Protect your eyes and enjoy the best views during paddling adventures with a pair of the best kayaking sunglasses...
Going out for a paddle on a sunny day is a sensationally enjoyable experience, but water reflects glare and it’s vitally important to protect your eyes from solar damage. The best kayaking sunglasses have polarised lenses, which not only block glare, but also accentuate contrast and enhance clarity, so you can see how the water is moving better, and also spot features, flora and fauna under the water as you glide along the surface.
Finding the right polarised sunglasses can revolutionise your paddling outings, revealing a whole subaquatic world that you could only guess at before. And, of course, if you no longer have to spend hours squinting while you’re out on the water, you’re not going to develop so many wrinkles and creases around your eyes.
While some models are a significant investment, the short and long-term health of your eyes is well worth looking after, and the best kayaking sunglasses look good both on and off the water, so you can get excellent use out of them.
Many can be customised, with multiple lens and frame options to suit your preferred look, but it’s important not to sacrifice functionality for style. Good grip, comprehensive coverage and buoyant build materials are all important features to look out for.
8 of the best kayaking sunglasses
Brilliant, buoyant kayaking sunglasses with superior polarised lenses, good glare reduction and thermogrip frames
Specifications: Design: Floating sunglasses | Materials: TR90 nylon; thermoplastic rubber | Weight: 24g | Lens type: Polarised | Lens colours: Off-shore blue | Frame colours: Black matte / Black & red matte / Black crystal & blue matte | UV protection: 100% | Category: 3 | VLT: 12% | Extras: Soft material storage pouch
Reasons to buy: Great polarised lenses; floating design makes retrieval easier; very light and comfortable; dynamic thermogrip frames; good for larger heads
Reasons to avoid: No hard cover included; limited choice of frame and lens; no recycled content
The reactive thermogrip incorporated into the frames of the Bollé Holman means that the more you sweat, the more securely the glasses grip on to your temples and nose. If they do happen to fall from face, though, these sunnies float – the clue’s in the name – making it easier for paddlers to rescue them from the sea, lake or river being explored.
The polarised Cat 3 lenses are comfortably dark enough supply good levels of protection and prevent squinting, while not being so shaded that they’re unsafe for everyday tasks like driving. And although they are far from the biggest lenses on test, the frames subtlety wrap around your face to supply some decent defence against glare seeping in from the sides.
Besides dealing with the brightness, a polarizing filter in the lens adds a blue hue to the view, which enhances contrast on water – making them excellent for sea kayaking.
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Classy high-wrap kayaking sunglasses for the paddler looking for on-water performance and on-shore style
Specifications: Design: High-wrap, watersports sunglasses | Materials: ‘O Matter’ frames and Plutonite lenses | Weight: 30g | Lens type: Polarised Prizm with Iridium coating | Lens colours: Deep water; Black; Tungsten; Sapphire; Shallow water; Ruby; Grey | Frame colours: Matte black; Matte carbon; Matte tortoise; Matte translucent blue; Polished black; Black ink | UV protection: 100% | Category: 3 | VLT: 12% | Extras: Detachable leash and water-resistant eyewear case with attachment clip
Reasons to buy: Super stylish; excellent glare-busting coverage; top-quality lenses; comfortable, secure-fitting frame; robust case included
Reasons to avoid: They don’t float; no vents; pricey; no recycled material used
If you want to look good on and off the water, the Oakley Split Shots will certainly fulfil that brief, but there is a lot more to these top-end sport sunnies than the ability to turn heads. The high-wrap frame design cuts out almost all solar glare from above, below and either side, and the HDO (High Definition Optics) polarised Prizm lenses, made with Plutonite and coated in Iridium, offer best-in-class clarity and definition, plus top-level eye protection.
Stress tested to a high level, these glasses promise excellent impact resistance, in case you cop a wayward paddle. The no-slip nosepad, constructed from a substance that Oakley’s Avatar-loving marketing team have called ‘Unobtanium’, provides good grip in waves or choppy conditions, and its hydro-reactive hold only gets stronger if you start sweating.
The two hat- and helmet-compatible arms compete the three-point fit, but if the glasses are somehow dislodged while you’re out on the water, then the leash (included) supplies some extra security (because at this price, you don’t want to lose them). Also included is a rigid carry case.
