Thanks to modern military research, it’s now possible for us to use eyewear which combines the features of sunglasses, safety glasses, military protective eyewear, shooting glasses, night-vision enhancing glasses, and even prescription lenses or bifocal reading glasses—all in one stylish pair of sunglasses. This article can help you jump-start your research and filter-out advertising hype, so that you can quickly select no-compromise all-in-one eye protection that you will actually use.
Even if you are only looking for a good pair of sunglasses, why not buy a pair which will protect you from an eye injury in an unexpected situation? Whether you encounter a windy day, a dangerous storm or some other emergency situation, or, you find yourself hiking through the woods, crewing a boat in the summer or skiing among trees in the winter, changing a flat tire or driving a car at dusk, why not have the glasses you need to both improve your vision and protect your eyes? Unexpected events, like a simple traffic accident in which your car’s airbags deploy, can easily result in a serious eye injury if you are wearing ordinary sunglasses.
Thankfully, we no longer need to buy different eyeglasses to meet our vision and eye protection needs. Modern technology makes it possible to have one pair of sunglasses which adapt to various environments. Even if you require eyeglasses for reading or for seeing at a distance, these needs can also be accommodated by a single pair of these modern ‘tactical’ eyeglasses.
Long the purview of law enforcement officers and elite military units, tactical glasses have now made the style transition to tacti-cool. Stylish, normal-looking tactical glasses are now made by a number of different manufacturers. Many are attractive in appearance, comfortable to wear, and wholly suitable for daily use.
Tactical sunglasses and ballistic safety glasses are a noteworthy departure from the clunky and industrial-looking safety glasses of the past. The colors and styles which are now available may hide the tactical origins of these glasses, but many don’t compromise when it comes to living up to their robust heritage.
Fashion-only Glasses. For some, sunglasses are primarily a fashion statement. These shortsighted (pun intended) people may not be satisfied even with the plethora of new styles of tactical glasses, but less-vain wearers can find a pair which satisfies their need for style, face size, and daily-wear sun protection.
Safety Glasses vs. Tactical Glasses. True ‘safety glasses’ will have Z87 or Z87+ embossed into the frame, indicating that they comply with ANSI Z87.1, the lens safety standard adopted as the OSHA industrial safety standard of the U.S. Government. A Z87+ rating indicates protection from low-speed impacts plus high-speed.
Far stricter standards are applied to tactical glasses. True ‘tactical sunglasses’ and other ‘tactical eyewear’ meet the strict requirements of the U.S. Military Combat Eye Protection (MCEP). This requires an even greater amount of lens protection and also certifies the frame for its durability and protective abilities.
Military Standards for Tactical Glasses
“APEL Approved” indicates glasses or goggles which are on the Army Protective Eyewear List, an even higher standard than MCEP. Other makes and models may be just as good, but those without the green APEL logo (left) on the packaging have not been tested by the Army and approved for use by U.S. military personnel operating in combat zones.
“MIL-PRF-32432 (GL)” and/or “GL-PD, 10-12 MCEP” indicates eyewear which meets the current U.S. military testing standards for high velocity, ballistic impact resistant eyewear. (Replaces the previous standard of MIL-PRF-31013.)
“EN 166 S” indicates eyewear which meets or exceeds European testing standards for eyewear capable of protecting the wearer from small objects traveling at 12-meters per second.
“EN 166 FT” meets the European military testing standard. Products with this certification have demonstrated the ability to stop shrapnel traveling at up to 45-meters per second in a temperature-extreme environment.
“STANAG 2920” is a NATO standard, indicating that the eyewear exceeds the highest European “EN” safety standards, and also meets the stringent requirements for the first level of EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) rated eyewear. Stylish sunglasses which meet this standard are made by the British company, EODiwear.com.
Budget shooting/safety sunglasses can be purchased for nearly the same price as hardware-store safety glasses. And, discerning buyers can find true “certified” tactical eyewear, with the above ratings, for about the same price as a quality pair of ordinary sunglasses. Still, some of us need lower-cost products. For these budget-driven shoppers, there are low-cost options which still provide enhanced eye protection. If this is your situation, consider the Blupond Polarized Sports Glasses. Or better yet, if you’re okay with basic black sunglasses, search online for a sale on Wiley-X Saber Advanced as they are often discounted as they are popular with soldiers and police officers.
High-end tactical sunglasses are far more expensive, but some models do have many feature enhancements. “Oakley Radar EV Path” tactical eyewear is an example, and they are popular with military spec-ops groups as well as members of elite police SWAT teams.
