I believe that Eye Protection is mandatory for all shooters. Without any doubt, all shooters require eye protection whether at the range, in training, or in the field. Understandably, most shooting activities whether one-handed or two-handed take place in close proximity to the face and eyes. The possibility of ricochets, ejected shell casings, wind grit, sun, and blowing dust, make it vital to wear eye protection with side shields. It is common for very hot, ejected brass to bounce into your face or temples when shooting or being near someone who is shooting next to you. Well, years ago I recall a student who had eye protection, but without the side shields, and he was not wearing a cap with a bill when shooting. Sorry to say that he received a painful burn very close to his eye. Ever since then, I make it mandatory for students to wear proper eye protection and strongly recommend a baseball-style cap with a bill. These really help prevent hot casings from hitting and burning folks in the face, eyes, or getting casings lodged between their eye protection and face or falling in their shirts. Sadly, just this month a Florida father accidentally shot his 14-year-old son at the range after a bullet ricocheted, while he was trying to remove a hot, spent casing from inside his shirt. Prayers for them.
Everyday thin and plastic sunglasses without wraparound side protection are not the best for shooting because they are usually NOT impact resistant and shatterproof. That little extra material on the sides helps cover and protect a vulnerable area of your face and eyes. Despite what some students tell me, looking “cool” is not a top criteria for safe and effective shooting glasses. So as much as I like the classic aviator-style sunglasses without the side shields, I do not use them for shooting. (I do love my Rayban Aviators though, even if they don’t help me be cool.) It is best to use certified and protective safety glasses specifically designed for shooting activities. If you are betting on seeing your front sight for defending your life or home with your $1,000 handgun or if you have a $1,000 scope mounted on your $3,000 rifle, do not cut corners and wear blurry, non-impact resistant, low-quality, non-shatterproof shooting glasses made with low-quality material from the discount store for $4.99. Over the long run, protect your eyes by selecting the appropriate quality, certified, and safe eyewear.
When searching for a quality and safe pair of shooting glasses, consider the following
- Lens – Material
- Lens – Impact Resistance & Shatterproof
- Lens – UV protection – UVA and UVB
- Lens – Coverage – Wrap-Around
- Lens – Color
- Frame Material: Titanium and other lightweight material
- RX Need
1. Lens – Material
For shooting applications, polycarbonate is the best lens material available on the market today. Polycarbonate is a type of LEXAN® from G.E., the same material used for bullet-resistant glass in automobiles. A diamond-grinding wheel must first be used to cut the lens then the material is melted and force-injected into a mold to form the lens itself. Compared to other materials used to make lenses in today’s market, polycarbonate lenses are lighter, more durable, more impact-resistant, and more scratch-resistant. Many law enforcement and fire agencies are making polycarbonate lenses standard issue on all protective eyewear. Another lens material is called Trivex and it is sturdy, lightweight and impact resistant. Crown Glass, CR 39 (scratches easily), Trivex, SR-91 and Polycarbonate lenses (each with their own pros and cons) are used for shooting glasses. Polycarbonate is relatively inexpensive and widely available from many manufacturers. Trivex is lighter than polycarbonate and has much better optical qualities. However, it is more expensive and is not widely sold by catalogers or big discount houses. SR-91 is a proprietary polarized lens material from Kaenon. It is even lighter than Trivex, has excellent impact performance and optical clarity. But because SR-91 is currently available only in polarized form, it is not recommended for precision rifle shooters, but is an option for handgun shooters. Polycarbonate and Trivex materials seem to work best overall for shooting glasses.
2. Lens – Impact Resistance & Shatterproof
In light of the shooting application, lens Impact Resistance is the most important feature to consider. Impact resistance ratings are standardized through organizations like Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and the U.S. military. These standardized ratings provide the minimum recommended impact resistance for safety-based lens. Certified Shatterproof lenses help prevent personal injury while shooting.
Some rating information from each group:
- OSHA Safety Standard 1910.133(a)(2) requires impact-resistant lens and “eye protection that provides side protection when there is a hazard from flying objects.”
- ANSI standards for impact resistance are outlined in article Z87.1 and Z87.3. These standards were provided to ANSI by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and specifically focus on eye safety.
- U.S. Military – The U.S. military uses a testing standard called MIL-V-43511C, which is a .22 caliber ballistics impact test. U.S. military eyewear must pass this standard before being issued to any U.S. military personnel.
The safest choice for shooting glasses is to select those with lenses that meet or exceed all three standards. I recommend ANSI Z87.1 certified as a minimum. Eyewear rated as Z87.1+ plus (high impact) is better. And eyewear that satisfies both ANSI Z87.1+ AND the military standard AND OSHA are probably your safest choice of all.
3. Lens – UV protection
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the low frequency light waves produced by the sun. There are three forms of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. The atmosphere filters UV-C, so it is not a real concern, however, UVB is responsible for sunburn, prolonged eye damage, and some forms of skin cancer. It can penetrate thin cloud layers and up to three feet of water. UVA is the cause of sun-related drug reactions.
To provide adequate protection, choose shooting glasses that absorb at least 99% of UV radiation. Look for one of the following labels: “Blocks 99% or 100% of UV rays,” “UV absorption up to 400nm,” or “meets ANSI UV requirements.” It should be noted that even clear polycarbonate lenses will block or absorb UV rays, so the tint of a lens will be insignificant in terms of protection. Polarized lenses reduce glare from light reflection.
