This is a guide to one accessory that is awfully polarizing — bad pun in the first sentence! — for runners of all kinds. A pair of sunglasses is the ultimate style accessory for some of us, yet it’s a necessary and, in some cases, awfully expensive evil for others.
No matter where you fall on the spectrum — oof, another one! — the variety and depth of sunglasses options available is staggering. No longer do you have to sacrifice style and flair if your preference is the low-cost, gas station-style sunnies. Brands like Goodr and Knockaround have done for sunglasses what Warby Parker did for eyeglasses. And if your eyes require significant technology, a number of companies such as Julbo, Rudy Project, and Smith are making high-tech sunnies to suit you.
The iRunFar editorial team tested a wide variety of sunglasses with the primary criteria being lens type, cost, and style for different size faces, and for men and women. For more background information, see our running sunglasses glossary, buying advice, testing methodology, and frequently asked questions below the picks.
Use these links to skip quickly to the kinds of sunglasses you’d like to learn more about:
Editors’ Picks for Standard Lens Sunglasses
To rate the Bliz Hero ($100) sunglasses, we tested them across multiple sports — not just running — to find out how the sport-specific lens performed in the cold, the wind, with heavy sweat, in low and bright light during Nordic skiing, cycling, and running. For fans of loud frames, these hit the mark and look great on both men and women. The lens has a unique shape with angles to help move air while also giving a shield style of protection.
Lens performance is very high, particularly as these sunglasses are neither the most expensive nor least expensive, with a pretty reasonable price of $100. The frame is very comfortable, doesn’t slip, and is flexible and light.
- Sporty and high-performing at a fair price
- Works well as an investment in one pair of sunglasses for multiple sports
- Comes with a hard case for storage
- Loud frame might be undesirable for folks who prefer a more subtle style
The Smith Reverb ($200) sunglasses have a few standout features, but most notable is the interchangeable, standard ChromaPop lens. ChromaPop is Smith’s in-house lens technology. It’s not polarized or photochromic; it specializes in bringing out the full-color reds, blues, and greens, colors that tend to blend together to the naked eye. When your low-light run requires clear vision, swapping out the included clear lens is simple with Smith’s PivLock system. Sweating on this featherweight frame does little to move them around your face, and sweat does not build up on the lens. With almost a hydrophobic effect, sweat tends to roll right off.
The Reverb sunglasses are incredibly light, and because of the high-quality materials, many of us had no trouble with friction, especially during ultramarathon-length runs of 10 hours or more. The frame styling is indeed very sporty and won’t likely pair well in a more formal setting than the trail.
- Many frame and lens colors to choose from
- Panoramic, shield-style lens offers a lot of protection
- Style will work well for many sports but not for daily life
- High-end price for a non-photochromic lens
Editors’ Picks for Polarized Lens Sunglasses
Two of our testers have been wearing the Smith Pinpoint ($150) sunglasses for over two years, calling these their one-and-done sunglasses for running and the rest of life. The styling is low profile enough for casual use and the polarized ChromaPop lens adds clarity and enhances colors on the trail. The Pinpoint is also very lightweight with nonslip nose pads that work even while sweating profusely. In addition to their versatility and utilitarian styling, their ChromaPop polarized lens is among the best in business right now for visual clarity and definition.
Finally, one extra benefit is that Smith has a lifetime guarantee. So, while these may be more expensive than other sunglasses, they should last you forever and you can replace them for free if they don’t.
- True all-around sport and lifestyle sunglasses that work as well for running as they do for such activities as skiing, fishing, travel, and wearing around town
- Frame may be a little on the larger side for women or runners with smaller faces
The Zeal Boone ($150) sunglasses carry the distinction of not only being one of our testing panel’s favorite running sunglasses overall, but they are also the only ones in this guide with a clear environmental proclivity. The frame is made with Zeal’s Z-Resin, a material derived from castor plants, and the lens is made from plant-based Ellume.