Buyer Beware: Most glasses advertised as “military” or “military-grade” do not meet the U.S. military’s standards for optical clarity, durability, and eye protection. The box and product description for eyewear which honestly qualifies as “military-grade” or “tactical,” which complies with the above military standards, will generally list the specific rating as this information is a major sales feature. If “APEL Approved” or a specific rating(s) is not included on the packaging and in the product description, that product is probably not worth your consideration.
Scratch Resistant? Tactical glasses, and their less durable counterpart, ballistic (shooting) glasses, are designed to be shatterproof. To achieve this goal, the ballistic plastic used for the lenses is slightly softer and therefore less scratch-resistant than the lenses used in other eyewear. To offset this problem, true military-grade tactical glasses which meet the above certification standards, often add another layer to the lens to make the lenses more scratch resistant. This is one of the reasons that some tactical glasses are considerably more expensive than a brand which only meets the minimum certification standard, but does not have additional scratch-resisting layers, anti-fog treatments, enhanced lens clarity, full UV protection, greater frame durability, etc.
Bulletproof? No. Absolutely not. Tactical glasses may be able to stop a low-speed bullet fragment, birdshot, and low-velocity IED shrapnel debris, but there are no eyeglasses which are bulletproof. Irrespective of marketing hype, “shooting glasses” and “ballistic glasses,” and even the best “tactical glasses” and “EOD glasses,” do not stop bullets. No eyeglasses provide even a minimal level of bulletproof protection.
OH611 Overlord sunglasses are an example of daily-wear sunglasses which are not APEL Approved but are nevertheless true tactical sunglasses built to military specifications. As with this model, some tactical glasses are sold as a “set” and include extra lenses. This is especially helpful for eyewear which will be included in a GO-Bag or emergency kit since the user can switch lenses, thereby adapting to changing needs and environments. This combination of lenses provides protection from bright sunshine and the damaging effects of UV sunlight, plus ballistic protection from projectiles such as a rock thrown by a car’s tire, as well as more routine injury-protection needed when using tools or operating in a wilderness area. The OH611 Overlord set includes a grey lens for sunny days, a clear lens for nighttime and when providing medical care or using tools (eye safety), and a yellow lens for low-light conditions.
The need for corrective lenses can be met in several ways, so we encourage consideration of these three solutions before making a purchase decision. You may still want to have a separate pair of prescription or reading glasses, but for safety’s sake, satisfy this need with your sunglasses, too. As the old military adage reminds us, “Two is one, and one is none.”
1. Prescription-Lens Inserts. Some bands/models of military eyewear and tactical sunglasses can accommodate prescription inserts. Even tactical eyeglass models with large or curved lenses, or dust/sand/wind gaskets, may include (or offer as an option) an inner-frame insert which is designed to hold prescription lenses. When these are clipped-in behind the colored lens of the eyeglass, many of these inner-frames become nearly invisible. Any licensed optometrist can make inexpensive prescription lenses, or even bifocals, to fit these inserts. Wiley X Saber with RX Insert is an example of this inner-frame solution.
2. Stick-on Bifocal Lenses. For those who need reading glasses, a less expensive option is to buy stick-on bifocal lenses. It only takes two minutes to add these to the lenses of a pair of conventional sunglasses, safety glasses, or tactical glasses. Hydrotac Stick-on Lenses are available in 1.25-3.00x magnification. Made by Neoptx, this is a popular product which utilizes this approach. (Formerly sold as Optx 20/20.)
3. Sunglasses ‘Readers’ and Safety-Glasses ‘Readers.’ It is difficult to find bifocal ‘reader’ sunglasses and ‘reader’ safety glasses, but they are available. We were unable to find any off-the-shelf military-grade eyewear that is also a bifocal reader, but bifocal sunglasses that are not mil-spec tactical, are available. Notwithstanding, it may be necessary to shop for these glasses online as most stores do not carry them. If this is the option you choose, try to find a model which uses polycarbonate plastic lenses as these may provide better impact protection. Zepher by Suncloud is an example of off-the-shelf bifocal ‘reader’ sunglasses with polycarbonate lenses. These generally provide better impact-resisting protection than bifocal sunglasses that have ordinary plastic lenses.
Sunglasses. If you care about color-accuracy of what you are viewing, select glasses which use grey rather than a colored lens. If you live in a place with intense sun, choose darker lenses. ‘Transitional’ lenses, which change from dark-to-light, can be helpful for prescription sunglasses. Nevertheless, they are less effective if the primary need is protection from bright sunlight.
Sunglasses with Polarized Lenses. Since these lenses reduce glare, sharpen contrast, and make it possible to see below the surface of lake or river water, sunglasses which uses this type of lens are particularly popular for wilderness and outdoor activities, boating, fishing, and for those who are in an environment where there is a lot of glare. Notwithstanding, some wearers find these glasses to be disconcerting since the effect changes according to the angle of the light that is striking the lens. And, it can be difficult to read the screen on some mobile phones or the digital dashboards on some vehicles.