4. Lens – Coverage
The lenses of your shooting glasses should adequately cover enough of the eye area to provide proper protection. This is especially important for the side areas of the eye. Look for lenses that Wrap Around, past the sides of the eye for complete coverage. Several shooters have been protected from ejected shell casings and splashback from targets by having side protection from side panels on their shooting glasses. Also, just because you are bench shooting does not mean you should not wear eye protection. There is always a risk, especially with new shooters on the bench next to you, or with inexpensive, low-quality guns, to experience a dangerous squib load or to even have a gun with a major malfunction blowup next to you. You want to protect your eyes and while the cool-looking, classic aviator-style glasses look good, wrap-arounds are safer.
5. Lens – Color
Lenses come in a wide range of colors, from dark gray or smoke to amber to purple.
Smoke, Gray, and Gray-Green tints are the most common lens colors. They block glare without changing color perception, making them a good choice for all-weather use. Gray is a neutral, or “true,” color that allows the wearer to see all colors as they are. Gray shooting lenses do not enhance the target, but they are helpful in bright sunlight.
Amber-Brown lens tints are especially effective at blocking the blue light commonly found in diffused light such as one might experience on a cloudy day. Amber can improve both contrast and depth perception, and is a good all-around choice for shooting or hunting.
Yellow or Orange tints improve contrast and give a sensation of heightened visual acuity. So-called “driving lenses” are usually amber or yellow-brown. Lenses in these hues block haze and blue light and enhance the orange color of the target. The brighter yellow the lens color, the better the lens is for use at night.
Purple-Vermillion tints are a light purple color, which is actually a combination of neutral gray and vermillion. Lenses with this tint highlight and enhance the orange of the target against a poor background—tall trees, for example.
In general you don’t want a dark tint because this blocks too much of the light coming in. Many shooting glasses manufacturers offer glasses with interchangeable polycarbonate lenses with a set of different colored lenses to help when shooting in a variety of lighting and atmospheric conditions. Some shooters even say that you should avoid polarized lenses (too much light loss) and mirrored lenses (can cause reflections and odd chromatic distortions).
Frames that are constructed of a lightweight material like plastic, aluminum, or titanium receive high marks for comfort, especially after long periods of wear.
Adjustable frames or flexible temples allow additional fitting adjustments for added comfort. Flexible temples may also wrap around the ear in the “cable” style to help keep the frame in place, and the tips of the temples may feature little rounded ends, or “balls,” to enhance comfort.
Nose pads are best when adjustable so that the frame rests in the optimum position. Nose pads should be made of soft silicone material for maximum comfort.
There are hundreds of brands of shooting eye protection and below are just a few. Some Oakley glasses are very expensive, but quality made. Research the options for your particular situation.
- ESS Eyewear
- Smith Optics
- Howard Leight
- Peltor (makes over-prescription shooting glasses)
For example, Eye Safety Systems (ESS) is one manufacturer among many that produces high-quality, well-priced shooting glasses. ESS products have been adopted as the standard combat eyewear issued by all branches of the U.S. military. If you need prescription lenses, you can purchase an optional RX carrier. Simply take the RX carrier to your eye care professional, have them insert your lenses into the carrier, and then snap the carrier into the ESS ICE frame.
Shooting glasses have a very wide range of prices and quality levels. They will range from $10 to $300 for non-prescription lenses, and $200 to $500 or more for prescription lens glasses. Shop around. Remember, you have only one set of eyes, so protect them.
9. Prescription lenses
Quality shooting glasses can be made with prescription (sometimes called RX) lenses to suit most shooters’ needs. I have two pairs of shooting glasses made for my prescription. Each cost about $200-$250 a pair and I do find my vision changes a lot. So, I must spend more for a new prescription to update my shooting glasses. Lenses can also be configured for bi-focal views. It is important to realize that these lenses must be custom-made and fitted by an eye care professional, e.g. an optician. Over-the-RX glasses can be used, but ensure they are ANSI Z87.1 Certified. Most of these are bulky and not stylish, but do offer basic protection… and cost much less than prescription shooting glasses. At the bottom of my Homepage on my website www.FloridaHandgunsTraining.com, there are some suggested eye protection glasses, including a basic, low-cost ($8) Over-the-RX shooting glasses that are ANSI Z87.1 Certified, impact-resistant, and with side shields. This is a very personal decision, so set your goal, analyze your options, and select the best shooting protection for yourself.
To give yourself the best chance of choosing the safety shooting glasses that will give you adequate protection, try and see if the protective eye wear product you’re considering meets as many requirements in this checklist as possible:
- Has a single-piece lens which covers both eyes (as opposed to two unattached lenses)
- Either meets ANSI Z87, U.S. MIL-PRF-31013 or European EN166 (A or B) standards, or all (if it doesn’t meet ANSI Z87 standards then it won’t meet MIL-PRF or EN standards)
- Has a thick lens-connector bridge (over the nose) or one which has been covered by a rubber piece
- Fits the contours of your eye-area comfortably and offers adequate cover for all areas which need protection
- Stays on when you make sudden movements
- Has side-protection shields
- Are impact resistant
- Is classified to offer UV ray protection (UV-A and UV-B: UV-C is a bonus)
The following features can be considered as a bonus:
- Makes the U.S. Army APEL list
- Offers glare protection & are shatterproof
- Interchangeable lenses (for indoor and outdoor use)
- Shooting glasses come as part of a protective eyewear kit
* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2016 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at ColBFF@gmail.com.