The best trail running sunglasses 2022: protect your eyes in variable light

Collage of the best trail running sunglasses
(Image credit: Future)

First and foremost, the best trail running sunglasses provide protection, preserving the long term health of your eyes. This is particularly important for skyrunners, as you are exposed to around 10% more UV for every 1,000 meters of elevation gain. This exposure can lead to photokeratitus, which is basically sunburn of the cornea and has some nasty symptoms that you'll undoubtedly want to avoid.

However, it's important to protect your eyes no matter what your elevation, which is exactly what the best trail running sunglasses do. They have to balance this need while allowing you to still see detail on the trail ahead, as well as the obstacles in your periphery.

Just as with a pair of the best trail running shoes, fit is obviously vitally important – more so than with a standard pair of shades. As you bound along across rugged terrain, you need a pair that don't bounce around. Basically, the best trail running sunglasses are the ones that you forget you're wearing.

As well as all of this, the best trail running shoes don't fog up when faced with heat and moisture rising from your perspiring face. So, it's fair to say, we ask a lot of our running shades. In this guide, we feature nine of the very best pairs, shades that won't let you down no matter where, when or for how long you run.

The best trail running sunglasses

Oakley Re:SubZero trail running sunglasses

(Image credit: Oakley)
Super lightweight, high-performance sunglasses for running, riding and other active pursuits

Specifications

RRP: $244 (US) / £201 (UK)
Gender: Unisex
Polarized: No – but Prism lenses offer excellent definition
Weight: 24g / 0.85oz
Frame colors: Matte black / Planet X blue / Carbon fiber
Lens colors: Ruby matte / Sapphire / Dark golf
Extras: Rigid carry case

Reasons to buy

+
Unbelievably light
+
Excellent Prism lenses 
+
Secure, comfy temple and nose grips
+
100% UVA and UVB protection

Reasons to avoid

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Large nose grip visible to wearer
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Bug look not for everyone
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Expensive

Oakley has just re-released its SubZero shades – a classic design, which was originally launched in 1992 and, despite being discontinued three years later, became iconic among runners. The big boast of these glasses was that they weigh under 1oz – which isn’t less than zero, of course, but let’s not split hairs, because it is very, very light, and was especially so back in the early 90s. Other sunglasses come close to competing in terms of being lightweight these days, but still, when you are running in the Re:SubZeros they really are exceptionally unobtrusive.

The grip is excellent at the temples and nose, and you can shake your head around or look down as much as you like without fear of them falling off. The ‘no-slip’ Unobtainium nose grip is pretty chunky, however, and while you might not feel that it’s there, you can see that it’s there, which some people might find a little distracting. Oakley’s Prism lenses (opens in new tab) are superb, coping well with changing light levels and providing amazing definition and color contrast, as well as complete protection from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays. Part of the weight saving comes thanks to fact that there is no real frame – just a couple of arms – and the physiomorphic geometry of the lenses allows the glasses to adapt to the shape of the wearer’s face. It does result in a bug-like, futuristic look (still, 30 years after their initial release), but you’re either going to love that or hate it. 

They are statement sunglasses – there’s no getting away from that, from the prominent (and cleverly design integrated) logo to the overall chic. In terms of performance, though, these are fantastic trail running sunglasses for taking on any active pursuits.

Read our full Oakley Re:SubZero trail running sunglasses review

Julbo Montebianco 2 / Monterosa 2 trail running sunglasses

(Image credit: Julbo)
Comfortable, versatile shades for running, fastpacking and hiking

Specifications

RRP: With Spectron 3 lenses: $99.95 (US) /£94.95 (UK); with Spectron 3 Polarized lenses: $119.95 (US) / £114.95 (UK); with Reactiv 2–4 Polarized glare-control lenses: $229.95 (US) / £184.95 (UK)
Gender: Male (Montebianco) / Female (Monterosa 2)
Polarized: Optional (more expensive)
Weight: Men’s: 28g / 1oz; Women’s: 26g / 0.9oz
Frame Size: Standard
Frame colors: Black / Dark blue / Gray & red / Gray / Blue & orange / Blue, gray & yellow / Black & grey / Dark blue, mint & blue / Black, blue & white / Dark blue & black / Orange & black / Dark purple & pink (W) / Dark blue, pink & White (W) / Pastel pink & gray (W)
Lens colors: Dark / Grey / Orange tint / Green tint / Yellow tint
Extras: Soft carry pouch and silicone cord

