SFS Gear Reviews: Protecting your eyes without breaking the bank

Sunglasses are a critical piece of gear if you plan on spending prolonged periods of time in the sun. Not only do they protect your eyes, but the right pair can help you spot marine-life swimming below the surface or boost your bird-watching prowess. An enormous, multi-billion dollar industry has formed to produce and market the right sunglasses to the right people.

It’s all bullshit.

Five dollars. Five dollars is the most any field scientist should commit to a pair of working sunglasses. Why? Because they break, get lost, and wearing a $200 pair of Oakleys on your face screams “I have valuable things, come look through my pockets.” Plus, no matter what the sunglass store says, you can get all the same features, and more, from a moderately priced pair of safety glasses.

Safety glasses?

You too can look this cool while working in the field. photo by Amy Freitag

Safety glasses. Walk passed the fancy sunglass display at your local superstore and head to the tool section. There you will find tinted, polarized safety glasses that not only look just like regular sunglasses, but are much more durable. I have a pair of Berkley polarized safety glasses I got for $1.99 that have held up for years. If you’re working with tools, you should be wearing eye protection anyway. And at a few bucks a pop, you can bring an extra pair for when you accidentally lose them.

You may look a little goofy, but plenty of designer glasses make you look goofy too, so who cares? Find a pair that fits, looks decent, and does what you need and buy a few extra. Leave the brand names at home for looking cool on campus and take the work glasses to work.

Utility – 4/5 (you won’t need them on the night shift)

Durability – 5/5 (they’re built to keep shrapnel and the sun out of your eyes)

Comfort – 5/5 (pick the right pair and you won’t know they’re there)

Price – $

Statement of use – I’ve had 1 or 2 pairs with me on every field season I’ve ever done and I wear them whenever I’m using power tools.



  1. Mike · January 20, 2011

    While I would be inclined to agree, and I personally would never spend $200+ on a pair of sunglasses (for all the above mentioned reasons), I would not trade my Costa’s for anything. Granted, I paid nothing for them, and the job that bought them for me got them at discount. I take extra care to make sure they don’t get lost. Should I loose my costas, I’d not replace them anytime soon, unless I had the same opportunity. I would go with an inexpensive pair of polarized ones. I also have a pair of safety glasses (multiple pairs) that are polarized and I have as back-ups, extras/spares that also cost nothing since my dad works construction. They are very good though.

  2. Anna L · January 20, 2011

    I would go for cheap pair of sunglasses, but my problem is that I need prescription lenses to see, are there any alternatives for the rest of us with vision problems?

  3. WhySharksMatter · January 20, 2011

    My sunglasses cost about $15. They’re polarized, they’re large enough to keep the salt spray out of my eyes AND they fit over my glasses. Plus, they’re mad stylish. I haven’t considered safety glasses.

    Yeah, prescription sunglasses are silly.

  4. TWY · January 21, 2011

    Keen on the gear reviews! It’s like the ‘Top said, “buy some shades or cheap sunglasses”. Just remember, if they’re cheap make sure they have UV protection. Not all of them do.

    • Alan Dove · January 24, 2011

      All sunglasses sold in the US must be UV-blocking, as of a few years ago.

    • TWY · January 25, 2011

      That’s interesting. According to a recent (1/14/11) New York Times article, “the F.D.A. does not require that sunglasses have UV protection”. Now I’m confused.


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