Glacier Glasses
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Cal French warns: After more than fifty years of wandering around at elevation with improper eye protection, I am now headed for some cataract surgery. It could simply be age on my part, but I suggest that you are sure your sunglasses offer UV-B protection and side protection. If they do not offer UV-B protection, wearing sunglasses could be worse than not wearing them at all because the pupil, when shaded, opens up more, exposing the lens to even more harmful rays. Here is some evidence of the connection between UV-B and cataracts from Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

Mike Roberts recommends: I just got an order of Cebe Cecchinel Cat-4 PRESCRIPTION glasses from an outfit in London. I have loved the lenses on my standard Cecchinels for years, and after scouring the web, none of the other glasses had the technical specifications and the color neutrality of the Cecchinels. I finally found an outfit who could make them in prescriptions. The result is simply outstanding. I recommend these heartily to anyone needing prescription mountaineering glasses. Here's a link to [link broken and removed in 2012]

Update: After 3 years of delighted (and careful) use, the one caveat is that the soft rubber compound that coats the temple tips (the part that goes over your ear) has lost its compliance and is cracking off, exposing the inner wire. Of course my prescription has also changed in those 3 years, so I'll need to replace them anyway. I still love the lenses, but thought folks ought to be aware of the one drawback of the frames.

2021 Update: Got the most recent CEBE Cat 4 Mineral Lens pair, and they continue to be wonderful. They have vastly improved the side-blocker design. The reason I keep coming back to these is that they are color neutral, and my eyes just relax even at the top of Mauna Kea (14,000'). I got mine from Vision3K in England, model # Summit CBSUM1, cost shipped to Hawaii was quite reasonable: Ł83.50 GBP.

Steve Eckert says: 2020 update: SportRX sells the new Oakley Clifden frames with Transitions Extra dark plastic lenses, available in bifocals... they're not perfect, but for prescription wearers they're the best out there.

I used to have to ask for Thin&Dark lenses, and that I wanted glacier glasses for climbing. Most photochromatic lenses don't get dark enough... or light enough. You need something that goes from over 90% to under 10% as a minimum range at sea level. They will get MUCH darker at elevation because the sunlight is stronger. I greatly prefer glass to plastic because it's more durable and won't scratch when you wipe it with tissue paper. The plastic lenses also warped enough to produce visible distortion when wedged into glacier glasses frames.

I spent a couple of years finding the right materials and being told that there is only one kind of glass called 'photo brown extra' - it ain't so.

I wear mine day and night when climbing. They lighten well except they are slow to lighten when it's very cold. I use them as my only sunglasses to about 15k on snow. For really high elevations, I carefully trimmed a pair of polaroid clip-ons to fit INSIDE the photosensitive lenses. (The glass lenses darken from UV, so clipping a pair of extra sunglasses on the outside is self-defeating.)

For frames, I used to buy the $16 nylon ones at REI - ask the guy at the counter for the ones WITHOUT lenses. I think they may have stopped selling the old aviator style nylon unbreakable ones. If you just have to have expensive ones you can buy any style and knock out the standard lenses. Most places above will put lenses into whatever frames you bring or mail in.

Steve Rodrigues recommends: If you are one of the unlucky sods who has to do prescription glasses... use Opticus. They also advertise in a bunch of climbing magazines, apparently.) My glacier glasses from them cost about as much as my regular glasses (actually a little less - glacier frames are cheaper!). I believe the lenses I'm using are 8% transmission. My previous Adidas prescription sunglasses (courtesy of my local optometrist) were 15% transmission, but I never had a problem with climbing or skiing.

Ron Karpel recommends: I got mine from Opticus and they work very well. I checked the framed at a local store and got my optometrist to take all the measurements needed and sent them the prescription.

Mark Wallace recommends: I also got mine from Opticus and am completely satisfied. Opticus does a good job with a number of different types of lenses to choose from.

Dan Richter recommends: I got mine from Black Diamond years ago. Still going strong. Had to change the frames a couple of times and presently held to gether with epoxy and duct tape. But the lenses are still fine.