Reasons to buy

+
Removable side shields
+
Lightweight
+
Comfortable
+
Versatile

Reasons to avoid

-
Standard Spectron 3 lenses too dark in tree cover

The non-flashy but very classy looking Montebianco 2s are lightweight, hardwearing sunglasses for use on mountain trails, whether you’re running or hiking. The fit is extremely comfortable, no matter how long you wear them, and the low-profile, shock-absorbing nose-grip is non-invasive and invisible to the wearer. They feature subtle, but very effective side glare shields, which are easy to remove when not required and equally simple to put back on (they are labelled left and right, but you do need to be careful not to lose them). 

The Montebianco 2’s frame is flexible and robust, and can put up with a bit of rough-and-tough trail treatment, getting knocked around in a backpack or pockets – just make sure you protect the lenses with the material pouch that comes with the glasses. The ergonomically shaped arms provide good grip at the temples, with catching on your hair. 

There are multiple color options and three choices of lens quality: the standard, non-polarised Spectron 3 lenses are the cheapest, and are perfectly adequate for adventures on open terrain, but being non-reactive they’re a little dark when you’re running under tree cover; the Spectron 3 polarized lenses reduce more glare and offer better definition when you’re looking at water and skyscapes; while the considerably more expensive Reactiv Polarized glare-control lenses are photochromic, dynamically adapting to the light conditions wherever you’re running and providing optimum visual performance.

Read our full Julbo Montebianco 2 / Monterosa 2 running sunglasses review

District Vision Nagata Speed Blade trail running sunglasses

(Image credit: District Vision)

District Vision Nagata Speed Blade

Sunglasses that serve up exceptional functionality, performance and looks

Specifications

RRP: $249 (US) / £219 (UK)
Gender: Unisex
Polarized: No
Frame Size: Medium / large
Frame color: Black
Lens color: D+ Sports Yellow

Reasons to buy

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Stunning aesthetic appeal
+
Superior lens and field of vision

Reasons to avoid

-
Twice as expensive as other models
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Unique shape might not appeal to everyone

Although the Nagata Speed Blade was wear-tested on the streets of New York City, it was designed with distinctive Japanese style and engineering. District Vision says it was developed using the methodology of Kaizen, the Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement. It’s clear from the sophisticated design, with a bottomless, retro-styled frame and advanced lens technology that a lot of meticulous effort went into the design of the Speed Blade.

But perhaps equally as notable was the wear-testing done by hundreds of New York City runners who wear-tested prototypes in all types of weather, light and running conditions, because as cool and stylish as they look, these shades are also one of the best performing models we tested out on the trails. The temple tips are made with titanium cores and titanium screws with uniquely styled turned up tips, making it as light and comfortable as possible without sacrificing strength of structure.

While wind and sweat are no issue, it’s the high-transmission, low-glare D+ Sports YellowLens that’s most appealing. District Vision says it’s constructed from a proprietary form of shatterproof polycarbonate with anti-reflective coating on the interior and an exterior treatment for to make it water- and oil-repellant. Is the price tag hefty for a pair of shades? For most of us, yes, it certainly is. But we think this is the cream of the crop.

Julbo Aero trail running sunglasses

(Image credit: Julbo)

Julbo Aero

Featherweight sunglasses with optimal ventilation and field of vision

Specifications

RRP: $130 (US) £66 *UK) /€100 EU)
Gender: Unisex
Polarized: No
Frame Size: Small/Medium
Lens and frame combination colors: Black and red / Blue and grey / Black and green

Reasons to buy

+
Photochromatic lenses adjust to light conditions
+
Fully adjustable nose pads allow near-custom fit
+
Wide field of vision with mono-lens design

Reasons to avoid

-
Can feel fragile, especially in windy conditions

The Aero is a super-light pair of high-performance shades with a dynamic photochromatic lens technology that can adapt to low-light or bright conditions, which makes them especially good for trail running when it is continually changing from sunny to cloudy to shady.