But Zeal’s anti-plastic stance doesn’t compromise technical performance. The lens is polarized and our testers remark about their ability to really shore up color variability when detecting roots, rocks, or branches on the trail. Many of Zeal’s sunglasses carry a lifestyle aesthetic but perhaps none better weave the technical performance needed for running and sport with as much off-trail style for post-run socializing or backyard partying.
- Frame feels solid and high quality
- Slipping during sweaty runs is minimal
- The bigger frame is probably best suited to men or runners with bigger faces
Editors’ Picks for Photochromic Lens Sunglasses
Julbo Aero With Reactiv 0-3 Lens
The Julbo Aero with Reactiv 0-3 Lens ($220) is a standout choice because of how the particularly impressive Reactiv 0-3 Lens gets darker or lighter to match changing light conditions. At its darkest, the lens is dark enough for bright days in the sun and even with sun glare from snow, while it’s absolutely clear during the dark of night — which we tested during many early starts over the past year.
The super lightweight Aero really sticks to your face and the breathability of the Aero frame shines during long and slow uphill slogs. While these look a little bit more technical than other running-oriented glasses, we’ve found their sturdiness, durability, and eye protection to outweigh any limiting style factors.
- Lens works exceptionally in all conditions, in any season
- The frame doesn’t stay put very well on your head or the brim of your hat when you need to take them off
Julbo Spark With Reactiv 2-3 Glare Control Lens
As a reprieve from hardcore sport styling, but with every bit of great performance for running and other endurance sports, the women’s-oriented Julbo Spark with Reactiv 2-3 Glare Control Lens ($220) helps folks satisfy both purposes very well. While the photochromic performance of the Reactiv 2-3 Glare Control Lens isn’t quite as perfect as Julbo’s Reactiv 0-3 Lens, there is still a high amount of photochromic performance.
The fit was better than the Julbo Aero for some of our testers, being a little tighter, and staying put better on your head or hat when not in use. The Spark has curved temples and Julbo’s Grip Tech is a soft and comfortable rubber placed strategically on the nose bridge and temple arms. Besides being comfortable, the rubber also won’t stick to your hair, which can be an unpleasant distraction during any activity.
- Exceptional grip on sweaty or oily skin
- Performs and looks great on- and off-trail
- No hard case included to prevent damage during storage
Rudy Project Propulse
Over seven years of testing photochromic lenses for running, one of our testers calls the Rudy Project Propulse ($185), with its ImpactX 2 photochromic lens, the best he’s ever used. The Propulse lens transitions from completely clear to a protective amber hue in seconds. The experience of the lens darkening is undetectable, and at its darkest, the ImpactX 2 lens provides a soft brown hue, which is great for picking out details on the trail.
The quality doesn’t end with the lens. The Propulse has a very secure fit, and the flexibility to accommodate winter hats and different face sizes. There are very effective frame cutouts to reduce weight, and both the frame and lens have a system of vents, which reduces fogging and increases airflow around the eyes. The venting is particularly effective to prevent fogging on long climbs. The high price might prevent some from investing in the Propulse, but Rudy Project includes a warranty for up to three years.
- Exceptional photochromic transition speed in changing light conditions
- Frame airflow channels move air around preventing fog or moisture buildup
- Styling is very sporty and they are unlikely to be used as casual sunglasses
Editors’ Picks for Budget Sunglasses
Knockaround Fast Lanes
Knockaround is a brand with not as much runner awareness as Goodr, but is building momentum with its own Goodr-like-priced sport sunglasses, Knockaround Fast Lanes ($28). More than one of our testers said the Fast Lanes are a very nice performer considering the price point. Like other sunglasses at this price, the Fast Lanes frame doesn’t feel quite as pliable or durable as higher-priced, dedicated sport glasses, but the lens quality is much better than expected.
The rubber grips on the nose bridge held in place during vigorous runs like speed workouts and bombing downhill. Shorter rather than longer runs might be a critical distinction because, on runs over four hours, those of us with larger heads felt the arms squeeze uncomfortably behind the ears. Perhaps more pliable rubber over the polycarbonate would relieve this pinching sensation.
