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Have you ever tried to ski without goggles? Generally speaking, it’s a horrendous idea. Snowflakes bombard eyeballs like X-wings did the Death Star. Wind withers peepers into useless prunes. Skewer-sharp branches threaten at every turn. And blinding UV rays, reflecting off obliging snow, scorch retinas to a crisp that a steakhouse maître d’ might euphemistically describe as “well done.”
Without goggles, even the most proficient of skiers and snowboarders are as blind and helpless as newborn puppies. That’s why we’ve wrangled specs from the top brands and put them to the test. In this buyer’s guide, you’ll find the best goggles available for the 2020 season, including top budget picks. Oh, and if you wanna geek out on goggle knowledge, feel free jump down to our deep dive into lens science, expert opinions and critical buying concerns.
If price is no object, allow the M4 to be the object of your ocular affection. Premium Sonar by Zeiss toric lenses keep these Anons on pace with the optical elite (we’re in love with the versatile Sonar Green, 23% VLT, as an everyday lens). However, it’s the magnetic lens-swapping system that pushes the M4 a step ahead. While more and more brands are hopping on the magnetic bandwagon, Anon’s been a forceful pioneer: the M4 is the fittingly named fourth men’s installment of their magnetic lineup. Launched in 2012, the M1 had six contact points. Now, the M4 has nine, and the connection has never been more secure. Expansive peripheral vision, plush triple-layer foam and an included low-light lens and magnetic face mask bolster the M4’s campaign. Lastly, on a neat but rather unnecessary note, the M4 is the first goggle to be compatible with both cylindrical and toric lenses. We recommend sticking with the optically superior toric lenses— they’re tough to beat.
“Oakley” and “affordable” in the same sentence? Yes indeed! While far from cheap, the Line Miner pairs a classic, stylish frame with Oakley’s lauded Prizm lenses for a reasonable, mid-range pair of goggles that pros and newbies alike will love. The lens can be popped free of the frame for swapping, although it is touch-and-go and best done indoors with a goggle wipe handy. The wide cylindrical lens sits snug to the face and offers first-class peripheral vision, plus the techy Prizm’s contrast and color are crispier than blackened bacon (we tested the Prizm Sapphire Iridium). Additionally, the Line Miner was one of the most comfortable goggles of the entire test.
Like a Honda Accord, the Smith Range is cheap, borderline generic and refreshingly dependable. Similar to said sedan, the Range won’t turn heads by any means, but these goggles will get you where you need to go. Cylindrical Carbonic-X lenses offer better optics than suggested by the $75 price tag. A large fit and gently curved frame help the Range integrate with a wide range of helmets. Four vents over the eyebrows and a Fog-X-treated inner lens help mitigate run-ruining condensation. For casual and/or thrifty skiers and snowboarders, the Range is worthy of consideration.
The sleek, frameless Fall Line XL offers futuristic, oversized styling and a lens-swapping system is similar to that of its full-framed cousin, the Line Miner — not so easy that you’d want to whip out your low-light lens on the chairlift. Prizm lenses earned two thumbs up from our test crew due to consummate pop and contrast. One snowboarder, who happens to sling goggles at a ski town optics shop, commented, “Prizm is like looking at an HDTV.” Cylindrical lens lovers will fall head over heels for the Fall Line XL, and those who aren’t on the hunt for an XL fit will be satisfied with the medium-sized Fall Line.
Thanks to new creased lenses — what Smith calls BirdsEye Vision technology — the 4D Mag is arguably the most innovative goggle on the market. Compared to the popular I/O Mag, the exaggerated curvature of the 4D Mag boosts field of view by 25 percent. However, when you look down through this new-fangled lens — something you almost never do while actually riding — there is significant distortion. As such, it’s more helpful when you’re looking for your CamelBak hose or reaching into your chest pocket for a walkie-talkie or Snickers Bar. Despite a hype-worthy lens story, our favorite aspect of the 4D Mag is actually Smith’s lens-swapping system. It’s not as simple as Anon’s, but it’s easy enough to do on the chairlift, and by relying on both locking levers and magnets, Smith’s adopted a belt-and-suspenders approach that hardcore skiers and snowboarders will respect.
