, here’s our guide to The Best Ski Sunglasses. We’ve also reviewed other beach essentials like The Best Beach Umbrellas and The Best Beach Coolers. For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.

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