Ocean and sea-focussed polarised sunnies with a tailor-made blue light filter to ease eye strain
Specifications: Design: Sport glasses | Materials: Grilamid TR-90 Nylon Frame; Polycarbonate Lenses; Hydrophilic rubber grips | Weight: 30g | Lens type: Polarised | Lens colours: Blue mirrored | Frame colours: Matte smoke | UV protection: 100% | Category: 3 | VLT: Unspecified | Extras: Zippered hard case & fabric cleaning bag
Reasons to buy: Specifically designed with filters for use on the water; wraparound design cuts glare; very secure fit; fog-busting venting; affordable
Reasons to avoid: They don’t float; no recycled material used
Designed for fishing folk, but absolutely perfect for ocean- and sea-going kayakers and paddleboarders, Tifosi’s Crit sunglasses with Enliven Off-Shore lenses boast a blue mirror filter that reduces the intensity of high energy blue light coming off the water and cuts down on glare, to protect your eyes and protect them from strain.
(If you do more paddling on rivers and lakes than on the sea and ocean, then Tifosi’s Enliven On-Shore range will suit you better, with their green mirror filter doing a lot of the smart work in that more verdant aquascape to improve visual acuity.)
On both models, the polarised lenses supply excellent contrast and will help you spot underwater wildlife as you paddle. The nose bridge is substantial and very comfortable, and the head-hugging arms keep these sunnies in the right place – the hydrophilic rubber pads increase their grip when you get hot and sweaty. Venting on the frame and lenses stops the Crits from fogging up. Optically decentred lenses make sure your vision isn’t distorted.
Versatile and stylish little sunnies with polarised lenses and decent nose and temple grips
Specifications: Design: Sport and lifestyle | Materials: Grilamid frames with Zeiss polycarbonate lenses | Weight: 25g | Lens type: Polarised | Lens colours: Super blue mirror; Black matte; Red mirror; Classic green; Super pink; Violet mirror; Green mirror | Frame colours: Avio Matt; Black matte; Blaze matte; Blonde matte; Blush; Crystal; Olive green matte | UV protection: 100% | Category: 2 and 3 | VLT: 11–24% | Extras: Fabric storage pouch
Reasons to buy: Super stylish; light; very secure and comfortable bridge and temple grips; beautiful Zeiss lenses
Reasons to avoid: They don’t float; too small for some faces; minimal side protection; no recycled content
Made in Italy, the cool Cosmos from Koo are available in a rich mix of frame and top-class Zeiss lens combos, but be careful when you choose, because some lenses are Cat 2 and others are Cat 3, and the VLT (visible light transfer) varies accordingly – more on this below, but very basically, Cat 3 glasses are darker than Cat 2 glasses.
All lens options are polarised, and offer excellent clarity and contrast while looking at waves and objects on the water – making them ideal for paddle sports (amongst other outdoor activities).
These sunnies have soft rubber pads on the nose and at the temples, which keep the glasses securely in position even when the water is lumpy, and they are comfortable to wear for long periods.
This is a one-size-fits-all design, but I found them to be small fitting on my (perhaps over-sized) face. They’re fairly square shaped, and there isn’t much in the way of protection from side glare.
Best budget kayaking sunglasses
Specifications: Materials: Polyamide (70%), with styrene ethylene & butadiene styrene (30%) / 100% polycarbonate lenses | Weight:31g / 1oz | Lens type: Grey-tint, category-3 polarised lenses | Frame colours: Black & electric blue / Dark petrol blue & black / Black & pale grey | Lens colours: Blue / Grey / Orange | UV protection:100% | Filter category:3 | VLT:8–18% | Extras: None
Reasons to buy: Excellent polarised lenses; Lightweight floating frame; Good, comfortable grips keep the glasses firmly in place; Two sizes available; Arms feature portals for attaching a leash; CO2 impact reduced by 11% by ecological design; 2-year warranty
Reasons to avoid: Lens material susceptible to scratches; No pouch or case included; Frame is dark coloured, making retrieval tricky; No leash included
The frame of the Tribord 500 M Polarised Sunglasses has a wrap-around design, which very effectively keeps side glare out. The glasses are available in two sizes: Small (S) and Medium (M) – the latter will fit the majority of men’s faces (according to Decathlon, and I agree), while the Small will predominantly suit the face shape of younger people and women.
