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Driving Essentials: Sunglasses

Posted in Car Accessories, Featured, Rants & Raves by Kurt Ernst | March 5th, 2011 | 9 Responses |

If you spend any amount of time on the road, one of the most important things you can invest in is a decent pair of sunglasses. I’m not talking about the $10 Fauxkley wrap-arounds you pick up at the flea market, which are disposable at best. On the other hand, you don’t have to spend Sunglass Hut prices to pick up a decent set of shades. I’ll admit that I’m heavily biased when it comes to sunglasses, since my eyes are particularly sensitive to color (the by-product of too many years spent color correcting photographic images and digital files). I literally can’t wear knockoff sunglasses with cheap plastic lenses, since their odd tints and distortion give me a brain-splitting headache in just a few minutes. Bad drivers are nearly enough to turn me into a serial killer, so I don’t need any help from cheap sunglasses.

I also wear prescription glasses, which means I either drive with prescription sunglasses or with contacts and retail sunglasses. Since options for prescription sunglass lenses are limited (and damned expensive), I’ll just say this: I prefer the dark amber tint for driving, similar to the lenses used in Serengeti Driver sunglasses. On really bright days, a dark, neutral gray tint (like the kind used by Ray Ban) also works well. If you ride a motorcycle, sunglasses with some wrap-around protection (like Oakleys) help keep the wind out of your eyes with the visor up.


I know that polarized sunglasses are best for reflected light, like sun off of snow or water. Polarized lenses also cause distortion when used with motorcycle faceshields and even when viewing a car’s instrument cluster with a polycarbonate face. Tuning the radio may be a challenge, since the polarized lenses can make all or part of the display look black. I own both polarized and non-polarized sunglasses, but my preference for driving is non-polarized. When it comes to brands, my favorite choice for non-polarized sunglasses is Serengeti Drivers. Most of their lenses are photochromatic, so they darken in bright sunlight and lighten in cloudy conditions. I find I can see through fog and light rain better with them on, as they add a bit more contrast to low visibility settings. You can get them in just about any style you want, and the company even makes prescription Drivers sunglasses, as long as you’re willing to pay the astonishingly high price of admission.

My second choice for off-the shelf sunglasses is Ray Ban, since their neutral gray or dark green tint doesn’t bug my eyes and works well on even the brightest of days. Their frames are (generally made well, so Ray Bans tend to hold up better than most other premium brands. The company also makes a mind-boggling number of styles, and has even branched out into the prescription eyeglass frame business (which doesn’t really mean anything, since virtually all frames are made by the same Chinese factories these days).

If you need a multi-sport pair of sunglasses, take a look at the stuff from Native Eyegear. I own a pair of Native Hardtop XPs, which I use primarily for mountain biking and outdoor shooting. Mine came with interchangeable lenses, so I can switch from a dark brown tint for driving to a high contrast yellow lens for shooting. The frames are more comfortable and more durable than anything I’ve seen from Oakley, and the Native glasses cost a whole lot less than the big name wrap-arounds.

Speaking of cost, where you buy your sunglasses has a huge effect on how much you end up paying. Avoid mall sunglass stores like the plague, unless you enjoy paying bend-over-grab-your-ankles-and-squeal-like-a-pig prices. If you belong to a warehouse club, like Costco, BJ’s or Sam’s Club, start there. Mail order outdoor retailer Campmor usually has some amazing bargains, especially if you shop their closeout or hot deal sections, and you can always find what you’re looking for at Amazon.

Got a favorite brand? Any we should stay away from? Know a good place to buy sunglasses? Let us know.

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9 Responses

  1. Canrith says:

    I have a set of interchangeable glasses from Oakley, and I have to say although the prices are crazy, the choices you can get from lenses colors helps to contrast out the colors that give you problems.

  2. BigRuss says:

    i drive/ride with a pair of Oakley Gas-can’s… have a pair for my bike and for my car/truck… polarized lenses are the best when your putting hours on the road(or on the water…)… its worth the 100 dollar price tag because they are comfortable to me and keep the light from hitting my eyes without being filtered by the lense

  3. Set says:

    I have two pair of Oakleys. I get them at a discount because I’m military (heavy discount, actually). I’ve always been an Oakley guys, so this works for me.

  4. J D Stadler says:

    I’m saving my pennies for a pair of Oakley Monster Dogs right now, actually. Oakleys always worked well for me, and they’re one of the few brands I have tried that are dark enough (I have sensitive eyes I guess). As for good prices, I have found some great deals at 6pm.com (which is like the “clearance” center of Zappos.com). If you’re not terribly picky on style, you can find them sometimes 50% off retail.

  5. Shahroz says:

    I’ve never been a fan of sunglasses, but after i got my driver’s lisence my father suggested i’d get a pair for the car and i got my self a nice pair of carrera shades.
    Now i hate driving without them ! and having to remove them while driving is one of my pet peeves!

    definitely a must have for driving long distances !

  6. Taylor says:

    Revo and Maui Jim.

    Keep an eye on Sunglass Hut or someplace similar and you can catch the on clearance for $100 to $150.

  7. John says:

    I prefer Pilla eye wear. They are somewhat expensive, but Manufactured in Italy and the lenses are made of a proprietary material that offers the impact protection of an Oakley polycarbonate lens, but the clarity of a glass lens. I use different ones for driving and also shooting. The amber colored “varia” lens is great. It’s their version of a photochromatic lens. I was an oakley wearer forever, but I love my Pillas!

  8. Kurt Ernst says:

    Penny, unfortunately I don’t have an answer. Ray Ban no longer makes prescription lenses (as far as I know), but the frames and lenses from Randolph Engineering are equally good and you can get them in prescription lenses. Here’s their address: