The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Armored Eyes

Mom always said, “you'll put your eye out with that!” Prove her wrong. Wear shooting glasses.

Unless you're Snake Plissken or a Halloween pirate, an eye patch really shouldn't be on the top of anyone's shopping list. So why tempt fate by leaving your eye protection at home while you're heading to the range? Shooting glasses are an essential part of your gear and should be worn anytime firearms are involved. After all, you can own many types of guns, but you only get one set of eyeballs

Daniel Bales takes range safety very seriously, not just because his occupation depends on it, but so too does his life. As both a SWAT member with and the rangemaster of the Washoe County Sheriff's Office in Nevada, Bales understands the hazards involved with shooting, which others might not think twice about. “A shooter should always wear eye protection to reduce the risk of eye damage,” Bales says, “be it from dust, spent casings glass fragments, and steel-target ricochets, just to name a few.” When you also take into account high-pressure gases released from each round and environmental factors like UV rays and blowing sand, there are a lot of hazards that can affect — or even completely ruin — your vision.

See Shooting Glasses Buyer's Guide

“While the likelihood of injury may not be great, the potential consequences are incredible — after all, we rely on our eyes to take in information and to navigate,” says Wes Doss, founder and head firearms instructor at Khyber Interactive Associates. “Damaging an eye and losing its function, especially during critical situations, could prove to be fatal.”

Statistics show that wearing eye protection can reduce eye injuries by more than 90 percent. So, like wearing clean underwear, using eye pro is obviously a no-brainer. But which ones should you buy? In today's market, the choices are virtually endless.

In these pages, RECOIL takes an in-depth look at the latest eye protection and talks to experts in the industry to help explain the cutting-edge technology and how they might help keep your vision as sharp as your EDC knife. With ammo prices still fluctuating due to scarcity, we decided to focus on spectacles that are more affordable, from $130 down to pairs that cost just a little more than a couple of movie tickets.

ANSI Versus Mil-Spec

While we're the first to admit that running any gear that's Mil-spec sounds pretty cool, we really wanted to know whether shooting glasses designed specifically for the military were any different (and better) than your typical pair of safety eyewear — usually designated as meeting or exceeding ANSI Z87.1 standards. The answer, in short, is yes. That doesn't, however, necessarily mean that you need to replace all your eye pro with Mil-spec models.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. First, what the heck does ANSI Z87.1 mean? Essentially, it is a safety standard — established by the private, nonprofit American National Standards Institute — to ensure that a product meets certain safety criteria. Certification is voluntary.

While some eyewear might not have ANSI certification and still be perfectly safe to use on the range, having that third-party rating is a quick way for U.S. consumers to know that the product meets a safety minimum. Though there are many levels of ANSI certification, the current baseline for protective eyewear is ANSI Z87.1-2010, says Drew Wallace, the military product manager for Oakley.

“The foundation of this test is that the eyewear can withstand ‘high mass' and ‘high velocity' tests,” Wallace says. For the highmass test, a 1.1-pound projectile is dropped from a height of 50 inches onto the eye pro, which is placed on a dummy head. For the high-velocity test, the spectacles are shot from 20 angles with .25-caliber steel balls traveling at up to 160 feet per second (or 102 mph), says Ray Hill, director of outdoor sales for Wiley X, Inc. To pass both tests, the projectile or potential fragments can't touch the dummy's eyes nor can the lenses fracture or pop out of the frame. The eyewear must also provide lateral coverage.

Eric Dobbie, commercial program manager for ESS, says that while lenses of this rating aren't shatterproof (only shatter resistant) they will ensure visual clarity: “ANSI Z87 certification also means that the eyewear has passed rigorous optical quality tests for prism and definition, so you can count on being able to see your targets better.”

On the other hand, the Mil-spec PRF-31013 standard demands much more stringent requirements, both in terms of breadth and depth of features.

“Mil-spec means a lot more than just a thicker lens,” Dobbie says. “The development and engineering of Mil-spec eyewear products is much more time consuming and costly than the average ANSI product, because it provides such a higher level of impact protection.”

Dan Packard, vice president of military sales for Revision Military, explains that this type of eyewear meets the U.S. military's specification for protection and encompasses the following areas: abrasion, optics, ballistics, chemical resistance, and environmental conditions (i.e. temperature, humidity, solarization). He says that all of Revision's protective eyewear can withstand a 12-gauge shotgun blast from 16 feet away — with video proof posted on Revision's website, showing various lenses pockmarked with birdshot, but still whole and without any spalling or penetration.

So does that mean you should invest in a pair of Mil-spec eye pro? Packard and Dobbie say this type of eyewear will definitely benefit any shooter, while Hill at Wiley X and Wallace at Oakley argue that the decision comes down to personal preference.

