Hiking Sunglasses 101: What You Need to Know

Hiking Sunglasses: A close-up of hiking sunglasses with a mountain field in the background

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Ready to embark on some thrilling adventures? Before you do, let’s talk about something vital – your eyes. Yes, they need protection too, and that’s where hiking sunglasses step in.

In this post, we’ll guide you through the world of hiking sunglasses and why they’re more than just stylish accessories. Get ready to explore the essential factors for choosing the perfect pair.

Key Takeaways

  • Look for sunglasses labeled as providing 100% UV protection against both UVA and UVB rays to shield your eyes from harmful sunlight during hikes.
  • Lens Technology: Consider advanced lens technologies like polarized lenses to reduce glare, photochromic lenses that adapt to changing light, and tinted lenses ideal for specific conditions (e.g. yellow for snow).
  • Frame Design: Choose wraparound frames for full coverage protection, wide arms to block sun/debris from the sides, and vented frames to prevent fogging in varying environments.

UV Protection: Your First Line of Defense

Hiking Sunglasses: A sunny hiking trail

UV rays, or ultraviolet rays, are invisible sunlight rays that can be harsh on your eyes, particularly during extended hikes. They can lead to issues like eye fatigue, soreness, and, with time, more severe problems.

UV protection: Wearing UV-protective hiking sunglasses is akin to having a dependable shield. It serves as your initial safeguard against tricky UV rays. If you spot “100% UV protection” on the label, that’s the genuine protection you need. It indicates that your sunglasses can effectively block both UVA and UVB rays, the ones that can lead to problems.

Additionally, depending on the manufacturer, keep an eye out for the UV400 mark, as it essentially signifies the same level of protection.

Lens Technology: Seeing Clearly on the Trail

When hiking up a mountain or trekking through dense forests, having clear vision is crucial.

Let’s delve into the benefits of advanced lens technologies and what to consider when making your selection:

  • Polarized Lenses: Combat intense glare from the sun near water or snowy terrain with polarized lenses. They reduce blinding reflections, keeping your view crisp and clear for a immersive experience.
  • Photochromic Lenses: Adapt to changing light conditions on the trail with photochromic lenses. They automatically darken in bright sunlight and lighten in cloudy or shaded areas, ensuring optimal visibility as nature’s lighting shifts.
  • Lens Coatings: Protect your sunglasses with essential lens coatings. These coatings make lenses scratch-resistant, water-repellent, smudge-resistant, and fog-resistant, ensuring clear vision in various conditions.
  • Lens Tint: Lens tint isn’t just about style – it’s about how you perceive your surroundings.
    • Gray lenses offer a natural view.
    • Darker lens colors are especially helpful in reducing glare during bright conditions, reducing eye strain, and making your hike more enjoyable.
    • Brownish ones enhance contrast, making it easier to spot trail markers and obstacles.
    • Yellow or orange lenses enhance contrast and are excellent choices for snowy winter conditions

Remember, these lens technologies aren’t just fancy extras; they’re valuable tools that enhance your hiking experience.

Lens Categories Explained

Hiking Sunglasses: A close-up of a hiker wearing stylish hiking sunglasses

Hiking sunglasses are categorized based on their lens tint and how much light they let through. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Category 0-1: These are fashion-focused and let in more than 50% of visible light. They’re suitable for style but not for serious sun protection during hikes.
  • Category 2: Transmits between 18% and 45% of visible light. These are ideal for general hiking and moderate sunlight.
  • Category 3: Transmits 8% to 18% of visible light. Perfect for hiking in bright conditions, offering excellent UV protection and reducing glare.
  • Category 4: Transmits less than 8% of visible light. Reserved for extreme conditions, such as glacier hiking, these sunglasses are designed to block intense sunlight effectively. It’s important to note that they should never be used for driving. If you’re interested in this specialized option, you can find suitable sunglasses at REI.

Frame Design: Maximizing Sun Protection and Comfort

Hiking sunglasses aren’t just about lenses; frame design is crucial for sun protection and comfort. Let’s see why it matters during your hikes:

  • Full Coverage: Opt for sunglasses with a wraparound frame to shield your eyes from intense sunlight on tough trails. This design covers your front and extends to protect your peripheral vision, forming a barrier against sneaky sun rays.
  • Wide Arms for Extra Protection: Wide arms on your sunglasses do more than shield from the sun; they also guard your eyes against insects, splashes, wind, and trail hazards like branches and brambles.
  • Ventilation: Some advanced frames (or even lenses) come with ventilation features, preventing fogging during temperature changes. This is beneficial when transitioning between different environments, such as moving from a cold forest to a warmer clearing


Now that you’ve armed yourself with essential knowledge, it’s time to gear up and hit the trails with confidence. Your hiking sunglasses are your trusted allies in preserving the beauty of nature while safeguarding your eyes.

Invest in sunglasses with robust UV protection, explore advanced lens technologies and coatings to ensure clear vision in all conditions, and select the right lens tint and category for your hiking environment. Frame design matters, too, as it enhances sun protection and comfort on your outdoor journeys.

So, as you venture into the wilderness, let your hiking sunglasses enhance your experience, allowing you to immerse yourself in nature’s wonders with clear, protected vision.

Interested in ultralight hiking sunglasses? Explore our TOP5 guide to the lightest options available.


What is the difference between hiking sunglasses and normal sunglasses?

Hiking sunglasses are specially designed to provide superior protection and performance during outdoor adventures. They offer enhanced UV protection to shield your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays, reduce glare from various surfaces, and often feature durable and lightweight materials. Normal sunglasses, on the other hand, may not offer the same level of protection and performance needed for challenging hiking conditions. While both provide eye protection, hiking sunglasses are tailored for the unique demands of outdoor activities, making them the preferred choice for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

How many grams are lightweight glasses?

Lightweight glasses typically weigh between 0.7 to 1.1 ounces (approximately 20 to 30 grams), making them exceptionally comfortable for extended wear. These glasses are designed with lightweight materials like titanium, plastic, or carbon fiber to ensure minimal burden on your nose and ears while providing optimal comfort throughout the day.

Spread the word →

Why you should trust us

At Hikinglite, we're all about helping you hit the trails with lightweight and ultralight outdoor gear that won't weigh you down. Our crew of content creators? Real outdoor enthusiasts who've logged countless miles on the trails.

Leading the pack is our editor-in-chief, Alex Jardine – an ultralight evangelist who's hiked over 10,000 trail miles across the globe. He's basically a walking outdoor encyclopedia. This dude loves testing out the latest and greatest products, so you can trust his recommendations are always well-informed and reliable.

We treat all our suggestions like advice from close trail buddies. No fluff, just real insights from folks who live and breathe the outdoor life.

Have any questions?

More Insights

Suscribe to Our Newsletter

Stay smartly informed with our weekly newsletter

Follow us

hikinglite logo white
© 2024 Hikinglite - All rights reserved

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe now to stay ahead of the pack with the most up-to-date outdoor content.