Lightweight and (importantly) buoyant, the polymer and styrene frame of the Tribord 500 M polarised sunglasses is flexible and robust – making these shades more than capable of surviving some drops and bumps while you’re out sailing or paddling – but the lenses are less likely to last as long unless you’re more careful.
The category 3 grey tinted lenses are quite dark and very protective, absorbing between 82% and 92% of visible light (the exact VLT isn’t quoted, but you shouldn’t drive in these shades in poor light). The 100% polarisation means they offer excellent definition and contrast while you’re out on the water.
The lenses do have a mirrored finish, however, and they can become scratched quite easily – especially since the glasses don’t come with a protective pouch or case. Scratches won’t necessarily negatively affect the performance or protection they offer, but it will them look rubbish.
Julbo Ultimate Cover Ocean Master
Serious protection and ultimate performance for dedicated paddlers who spend lots of time on the water
Specifications: Design: Full protection wraparound sunglasses | Materials: Grip Tech structure; Spandex side and nose shields; neoprene floating cord | Weight: 25g (42g with shields and cord) | Lens type: Spectron 4 HD Glare control with 80% polarization | Lens colours: Black and yellow mirrored | Frame colours: Black | UV protection: 100% | Category: 4 | VLT: 6% | Extras: Nose guard, removable Spandex side shields, high-vis yellow neoprene floating cord, fabric storage pouch
Reasons to buy: Unbeatable protection from the elements; modular set-up with customisable features; lightweight; great grip with helmet-compatible arms; fog-preventing high venting; excellent extras
Reasons to avoid: Too dark for some conditions; over specced for occasional paddlers; not designed for off-water / social use; only float with neoprene cord attached; no recycled content
If you regularly spend long hours on the water in bright conditions – paddling kayaks, canoes or SUPs for pleasure or professionally as a guide – and you are concerned about the very real risk to your skin and eyes from prolonged exposure to the sun, these glasses are an excellent investment.
As the name suggests, they supply serious protection from the discomfort of glare and the harmful effects of solar exposure, with a wraparound design and Cat 4 lenses, plus a removable Spandex nose guard (easily malleable to fit any snout) and side shields.
The shape of the lens facilitates an uninterrupted, panoramic view of everything around you on the water – ideal for spotting wildlife, other craft, obstructions and potential dangers – and the high venting prevents fogging. Being Cat 4, the lenses are dark (too dark, sometimes, if conditions are really gloomy), but the 80% polarisation provides good contrast and clarity in bright conditions.
The tailored temple grips fit beneath a helmet if you’re wearing one, and together with the bridge they securely hold the glasses in place in choppy conditions. The supplied head cord provides extra security against loss, but if the glasses do somehow fall in the water, the high-vis cord comes complete with a float and the bright colours make them easy to spot.
Lightweight, fully protective polarised kayaking sunglasses endorsed by Great Britain’s SailGP Team
Specifications: Design: Performance sunglasses | Materials: Nylon | Weight: 27g | Lens types: 4KO; 4KO polarised; 8KO; 8KO polarised | Lens colours: Smoke; Blue; Gold; Silver blue; Green; Fire | Frame colours: Matte black; Matte navy; Frosted clear; Matte while; Infinite black; Infinite grey | UV protection: 100% | Category: Unspecified | VLT: Unspecified | Extras: Microfibre storage pouch
Reasons to buy: Excellent 8KO lenses; recycled frames; lightweight and comfortable; good nose and temple grip; large lenses
Reasons to avoid: They don’t float; poor side protection; pricey
Sported by the Great Britain SailGP team, the Tempests were designed to stay in place on your face during the roughest of weathers. As such, they feature excellent nose bridge and temple grips, and although they may have been designed as sailing sunglasses, we can report that they are perfect for paddling too.
Available in a wide range of frame and lens colour combinations, you can choose between 4KO and 8KO, polarised and non polarised lenses; the 8KO polarised versions are the best for paddling kayaks, canoes and SUPs, but they are also the most expensive.
They are, however, built to last. The frames (impressively made with recycled material) are impact resistant and have a screwless design (to avoid rusting). The lenses boast hydroleophobic and triple-layer scratch protection, and the Tempests come with a lifetime guarantee.