On the other hand, many consider polarized lenses to be an essential feature when it comes to sunglasses. Unfortunately, with tactical sunglasses which comply with mil-spec standards, the price increases significantly if they utilize polarized lenses. Notwithstanding, it is a feature that should be considered, additionally so since these lenses can reduce eye fatigue.
‘Tide’ Sunglasses by Wiley-X are a popular model of polarized tactical sunglasses. There are no polarized-lens sunglasses included in the APEL Approved military-issue category. Yet, many soldiers operating in harsh bright-sun environments such as the Middle East, personally purchase either polarized aftermarket lenses or polarized versions of approved eyewear. Each of the major manufacturers of military-grade tactical eyewear offer sunglasses which include polarized lenses.
Eyeglass Gaskets. For those who may find themselves in a windy, sandy, dusty, or a slightly contaminated environment, Wiley-X offers an optional “facial cavity seal” for the ‘Tide’ (CCTIDG2T) and various other models. This gasket is attached to the frame of the glasses and partially seals the gap between the glasses and the wearer’s face. This option is also popular with motorcycle riders, boaters, and those working in high-wind or disaster environments.
Glasses-specific gaskets are available for 14 Wiley-X models, and similar gaskets are made for eyewear made by various other manufacturers of tactical glasses. If this feature is important to you, be sure to select a model of glasses which either includes a facial cavity seal in the eyewear set or has it as an aftermarket option. If a gasket doesn’t come with your glasses set, you will probably need to purchase it directly from the manufacturer.
2- and 3-Lens Multi-Purpose (Combo) Tactical Eyewear Sets. For those who want to occasionally switch to a different color lens, these multipurpose or combination eyeglass sets may be a good choice. A ‘set’ may be particularly useful if you are selecting eyewear for barebones travel, or for inclusion in a GO-Bag or Emergency Kit. This is also a great choice for anyone seeking a space-saving solution. Pictured is the ESS Crossbow, but most of the makers of quality tactical eyewear make combo eyewear sets. Some of these kits also include semi-rigid cases, cleaning cloths, and head or neck straps.
These kits generally include a grey or dark-color sunglasses lens. Plus one or two additional lenses. A clear lens is an important addition as it can be used at night, and anytime unobstructed vision is needed for tasks such as rendering emergency medical care, protecting eyes when using tools, or when in a dusty or windy environment. Some kits also include an amber/yellow lens because some people find them helpful for improving contrast and low-light vision. With each lens, regardless of color, each mil-spec lens can provide protection from high- and low-speed flying objects, and many impact-related injuries. Note: The ESS Crossbow is APEL Approved and is the only eyewear approved for use by the U.S. Marine Corps.
Valor Sunglasses by Wiley-X are one of the most popular and economical models that are routinely sold in three lens sets; grey, clear, and yellow (rust) lenses. A polarized-lens version, the Wiley Valor Polarized (CHVAL08) is more expensive but extremely popular with those who are operating on/near the water, or in high-glare or bright-sunshine environments.
Low-Light “Night” Lenses such as the Wiley Valor with rust-color lenses are touted to improve clarity when driving at night. However, experts disagree on the merits of these rust/amber/yellow-color lenses.
The concept is to fool your brain by altering the visible light to sunlight color (yellow) so that you can continue to use the “cones” in your eye longer, delaying when the “rods” in your eyes takeover your vision. Proponents claim that these lenses increase contrast, resulting in sharper vision in low-light conditions. Whether it works or not is for you to decide, but it certainly will only work in low-light conditions. It will not only not have a positive effect during hours of darkness, at night it will negatively affect your vision as they reduce the amount of light hitting your eyes by 5-10%.
Youth-Size Tactical Glasses. Some manufacturers, such as the Wiley-X with their “Youth Force” models, provide protective glasses made in smaller, youth and children sizes. These are not necessarily equivalent to tactical glasses, but they are far superior to standard sunglasses.
Wiley also certifies makers of prescription lenses which conform to their higher standards of safety. Their dealer-locator can be used to find these vendors, which are indicated on their map by the Wiley ‘RX’ logo to the right of the store’s address.
Get a Case. All of these glasses utilize some form of plastic to make their lenses. So even those which have a scratch-resistant lens surface, still need to be protected when they are not being worn. A semi-rigid carrying case is best for this purpose.
For eyewear which doesn’t come with a suitable storage container, there is an abundance of aftermarket cases. To avoid loss, select a case that includes an attachment method that you can use to secure it to your daily-carry bag, your vehicle’s visor or console, briefcase, purse, GO-Bag, or to another gear item. Of course, you’ll need to check the dimensions of your glasses and the prospective case to confirm the fit.
