I went to REI this week looking for glacier glasses, or at least some way that I could augment my own prescription glasses for above treeline use in winter. I have a pair of OTG ski goggles that I use when it is extremely cold and windy, but I prefer using regular glasses or polarized sunglasses in milder weather because they are less prone to fogging. The problem is that my current prescription sunglasses don’t provide the extra side protection that you need against snow glare.
Additional eye protection is very important in winter if you are hiking or climbing on snow. Snow reflects 85% of the ultraviolet radiation cast by the sun and not protecting your eyes can lead to snow blindness. This is a painful condition where it feel like there is grit in your eyes and can even lead to temporary blindness in severe cases.
If you are a prescription glasses wearer like me, you need to look for three things in a pair of glacier glasses.
- Side protection that blocks peripheral UV rays and glare, in the form of leather or plastic sleeves that fit on the frame near the side hinges.
- A light transmission level between 8% and 18%, which is suitable for alpine and Himalayan level mountaineering. However, sub 8% is recommended if you anticipate prolonged exposure at high altitude.
- A high level of protection from ultraviolet light. 100% protection is best, but some manufacturers break this out by UVA, UVB, and UVC light. Nearly 99% of the ultraviolet light that reaches the earth’s surface is UVA. UVA, which has the longest wavelength is the least harmful, but can cause premature aging of the skin. UVB stimulates the production of Vitamin D but overexposure can cause sunburn. UVC, with the shortest wavelength, is the most dangerous, but it is filtered out by the atmosphere.
If you insist on going the prescription lens route, there aren’t many ways to avoid paying a lot of money for a workable set of glacier glasses. There is a company called Opticus that specializes in making glacier glasses with special lens coatings for prescription glasses wearers and will make a custom set for you. Another alternative is to buy a pair of frames from a company like Julbo and then try and find a qualified eye glass maker to grind a pair of lenses with the proper coatings for you.
Still another option, might be to add a pair of leather side shields to an existing pair of polarized sunglasses that have a UV coating. This is the money saving tactic I was going to try, but so far, I’ve been unsuccessful at finding leather or plastic side shields that are sold separately.
When I explained what I was looking for to Bill, the sales expert for eye wear at my local REI in North Reading, Massachusetts, the first thing he showed me were a pair of Chili’s Shadow Cast Fit-Over Polarized Glasses. They only cost $24 and they do exactly what I need.
The Chili’s are fit-over glasses that I wear over my regular pair of prescription glasses. They are polarized and provide 100% UV protection. In addition, their light transmission level is 10% which is well within the range needed for winter mountaineering without prolonged exposure. Side shields protect my eyes from peripheral glare and UV, but have glass lenses built in, enhancing my peripheral vision.
I’ve customized my pair a little by adding an elastic string to the ends of the frame where it goes over my ears: there are pre-drilled holes in the frames to accommodate this or you can just use a pair of croakies to ensure that they stay on. I’ve also coated them with cat crap to deter fogging.
Before Bill showed these to me, I didn’t even consider fit over glasses as an option. My mother-in-law wears them and they look horribly clunky. But, the Chili’s are very light weight and fit perfectly over my regular glasses. I barely know that I’m wearing them. This solution saved me a lot of money and hassle. Thanks Bill.
Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.