From afar, the PXV looks like an oversized cylindrical lens, but that’s merely a mirage: it’s actually a toric lens. The Panotech lenses possess a slight curve in the vertical axis in order to capture the optical benefits of spherical lenses. Science aside, the stylish PXV offers a sweeping field of view, and LumaLenses (plural — the PXV comes with a spare) supply clarity and depth perception that’s only a shade below top-tier goggles that cost an additional $50 to $100. All told, this is a smart choice for the mid-range crowd. Our sole gripe with the PXV? Due to the shape of the lenses and the box in which the goggles were shipped, there was a centimeter-wide scratch directly in the center of the lens upon arrival. We assume this is a fluke, but a bummer just the same.
Pairing bulbous toric lenses with a thin yet durable TPU-frame — and available in flashy prints or blacked-out mattes — the EGG is guaranteed to be easy on the eyes. Same goes for performance in the field: testers approved of the highly reflective Red Chrome (VLT 23%) option for mixed conditions and general use. Form-fitting triple-layer foam, a flexible frame, Over the Glasses (OTG) fit and a wide, adjustable strap helped the EGG earn points in the comfort category. Pro tip: rather than buying multiple lenses, step up to the photochromic EGG ($220+) — lens-swapping mid-mountain with this system is not recommended.
New for 2020, the Method fittingly serves up 20/20 vision. At $130, these goggles are one of your most affordable avenues to sample Carl Zeiss’s lens expertise. In fact, the Method comes with two of Giro’s VIVID lenses, and the Slash Seal interchangeable system isn’t too tricky, although it definitely isn’t the best lens-swapping system out there for on-mountain adjustments. The Method’s cylindrical lenses and suave, minimalist frame are stylish enough for even the most nit-picky of park riders, and Giro’s Adapt Straps allow you to get creative and customize your kit.
Once you look through photochromic lenses, there’s no looking back. Enter Zeal’s Hemisphere, a well-ventilated, well-executed spherical option. When transitioning from flat light to clear skies and back again, the dark photochromic lens we tested adjusted automatically and without a hitch. A Rocky Mountain tester did comment that the lens failed to offer the contrast required on seriously stormy days, so when you can barely distinguish choppy tracks from fresh powder, you may want a pair of goggles more tuned to extremely flat light.
The Swedish eyewear experts at POC joined forces with Zeiss (honestly, who hasn’t?!) to develop the Fovea Mid Clarity, a top-of-the-line, full-framed, smaller-sized goggle with a wide field of view and the clarity required at the top of puckering lines. Zeiss-born Clarity lenses are crafted from scientifically optimized base tints, which are then glossed with a conditions-specific Spektris mirror coating. The result? According to our crew, the Category 2 lens we tested (22% VLT) is a high-contrast, specialized lens that deserves a place on the optical podium. If you need a bigger fit or crave an extra low-light lens, step up to the Fovea Clarity Comp ($220).
From my base in Crested Butte, Colorado, I reached out to top goggle brands and asked them to ship out their latest and greatest products. I also asked brands to include a pair of more affordable goggles, in order to determine our top budget picks. To gather data for this buyer’s guide, I first analyzed products myself, and then I handed off pairs to a network of proven, ruthless snowboard, splitboard and ski testers to put goggles on the mountain. Of the 20 goggles tested, the ones above were our 10 favorites.
While I’m an expert on ski goggles, having tested countless pairs over the past five years, I’m no doctor. In order to outline exactly why you should rock goggles when you go skiing, I spoke with David Robbins, a Doctor of Optometry out of ABBA Eyecare in Gunnison, Colorado.
