Sure, you can wear sunglasses for skiing and snowboarding, but they’re far from an ideal eyewear choice. What you really need is a quality pair of goggles. That’s because ski and snowboard goggles do more than just block the sun—they protect your eyes from cold temperatures, wind, and blowing snow, and they help you see the slopes more clearly. By keeping your eyes comfortable, goggles keep you safe and maximize your fun on the mountain. To find the right pair, you'll need to consider a few key factors, like lens shape, tint, and frame fit. Here’s how to choose the best ski and snowboard goggles for you.
In this guide, you'll learn about:
- The two kinds of lens shapes
- The pros and cons of different lens tints
- Additional lens features to look out for
- How to choose the right goggle design for a good fit
The shape of a goggle’s lens affects the way you see through it. There are two key shapes to know when shopping.
Cylindrical Lenses: These lenses are flat vertically (even if they wrap around your face). The cylindrical design is more affordable, but it can distort your peripheral vision.
Spherical Lenses: Curved vertically and horizontally, spherical lenses have more of a bubble look and offer maximum clarity in your peripheral vision, though they come at a higher price point. These lenses also have less glare and distortion than cylindrical lenses.
Understanding Lens Tint
While lenses come in all kinds of tints and finishes, they’re not just for show—the tint determines how much you can see and how much glare gets blocked.
Visual Light Transmission (VLT): This is the most important metric when choosing between lens tints. VLT, usually expressed as a percentage, refers to the amount of light a lens allows to pass through—100 percent means it lets in all the light, while 0 means it blocks all the light.
Storm Days and Low Visibility: Consider a high VLT (60 to 90 percent) for low-light or stormy conditions. This high VLT will brighten flat light and help you see details of the terrain despite the lack of strong sun.
Long Winter Days: If you ski bell to bell on a moderate winter day, you'll want a lens with a mid-range VLT, which can accommodate everything from early morning sunshine to late afternoon flat light. A lens that allows some light transmission—around 30 to 60 percent VLT—will be best.
Bright Light and Sunny Days: On days when the full power of the sun reflects off the snow, you'll need a lens that blocks a lot of light. Look for a low VLT rating, anywhere from 10 to 30 percent.
Aside from shape and tint, there are a few other lens features to consider. Some are must-haves, while others are important depending on your needs.
UV Protection: All ski and snowboard goggles should have 100 percent UV protection. The sun intensity is higher at altitude and it reflects off the snow (even when it’s cloudy), so it’s especially important to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays.
Anti-Fog: A special chemical coating or lens treatment that helps keep your goggles from fogging up, anti-fog is another must-have feature.
Polarized Lenses: These lenses cut glare on reflective surfaces like water and snow. They’ll make it easier to see on bright, sunny days.
Photochromatic Lenses: These high-end technical lenses change their tint in response to ambient light conditions. For example, they darken when the sun is brighter and lighten up when clouds roll in. For skiers and riders who put in long days on the mountain, photochromatic lenses are a nice solution to fluctuating light conditions. One caveat: The lens tint doesn’t change instantaneously, so expect some lag time as it catches up with ambient light.
Double Lenses: Double or dual-layer lenses create a thermal barrier that prevents them from fogging up. Compared to single-layer lenses, they’re much better at fighting fog.
Mirrored Lenses: In exceptionally bright conditions, a mirrored lens coating provides extra protection for your eyes by reflecting light away from the surface of the goggles.
Goggle Fit and Extra Features
The fit of your goggles is essential to maximize their performance. Your goggles should feel comfortable and fit snugly on your face to reduce fog and gaps where the wind can blow in. In addition to sizing, goggles are also available with a few additional specialized features.
Helmet Fit: If you wear a helmet while skiing or riding (always a smart idea), you'll need to make sure your helmet and goggles are compatible. The best way to do this is to try them on together. The goggles should fit comfortably around your face, with little to no gap between the top of your goggles and helmet, and with their strap running around the outside of your helmet.
Strap: All ski and snowboard goggles come with a wide adjustable strap. While the goggle's size and fit are primarily in the frame, ensure that the goggle strap has plenty of room for adjustments. In addition, some straps are rubberized on one side to help keep the goggles in place—make sure you wear them with that side facing in toward your head.
Women's Fit: These frames are designed to accommodate a smaller face structure. For women, that means you’ll get a closer, more secure fit with fewer gaps between your face and the frame of the goggles.
Ventilation: Goggles are designed with mesh or foam at the top and on the sides for ventilation. The more ventilation, the better—it will improve air circulation and keep the lenses from fogging up.
Foam: Goggles have a layer of foam that rests on your face, and the shape and thickness of the foam will have a significant effect on overall goggle comfort. The foam needs to fit snugly all around in order to protect your eyes and close out any wind gaps, but make sure it doesn’t create any painful pressure points.
Over the Glasses Goggles: If you need to wear prescription glasses while skiing, look for a pair of goggles designed to fit over your glasses. These goggles will have deeper frames to accommodate your specs.