The level of protection depends entirely on the preference of the individual,” Wallace says. “For most recreational shooters, ANSI-rated protective eyewear will suffice. But there is nothing more reassuring than having that extra bit of safety for your eyes should anything go wrong.” And certainly those going into harm's way may wish to opt for the extra protection.

Sunglasses Versus Eyeshields

After you've determined the desired level of protection, the next conundrum will be to decide the style: sunglasses or eyeshields. As the term implies, shooting sunglasses look like sports or fashion shades from Ray Ban or Maui Jim, but also meet the ANSI Z87 standards. They are two lenses surrounded by a frame. Meanwhile, an eyeshield features a large, single lens that wraps around the user's eyes, from cheekbone to cheekbone (or wider), and attached to a low-profile frame.

Choosing which type depends on personal preference. Even among the RECOIL staff there's a division: Some staff members favor eyeshields as dedicated shooting glasses worn only at the range, while there are others here who prefer to use sunglasses because they can double for everyday use, too.

Packard at Revision says that, generally speaking, buying eyeshields is more advantageous.

“A single-lens eyeshield generally will offer more protection than two separate lenses,” he says. “Eyeshields also offer high levels of lateral protection — very important for rangemasters and instructors who often find themselves turned to watch their students and shooters.

“Additionally, eyeshields offer the flexibility of lens interchangeability in a variety of light situations. There is also an increased value with eyeshields, as you are more likely to be able to replace lenses if they become scratched or damaged. With many pairs of sunglasses, once the lenses are damaged, you have to replace the entire product.”

For Bales, the rangemaster in Nevada, the ESS CDI Max sunglasses, with its Lateral Exchange System, provide him the benefits of an eyeshield, but in the aesthetic package of a pair of sunglasses. “I wear the CDI Max due to its ability to change lenses for different types of lighting (i.e. clear lenses for nighttime and smoke lenses for daytime) and the eye coverage they supply,” he says. “I like the ability to replace scratched lenses, which happens often for me when I use the AR-15. These glasses also look similar to others in today's market, so I can use them for everyday use.”

What To Look For

Alright. You've determined not just the style of your eye pro, but also the level of protection. What else should you look for? The following is a brief look at five key attributes of eye pro that every shooter should consider before slapping down the cash or plastic:

  • Highest Safety Rating: It's ideal to have glasses that at least meet the ANSI Z87.1-2010 standards. A tip: Look for the phrase “Z87” on the lens and frame. However, Dobbie at ESS offers a key caveat: “Many products only meet outdated versions of the Z87 standard, such as ANSI Z87.1-2003, which called out the same marking. Be sure to confirm on the company's website or product packaging which version of the standard a product meets.” These requirements also include “high definition,” meaning the lenses offer excellent clarity and color fidelity without light distortion.
  • Lens Coverage: The lenses should cover your entire eye area, both side to side and top to bottom, Dobbie says: “As a general rule, if it isn't blocking out nearly all external light when worn, it is providing insufficient coverage.”
  • Tinting: Selecting the right lens color is more than just matching it to your outfit. “Certain high-contrast lenses can make certain colors stand out in low-light (cloudy) conditions and help increase the eye's ability to focus,” says Packard, noting that most premium eyeshields have the ability to change lenses, allowing you to adapt to your given environment.
  • Fit: This is not unlike the feel of a handgun in your mitts — eyewear might look great on the shelf or in a picture online, but you won't know if you'll like it until you wear them. Make sure they fit comfortably on your ears, nose, and cheekbones. If you've forgotten you're even wearing eye pro within a few minutes of putting them on, consider it a match.
  • Compatibility: “Eyewear doesn't live in a vacuum,” says Packard. “It must integrate with other equipment,” such as your hearing protection and hat. For example, wearing earmuff-style ear protection all day long is much more comfortable with eye pro with thin temple arms.
  • Durability: There's no point in buying a series of cheap of eye protection that's going to break every few months. Your pair should last for years.
  • Value: You get what you pay for, especially in the firearms world. Don't go cheap for the sake of being cheap. Get the highest-quality pair that works within your budget. “Beside the fact that you can't put a price on your eyesight, if you can't accurately see due to poor optics, or if you are constantly squinting or adjusting your glasses due to a poor fit, consistently hitting your targets is going to be a lot harder,” Dobbie says.

While some might balk at paying more than a Benjamin for a pair of shooting glasses, Doss recommends investing in a solid, reliable pair. As a U.S. Army veteran and retired police officer, he has been in more than his fair share of unpredictable buttcheek-clinching situations. He never goes shooting without a good pair of eye pro.

“Eye protection, while at times an investment,” Doss says “is inexpensive insurance and one that has countlessly proven to protect folks here in the United States, as well as our troops stationed abroad.”

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