The styling is a little more sophisticated than the popular Goodr OGs and the colors are more understated, making it perhaps a more viable option for daily use, not just as your dedicated running sunglasses.
- Better than expected lens performance
- More durable than similarly priced sunglasses
- Doesn’t include a hard case for storage
- Frame may pinch the head and ears after many hours of use
There are five versions of the Tifosi Salvo ($25) with variations in frame and lens colors. Four of the five versions are priced at $25, while one version with a photochromic lens is priced at $50. For this guide, we are recommending the Salvo Blackout frame with the non-photochromic Smoke lens because of the exceptional all-around performance at a very competitive price. The shatterproof frame is made from Grilamid and is lightweight. Paired with the more-than-adequate polycarbonate lens, you get impact- and scratch-resistant sunglasses that provide 100% protection from ultraviolet A-rays and B-rays.
The frame is best suited to a runner with a small face. The styling has led our test team to relegate the Salvo to training and racing only. It is simply a bit too sporty for some folks to wear in daily life.
Full Tifosi Salvo Review
- Some feel the durability is higher than comparably priced sunglasses from Goodr and Knockaround
- Some runners might find the styling too sporty for daily usage
Goodr OGs ($25) sunglasses are perhaps the most ubiquitous frame in all of trail running right now. The very affordable OGs come with glare-busting polarized lenses, which have rightly made it a choice popular with people all over the world, in all types of climates. The brightly colored frame choices on offer are just plain fun and many will find this wayfarer style appropriate for daily life as well.
One component that has made the OGs extremely popular is the silicone inserts on the nose bridge, which are very effective at preventing the glasses from slipping in very sweaty or rainy runs. The frame is snug and lightweight; though like other value-priced sunglasses, the field of view is very square. Looking straight ahead is fine but the lack of curvature of the lens makes peripheral viewing awkward.
For the lack of bounce while running, our team rates the OGs one of the best in this entire guide, budget-priced or not.
- Low-cost investment and capable frame with adequate polarized lens will suffice for many
- Polarized coating can wear quickly
- Field of view is limited
- Frame is bigger than average and might be too large for small faces
Photochromic Lens: This type of lens appears clear indoors but fully changes to dark brown or black in direct sunlight.
Polarized Lens: A polarized lens reduces the sun’s glare. They don’t transition back and forth in light conditions, but they help reduce reflections from the surface of water and snow. Sunglasses across the spectrum (expensive and cheap) may come polarized. Reputable polarized sport sunglasses should also offer ultraviolet protection.
Standard Lens: These are non-photochromic and non-polarized. Running sunglasses with a standard lens will often include multiple lenses to swap out based on conditions.
Ultraviolet (UV) Protection: Some lenses will include a UV protective coating or are made with a UV protective compound to protect your eyes from solar radiation.
Hydrophobic Lens: This lens coating prevents your sunglasses from fogging up in the cold or from condensation buildup when sweating.
Anti-Scratch Lens: Look for sunglasses with a polycarbonate lens; they are more durable and wear-resistant than plastic.
Interchangeable Lenses: These are commonly included with sunglasses that don’t have a photochromic lens and allow you to easily swap in a different lens based on light or weather conditions.
How to Choose: A Buyer’s Guide for Running Sunglasses
We acknowledge that sunglasses are a very subjective and personal purchase. The size, shape, and style preferences are different from person to person. But what is more objective are the features and versatility. So, which sunglasses are best for you? To find out, you should consider a few of these factors.
Ideally, we would have one pair of sunglasses for running and daily life. Unfortunately, the characteristics of great running sunglasses don’t always align with those needed for driving, socializing at the park, or on a business trip. But fortunately, there are some options that offer a running-ready lens with more casual styling from brands like Knockaround and Zeal.
Shape and Style
Running sunglasses fashion lately has returned to the 1980s and 1990s with loud, windscreen-like shapes that dwarf even those of us with bigger faces. There are still many options with a more subdued shape and profile. Some sunglasses in this guide are women’s-specific and some have a more general appeal, with colors and shapes to suit all runners.
