I recently read an old blog entry written by an old Northwest Arkansas family friend. Fishermen … follow this blog. I agree with many of the points he made and have done my best to expand on some of the points below.
I am an avid fisherman and, specifically, fly fisherman. My grandfather was a game warden in Boone County so fishing was a natural part of my childhood. I bought my first set of fly fishing gear from McLellan’s Fly Shop (then Ripple Outfitter) when I was 16. I saved up months of summer paychecks mowing lawns for the Rogers Public School system to buy that stuff and, man, was it nice. I still use most of it today although I have admittedly upgraded some equipment. I think the most important piece of gear that I have updated was my old felt bottom boots. I switched to a Vibram sole years ago to help reduce the spread of disease between waters … this is a topic for another day but I recommend all wading fishermen research this in consideration for the health of our water systems. Another important step in the advancement of my fishing gear was the step to high end sunglasses. This item felt like a luxury purchase at the time, but I can’t imagine being without them today. I field many questions about sunglasses as an optometrist in beautiful, outdoor oriented Fayetteville, Arkansas. Generally they sound something like, “Doctor … what are the best sunglasses for fishing/boating/hiking?” To me this is an extremely vague question. Vision is complex. The interpretation and appreciation of colors is fascinating to me. In you are also enamored by colors, check back in with this blog throughout the following weeks: I will be doing a weekly series exclusively on colors throughout the month of March. I will address things such as “what are colors and how do we see them?”, “why do certain colors of flowers look more vibrant at certain times of day?”, “what colors do our pets see?”, and “devoid of modern scientific knowledge, what is the common tie of the color ‘blue’ throughout cultures?”. It should be fun. Anyways … back to the sunglasses question. Let’s get down to it!
The first issue I will address is the material of the lens. A big marketing point for dealers (and point of confusion for consumers) is the difference between glass and plastic lenses. You have probably heard that glass lenses provide superior optics than their plastic counterparts. This statement is made based on highly academic evaluations of optical materials (read: laboratory stuff. Not real world). In the link to Matthew’s article above, Costa Del Mar’s Ed Moody was quoted as saying, “From a visual performance standpoint, in high-end lenses at least, the differences between glass and plastic are minimal.” My next blog is going to address the difference in lens materials when selecting glasses. I will dive deeper into the differences in performance of materials, but for our purposes today, just know that the real world optical performance difference between glass and high end plastic is negligible. I think there are two issues that dictate whether or not someone should buy glass or plastic sunglass lenses from their optometrist: weight and durability. Glass is going to weigh more, but is going to scratch much less than plastic. It’s as simple as that. If you toss your glasses in your fishing bag or drop them on rocks during your hike, glass might be the best fit for you. If you prefer lightweight sunglasses and take care not to scratch the lenses, plastic is the best bet for you. Either high end product will give you excellent vision correction. Whether you get plastic or glass, I do recommend making sure it is safety grade if you are going to be fishing or in the outdoors with your sunglasses.
Color is an area where people get very confused and overthink sunglass options in our optometry clinic. Fayetteville is like many places in Arkansas and the United States- sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy, and green with bodies of water. There are also many colors of rock and wildlife to be seen when hiking, camping or fishing. This means that there are a lot of “correct” lens options for your sunglass selection. Lens colors work by filtering out certain colors and changing the total color composition of the image through the lens. Think of it like photoshop or an Instagram filter. Gray lenses are the most neutral filters. Colors will remain true relative to each other, they will just be tinted. These lenses are best for midday performance and bright conditions. Many dress/formal sunglasses are gray tinted as they are mostly worn around town. It’s also worth noting that gray lenses perform the best in the ocean or on the beach as they filter less blue light than other tints. Generally speaking, brown, copper and amber lenses relatively filter more blue and green light in order to increase contrast in objects with more red, yellow and orange in them. This is nice when you want your vision to cut through the blue/green river water and sharpen up that rainbow trout. Hallelujah! So why not recommend an amber lens for fishermen and leave it at that? Well … different lenses perform better at different times of day. Generally these brown/amber/copper based lenses are too dark for morning or evening conditions. At these times, yellow colored lenses are recommended as they increase contrast similarly to copper lenses but they all more visible light to pass through the lens in low light conditions. Conversely, gray lenses will perform better in the bright noon sun. Despite the fact that they don’t enhance contrast in the river like their copper counterparts, they will block more visible light and increase overall vision relative to the copper lenses. Copper, brown and amber allow more visible light to transfer through to your eyes at midday and all the benefits of contrast gained are lost to overwhelming brightness. So … which lenses should I buy?!?!?! I own a pair of gray based Ray Ban dress lenses that I drive around and live my life in. I also have glass, copper based Costa Del Mar sunglasses for fishing. I fish the White River near Flippin, AR and usually go mid-morning or early afternoon so it works for me. If you want something all around for dress wear and driving, I recommend gray lenses. If you want something to hike and camp in, look to something brown/amber/copper. There is also a subjective factor to this. Some people just like certain lens colors better. We have a plate of color options at Boston Mountain Eye Care in Fayetteville that you can use to step outside and compare the differences of each tint.
What about polarization? Polarized lenses uses chemicals that act as tiny window blinds in your lenses and effectively cut out half of the light that is entering the lens. This does not make the image darker than normal tints due to the orientation of light waves. What it does, is reduce the harsh glare that comes off of objects. Think of the nasty light that comes off of a rain puddle, a car hood, or the river water. It’s bright, intense and generally uncomfortable. Polarized lenses significantly reduce this. I recommend polarized lenses to anyone who is active in their lenses with the exception of pilots who use polarized light to identify other planes in the air. Yes … it costs more to polarize a lens. It’s worth it.
The last issue I will address is prescription. A lot of people want to know whether or not their prescription can be put into a sunglass and whether or not the vision will be “good”. This is a tough answer and most easily answered in office after your eye exam. Generally, we can put any vision prescription into a sunglass frame. We can do bifocals, ‘no line’ bifocals and astigmatism with certain limitations. The more ‘wrap’ a frame has, the more limited we are on how much prescription we can comfortably put into a frame. Wrap is exactly what it sounds like- how curved the frame is around your head and ears. An old Ray Ban Wayfarer or Aviator is flat and we can put almost any prescription in it. A Smith or Spy frame can potentially be more curved like a Costa frame. Putting big or complex prescriptions into frames with high wrap can cause distortion. If you have a big or complicated prescription, it is best to choose as ‘flat’ of a frame as you can and to consult with your optometrist before purchase. Another option for big prescriptions who want wrapped lenses is to wear contact lenses under the frame. This is another excellent option your optometrist can discuss and address with you.
There are many options to consider when purchasing high end sunglasses for fishing or for any purpose. Fayetteville is an area that is abundant with opportunity for outdoor activities. Northwest Arkansas is also an urban community and there is a place for dress sunglasses and dress lenses in everyday life. One thing I caution against is “cheap” sunglasses. They can actually be more harmful for your eyes than nothing if they do not block UV light. Tinted lenses cause your pupil to dilate. This means your pupil lets more light in and onto your retina when you are looking through sunglasses. If the cheap sunglasses do not effectively block UVA and UVB light, you are allowing more damaging UV rays to enter your eye than if you were simply walking around without sunglasses (your pupil would be smaller). Please … protect your eyes and consult with your optometrist and do some research before purchasing sunglasses.
Keep an eye out for our next blog on thin lenses and read our series on “colors” which will begin in March and continue each week throughout the month.
Your Local Fly Fishing Fayetteville Optometrist,
Dr. Ben Lynch, OD