The unique frame design with a singular suspended polycarbonate Spectron 3CF lens allows for a comfortable fit, exceptional visual clarity and optimal ventilation. The flexible, vented ends of the temples feature a soft, elastomer material that keeps the glasses in place with comfort and a bit of stylish flair.

Considering a pair of Aero glasses is a classic case of cost versus benefit. Will your trail running benefit from investing a little bit more in a pair of shades? Absolutely. The photochromatic lens technology is exceptional and ideal for running in variable weather conditions, running in the mountains, running near the coast and, really, running anywhere.

Nike Windshield Elite trail running sunglasses

(Image credit: Nike)

Nike Windshield Elite

Sleek wraparound-style sunglasses with a wide, one-piece lens, Nike Windshield Elite allow full-throttle performance

Specifications

RRP: $169 (US) / £145 (UK)
Gender: Unisex
Polarized: No
Frame Size: Large
Frame colors: Matte clear / Matte dark / Thunderblue / Matte Wolf grey
Lens colors: Turquoise mirror / Low Light tint / Silver mirror

Reasons to buy

+
High-end, race-day model
+
Exceptional optics

Reasons to avoid

-
A bit too much for casual trail runs
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Pricey

When you’re moving fast and running all-out, you need your gear to become a part of you. That’s especially true when you’re trail running, because even the slightest distraction can lead to a head-over-heels tumble. The Nike Windshield Elite feature a sleek, close-to-the-face design and a wide, one-piece, wraparound lens that ultimately disappears once you put them on. They offer top-quality optics, a full range of vision and all of the comfort and functionality you need in high-performance situations. The unique design adds ventilation both above the nose bridge and on the top of the frame to help reduce fogging. The floating nose pad helps optimize airflow and absorb impact, while cushioned rubber temple tips add grip and provide long-wearing comfort. For all of those reasons, the Windshield Elite are ideal for race-day efforts and fast workouts.

best trail running sunglasses

(Image credit: Oakley)

Oakley Flight Jacket

A style-forward design and exceptional lens make these shades worthy of a higher price tag

Specifications

RRP: $226 (US) / £187 (UK)
Gender: Unisex
Polarized: No (But available with Prizm Polarized lens option)
Frame Size: Medium/Large
Frame colors: Matte White, Matte Black, Matte Navy, Matte Steel
Lens options and colors: clear to black iridium photochromic / Prizm road / Prizm sapphire / Prizm clear / Prizm jade / Prizm black / Prizm trail torch / Prizm low light

Reasons to buy

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Unique performance-oriented shape
+
Exceptional lens options
+
Great air and moisture management

Reasons to avoid

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Relatively expensive

One of the keys to a pair of the best trail running sunglasses is simply being able to see the terrain below you and the features around you. The lenses of the aerodynamic Flight Jacket model have a large surface area and an open-edge brow to optimize a wide scope of vision. The nose bridge and ear pieces were specially designed to allow maximize air flow and reduce fogging during high-intensity, high-sweat activities on warm days. The Flight Jacket comes with numerous different frame colors and three styles of high-impact protective lens options — Prizm, Prizm Polarized and Photochromatic — that can adapt to ever-changing light conditions. It’s hard to beat the performance and style of the Flight Jacket.

It’s built for high-performance running and cycling and our wear-tests confirmed it’s one of the best of the bunch. Whether you want to invest a big chunk of money is perhaps something you’ll have to put up for debate. You definitely get what you pay for, and that’s a top-tier pair of shades that won’t let you down.