Lens Type and Features
Running sunglasses have three types of lenses: standard, photochromic, and polarized. While a standard lens will generally include at least 99% ultraviolet light protection, it might also include a second, or even a third, pair of interchangeable lenses (clear and brown or black).
A photochromic lens is really the gold standard because they change color as light increases and decreases, but they are expensive. A polarized lens is very helpful to reduce glare and this lens comes on sunglasses at both the bottom and top of the price spectrum.
Pressure around the head, especially at the ears, is a common complaint when wearing sunglasses in excess of four hours. But a good fitting frame, not necessarily an expensive one, will offset frame material.
What’s also important to consider is how well the sunglasses will stow when not in use. Do they stash easily in your running vest? Will they stay in place when you store them on your head? How do the arms fit with a hat?
A photochromic lens will be your best bet for runs starting or finishing in the dark because the coverage will vary depending on light conditions.
You won’t find any infomercial-type sunglasses in this guide — you can’t run over these sunglasses with a car or throw them from the top of a mountain to the bottom. But all the sunglasses in this guide should be reliably durable — they don’t scratch easily or break under normal wear and tear.
That said, not all polarized lenses are created equally — a less expensive polarized lens will indeed become more distorted and less effective, sometimes in a really short amount of time.
Although running sunglasses are now a lot cooler and more durable than ever before, the adage “you get what you pay for” is still relevant. All sunglasses are somewhat fragile, but it’s the lens quality and durability that can really make or break the price. Goodr is a very popular brand of sunglasses, but its polarized lenses don’t stand up over time the same way more expensive brands like Zeal and Smith do.
This is a cost equation. If you want one pair of sunglasses that can handle all conditions, invest in a pair with a photochromic lens. If your conditions are more predictably sunny, cloudy, or low light, then several pairs of standard interchangeable glasses should suffice.
Interchangeable lenses are not photochromic, but may be polarized. The idea is to choose from your multiple lenses to match the specific condition. Brands like Smith offer interchangeable lenses in a very simple system, and at a more affordable price than their photochromic counterparts.
When a brand uses the term hydrophobic, it is referring to an anti-fog coating that helps move moisture from the lens, usually in a downward direction from your brow. Other anti-fogging features include air vents in the frame or lens, and lens shapes that strategically improve airflow.
Why You Should Trust Us
iRunFar’s gear testing team is based all over the U.S.’s Intermountain West and Pacific Northwest, areas that over-index in sunny days and gloomy ones, respectively. Our team’s sunglasses preferences are based on needing everything from a high-performing photochromic lens, to varying frame sizes for women’s and men’s and different-size faces, to affordability and crossover styling.
Many of the best sunglasses in this guide have been tested for more than a year and, in one case, two years consistently. We also tested newcomers to the running sunglasses scene.
We tested these glasses across multiple sports — not just running — to find out how the fit and sport-specific lenses performed in cold, wind, sweat, low light, and bright light in sports like road running, skiing, cycling, and fishing. We also attempted fastest known times in these glasses, starting in the dark and finishing under the stars. This helped us figure out how well these sunglasses accessorize.
The fact is, as ultrarunners, we’re often running in the dark … so how well do your sunglasses store on top of your head, hat, or in a vest when you’re not wearing them? We considered these factors as part of a sunglasses’ overall performance, not simply their ability to block or enhance light conditions.
Sunglasses used to come in just two varieties: cheap — often called gas-station glasses — and expensive — giving many of us pause at their high cost — but with the much-disrupted optics industry starting with direct-to-consumer eyeglasses companies like Warby Parker, we now have greater choice in high-performing yet more affordable sunglasses.
Some very expensive sunglasses are included here because they may offer more durability, higher performance, and better warranty coverage. We gave as much priority to budget options — which we defined as $30 or less — as we did to expensive options — defined as $150 and above in this guide. There are high performers across both ends of the spectrum, so it’s a great time to be a sunglasses consumer.
