As an avid group of outdoors folks, GearJunkie has had the chance to put many sunglasses to the test in harsh conditions. We have tested literally hundreds of sunglasses. And over the years, the cream has really risen to the top, producing this list of the best sunglasses for outdoor pursuits.
Go beyond style with sunglasses that combine classic good looks with next-level technology and design. And if you’re working on a tight budget, don’t worry, we have some great cheap sunglasses, too!
The lead tester of this review has been kind of crazy for sunglasses ever since he had corrective LASIK eye surgery in 2016. After a lifetime of corrective lenses, LASIK opened up a new reality in which Denver’s 300 yearly sunny days became a remarkable opportunity to wear shades regularly.
Below you’ll find a selection of the best sunglasses you can buy. We also break out some good budget sunglasses as well as pursuit-specific eyewear for fishing, boating, running, mountaineering, and more. We also feature a few models that meld fashion and function.
If you don’t have time to shop and just need the best sunglasses for general outdoor use, we recommend the Costa del Mar Fantail Pro, or for smaller faces the Mainsail. For women, we recommend the Smith Optics Wander — or Tifosi Swank if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option.
A note on our selections: As avid outdoors people, we have come to realize that with sunglasses, you really do get what you pay for. Our lead tester has had a single pair of Costa del Mar Pescadors for more than 4 years now and wears them very regularly. Amazingly, they are still in excellent condition and unscratched. If you are a person who can care for gear, even when used hard, quality sunglasses will last much longer than their cheap brethren and are a better investment long term.
Read on to simplify your search for sunglasses with our best shades of 2023, or jump to the end of the article for a guide on choosing the best sunglasses for your needs, as well as an FAQ section.
The Best Sunglasses of 2023
- Best Overall Sunglasses for Men: Costa del Mar Fantail Pro
- Best Overall Sunglasses for Women: Smith Optics Wander
- Best Budget Sunglasses: Knockaround
- Runner-Up Best Sunglasses: Maui Jim Stone Shack
- Runner-Up Sunglasses for Women: Costa del Mar Waterwoman
- Best Sunglasses for Average-Size Faces: Costa Mainsail
- Best Affordable Sunglasses: Tifosi Swank
- Best Sunglasses With Adaptable Lenses: Julbo Fury
- Best Retro Sunglasses: Oakley Frogskins
- Best Sunglasses for Fishing: Bajío Vega
- Best Sunglasses for Hiking or Backpacking: Ombraz Armless Sunglasses
- Best Sustainable Sunglasses: Costa del Mar Pescador
- Best Sunglasses for Running: Nathan Adventure Polarized Sunglasses
- Best Aviators: Roka Phantom Titanium
- Top-quality, scratch-resistant glass lenses
- Excellent polarization
- Customizable nosepiece
- 10% light transmission
- A little heavy for running due to glass lenses
- Comfortable for everyday wear and activities like running
- Great style
- Don’t come with a hard carrying case
- Fun colors and styles
- Protect eyes from UVA and UVB rays
- Lower build quality
- Lenses are not nearly as good as more expensive brands
- Clear, sharp SuperThin Glass lenses
- Top tier polarization
- Durable glass construction
- No adjustable nosepiece
- The optional clear acetate frame model looks great, but the frame can let in some bright light on the edges
- Best-in-class lenses
- Bold style
- Translucent frame
- Fits many facial shapes
- Touch points are soft and grippy
- Not as much coverage as some glasses
- Good lenses for a budget brand
- Build quality is better than cheaper models
- Optics still don’t approach those of high-end brands
- Very light
- REACTIV lenses work from near darkness to bright sun
- The protective shape keeps the wind at bay
- Super athletic styling is not great for wear around town
- Expensive when coupled with REACTIV lenses
- Good lenses
- Renowned impact resistance
- Limited editions sell out quickly
- Might be too casual for some situations
- Insane clarity
- Customizable lens options
- Aggressive wrap style for increased coverage
- Big. Might be too large for smaller faces
- No adjustable nosepiece
- Stay secure on your face during activity
- Extremely durable. We’ve seen the brand founder put them in a soft case and stomp on them with no issue!
- No arms to break. See above
- Great lenses
- Look good
- Armless sunglasses require you to remove them over your head
- Can trap dirt while dangling off face
- Top-quality Costa del Mar glass lenses
- Crystal clear vision
- Made from recycled fishing nets
- Heavy on the nose after many hours
- Won’t fit smaller faces
- Clear and wide field of vision
- Great quality
- Affordable price
- Squarer style may not be a favorite for everyone
- Very good lenses
- Extremely light
- Stylish if you like aviators
- Very durable
- Secure on face for running
- Grilamid frames can take a beating
- Frames have 5-barrel hinges
- Available in many different lens/frame combos
- No glass lens for the price point
- Classy and understated look
- Transitioning glass lens
- Excellent for driving
- On the pricey side
- Recessed nose pads ensure a snug fit
- Smaller frame size won't fit everyone
Why You Should Trust Us
GearJunkie editors have spent years learning about outdoor products, including sunglasses. We meet with brands to learn about the latest technology. Then, we research and test the best products on the market to ensure they perform in their intended environment.
Our goal is to help you find the best products for your outdoor pursuits. And we’ll do our best to find them within your budget, too.
The lead author of this article, Sean McCoy, has worked in the outdoor gear testing industry for nearly 15 years. He began his career serving customers as a rock climbing specialist at Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis. He then worked at newspapers to hone his reporting and research skills.
