For the past decade I’ve worn Ray-Ban Aviators as my sunglasses of choice. I love them and for the longest time my eyes had never felt strained from sunlight while wearing them.
This all changed when I started Mountaineering and hiking across glaciers and snowfields. For those that haven’t been high in the mountains on a sunny day in June in the middle of a glacier it is hard to describe the intensity of the brightness. The snow surface acts like billions of tiny mirrors reflecting the suns light at you from every angle.
Without some kind of protection for your eyes you can go “snow blind” very quickly. The higher you go, the thinner the atmosphere which means more damaging UV radiation is hitting your skin. I’ve had my skin badly burnt high in the mountains even on a cloudy, dark day.
Add together the increased UV radiation at higher elevations and the reflective nature of snow and ice and you have a cocktail which makes Sunlight just one the many additional dangers a Mountaineer needs to be aware of and protect against.
I struggled through however, continuing to use my Aviators in the mountains for the past few years as I could get by without full eye protection, which in hindsight, was pretty stupid of me. My Ray-Bans filtered out most UV radiation hitting my eyes straight on but my eyes would feel strained from glancing rays coming under and through the sides of my glasses.
The final straw that made me finally decide to retire my Ray-Bans from Glacier use was when I was climbing Mount Rainier last August. Above 4000m’s on the Ingraham Glacier in the midday sun I was experiencing the strongest UV radiation ever. Even with my Ray-Bans on I could barely let my eyes open a slit to see. After hours of this I had to cover my eyes to try and rest them whenever we’d stop for a break on our descent. I’d spent thousands making sure I had all the necessary equipment to protect my body on this huge mountain but neglected to think about spending less than a hundred bucks to protect my eyes.
Once back to civilization I started looking online for Glacier Glasses. Julbo will almost always show up if you do a search yourself as they seem to be a market leader for this specific class of sunglasses. Ultimately, as the title suggests, I chose the Julbo Tensing. It had the right mix of functionality, weight, price (~$50) and aesthetics for my needs. Plus, the name Tensing also sold me a little. It’s an homage to Tenzing Norgay, one of the first men to summit Mount Everest.
Here are my initial thoughts on them. I’ve had them out on snow a few times in the sun now. But it’s been Winter sunlight which isn’t near as strong as Summer sun so I might revisit my opinions on them and do a proper review this coming summer.
So far though I’ve been really happy with them. They are super light which is a bonus and they’re pretty flexible so they don’t feel tight against your face. The flexibility also means that if you stuff them in your pack they are less likely to break or deform.
The lenses are also very good. Julbo equips these with their Spectron 4 lenses which let through about 5% of visible light. This might not sound like a lot, but trust me, on snow, it’s plenty. It’s just enough light that I can see but I don’t have to be constantly squinting.
The coverage is pretty good also and not a lot of stray light gets to my eyes unfiltered. The downside to this though is that I’ve found they do fog up when I’m not moving as they can’t vent easily through the top. If I pull the glasses down on my nose a few mm’s it fixes this. It seems they are designed that when you’re moving there are slits in the sides of the glasses that pull hot air away from your face and stop the lenses from fogging. These slits do allow in stray light but it’s a necessary trade off. If I wanted full coverage I’d have to sacrifice good ventilation. I could just wear my ski goggles in that case.
Overall my initial impressions are all good so far. They are definitely a lot better than my RayBans, which will still have their place in summer hiking and scrambling. If you are thinking about some relatively cheap glasses that will protect your eyes effectively on Glaciers then consider these.
If you have any questions or thoughts yourself then let me know.
I’ve used these glasses for close to an entire year now and I’m still really impressed with how well they perform, even in Summer. The only drawback I’ve found is the lack of a hook at the end of the arms to hold them on my ears. I’ve found when I bend forward they can fall off my face. I’ve resolved this issue by attaching a strap to the back of them.
They are also too dark for rock climbing. Admittedly, this is not what they are supposed to be used for. Choose a pair of sunglasses that allow in a lot more than 5% visible light if you are going to be mainly wearing these in environments without snow, ice and sunlight.