Most trail runners and ultrarunners experience wildly contrasting conditions during any long outing on the trail, and would like sunglasses that can adapt to all those conditions. Enter the Smith Bobcat ($229) and Smith Shift Mag ($289) sunglasses with Smith’s photochromic lenses, which can change from almost completely clear in dark conditions to fully glare protective sunnies in bright sunlight.
You know how it is: Runs start at dawn and proceed through clear blue skies, cloudy conditions, storms with high winds, and back again. This is particularly true for the 100-plus-mile distances where having eye protection from dust, branches, and other detritus can be additionally valuable, but changing out sunglasses lenses 60 miles into a race is likely not in the manual dexterity cards for the day. This is where sunglasses with photochromic lenses can serve an important need.
Over the past few years, I’ve tried a number of photochromic lenses with the Rudy Project Propulse being my previous favorite — you can read my Rudy Project Propulse review. Of course, technologies progress and Smith has found a way to squeeze even more contrast range into their lenses. This enables these photochromic lenses to be worn in even more variable conditions without the need to remove them at all for the duration of your training or race.
In this review, we’ll look at two popular Smith sunglasses models that have the brand’s photochromic lenses. While it’s not the focus of this review, both the Smith Bobcat and Smith Shift Mag sunglasses models offer non-photochromic lenses too. With your purchase of one of these sunglasses models, you also get a pair of bonus clear lenses.
Smith Photochromic Lenses
The contrast range for the photochromic lenses which come with these sunglasses models is a whopping 20% to 85%, meaning that in full light these lenses perform much more like a standard sunglasses lens, and they can transition to almost fully clear in the dark. In fact, I thought they were fully clear until I read the 85% statistic, and they do look fully clear when I wear them in the dark.
I was able to test these lenses in a wide variety of conditions, none more challenging for a photochromic lens than skiing uphill, in and out of heavily forested areas on a bluebird day. To my surprise, the lenses’ contrast shifted imperceptibly when I entered the heavily shaded glades, and then back to almost fully black when in full sunlight. This ability to change contrast quickly is far and away better than other photochromic lenses I’ve tested in the past.
Smith Bobcat Sunglasses Review
The Smith Bobcat sunglasses are marketed as having a small to medium fit with large lens coverage, and come equipped with the photochromic lenses described above, as well as interchangeable clear lenses.
Smith Bobcat Sunglasses Frame and Fit
The Smith Bobcat sunglasses seemed to initially be marketed to female audiences for mountain biking and skiing, and this might partially be due to the full shield design and small to medium fit. However, I found them equally effective for running, skiing, and cycling in a variety of conditions for anyone with a small- to medium-sized face.
I found myself choosing the Bobcats over any other pair of shades this past winter and spring due to their lightness, durability, full range of view and coverage, and the amount of protection I felt from them in high wind conditions. An added bonus is that they really seem to stick on my face without any movement.
Smith Shift Mag Sunglasses Review
The Smith Shift Mag sunglasses feature the same photochromic lenses as the Smith Bobcat reviewed above, as well as the interchangeable clear lenses. Lens changes are very quick and easy using a magnetic technology to pop the lens out before locking a new lens in. Otherwise, the main difference between the two models is in the size and fit of the frames.
Smith Shift Mag Sunglasses Frame and Fit
The Smith Shift Mag sunglasses feature a similar full shield design as the Smith Bobcat reviewed above, but it is made to accommodate larger faces and heads. Also featuring a high impact TR90 Nylon frame that is incredibly lightweight for the size of these sunglasses, the frame has no-slip temples and a two-position nosepiece. Additional venting on the top of the lens also provides increased airflow, which was especially appreciated during hot and humid runs.
Again, Smith manages to make these rather large sunglasses featherweight, and a two-position nose piece allows you to dial in the fit.
As someone with a smaller head and narrower face, I found that the Smith Shift Mag was a touch more loose-fitting, something I noticed more while running on rough downhill trails. If you are someone with a medium- to large-sized head, then this model will fit you well.
Smith Smith Bobcat and Smith Shift Mag Sunglasses Overall Impressions
For runners looking for sunglasses with a photochromic lens that you could leave on for 24 hours, such as during a 100 miler, the Smith Bobcat and Smith Shift Mag models offer the best functioning lenses on the market.
My longest run to date in the Smith Bobcat was a punishingly hot 11-hour slog that started with overcast skies and quickly turned very hot and cloudless. Despite sweating profusely, the Smith Bobcat stayed locked on my face the entire time and the lenses adjusted throughout the event as we went in and out of tree coverage. Another benefit to these large and flatter base curved lenses is that they are very easy to clean up with water and a microfiber cloth at an aid station. By the end of the event, the sunglasses were covered in dust that may have otherwise found its way into my eyes had I been wearing a lens with less coverage.
Some runners may not appreciate this type of full coverage if they are heavy sweaters, especially in the brow area, as this can lead to smudging and streaking with both of these Smith models. I found that on the hottest days this summer I was removing the glasses to wipe sweat off my face often as the large lenses definitely prevent adequate airflow. I also experienced some lens fogging when hiking uphill in hot and humid conditions, but this occurs with almost every type of sunglasses I own.
Another potential downside I hear runners voice often is the cost of high-end sunglasses. Yes, they’re expensive. However, once they have start playing outside with good lenses, I have never hear of any runner going back to budget models. Cheaper lenses, even those that are polarized, often suffer from glare and back reflection in bright sunlight. Additionally, poor engineering on the curvature of the lens often leads to distortion, which is not something I want to try and account for when I’m running or mountain biking fast downhill.
Additionally, Smith covers their sunglasses with a limited lifetime warranty, which I recently tried out when my wife developed a scuff on her Smith sunglasses. I filed the warranty online and Smith sent out a replacement pair within a week.
Call for Comments
- Have you tried either of these sunglasses? How did you find them?
- Have you found photochromic lenses useful for training in mixed conditions?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]