Snowblindness: “Skiing without goggles, especially at high elevation with more UV exposure, is definitely a mistake,” says Robbins. “Acute over-exposure can lead to photokeratitis, more commonly known as ‘snowblindness.’ ” Photokeratitis typically produces one of three reactions in the cornea — none of which sound particularly pleasant. “The cornea appears like it has been rubbed raw with sand paper, the cornea appears like a cheese grater went across it or the cornea looks like a fried egg (the result of a true UV burn).”
Macular Degeneration: Robbins explains that while painful, photokeratitis isn’t necessarily a long-term concern. That honor goes to macular degeneration, “an aging disease that leads to progressive vision loss,” which, alongside cataracts, is “expedited or potentially caused by chronic overexposure to UV.”
Corneal Abrasion: “But can’t I just use my sunglasses?” This is one of the most common questions people ask while shopping for goggles. Sunglasses, while better than nothing, don’t come close to offering the complete face-wrapping protection of goggles. “During ski season I see more tree-branch-to-the-eye corneal abrasion than snow blindness,” notes Robbins. “The tree branch will inevitably find a way under the sunglasses!” Sunglasses, in general, aren’t built to withstand these types of impacts, whereas goggles are designed with jabbing tree branches and tomahawk crashes in mind. Furthermore, while shades can look stylish when worn with a beanie, they are unequivocally dorky when paired with a helmet — please don’t even try.
Note: For backcountry skiing or splitboarding, sunglasses are often preferable on the uphill, as they are less prone to fogging up during rigorous climbs. When touring in highly reflective glacial terrain, it’s common to see backcountry travelers relying on “glacier glasses.” This sunglasses subset is defined by small, curved leather or plastic flaps near the temples, which help the shades fit snugly against the face and offer more protection from UV rays. However, these flaps probably aren’t going to stop a lance-like tree branch, and so we always recommend carrying a pair of goggles for the descent.
Lenses make or break goggles. As such, we chopped it up with Trevor Moore, the Senior Product Manager at Anon, seeing as how Anon’s M4 goggles were our favorite from the test. We were impressed by both the M4’s intuitive magnetic lens-swapping system and their premium lenses, which were developed in collaboration with the ultimate optic overlord: Carl Zeiss. We’ll touch on both interchangeable lenses and lens technology in general below.
A basic understanding of Visible Light Transmission (VLT) is helpful when shopping for goggles. According to Trevor, VLT (measured in percentage) refers to the “how much light passes through the lens and reaches your eye.” He goes on to point out that these percentages are tweaked by adjusting tints and mirror coatings. Brilliant bluebird days require darker low-VLT lenses, while nocturnal skiers can get away with clear high-VLT lenses. And in between, there’s a wide range of lenses that are tuned to more mixed conditions.
With mountain conditions often changing with little to no warning, skiers and snowboarders need to be prepared. There are two main ways to navigate these shifts. The first is to swap out lenses (or goggles) as needed. The second is to pick a pair of goggles that come with photochromic lenses, which actually adapt to the light.
Interchangeable lenses: Interchangeable lens systems can run steep (oftentimes upwards of $200), but they’re well worth it — skiing in flat light while rocking lenses intended for a bluebird day is a recipe for a season-ending injury. When you purchase a pair of goggles with interchangeable lenses, it usually comes with a low-light lens and a darker, tinted lens for brighter days. While you can flesh out your kit with a third mid-range lens, it’s not necessary. Another pro of buying an interchangeable lens system? Should you step on your goggles or get up close and personal with a tree branch, you can always replace your mangled lenses at a fraction of the cost of a pair of new goggles.
While interchangeable lens systems all serve the same purpose, the technologies vary immensely from brand to brand. Anon’s M4 uses 18 rare earth magnets to secure lens to goggle frame, and is both surprisingly strong and incredibly easy to use. Dragon’s SwiftLock tech goes for a more mechanical connection, with levers that click satisfyingly to lock a lens into place. Smith’s new 4D Mag combines the two, with magnets as well as mechanical connection points at the bottom of the frame. Regardless of the system, lens swapping should be a straightforward endeavor that requires little effort and can be done with gloved hands; unfortunately, that’s not often the case.
