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Make sure you protect your eyes from the sun’s rays when you’re getting active with a quality pair of sunglasses – we’ve tested out eight of the best frames to suit different sports, adventures and weather conditions.
What should I look for in a pair of Sports Sunglasses?
A good pair of sunglasses should filter out UV (ultraviolet) rays, which are harmful to both skin and eyes. Wondering what the difference between UVA and UVB is? UVA rays are less damaging than intense UVB rays – the latter are far stronger in the summer months, and their effect is also amplified by snow.
To protect your eyes from both, pick sunglasses that offer 100% UV protection – the good news is that most decent sunglasses on the market, and all of our top picks, do so. In the UK, look for sunglasses with a CE mark, which is a European standard of protection, and/or the British Standard, BSEN1836. Avoid any cheap pairs that don’t have a safety certification.
What do the labels on tinted lenses mean when buying sports sunglasses?
You might also see tinted lenses labelled by category (CAT0-CAT4) –CAT2 and CAT3 offer good levels of protection from sunlight and CAT4 is specifically for use in very bright sunlight. It’s worth noting that an affordable pair of sunnies with a certified UV filter will offer just as much protection as a designer pair – some of the difference in price is a higher quality lens, which will offer a sharper view, and a better design and build quality.
One common misunderstanding when shopping for shades is that the colour or darkness in tint of a pair of sunglasses correlates to eye protection – it doesn’t, and a clear pair with 100% UV protection can protect your eyes just as much as a dark set of lenses. Like ski goggles, there are sunglasses suitable for all weather conditions.
Should I buy brown or black lenses?
Brown and black lenses are good for bright sunlight, and a yellow tint is helpful in poor light conditions. Photochromic lenses, which darken on exposure to light, are ideal for long-distance cycling or running, where you need one pair of glasses to work all day.
You’ll also find polarised lenses on offer - these reduce the glare from water and snow and offer good visibility on flat surfaces such as roads, so they’re a brilliant choice for water sports, snow sports and for driving or road cycling.
Next up, consider the frame and style of the sunnies you buy. Traditional Wayfarer-style sunglasses are absolutely fine for lots of sports, but if you’re on snow or water, wraparound sunglasses which shied the sides of your eyes as well as the front are the best choice, as they protect you from peripheral glare.
Cyclists should also choose large wraparound styles, to protect eyes from wind, dirt and insects on the road or the trail. Make sure the sunglasses sit snugly on your face, and lean forwards to check they don’t slide down your nose or immediately fall off.
We find unisex sunglasses work perfectly well for women, and in fact most sports sunglasses are unisex, but if you have a small face a female-specific pair might be your best bet.
Ray-Ban RB4068 Sunglasses
Best for: best all-rounder
Key specs: Wraparound: Yes. Lenses: Brown. Polarised: Yes.
Despite their not-so-catchy name, the Ray-Ban RB4068 sunglasses stood out on test – their wraparound frame makes them suitable for most sports but a stylish tortoiseshell design means they’re still versatile enough to wear for day to day use, so you’re likely to get your money’s worth out of them.
Polarized lenses work well to reduce glare and improve clarity, so these sunglasses are ideal for adventures by the water and for cycling on roads, and we found the wrap shape perfect for more relaxed bike rides, when your eyes need protection but when dedicated cycling sunnies might be overkill.
Reasons to buy: More stylish than most sport sunglasses.
Reasons to avoid: If you’re an avid long-distance cyclist, these won’t grip enough.
Julbo Aerolite Segment Sunglasses
Best for: cyclists and endurance sports
Key specs: Wraparound: Yes. Lenses: Photochromic lenses. Polarised: No.
Hit the road – or the trail – in these bright Aerolite Segment sunglasses from Julbo.
The Aerolite means business – a wide, frameless photochromic lens changes from clear to dark according to weather conditions, offering up to CAT 3 protection and meaning that you don’t have to remove your sunglasses if the clouds come out.
An anti-fog coating did a great job of avoiding any misting up when we tested out the Aerolites, and that wide wraparound lens offers a big range of vision, ideal for long days in the saddle or for endurance running in changeable conditions.
Reasons to buy: Terrific in changeable weather
Reasons to avoid: Not the best-looking sunnies in the world
Oakley Spindrift Sunglasses
Best for: smaller faces
Key specs: Wraparound: No. Lenses: Prizm lenses. Polarised: No.
Meet one of Oakley’s latest offerings: the Spindrift, released in March 2021.
This is a female-specific design - if you have a more petite face and find unisex sunglasses don’t always fit you, the Spindrift may be your perfect new sporty pair.
They stay put, too, and won’t slip and slide even if you’re getting active, and won’t snag long hair when worn on the face or perched on your head. Oakley’s own-brand Prizm lenses are designed to enhance colour and contrast, so they’re ideal for sports and outdoor adventure.
Various colourways are available, but we rate these Prizm Sapphire lenses, which are best suited to bright, sunny days.
Reasons to buy: they’re great for staying put when you’re adventuring
Reasons to avoid: if you have a large-ish face
O’Neill Offshore Polarised Sunglasses
Best for: best on a budget
Key specs: Wraparound: No. Lenses: Blue Mirror. Polarised: Yes.
O’Neill haven’t tried to complicate the Offshore – this is a modern, simple pair of polarised sunglasses for under £30.
Where they stand out is for their affordability – the Offshore punches above its weight when it comes to build quality and comfort, and performs as well as far more expensive polarised sunglasses.
Both the matte black and the clear frame versions are versatile sunglasses you can wear anywhere, and although this is a unisex design, it should suit most female face shapes well.
A great first pair of sunglasses for sport, or a handy spare pair to have around, especially if you like to use polarised lenses.
Reasons to buy: they’re cheap!
Reasons to avoid: they fly off the face easily
Smith Longfin Sunglasses
Best for: water sports
Key specs: Wraparound: Yes. Lenses: Blue, copper or brown. Polarised: Yes
These semi-wrap shades are a versatile pick for all sports, but we especially rate the Longfins for water sports, where their polarised lenses are ideal for protecting your eyes from bright sun but still offer great clarity of vision when you’re looking at the ocean for long periods of time, such as when sailing.
Various lens shades are available, but the copper stands out for its clarity in changeable weather conditions, perhaps because it was designed specifically to cut glare for fly fishers out on rivers.
We also rate the Longfin for comfort – the flexible frame sits comfortably on the face all day, without any slipping or sliding.
Reasons to buy: they’re versatile
Reasons to avoid: but not cheap
Sungod Sierras Sunglasses
Best for: best polarised lenses
Key specs: Wraparound: No. Lenses: Seven lenses available. Polarised: Polarised options available.
Like a lot of bang for your buck? Pick a pair of Sungod Sierras, which start at £55 for non-polarised lenses and £70 for polarised.
These unisex lenses are comfortable, durable and built to last, and we really rate the Sierras after many months of testing them out on all kinds of active adventures.
We like the built-in flex of the frame, which feels impressively comfortable to wear, and the impressive clarity offered by the lenses – ideal for fast-paced hiking, skiing and water sports.
All of Sungod’s frames are also fully customisable, and you can pick your lenses, frame colour and even the colour of the Sungod logo, which is good fun.
Reasons to buy: customised polarised sunnies? yes please
Reasons to avoid: these frames are large, and might swamp small female faces.