Sunglasses with polarized lenses have been an important piece of navigation equipment since they came on the market 40 years ago. With polarized filtered lenses, side glare from windshields, water and shiny surfaces is eliminated.
In more recent years, popular thinking says blue-mirror and gray-base lenses are best for offshore, and copper or amber-base lenses with green, gold or copper mirror are best inshore in brackish, brown or green water.
Lens density is a critical choice if you can only own one pair. And for as much as $300 a pair, the trick is selecting the right one for most situations.
Frame style plays a big role in glare reduction. Light leaking in around the sides can cause lens flare, making glasses a liability in some cases. You’ll need to choose frames that wrap closely around your face, leaving as few gaps for light as possible.
We tested three pairs from each brand represented: one for offshore blue water, one for inshore, and one for low-light conditions. In each brand, we brought our two faves to you in this report. The frames we chose might not work for you, but the lens colors served us well, and we think you’ll appreciate them too.
WileyX says its sunglasses are built for protection, durability and performance. Its offerings span from fashion to ballistic impact protection and are sought by anglers, boaters, motorcyclists, shooters and military personnel. The lenses are ANSI-tested and approved for clarity and, if you choose models with ballistic qualities, they can take a high-speed impact from a small-caliber projectile. We proved they would deflect a BB at 400 feet per second with only a dimple in the lens.
Our Twisted glasses ($180) came with a gray matte frame and blue-mirror and gray-base polymer lenses. This color combo is most sought after by bluewater boaters and anglers because it transmits neutral colors while cutting glare, making fish and underwater obstacles easier to spot. For offshore anglers, the wide temples combat side glare and enhance clarity when trying to spot gamefish. In clear, blue water, they provided a definite contrast advantage over the copper lenses.
For boaters and inshore anglers, an alternative might be the Peak style ($190), with narrower temples that don’t block peripheral vision, and copper lenses that transmit more light but cut blue light to enhance greens, yellows and reds without an uncomfortable color shift. These lenses are curved to wrap around the eye without distorting image transmission. They also bring more light to the eye, giving the benefit of polarizing contrast in overcast days.
Costa (previously known as Costa del Mar) has a long and exemplary history of providing quality performance eyewear for fishermen, hunters and boaters. Its 580 lenses are designed to block low blue light that diffuses clarity over distance. Available in many colors to suit water conditions, the 580s come in 580P for polycarbonate and 580G for glass.
The Santiago is part of the Untangled Collection, which features frames made from recycled discarded fishing nets collected before they can be lost in the ocean, which helps remove the lethality of ghost nets from the water. Santiago sunglasses ($226) sport a large-frame, face-hugging style useful in any region. We tested 580G blue-mirror, gray-base lenses that are the choice of boaters and anglers in clear blue water. In our test, they provided a high-contrast, true-color view in blue water and did surprisingly well in inshore water. The Untangled series uses glass for its sustainability and recyclability, and even the frames and hinges of this stylish series are recyclable.
Costa’s Rincondo glasses ($267) in gloss-black frames boast 580P green-mirror lenses with a copper base. They definitely beat out the blue-mirror-and-gray glass combo in green and brown water. Naturally, they took a back seat to blue mirror and gray in blue water, but still assisted in scoping out detail in clear blue water. The included hard case and microfiber cleaner cloth keep them looking good and help maintain a clear view.
Bajio is a fledgling brand in a tough, competitive market of fashion eyewear, with stringent technical standards for performance. Blocking blue light below 445 nanometers and filtering the harshest yellow light at 580 nanometers is the specialty of Bajio’s line. The company reaches across generations with an eye for the millennial, so that’s important. You won’t find the brand talking technology much, but its customers demand that industries today work sustainably to clean up a damaged world. So, Bajio chooses low-impact, durable, and fully recyclable or biodegradable materials at every turn.
Nippers ($249) are available in black or tortoise frames, and ours had a violet-mirror and red base. Bajio’s Lapis lens technology is designed to reduce the bad blue wavelength below 445 nanometers and the hottest yellow at 580. This reduces haze over long distances and increases clarity. The red lens base is responsible for clarity, and Bajio’s engineers’ profound accomplishment in lens technology is the polarizing film. We found it effective in both backwaters and blue water, but with an edge in backwaters.
Bajio’s Bales Beach sunglasses ($249) employ glass lens technology—the choice of most anglers due to scratch resistance—and their blue-mirror, gray base also blocks bad blue light, important for protecting the eyes of the younger crowd from screen time. Glare-killing polarizing technology eases eyestrain and makes obstacles visible below the water. These will be the choice of coastal boaters in blue water. The eight-base curved frame hugs the face, enhancing peripheral vision while sealing out stray light. The roughly 1/2-inch-wide temples shield side glare without inhibiting peripheral vision.
Hobie glasses are a “started in a garage” success story by a water-loving boater and surfer who wanted something better for his sport. The polycarbonate lenses have five coatings: a hardness coating inside and out to combat scratching, a coating to prevent water spotting, a mirror layer, and a polarization filter to reduce side glare and confine light transmission to horizontal beams. Frames are made of Ultem and TR-90 materials. Spring-loaded hinges open precisely, and co-molded temples and nose pads are bonded to the frames for durability and to secure a friction fit.
