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Outfitter: Vision Quest

Outfitter
By Rick Kahl
posted: 03/07/2003

Prescription sunglasses are a hot item. And now that many sport-eyewear manufacturers are offering prescription lenses for their coolest frames, prescription sportglasses are a really hot item.

And why not? To see to ski the steeps and trees, my only options used to be dealing with goofy clip-ons, getting a pair of dysfunctional designer Rx shades, or chancing wearing my contacts with regular sunglasses. But a pair of custom-Rx Bollés recently changed all that for me. My vision is as close to perfect as possible, despite a prescription that reads like bad odds in Las Vegas, and my new shades actually look like they belong on the slopes instead of strolling down Fifth Avenue.

But prescription sportglasses are not cheap, about double the cost of regular sunglasses, so it's fair to ask, are they really worth it?

Until recently, it was difficult to impossible to make high-performance wrap-style sunglasses with prescription lenses. Most optical shops still won't attempt it. But several sportglass companies have figured out how to keep a prescription lens, with its varying thickness, from popping out of the frame. Current technology still can't handle prescriptions with severe astigmatism in many wrap-frame styles, but even for these extreme cases, authentic sport-eyewear companies like Bollé, Oakley, and Vuarnet (see listing on page 154) still offer lighter, more durable, and more ski-worthy frames than, say, Giorgio Armani.

There's another advantage to ordering a custom prescription sportglass: Some of the techiest lens tints such as Bollé's new glare-cutting Sandstone, are available only from the manufacturer. A typical optical shop can make lenses for nonwrap sportglasses with standard tints and lens treatments (such as a high degree of UV protection, antireflective coatings, and polarization).

For my new Bollés, I chose the unbreakable nylon Fer de Lance style for its relative smallness and ultralight weight, with a polarized, standard corrective lens in Sandstone. The optics are at least the equal of my regular glasses. In general, prescription sunglass lenses can be made of either lightweight, virtually unbreakable polycarbonate or scratch-resistant glass.

Some late-season hike-to skiing put my new shades to the test. Compared with regular eyeglasses with clip-on sunglasses, my custom shades win hands down. My vision is less distorted, the tint is easier on the eye than with general-purpose clip-ons, and the whole package is really comfortable. The Bollé frames are lightweight and sporty and don't make me feel like a nerd.

The prescription sportglasses also created less worry and hassle than wearing a contacts-and-regular-sunglasses combination. Whenever I ski with my contacts, the possibility of losing one is always in the back of my mind. I've lost a lens while skiing, and it's not fun. Anyone who spends time in the backcountry knows what a pain contacts can be after a day or two. Plus, my eyes are always more comfortable with glasses than with contacts, especially in the dry air at high altitude. Visual clarity is pretty much the same, although peripheral vision does suffer some with glasses.

The clincher, of course, is that real sportglasses look very cool. That's not just my opinion; I've read it repeatedly in the faces staring back at me. I wore my new Bollés in the office one day and got a good deal more respect than I usually command. However, it's possible my Hawaiian shirt contributed to that, also.

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