How To Choose the Right Sunglasses for Running and Hiking

Protect your eyes with a fitting pair of performance shades.

Along with running shoes and hiking boots, sunglasses are an outdoor essential for runners and hikers. They keep your eyes protected from harsh glare and damaging UV rays, plus help you see the ground ahead more clearly. While you can always wear your favorite pair of casual shades if necessary, if you run or hike regularly, it’s worth investing in some performance sunglasses. Compared to designer frames, they’re lighter, more durable, and designed to stay put on your face during vigorous exercise, like sprinting on a track or hustling up a trail.

A quality pair of performance shades will ensure you have good visibility and eye protection on your next run or hike. Here’s what you need to know to find the right pair for you.

Frame Features To Look For

Shades that you wear hiking and running have a few attributes that casual-wear glasses may not: Mainly, the frames should be durable (in case you drop them or shove them in a pack), and lightweight. Here are some key features to look for when shopping.


Sunglasses made for active wear typically utilize durable, lightweight frame materials, though not all materials are created equal. Frames made of polycarbonate plastic and plant-based resin tend to be lighter weight than metal frames and come in a range of colors (the plastic and resin can be dyed, while metal obviously cannot). Plant-based resin has similar properties to polycarbonate, but is a renewable resource. Some metals used for athletic frames, like titanium and aluminum, are lightweight and durable, with titanium being more durable than aluminum.    


Frame styles range from small and sleek (best for small faces or those seeking the lightest, most minimalist feel) to oversized. The larger the frame and lens, the more obvious the protection from the sun’s rays, though with the penalty of increased weight. 


Active-use sunglasses will be lighter weight than glasses made for casual wear. If you’re interested in glasses that feel barely there while you run or hike, look for a pair ranging in weight from the teens to low-20 grams (instead of closer to 30 grams).

Lens Features To Look For


Generally, active-use glasses have lenses made of either plastic (like polycarbonate or resin) or glass. Glass lenses tend to withstand scratches better than plastic, but glass is more apt to shatter upon impact than plastic. Glass lenses can also be highly durable and shatter-resistant if they’re thick, though that thickness will add weight.


Sunglass frame styles combined with an individual’s face shape can make some glasses more fog-prone than others. If moisture (read: sweat) becomes trapped between your face and sunglasses, the lenses can fog and obstruct your vision—not ideal on a hike or run. Many lenses meant for active use are treated with a coating that’s hydrophobic (repels water, coating can wash off) or hydrophilic (absorbs and disperses water, won’t wash off) to keep them from fogging up.


Plastic is a relatively soft material. Because of that pliability, many sunglasses meant for active use are treated with a clear, hard coating to help the lenses resist scratches. These coatings won’t keep them scratch-free, especially if you drop your glasses on a rocky trail or shove them in a pack with your car keys, but they do help ward off small scratches.

Girl dressed for exercising in winter with sunglasses

Lens Color/Light Transmission

Lenses also vary in how much sunlight they let pass through, which is measured in Visible Light Transmission (VLT) percentages. Lens colors range from light rose-tinted to dark gray, amber to blue mirrored. Darker lenses don’t always mean more protection.   

Here’s a quick primer on the best performance attributes of different lens colors.

Gray: reduces glare without adding color to what you see

Brown/amber: enhances contrast, improves depth perception

Green: reduces glare while brightening shadows

Yellow: ideal for low light

Blue: enhances contours and improves color perception

Red/pink: increases depth of field

Mirrored: cuts down glare

Sensitive eyes? Start by shopping for lenses with low VLT percentages, and consider polarized options.

UV Protection

Any pair of sunglasses you purchase should block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays (look for a note on the product description page that says so). This is important, as hiking and running outside will expose you to the sun for prolonged periods of time—UV-blocking glasses help protect from cataracts and other degenerative eye diseases caused by UV exposure. 


Polarized lenses are treated with a chemical that blocks horizontal light waves and only allows vertical light waves through. The outcome is reduced glare and increased protection for your eyes—imperative for sensitive eyes but helpful for most wearers. Polarized lenses tend to create darker, yet clearer, images than regular lenses, but they vary by quality (you get what you pay for). Polarizing is not the same thing as blocking UV rays—if you want polarized lenses, make sure they block UV rays, too.


These types of lenses vary their tint from lighter to darker depending on the light conditions. For instance, the lenses would automatically lighten when heading into a densely forested area on a trail run or under dark cloud cover. They’d darken again once you’re out in the bright sun. If you run or hike in variable light and weather conditions, this can be a helpful feature.


Some sunglasses come with multiple sets of removable lenses that vary between lighter (often yellow), darker, and clear tints. These types of glasses allow you to swap in lenses to match the weather and light conditions.


Mirrored lenses reflect light to reduce glare. Again, this is not the same thing as UV-blocking, so make sure the lenses are rated to protect against UV rays as well.

Considerations for Hikers

If you’ll be using your sunglasses for backpacking as well as day-hiking, durability becomes paramount. Look for frames that are durable and have a tough carrying case so they won’t get crushed in your pack.

If you intend to hike on snow, shop for glasses that provide both maximum coverage and maximum protection. Look for dark, mirrored, polarized lenses that will cut down on the glare of sunlight reflecting off snow. For maximum wind protection, seek out sunglasses with more coverage than less.

Considerations for Runners

Since running is a high-impact, high-sweat activity, it’s key to find glasses that stay put on your nose bridge—with minimal bouncing and minimal sliding. Look for glasses with rubber nose pieces and rubber or textured temple tips. These features will help the frames stay in place, especially when your face is sweaty.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.