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catalog shot of smith backcountry glacier glasses

The Smith Pursuit glasses are lightweight and effortlessly respond to changing light conditions.

The Inertia

I’m not sure when exactly it happened, but we are finally living in “The Future.” OK, sure, robots still need to be plugged in and mostly just tell us the weather and play music. And my car hasn’t taken to the skies just yet. But when it comes to vision-enhancing eyewear, the future is right here, and none other than Smith’s Pursuit Glacier Glasses leads that charge. Putting aside the “futuristic” look, the tech of the photochromic lenses is what truly blew my mind. 

Legendary ski mountaineer Cody Townsend teamed up with his sponsors at Smith Optics to provide the outdoor adventure community with a pair of glasses that works in all kinds of conditions, whether speeding downhill or plodding uphill. The Pursuit glacier glasses combine the protection of a wraparound style with side pieces and even a removable nose guard to ensure the only light that hits your eyeballs was first filtered through the photochromic lens. 

I tested these glasses in a spectrum of weather conditions – from mountain top to sea level – to see how they performed while under multiple lighting palettes while doing variety of activities. Although they were designed for backcountry touring, I also took them out while mountain biking through forest and at the beach – and I enjoyed them in that situation.  But for the sake of this review I’ll focus the experience on my time while exploring the PNW backcountry. Here’s what I found:

Pros: Cons:
Wraparound style blocks light from all angles Not polarized
Photochromic lens works in many different light conditions Detachable nose piece could be easy to lose
Great eye protection for speed sports Goggles are still a better choice for enjoying powder
Much lighter than a pair of goggles Lenses aren’t easily swappable without getting fingerprints on
Looks like you’re from the future Removable side shields need some finesse to remove

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model wearing smith pursuit glacier glasses in the backcountry

The Smith Pursuit glasses have full wraparound protection from the sun, whether from the sky or snow. Photo: Steve Andrews

Best for:
Alpine ascents in varying weather conditions
Days out on glaciers
Biking through trees or other varied light conditions

Maybe not for:
Those with smaller faces
People needing to change lenses on the fly

What makes a good pair of backcountry glacier glasses?

Out in the mountains, sunlight reflects at you from just about everything.  So, in addition to blocking light from the sun, glacier glasses need to be able to block and filter light from all angles. A signature design element of any glacier glasses is the ability to block light from the side. In an alpine environment, the snow can reflect light to a degree far beyond what the eye can handle, resulting in not only a heavy sunburn but also snow-blindness

Glacier glasses should also be lightweight. Every ounce counts in the backcountry when slogging up a skin track with a stuffed backpack. And speaking of slogging – chances are you’ll be breaking a sweat out there, so having good ventilation to prevent fogging is also an essential component of good glacier glasses.

I’m happy to share that the Smith Pursuit glasses aced all these categories. It’s easy to see (and feel) that the design team put a lot of thought and care into their product. Let’s break it down a bit further:

Smith Pursuit – Notable Features

Chromapop: Smith’s signature lens tech is no gimmick. The technology bumps contrast and brings vivid color to accentuate variance in terrain like no other – perfect for when fog or clouds roll in and produce “flat-light” conditions.

Photochromic lenses: The Pursuit boasts a VLT range of 7%-45%, which is a pretty big deal. Basically I had them on in the forest, out on the beach, and out in the mountains without ever feeling as though my vision was either too bright or too dark.

Magnetic side shields: The side pieces stay firmly in place no matter which way you’re moving, yet swing back in to fold up in a compact unit. Other side-blocking glacier glasses can be bulky and awkward when folding up – not so here. 

Removable nosepiece: When sunscreen just isn’t doing it, this attachment slips on easily to ensure a blister-free nose, no matter which way the sunlight reflects onto you.

hiking at mount baker on shuksan arm

Hiking the backcountry in varied light is what these puppies were built for. Photo: Micah Dilcher//Impossibles Pizza

First Impressions

Photochromic lenses have been around for a while, but these aren’t your grandma’s gardening glasses. Unlike many photochromic or transition lenses, the Pursuit maintains the same mirrored look whether in full sun or in shade. The result is a consistent look that is stylish no matter what. 

The lightweight construction of Smith’s Evolve bio-based frame made me forget I even had anything on. For the gram-counters out there, it weighs in at 52g with the strap and nosepiece and only 41g (that’s just under 1.5 oz) without. That’s pretty awesome for a goggle-sized pair of sunglasses.  

Climbing up, the Pursuit felt natural on my face and even though the clouds came in and out on the regular, the lens easily adapted to the changing light such that I never felt as though things were too bright or too dark. Add in the Chromapop tech and I could see the definition in everything from the bright snow up high to the forests below, all in vivid detail.

Riding down (and also biking at sea level) these felt more like goggles than sunglasses,  and as claimed, work pretty well on the downhill.

testing the smith pursuit glacier glasses in deep powder

The pow was deep and plentiful, which was the only time during the day I wished the Smith Pursuit glasses were goggles.


The main caveat was that, when getting blasted with face shots of powder, the Pursuits simply didn’t have the powder-proof seal of a pair of goggles. I’ll add that I’m a snowboarder, and us snowboarders live for face-shots, so maybe the two-plankers among us won’t mind as much. It was also a glorious, deep pow day in the PNW when I was testing, which certainly isn’t what every day of the winter looks like, no matter where you call home. But the claim that it’s a one-pair-suits-all type of rig doesn’t fully account for massive pow clouds on a snowboard.

The removable side shields didn’t feel so removable when trying to pop off, and sure enough other online reviews say the same thing, with more unfortunate outcomes and the shields breaking. So I elected to keep ’em on due to that feedback mixed with my track record of clumsiness. Maybe in future they can address that part a bit better but for now, I didn’t want to gamble and just left them on.

Other than that, I was stoked to have the Pursuit glacier glasses on my face.

In Summary

If you’re looking for a piece of eyewear for the backcountry that will keep your eyes safe from sunlight in all directions, especially in varied light conditions, the Pursuit is a solid choice. They look futuristic and have the tech to match it, but the real bonus is that it will feel good whether going up or down. The only time I wished I had goggles was in the deep pow. Even then I would have preferred these over goggles the other 90% of the time while hiking/skinning up and taking in the scenery. Thanks to the Chromapop technology, the colors and contrast helped me see everything clearly, no matter what type of light beamed in my direction.

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Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.

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