Condor Sunglasses Case is an example of a lightweight, compact, semi-rigid protection.
Recommended Top-Choice Tactical Sunglasses
Any of the APEL Approved tactical sunglasses listed at the bottom of this article, will serve you well, but if you are in a hurry and don’t want to do your own research, here are our #1 top-choice picks by category for the best-of-the-best tactical sunglasses. Each of these is available with a single polarized or dark grey lens alone, or in sets with colored lenses and other useful accessories.
#1 Best Tactical Sunglasses – Category: Expensive. “Oakley Racing Jacket Prism“ (NSN: 4240-01-630-6168). These glasses are twice the price of our intermediate-price recommendation, but they are impressive. With peerless optical clarity, they come with light and dark lenses. Oakley is the top choice for elite SWAT teams.
#1 Best Tactical Sunglasses – Category: Intermediate Cost: “Wiley-X WX Valor“ (model CHVAL01). This is the same APEL Approved eyewear issued by the U.S. Army and Air Force to warriors in combat zones. These are well designed, comfortable to wear, and durable. They have great optical clarity and 100% UV protection; features which reduce eye fatigue.
#1 Best Tactical Sunglasses – Category: Budget Model: “Wiley-X Saber Advanced“ (model 302). Despite the low cost, these glasses are APEL Approved and meet U.S. military standards for impact protection and optical clarity, comfort, and durability. Multicolor lens sets with cases and higher cost polarized lens models are available.
#1 Best Tactical Sunglasses – Category: Fashion: You pick! Looking for more style, elegance, or panache? The above Oakley and Wiley-X models, as well as other tactical sunglasses, are now available with colored frames and lenses in either bright or subdued colors, and in various artistic and colorful patterns, shapes and sizes. Just pick a model that provides the ‘look’ you want, that also complies with the latest U.S. military standards, MIL-PRF-32432 (GL) or GL-PD 10-12 MCEP.
No longer are tactical sunglasses limited to a certain shape or color. Your choice needn’t be boring black. You can choose between scores of brands, models, options, and color patterns to align with your sense of style, without compromising your need for improved vision and increased eye safety.
Eyesight is a gift we shouldn’t take lightly. It deserves protection.
Make it a habit. Be proactive.
Wear tactical sunglasses when you are outdoors during the day, and tactical eyewear both day and night when you are engaged in any activity where you might sustain an eye injury. In the United States alone, more than 2.4 million people suffer an eye injury each year. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, 90% of these are preventable. So, let’s make eye care, clear vision, and injury-prevention a habit.
REMINDER: When selecting spectacles for use by law enforcement officers, firefighters, or members of the armed forces, check the current APEL Approved list of military protective eyewear and your agency list, and validate that the item you intend to purchase has an NSN that matches your agency’s list of approved eyewear.
Tactical sunglasses which have been APEL Approved as military eyewear include: ESS Crossbow, NSN: 4240-01-630-8327 [UPLC compatible]; ESS Crosshair, NSN: 4240-01-630-6352 [UPLC compatible]; ESS Rollbar, NSN: 4240-01-630-8249; Honeywell / UVEX Genesis, NSN: 4240-01-552-4131; Honeywell / UVEX XC, NSN: 4240-01-516-5361; Oakley SI Ballistic M Frame 2.0, NSN: 4240-01-525-3095; Oakley SI Ballistic M Frame 3.0, NSN: 4240-01-630-6064; Revision Exoshield, NSN: 4240-01-633-9521; Revision Sawfly, NSN: 4240-01-607-7512 (SM), NSN: 4240-01-527-4051 (RG), NSN: 4240-01-527-4018 (LG) [UPL Compatible]; Revision Stingerhawk, NSN: 4240-01-630-6503; Smith Optics AEGIS, NSN: 4240-01-630-7853 (SM), NSN: 4240-01-630-7992 (RG) [UPLC compatible]; Wiley-X Valor, NSN: 4240-01-630-7802; Wiley-X Vapor, NSN: 4240-01-630-7493 [UPLC compatible]; Wiley-X Talon, NSN: 4240-01-583-5158 [UPLC compatible].
Note: When shopping, prices of tactical sunglasses and military ballistic eyewear often vary greatly due to shipping cost vs. “free” shipping, the number of colored ballistic lenses included in the tactical eyewear set, the inclusion of a gasket and/or strap to convert the glasses into goggles, and whether or not the spectacles include a semi-rigid carrying case. When in doubt about a product and included lenses and accessories, check the manufacturer’s website to identify the product number which matches the government’s NSN. When shopping online for military ballistic glasses it is easier to search using the manufacturer’s name for the tactical sunglasses and their product number, than to search using the military NSN.