As the former Editor in Chief of GearJunkie, he tested hundreds of pairs of sunglasses over his 10 years at the helm of the brand. Today, he oversees editorial production across multiple websites. And he still loves testing gear.
Mary Murphy also contributed to this article. The Managing Editor at GearJunkie, Murphy puts optics to the test as an avid hiker, paddleboarder, and skier.
Adam Ruggiero and Rachelle Schrute also contributed testing notes for this article.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Sunglasses
If you’re shopping for sunglasses, we’re here to help. Below, find our best advice for choosing sunglasses at any budget.
Best Sunglass Brands
What are the best sunglasses brands? After in-depth testing and research, our team agrees that Costa del Mar makes the best sunglasses you can buy, period. We base that judgment on lens quality and durability, which we’ve found to be unrivaled even by other top sunglasses.
But if Costa isn’t your jam, don’t worry. There are many great premium sunglasses these days. The other best brands for sunglasses, according to our testing and research are Maui Jim, Bajío, Smith, and Spy. Roka makes great sunglasses for athletes, as do Julbo and Dynafit. Ombras and Shwood are both remarkably good for small brands.
Among the classics, Ray-Ban and Oakley are still excellent brands, and some of their classic styles are among the most popular on the planet.
If you want some party sunglasses on a budget, don’t forget about Pit Viper, the bombastic brand that builds wild styles with quality lenses.
As an outdoor publication, we do not consider fashion-first sunglasses from designer or fashion-first brands. In our opinion, they do not match the quality of more focused sunglasses. If you’re looking for styles from Chanel or Versace, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
When choosing sunglasses, frame material helps dictate both appearance and weight. Among our favorite models, you’ll see recycled plastic from fishing nets and even titanium used for the frames.
Titanium makes an exceptionally light frame material we prize for its durability, but you’ll pay a premium price for it. Other metal frames include Monel, Flexon, and aluminum. Most of our test glasses for outdoor use do not use metal frames.
The majority of the frames we test are made from various types of plastic. Common plastics include zyl (zylonite or cellulose acetate), nylon, epoxy, and cellulose acetate propionate.
These are durable, light materials but have questionable sustainability. We look for brands that use recycled plastics when possible, such as the Costa Pescador above.
For optical clarity, there are no better lenses than mineral glass. They also provide excellent scratch resistance, so they’re a top choice when clear vision is a priority. However, glass lenses have some flaws. They are heavy, expensive, and more prone to shattering than plastic lenses.
Next down the scale for optical clarity are lenses made from a material called CR-39. It performs nearly as well as glass but weighs about half as much and is less prone to shattering.
Polycarbonate and Trivex are two other materials popular for their impact resistance. While both have less optical clarity than glass or CR-39, polycarbonate and Trivex lenses are much more impact-resistant than other types of plastic and thus popular with cyclists, shooters, and others who put a premium on physical eye protection.
Shape & Design
Beyond style (and let’s face it, style is important), the shape of sunglasses has a big impact on performance. Wider, larger sunglasses will offer more optical and physical eye protection.
Wraparound styles will protect eyes from the sides as well as directly in front. But larger sunglasses do not fit every face well. Those with smaller faces will want sunglasses that stay secure when moving the head up and down and side to side.
Similarly, those with larger heads and faces should favor larger shapes and designs. Smaller sunglasses will not protect the eyes well here, and too snug a fit can cause headaches for the wearer.
Many sunglasses come with both polarized and nonpolarized lenses. For fishing, watersports, or other activities where glare reduction helps, polarized lenses are a much better choice. By cutting down on glare, polarized lenses allow the wearer to see into the water much better than non-polarized lenses.
They also tend to make blue skies pop more vividly. Some prefer nonpolarized lenses for driving, as they can cause strange aberrations with some windows.
When it comes to sunglasses, we’ve found you really do get what you pay for. Less expensive sunglasses can perform well. But as you shell out $200 or more, expect greatly improved durability and optical quality.
Our top-rated sunglasses have proven themselves over years of testing. And they still look almost new today. But do note our budget choices are still good for many uses and will last if well cared for.
Polarized sunglasses have a specialized construction that reduces reflected light, or glare. Because they reduce, and in some cases nearly eliminate, reflected light, they are a top choice for fishing because they allow you to see into the water better than with nonpolarized sunglasses or the naked eye.
Polarized lenses also cut glare from car windows and reduce reflected light from the sky, resulting in blue skies looking darker through them. We generally recommend polarized lenses, although they can cause aberrations when looking through some car windows.
While we have a soft spot for cheap sunglasses, spending more on expensive sunglasses is worth it if you have the money. You will immediately notice the better lens quality, sturdier frame, and hinges of expensive sunglasses.
But where you’ll really notice the difference is in durability. High-end sunglasses will last much longer than cheap sunglasses as long as you care for them well.
Take care not to scratch your investment! Clean sunglasses by first running them under warm water to remove any potentially abrasive material like sand or dust.
You can use a little mild liquid dish soap to remove sunscreen or other oils too. Just put a dab on your clean fingers and gently work the soap across the wet lenses and rinse.
Once clean, shake off excess water and dry with a soft cotton cloth or, better yet, a microfiber cleaning cloth. The main point here is to not rush the job, and don’t scratch the lenses with a rough or dirty cloth.
Once clean and mostly dry, polish out any imperfections with a microfiber cloth. And there you go, crystal clear vision restored!
Take a good hard look in the mirror. What do you like? Well, rock ’em! Sunglasses are a great place for self-expression. Have fun!
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