Frequently Asked Questions About Running Sunglasses
Why is it important to wear sunglasses?
Sunglasses protect your eyes from ultraviolet A-rays and B-rays, help reduce eye fatigue, and improve clarity when running across terrain with different surfaces like we find in the mountains, forests, and on the coast. Sunglasses also physically protect your eyes from tree branches and more.
How do sunglasses protect my eyes?
Sunglasses protect your eyes because the lens keeps ultraviolet rays from penetrating. Sunglasses are the equivalent of sunscreen for your eyes. As a literal barrier, sunglasses protect your eyes from wind, dust, sand, branches, and other debris that could scratch your corneas, causing serious damage.
What is a polarized lens and is it better for running?
A polarized lens is great for any sport requiring terrain distinctions because they help you pick out differences in trail conditions. When your running sunglasses also act as your daily sunglasses, a polarized lens will be very useful for water-based activities like fishing or snow sports.
What is a photochromatic lens and why are they good for running?
Photochromic glasses are particularly good for trail running and all-day-and-night running because when in contact with ultraviolet A-rays and B-rays protection via direct sunlight, the lens generates a chemical reaction that darkens the surface of the lens. When not in contact with these rays, the coloring fades to clear. The lens enables you to use one lens no matter what time of day or night you’re running.
Between price and features, how do I maximize my purchase?
Frame material is generally the same, but it’s the lens where you should really invest your money. Any of the sunglasses in this guide will offer the minimum ultraviolet A-rays and B-rays protection, but polarization is a feature you can get even on inexpensive sunglasses. A photochromic lens is expensive but its performance is unrivaled.
How long will my running sunglasses last?
In many ways, you get what you pay for when it comes to running sunglasses.
While less expensive glasses will perform well and look good, the implicit agreement is that they won’t stand up to much abuse, and the lens quality may deteriorate quickly. Many of us will be OK with spending $25 on our sunglasses, knowing it’s not a big deal if we damage them or lose them.
But a more expensive pair of sunglasses will be much more comfortable, and the lens will offer higher performance. Perhaps you’ll even be more inclined to care for your sunglasses better when you know how much money you’ve invested in them.
How do I prevent scratches on my sunglasses?
Dropping your sunglasses in abrasive dirt and mud will certainly impact the lens. But one particular way to keep your sunglasses scratch-free is to use a glasses-specific cleaning cloth. Use the included soft bag or lens cloth that comes with your sunglasses. When covered with dirt, mud, or sweat, it’s OK to wash your frame and lens with mild soap and water. Dry with a sunglasses- or eyeglasses-specific lens cloth.
How do I stop my sunglasses from fogging up when I run?
Look for two features: hydrophobic lens coating or a frame with cutouts to let the air flow between your face and the glasses.
I always lose, drop, or damage my sunglasses — help! How do I store my sunglasses when I’m not wearing them to prevent their loss and damage?
It’s best to treat your sunglasses like you would your puppy: don’t leave them in the car on a hot sunny day; make sure to clean them gently with mild soap and water; and give them protection from the elements. Most sunglasses come with at least a soft pouch, and at best a hard case; use them!
Only clean your glasses with the soft case or when really dirty with some water and soap. Always travel with the hard case and keep it in your car when you’re driving to your run and then back home.
Why are running sunglasses so expensive?
They certainly can be. Fortunately, several brands have emerged recently offering low-price sunglasses specifically for runners. You might sacrifice some of the durability and high performance of more expensive sunglasses, but they will certainly stand up to most runners’ needs. When it comes to versatile sunglasses, where you can use the same sunglasses for running as you might skiing, cycling, or traveling, sometimes paying more is really worth it.
Call for Comments
It’s time for you to weigh in on your favorite running sunglasses! Leave a comment to share what sunglasses you love to run in, and be sure to tell us in what conditions they perform best for you. We’ll continue to update this guide as this gear category evolves and we test more running sunglasses.