Shady Rays Velocity trail running sunglasses

(Image credit: Shady Rays)

Shady Rays Velocity

These wrap-style, half-frame glasses are ideal for trail running and fast-packing

Specifications

RRP: $64 (US) /
Gender: Unisex
Polarized: Yes
Frame Size: Medium
Frame colors: Matte Black, Gloss Clear
Lens colors: Ice blue mirrored lenses with amber tint

Reasons to buy

+
Close-to-face, wrap frame design
+
Premium polarized lenses
+
Great value and replacement guarantee

Reasons to avoid

-
Not as durable as some glasses

Built for fast-action sports, the Velocity sunglasses move with you as you’re bobbing up and down during a trail run, shield the sun and don’t inhibit your field of vision. The premium ice blue mirror lenses are polarized, shatter-resistant, anti-reflective and offer 100 percent UV protection. The flexing temples and rubberized nose pads keep these shades in place, while the rimless bottom provides an unobstructed view of obstacles and debris on the trail. Intended for a small-medium fit, the Velocity sunglasses look as good as they perform.

Shady Rays burst on the scene as an Internet startup brand offering affordable sunglasses. Those kinds of brands are plentiful but most are hawking cheap, disposable glasses. The difference is that the quality, performance and style of Shady Rays sunglasses, which are on par with much more expensive models. Shady Rays will even replace your shades if you break them.

Tifosi Sledge trail running sunglasses

(Image credit: Tifosi)

Tifosi Sledge

A pair of shades with oversized styling and an ergonomic fit

Specifications

RRP: $80 /£80
Gender: Unisex
Polarized: No
Frame Size: Large/Extra Large
Frame colors: Crystal red / Crystal orange / Matte White / Matte Black
Lens colors: Clarion blue / AC red / Clear / Smoke

Reasons to buy

+
Performance-oriented shape and fit
+
Smart details and features

Reasons to avoid

-
Mid-range price tag

Tifosi has always been known for no-frills, functional, sport-specific sunglasses, but the Sledge is so much more than that. They’re elite-level performance shades with smart design features and an affordable price tag. The curvy frame design hugs around the shape of many medium to large face profiles – however it’s not quite as optimal for trail runners with smaller faces – and the oversized lens give a maximal field of vision. The distortion-free vented lenses are made from a scratch-resistant, shatterproof polycarbonate with an anti-glare coating.

The durable nylon frames are extremely bendable under pressure and have limited edges to maximize the optics and hydrophilic rubber on the tips to grip during high-sweat activities. Sledge shades have a cool look and high-performance features, combining fit, functionality and optics.

Zeal Optics Manitou trail running sunglasses

(Image credit: Zeal Optics)

Zeal Optics Manitou

The Manitou are high-performance adventure shades with urban style, highly advanced lenses and exceptional optics

Specifications

RRP: $229 (US) /£180 (UK)
Gender: Unisex
Polarized: Yes
Frame Size: Medium
Frame colors: Maple / Matte Black / Ash
Lens colors: Auto sun

Reasons to buy

+
Optimal lens for changing light conditions
+
Casual styling 
+
Best-in-class optics

Reasons to avoid

-
A higher price tag

The small town of Manitou Springs, Colorado, is tucked between the sprawling city of Colorado Springs and the purple mountain majesty of Pikes Peak. It’s a trail running mecca and the place where we tested the Colorado-made Manitou shades. There’s no place better than experience Zeal’s AutoSun lens technology – which combines with photochromatic variable light capabilities and polarized protection – that’s ideal for long mountain runs full of partly sunny and partly cloudy moments. The superlight frames are made from an eco-friendly bio-resin that’s as durable as plastic but much better for the environment. And the best feature might be one of the smallest: the grip pads at the tips of the frame actually get tackier when they get wet from sweat or rain

 There’s high value and performance packed into the Manitou, and yes, the price tag is higher than some other polarized shades. But they feature best-in-class optics and are versatile enough to wear trail running, mountain biking or an afternoon relaxing at the pub after a day of high-velocity adventures.