The Huntington frames we tested in the blue-mirror polar lenses ($109) were ideal for a larger face. They provided good side-glare protection from the face-hugging curve of the lens without peripheral-blocking wide temples. The twist to our Huntington style is it offers the owner seven different interchangeable clip-lens options ($40 to $50 each). Blue-mirror polar lenses were great for blue water and seemed to transmit more light, which is helpful in lower light. The green-mirror copper lens worked best in brown water.
The Bells frames ($120) came with magnetic clip lenses and are available in five different flavors. We liked the green-mirror copper for inshore, and found the magnetic clips far easier to change than the standard clips of the Huntington. The smaller frame and more rounded lenses are an ideal fashion statement, but still effective for most boaters with a narrower face. Both frames boasted narrow temples, allowing better peripheral views.
Flying Fisherman—founded in the Florida Keys, one of the greatest fishing destinations in the world—launched as a value-based brand and was often the quick replacement for forgotten or lost premium sunglasses. Its low-price niche of $20 to $30 provided clear, polarized vision in angler-style lenses and became popular. Recently, the brand expanded into fashion and higher-end models (from $70), incorporating high-tech lenses and mirrored lenses (from $80).
Rip Current Matte ($80) is an excellent example. The nylon frames boast large lenses, and simple but reliable molded hinges with stainless-steel hinge screws. We tested them in Smoke Blue Mirror, a green-base lens that proves most effective in blue water, but filters colors to provide good contrast in green and brown waters. Even at that price point, they provided good clarity and eye comfort.
Mojarra Matte frames ($80) are gray with green-mirror and amber-base lenses. Recessed nose pads and temple pads are co-injected in Grilamid TR-90 that’s heat- and impact-resistant. The lenses provided the best contrast and clarity in brown water, but were surprisingly strong in blue water too. With both glasses hitting the wallet at $70 (suggested retail), these warrant consideration as either primary or backup eye protection.
Maui Jim is one of the last independent sunglass manufacturers in the world and at the top of its game. The company uses proprietary polymers for its nonglass lenses. In glass, its manufacturing process renders extra-thin, extra-durable, optically correct lenses. PolarizedPlus2 lenses stop 99.9 percent of glare and 100 percent of harmful UV light. They are guaranteed for life against defects, and friends who accessed customer service have reported pleasing results.
The Akau ($189) came with olive-matte temples and is available in six more colors. It weighs less than 1/3 ounce, and features minimal, hollow nose pads for ventilation and comfort. The high-transmission (HT) lenses are the thinnest, lightest material available and offer great contrast and polarizing clarity that relaxed the eye in bright sunlight in spite of the higher light transmission. These would be the ideal lenses for fishing backwaters, and we thought the lenses provided a better look beneath brown water than copper lenses.
Another Maui Jim choice is the Huelo 449 ($229), which uses Maui’s proprietary Maui Pure polymer lens for clarity that rivals glass. The bronze base starts with red mirror at the top and shades to orange at the bottom. The PolarizedPlus2 lenses block more light from above and allow in more light from below for added clarity. The matte-black frames offer a face-hugging, durable fit, and the thin temples preserve peripheral vision. They are a great option for inshore and offshore boaters.
Ocean Waves offers handmade glass lenses in various densities and colors that cover the light spectrum, from low-light fishing and boating with its Luminator lens to fishing in high sun with gold-mirror and gray-base glass. Surfers and fishermen founded the company 40 years ago in Atlantic Beach, Florida, near Jacksonville. Frames and lenses are handmade in Atlantic Beach and can be custom-fit to hug the face. They offer the optimal durability and optical clarity you can only get with glass polarized lenses.
Ricochet frames ($259) arrived in light, stylish tortoise with Luminator glass lenses in purple mirror and amber. Ocean Waves says they are enhanced to gather light, making them ideal for cloudy days, sunrise and sunset. We found them great for driving, as well as fishing or navigating. Amber lenses are often favored for high contrast in brown or murky water. Thin temples allowed optimal peripheral vision. Their underwater contrast was excellent. Even in full sun, light-blocking density was just about right—you won’t have to remove them to tie knots or read a GPS chart.
Pablo Beach frames ($259) are definitely an offshore boater’s go-to. Blue mirror over dark amber lenses provided high contrast in blue water and soothing coolness in the blazing sun. The frames are definitely for anglers; navigators might find that the glare-blocking wide temples block too much peripheral vision.
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Redfin is one of a few new brands we’ll see in 2022. As the marketplace changes due to acquisitions, personnel move to new opportunities. Redfin is an example of that. The company might be new, but its engineering is strong. Stylish Italian frames, stainless-steel hinges and Zeiss lenses will put these sunglasses on the top shelf with competitors you know and trust. We didn’t expect this upstart brand to test so well.
Sanibel frames ($229) are made of black-matte material with molded-in nose pads. Green-mirror and amber-base lenses provided peel-back-the-water clarity to shallow bottom structure, and delivered glare and light protection above water. Neutral gray lenses might shift the colors a little less, but these clearly distinguished between all shades in our test view. Redfin says coatings protect lenses from water spotting, and make wiping off oily residue and fingerprints easy.
Redfin’s Tybee frames ($229) in tortoise make an eye-catching fashion statement, but still provide polarizing protection and filter blue and yellow light for clarity. Narrower temples preserve peripheral vision and are ideal for a smaller face. Molded-in nose pads add comfort, resting easy on the face and minimizing pressure points after a full day on the water. Oil, sweat and water-spot protection coatings help make them easy to clean.