Optic Nerve Sunglasses Review

Just about three years ago, I relocated from the great white north of Minnesota to the high desert of southern Colorado in search of a new career and inspiration for my fledgling running. Prior to this time I had never worn sunglasses while running and even found the practice a bit glam, feeling that it was reserved for the realm of triathletes and weekend-warrior types. What I failed to prepare for was the near omnipresence of the glaring, high-desert sun reflected off the snow, bentonite clay-filled soil, and beige sandstone which predominates my daily trail running terrain. Soon after I found myself to be a sunglasses junkie, wearing them on the majority of my runs and in constant search of the perfect pair of sunglasses for my rather modest-sized bean.

In 2011, I purchased a pair of Optic Nerve Neurotoxin photochromatic sunglasses online on a whim. I figured that for the bargain price of $55, and given the glowing reviews by other buyers comparing them to such luxury priced shades as Oakley and Rudy Project, I couldn’t really go wrong. Nearly two years later I’ve found that my other sport-oriented sunglasses have slowly migrated away out of my arsenal that would make Brian Bosworth green with envy. Oakleys were given to a family member, gigantic Julbos are on permanent loan to a friend with a head like sputnik, and my trusty Ryders simply gathering dust as backups in the glove box of my car. My Optic Nerve Neurotoxins became my go-to pair of sunglasses for nearly every outdoor activity I have engaged in over the past year, from whitewater rafting to landscaping my backyard. The bottom line is that this company, out of Wheat Ridge, Colorado, has managed to design and sell outstanding eye wear at more the half the price of their competitors, and with as good or better optics.

Optic Nerve Neurotoxin ($79)

Without a doubt, the Neurotoxin is my favorite offering from Optic Nerve. Available with a photochromatic lens (PM) or a three-lens combo for no extra charge which includes smoke, brown, and clear lenses. The photochromatic lens worked great for early morning runs with the rising sun or those variably cloudy days when light conditions change. The Neurotoxin PM transitions quickly during trail runs in and out of tree cover, as well. For bright conditions, I found that I use the smoke lenses almost exclusively, and the clear lens provides distortion free protection during nighttime bike commutes home from work.

Optic Nerve Neurotoxin PM running sunglasses

Optic Nerve Neurotoxin PM

Without a doubt my favorite features of these glasses are the adjustable nose pieces and vented lenses. The nose pieces are comprised of flexible metal covered with durable rubber which seem to stick to the bridge of my small nose without becoming annoying or painful, and after many adjustments they have yet to feel brittle or loose. The vented lenses are an absolute necessity when running long ascents on which most lenses fog up. It’s also very easy to pop lenses in and out of the frames without feeling like you’re damaging something.

The Neurotoxin frame works great for folks with average to small (narrow) faces. I have a smaller face that is fairly narrow and I have always had difficulty getting running glasses to not look like safety glasses. The Neurotoxin hugs my head well enough that I don’t worry about losing them and they are flexible enough to push up on my hat without stretching them out. I’ve worn them for 10+ hours at a time and have not had any comfort issues.

Optic Nerve Apex ($79)

The Optic Nerve Apex has a similar fit with a bit more surface area in the lens area for those of you liking more coverage. The Apex became my go-to biking and commuting eye wear for just this reason. Again, we have the option of three different vented lenses which are very easily changed via Optic Nerve’s Fin technology. Although marketed for average faces, runners with small faces can get by and I even slipped these on one of my large-faced peers and he looked great. Unfortunately, mine have pink tips which means my wife steals them all the time.

Optic Nerve Apex running sunglasses

Optic Nerve Apex

Optic Nerve Bender ($79)

Marketed for the wearer with an average face size, I would say that the Optic Nerve Bender works best for runners with larger and fuller faces. Possibly the most comfortable frame in the bunch, the Bender begged to be worn often, but I couldn’t bring myself to try and pull it off due to my resemblance to an alien with my head size. A hydrophobic coating on the lens repels water, dust, and other particles and makes all three of these lenses easy to maintain and keep smudge-free.

Optic Nerve Bender running sunglasses

Optic Nerve Bender

Optic Nerve Sunglasses Overall Impression

After nearly two years of wearing these glasses almost exclusively, I would expect that natural wear and tear would leave these glasses scratched up, stretched out, and fairly unusable. However, they remain as resilient and flexible as ever. In the meantime I’ve continued to  feed my addiction by purchasing other manufacturer’s models, but when it comes down to the five-hour long run or race day I’m consistently reaching for my Optic Nerve Neurotoxin. Last year, after a mountain bike fall which scratched one of the lenses, I contacted Optic Nerve to buy a replacement lens. Pleasantly, I was talking to a sales representative instantly without any of the usual automated system crap, and I was able to order a replacement lens for the incredibly modest price of $10. While I am slightly disappointed that these glasses are made in China, I am extremely impressed with the affordability even compared to many other companies who have the same manufacturing practices.

Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar's Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 8 comments

  1. Steve Lang

    Hi Tom,

    I have to agree on all counts regarding the Neurotoxins. I had bought a pair at the beginning of August and less than 2 weeks later, crashed on my bike, scratching both lenses deeply. I was thankful for the lenses, as I firmly believe that without them, my eyes would have borne the brunt of the damage.

    I contacted Optic Nerve just to let them know how much I appreciated their quality merchandise, and that I was going to buy a new pair as soon as I was moving again. They surprised me with a replacement pair for free.

    Great company.

  2. mtnrunner2

    Holy cow, I drive by their office all the time, had no idea.

    I've had good luck with Smiths aside from durability issues with the tabs on the removable lenses (the frame is indestructible), but the price is definitely something that gives me pause when I know eventually the lenses will fall off.

    I've been burned by a couple of different mid-range shades but I'll try a pair of ON shades for the heck of it. I have had photochromic layers erode from salt or sunscreen — not sure which — so probably a solid color will be the choice.

  3. Jim Arrow

    I bought a pair last year and thing they are great. I use the clear lenses for running on heavily overgrown trails. I'm positive that they have saved my eyes numerous times.

  4. KristinZ

    Thanks for including diff sized heads… I have some old smithies that felt like a feather on my large noggin–i've replaced the lenses on several times and i'm not sure they're even made anymore… i'd love to find a pair as comfy as those but for 1/2 the price.

  5. KenZ

    I would love these. But I'm one of those guys that leaves stuff everywhere. After I left my beloved $200+ Bolle glacier glasses on a bus seat…. I resigned myself to the other options. The other options are actually not so bad: for clear (mtn biking in the woods), it's the "stylish" variant of lab safety glasses, which no one can tell are lab safety glasses (no side shields) and cost like $3/pair. I have four pair. No, only two now. Where did those go? Who cares?

    For brighter sun, I got a large handful (6 pair?) of "Faux-klies" when overseas. "Mister! Three pair Oakley, 5 dollar." That's a bargain. They work great.

  6. Todd Nickel

    Great review. I have been running on some East Texas trails this winter, through a lot of trees. I have worn a couple of different fancy pairs of running sunglasses, but decided to buy a pair of these after reading your review.

    I run in the early mornings and bought the rose colored lenses. I love them. I love the fit on my head/face and they protect my corneas from branches! I now like them better than my other pair of more expensive running glasses! I am a fan!

    Thanks Tom and Bryon!


  7. Marc Britten

    I bought a pair of there photochromatics last summer. They're pretty nice, light but durable. My wife ended up stealing them and I bought a pair from a different brand that had a wider transition range that is nice but not nearly as cheap as I got the Optic Nerves for.

Post Your Thoughts