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12 Days of Triathlon Gear: Day 6 - How to Choose The Right Sunglasses for Triathlon

The holidays are a time to celebrate with friends and family, look back on the year's accomplishments, and give thanks for everything we have. But they're also an excellent excuse to stock up on triathlon gear for next season! Obviously, we're partial to our own Switch Aero System, but in this 12-part series we'll highlight and recommend some of the best triathlon gear that will get you to the finish line faster in your next race.

Sunglasses may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of performance triathlon gear.  And while a new pair of shades might not be as sexy as a new bike or a new pair wheels, they can make the bike and run legs faster, safer, and more comfortable.

What to look for:

Polycarbonate lenses - Performance triathlon sunglass lenses are made of impact-resistant polycarbonate plastic instead of glass.  This ensures that the lenses protect your eyes (and don't shatter) when you get hit by a rogue pebble as you're cruising down a hill at 35 mph.

Frame vs. Frameless - If you're riding in an aggressive aero position (perhaps on our Quick-Release Aerobars, for example), you might find that your view is blocked by the frame at the top of the lens (see the left-hand picture below).  Many of the best sunglasses for triathlons feature frameless designs (see the right-hand picture below), where the lens is the frame, providing a clear, unobstructed view of the road ahead.

Polarized vs. Non-Polarized - Polarized lenses have a lot of advantages, in particular, they reduce glare if you're out on the water or on shiny reflective asphalt.  However, they can also make it more difficult to discern road irregularities in shady conditions, and may not perform as well if you're looking through them at an angle (for example, if you're riding in an aggressive aero position as mentioned above).  In general, we recommend non-polarized lenses because they tend to provide better visibility of the road in mixed conditions.  Essentially all sunglasses sold these days (including the cheapo gas-station variety) provide 100% UVA and UVB protection.

Changeable lenses - Many performance sunglasses include the option to change out the lenses depending on the conditions you encounter that day.  This can be a great way to tune the glasses to match the weather, terrain or activity.  Some manufacturers include alternative lenses with the sunglasses, while other require you to buy additional lenses separately, which can have a major impact on the cost, so read the fine print carefully.

We like:


Smith Pivlock V2:  Smith makes excellent optics, and their Pivlock series of glasses are perfectly suited for triathletes. The frameless design makes it easy to see without straining your neck, and the rubber grippers on the nose and temples hold the glasses firmly in place while riding or running.  The sunglasses include three interchangeable lenses, and the lens release mechanism lets you swap between lenses in a few seconds.

Tifosi Vogel:  The Vogel is a frameless sunglass design that is an excellent budget alternative.  The glasses are lightweight, and while not as optically excellent as other more pricey options, the frameless design does make for comfortable visibility while in the aero position. As a bonus, they're also available in a photochromatic version that automatically lightens or darkens based on the amount of outside light.

Oakley Radar:  The benchmark standard for performance sunglasses.  They're expensive, but they're available in a ton of different tints, and the performance is legendary.  Unfortunately, the glasses have frames, so if you're accustomed to riding a very aggressive position, you may want to look elsewhere.