Photochromic Lenses: For those who are sick of changing lenses with frostbitten fingers, photochromic lenses (such as the Zeal Hemisphere above) are an attractive, albeit expensive, alternative. “Photochromic lenses offer the most dynamic tint spectrum in one package, which is helpful in a day that has multiple lighting conditions,” says Robbins. “They have their disadvantages, such as taking a few minutes to change when set in a completely new light environment (walking into a warming hut), but normally while skiing the conditions change gradually.” Should the day start sunny but clouds roll in come afternoon, photochromic goggles are dreamy. But ripping in and out of sun and shadow? You might prefer to just lock in a mid-range VLT lens and stick with it.
Cylindrical lenses: As the name suggests, cylindrical lenses look as if they’re cut out of the side of a tube — they’re curved on the horizontal axis, and straight on the vertical axis. These lenses are generally cheaper and have more optical aberrations than spherical lenses.
Spherical lenses: Spherical lenses look as if — you guessed it — they’re a section of a sphere. By more closely simulating the natural shape of the eye, this curvature offers better peripherals and clarity, though it also comes with a steeper price tag.
Toric lenses and lens variations: Ready to nerd out? Toric lenses derive their name from the “torus,” which is not to be confused with your ex-girlfriend’s zodiac sign. Essentially, a torus is a donut shape. If you picture slicing off a sliver of donut, you can begin to understand why toric lenses are becoming more and more popular. “A spherical goggle is curved equally on the x- and y-axis, like a basketball,” says Robbins. “Where the toric lens only has slight curvature on the y-axis and perfect curvature on the x… most likely, the toric lenses will have the best optics due to matching curvature of eye and face more closely.”
As Robbins mentions, toric lenses can better mimic the shape of the eye — which is not, in fact, a perfect sphere. Also, spherical and cylindrical lenses are somewhat limited by their geometry — a sphere is a sphere and a cylinder a cylinder — but manufacturers can adjust the dimensions and segmentation of the donut to play with various lens shapes. They have more wiggle room to tweak the recipe, manipulate curvature and pursue perfection.
Toric lenses, then, have infinite iterations. Dragon’s Panotech lenses, for instance, look like cylindrical lenses, although they’re considered toric due to a subtle bend on the vertical axes. On the other side of the spectrum, goggles like the Anon M4 or Electric EGG look spherical at first glance; not until you put them under the microscope can you see differences between the vertical and horizontal axes.
Lastly, there are some lenses that don’t fall neatly into any category. You have out-of-the-box innovations like Smith’s new 4D Mag. This beast is dramatically curved — almost angular — at the bottom of the lens, which helps to extend the goggle’s field of view.
Fit and comfort: Picking the right pair of goggles is largely a matter of fit. Sure, you can buy the best goggles in the world, but if they don’t fit your face, wearing them will be a drag. The best way to ensure that your prospective goggles fit your face is to try them on in person. Head to your local ski shop or buy a few contenders online and return those that don’t work.
Helmet compatibility: If you wear a helmet — and you definitely should — purchase your goggles and helmet simultaneously to make sure the goggles fit well inside the helmet and there aren’t any annoying gaps or pesky hot spots. Or, if you already have a helmet you like, make sure you try on your goggles with that specific helmet. Borderline obvious advice: you’ll likely get the best helmet/goggle match with two products from the same brand.
Budget: Anon’s M4 — our top rated goggle — costs $300. Yes, it comes with a magnetic face mask that snaps to the goggle frame, as well as a spare lens, but still, it’s prohibitively expensive. There are definitely cheaper goggles that work well — like the mid-range Oakley Line Miner and Giro Method or the budget Smith Range — but when it comes to goggles, you get what you pay for. If you’re spending under $100, you likely won’t get an extra lens, an easy interchangeable lens system or premium optics.
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