Goggles for the Mountains

Goggles 1

An Introduction

In changing mountain conditions, goggles are a critical piece of kit. They provide protection for your eyes and, in more extreme climates, protection for about 1/3 of your face! So- how does one go about selecting the right goggles for the right end-use?

Selecting Goggles

First, find a goggle frame that fits your face well. We’ll use Zeal Optics’ goggles as an example- the Fargo is designed for smaller faces, meaning that the frame has been specifically crafted to fit a narrower and/or shorter face. For average-sized faces, Zeal makes a variety of models- the Slate is a good example of a frame that fits most folks well. For those with a larger, wider face, Zeal makes the Level- extra width and even height make it comfortable on big faces.

Choosing the right goggle frame is a matter of style (look good, feel good- right?) and comfort, but is not typically a safety issue. Small-frame goggles will fit a large face, but it may be uncomfortable and offer less robust facial coverage.

Next, select proper lenses. Most goggle frames are available with a wide variety of lenses, but a few steps allow making the right choice. Here’s Goggle Vocabulary 101:

  1. VLT. Visible light transmission tells you how dark a lens is- 100% VLT is what you see with your naked eye, where 0% VLT is what you’d see through a blackout curtain.
  2. Polarized/Non-Polarized. Polarization is a technology by which glare from reflected light (off of water, snow, ice) is filtered- this allows for clearer sight when reflection is a problem. Typically, polarization is desirable, however, some find that it reduces the ability to discern between compact snow and icy patches- which could be problematic while skiing, for example.
  3. Photochromic/Automatic. While older lenses offer a static response to incoming light, newer photochromic (also called ‘automatic’) technology enables the lens to darken in bright conditions or lighten in cloudy conditions, reacting to the moments’ incoming light.
  4. Dual-Lens/Double-Pane. Most quality goggles will be constructed like newer home windows, with an inner layer, barrier, and then outer layer. This construction means that condensation and fog are less likely due to the temperature variation between the air against your face and the outside air. Lenses that don’t offer this tech will probably fog up on you!
  5. Interchangable. Goggles constructed to allow easy lens-swapping are very useful for those spending a large number of days in the mountains. Lenses for full sun are very different from lenses for storm skiing!

Using the above features, you can drill down to select the right lens for you. Make a call on polarization- I generally recommend polarized goggles for overall eye comfort and visual clarity- and then make a call on whether your budget allows the added expense of a photochromic goggle. A photochromic goggle will be suitable for 99% of all conditions! If you’re selecting a non-automatic goggle, carefully consider models that offer interchangeable lenses. This feature typically gives you the ability to carry a low-light lens and a bright-light lens at less than the cost of a photochromic goggle.

Regardless of what setup you select, you’ll want to think hard about the conditions in which you expect to use your goggles. Here’s a chart to help you select the right lens VLT:

Conditions VLT
Bright & Sunny 10-25%
Variable & Partly Cloudy 18-40%
Night Use & Very Stormy Conditions 33-80%

Selecting a lens which is “too dark” for your conditions is better than selecting a lens which is “too light”- as with sunglasses or glacier glasses, too much light hitting your eyeballs can cause not only major discomfort (headaches, constant squinting), but also serious damage such as the very real, very dreaded Snow Blindness (photokeratitis). No pair of eyes are the same- genetic factors will determine your personal needs and response to light.

Less critical factors such as lens tint (rose, green, yellow, etc.) are also worth of some consideration, especially if you plan to use the same goggles for climbing as you will for skiing.

Final Thoughts

Goggles are an undervalued component of any climber’s kit. Take the time to do your research prior to buying goggles, using expert advice and real-world feedback to be sure you make a solid buy. Several of the biggest brands advertise anti-fog goggles, for example, when the vast majority of feedback says otherwise!

**Avoid knock-offs or budget brand goggles which, just like gas-station sunglasses, can provide a quick path to serious discomfort or eye damage. Cheaply-manufactured lenses do not offer the same UV protection as better quality lenses.

Quick spot on Voyager Goggles- one of many great options to keep your eyes happy in the mountains!

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