To see the difference an 8KO polarised lens makes over a 4KO lens, have a little play around on this visual comparison tool. The lenses are large, but they do sit quite proud of your face, and there’s a surprising lack of side protection.
Barz Optics Cabo
Floating, wraparound kayaking sunglasses with good anti-glare capability
Specifications: Design: Wraparound | Materials: Polycarbonate | Weight: 34g | Lens type: Polarised | Lens colours: Grey; Black | Frame colours: Gloss grey with red trim; Matt black; Matt carbon fibre & grey; Matt white & blue | UV protection: 100% | Category: Not quoted | VLT: Not quoted | Extras: Neoprene case and retainer
Reasons to buy: Wraparound style hugs face and cuts out glare; they float if dropped; two sizes available
Reasons to avoid: No vents, so some fogging can occur; no recycled material used
Aussie brand Barz was launched in 1996 by former surfing champion Kevin Barr, frustrated because he couldn’t find the sort of sunnies he wanted to wear while on the water, and because he’d seen surfers and outdoor adventurers suffering from pterigium, a kind of cataract caused by prolonged exposure to UV rays wind, spray and salt sometimes known as ‘surfer’s eye’.
While Barr had activities such as surfing, skiing, jet skiing, sailing and sailboarding in mind when he set his designers to task, the end result is a range of sunglasses that are excellent for kayakers, canoeists and SUPers, and the Cabo is our pick of the pack for paddlers.
With a good-looking wraparound shape that hugs the face and cuts out almost all glare, as well as providing protection from the wind and sand, these lightweight sunnies are frameless on the bottom. These glasses are available in two sizes to accommodate different face shapes.
The non-slip nose piece is soft but supplies a firm fit and the arms grip your temples securely without being uncomfortable – they also have a slot to make them easily compatible with a retainer (supplied), to help prevent you dropping them into the water, but if this does happen they float.
How to choose the best kayaking sunglasses
Buying sunglasses for any purpose can be a bit bamboozling. There are umpteen frame and lens options out there, and brands use bewildering and opaque language to describe their various attributes. Certain crucial factors combine to make the best kayaking sunglasses – following are the key things to look out for.
Categories and VLT
The language of sunglasses can quickly get technical, and often brands assume you know what classifications and acronyms mean, which can lead to confusion and inappropriate purchases.
Sunglasses are divided into categories, with Cat 1 glasses being the least shaded and Cat 4 being the darkest. Darker does not necessarily mean better, though. Cat 4 glasses are designed for high-altitude mountaineering and exploring in extreme conditions where the harmful effects of solar exposure are accentuated, and they are not suitable for lots of low-altitude activities (in many countries it is illegal to drive while wearing Cat 4 glasses).
VLT stands for ‘Visible Light Transmission’. It refers to the amount of light that passes through a lens to reach your eye, and it is usually quoted in a percentage rating. In contrast to the category rating, the lower the VLT the darker the glasses will be. Cat 4 glasses, for example, will cut out almost all light and have a VLT of <10%.
While polarised lenses aren’t necessarily the best choice for all activities (if you need to read a screen at all while you’re out and about then non-polarised are better), they are definitely the best choice for paddling pursuits.
Whether you’re kayaking, canoeing or SUPing on the sea or along rivers, polarised lenses will reduce glare and vastly improve contrast and definition, enabling you to read the water better and spot objects (and wildlife) beneath the surface.
For obvious reasons, sunglasses that float, either independently or because they have a buoyant lanyard, are the best choice for paddlers. Some sailing sunglasses don’t prioritise this, because the chances of you convincing a skipper to turn a yacht around so you can try and retrieve your glasses are slim, but when you’re kayaking, canoeing or SUPing, you are the captain of your craft, and the chances of finding the jettisoned products are much higher because of your proximity to the water.
Ideally, the glasses won’t go in the water in the first place. Look for a pair with good three-point grip supplied by the nosepad and the two arms. The hold needs to be firm but not squeezy and uncomfortable when worn for several hours.
Many of the best kayaking sunglasses have reactive thermogrip elements in the bridge and temple-touching areas, made from a substance that increases its grip when wet (for example, when you start sweating).
As well as coming from above, solar glare reflects off the surface of the water and can hit you from all directions while you’re paddling. For this reason, the very best kayaking sunglasses supply surround protection, either with wraparound style frames or additional side panels (sometimes removable).
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