Doug Cook recommends: I went through this same sort of search almost two years ago to find prescription sunglasses for high altitude climbing (around 14,000 feet anyway for Colorado!). My primary requirements were high filtering lenses for on-snow conditions and minimal fogging, which has been a major hassle for me and glasses. Posts on this gear list then primarily recommended Opticus and Black Diamond. After checking out the traditional alpine style glasses with side shields at Opticus in Boulder, CO and BD's offerings (which all seem to fog badly), I stumbled across prescription Oakley sunglasses. Several of their frames are available with Rx lenses.

Oakley's website gives some description of their Plutonite proprietary curved lens and coatings. (Click on the Frogskins Rx frame and then Frogskins on the next screen to see a display of the lens colors that are available.)

Oakley developed a process to grind a single prescription (no bifocals) into their radically curved lens. Their Gold Iridium Plutonite lens treatment provided about 95% filtering of all damaging wavelengths. (We ran a test in Europtics' lab to verify their claims on filtering.) Europtics here in Denver took my prescription and had Oakley fit lens into their Frogskins frame, which fit my face the best. It was about $200 total cost. It took a little getting used to the wide curved, wraparound style Oakley lens, but the peripheral vision difference compared to normal "flat" lens glasses is amazing.

The frame fits my face well enough that I have nearly no light leakage around the temples, so they actually provide more coverage and eye protection than my old glacier glasses with the leather side shields. The big surprise was something about their Gold Iridium coating (I think it's maybe the texture of the coating?) is highly resistant to fogging. When the lens do fog up, just pulling them slightly away from your face lets enough air circulate that the fog almost always dissipates quickly. Another benefit is under cloudy conditions, the lens coating seems to brighten the view and you don't get the usual dark tunnel vision effect that's common with regular really dark sunglasses.

Oakley also provided a bomber hard shell carrying case. I haven't tested their warranty, but apparently they will repair or replace almost anything that goes wrong with their products. Just another option to consider. Glacier glasses that perform well are not only a necessity but a welcome luxury!

Brent Murphy recommends: I am very happy with my Smith Sliders. They come in a number of different models. I have the SL2's that are a few years old. They come with 3 sets of lenses for different conditions. I use the standard brown lenses for general use in the sun. I use the amber lenses for skiing. They are really good for flat light conditions on the snow. I use the yellow lenses for nighttime bike riding. Allows me to keep my contacts from drying out, while helping out quite a bit with the available light.

I think most of the Sliders models retail for around $100, but I always see them on sale for about half price. I got mine at Performance Bike for about $45. There are also a number of other lenses available, including polarized.

Also, I used to have a pair of $100 Oakleys, but they broke a few times a year. The plastic was just too brittle. They would snap when I was just putting them on. The Smiths use a much more flexible plastic, and I've never had a problem with them.

Note: I also used to use them for winter climbing, and they worked great, but I recently broke down and got some Julbo Micropore glacier glasses for that sort of thing.

good luck!

Jim Cormier recommends: Up until this past August, when I got LASIK, I used to get prescription glacier glasses. First time I bought Jones glasses, and had a local optician make the lenses, these frames were a real piece of junk, and Jones offerred no help with their fames. The last 3 pairs I had, I bought CEBE glasses from A-16, and had Sportique Eyeware in Boulder do my lenses. I have been very pleased with these frames and the quality work from Sportique, they even converted them back to regular lenses after I had my LASIK, at no charge. I would highly reccomend the CEBE or Julbo glasses and definately Sportique Eyeware for the lenses (they can even do goggles).

Kevin Craig recommends: Try the Julbo Sherpas. Despite the name, they're only $29.99 from Campmor. They block 100% UVA,B,C come with removable side-shields, a hard case and neck cord. Their light transmission is a bit more than the $100+ Julbos/Cebe's etc., but I've used them for a couple years winter and summer in Colorado with no problems. They also aren't too dark for driving or other general uses. You might want something darker for extended or high altitude glacier travel though.