How we tested these sunglasses

To test these sunglasses, we ran repeatedly with each pair on rough trails and smooth roads, across open sun-blazed hillsides and through woods, where the sunlight was dappled and changeable.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Best trail running sunglasses comparison table
Trail running sunglassesRRPPolarizedGender
Oakley SubZero$244 (US) / £201 (UK)No – but Prism lenses offer excellent definitionUnisex
Julbo Montebianco 2 / Monterosa 2With Spectron 3 lenses: $99.95 (US) /£94.95 (UK); with Spectron 3 Polarized lenses: $119.95 (US) / £114.95 (UK); with Reactiv 2–4 Polarized glare-control lenses: $229.95 (US) / £184.95 (UK)OptionalUnisex
District Vision Nagata Speed Blade$249 (US) /£219 (UK)NoUnisex
Julbo Aero$130 (US) £66 (UK) / €100 (EU)NoUnisex
Nike Windshield Elite$169 (US) / £145 (UK)NoUnisex
Oakley Flight Jacket$226 (US) / £187 (UK)No but available with Prizm Polarized lens optionUnisex
Shady Rays Velocity$64 (US)YesUnisex
Tifosi Sledge$80 (US) / £80 (UK)NoUnisex
Zeal Optics Manitou$229 (US) / £180 (UK)YesUnisex

What to look for in the best trail running sunglasses

There are several important things to consider when choosing the best trail running sunglasses. We recommend thinking hard about the following factors.

Fit

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As with trail running shoes and the clothes you wear, the size of a pair of shades and how a particular model fit on your face and head are crucial to a good experience and optimal performance. Like snowflakes, no two pairs are identical. It’s important to try glasses on, if possible, to understand how the frame size, shape and curvature covers your face but also how the nose pads, temples (or arms) and temple tips interact with the specific size and shape of your head, both in a static position but also while you’re running. One key factor to consider is how far the lenses are from your eyes, while it’s also smart to understand how the temple pieces interact with running hats you typically wear.

Optics

Not all lenses are equal. In fact, the performance of some shades might be greatly superior to others relative to the type of conditions you’ll be running in. While most lenses provide UVA A and UVA B protection, not all lenses offer the glare-reduction of polarization. If you’re trail running in the mountains or seashore where you’re adjacent to snow or water, you’ll want to consider buying a pair of sunglasses with polarized lenses. When it comes to the admission of light, you can consider tints and coatings that make your view appear darker or lighter, but the best-case scenario for trail runners might be a photochromatic lens that adapts to sunny and cloudy conditions. The base curve or arc of the frames can be a factor to consider, but it can often be hard to find. The base curve number tells you how far the frame will curve out. A 6-base curve is considered standard and will fit flatter on your face, while a base curve of 8 will have more curve and wrap around your face.

Prescription sunglasses

If you need or want to replace the lenses in your sunglasses with prescription lenses, you should consider this from the start. It’s easier with some brands than it is with others based on the shape and interchangeability of the lenses. Most brands will have information about which models are best for prescription lenses on their websites. You can work with your local optometrist or find an online service or sales site to meet your needs.

Color

In theory, frame color and lens color shouldn’t matter when you're looking for the best trail running sunglasses, at least in terms of a performance-oriented point of view. But we know that shades are an accessory that carry a bit of vanity in how we wear them. Keep in mind, those sunglasses provide you the protection and performance you’ll need while trail running, but they’ll also appear in race photos and the images you (or others) post on social media. Does that mean they have to match your trail running ensemble? No, but if you’re not particularly keen on how they look when you buy them, you might not like them later on when you’re tagged in a post. Performance is crucial, but to some trail runners with discriminating tastes the look and appearance might be a close second.

Cost

The cost of a pair of sunglasses could be the big or small priority when you’re buying a new pair of shades. In one sense, you definitely get what you pair for, but the price is also relative to how you care for your sunglasses. Generally speaking, higher-priced sunglasses from bigger, more well-known brands have good quality lenses, smart features and appealing aesthetics. But they also have a lot of marketing budget built into the price. On the contrary, there are a lot of good (even if more basic) sunglasses available from smaller, start-up brands offered at seemingly incomprehensibly low prices. Some of those are actually quite good, some are complete rubbish, so if you’re shopping on a limited budget for the best trail running sunglasses, you really have to be discerning about the features and quality.

Weight

The weight of the sunglasses typically doesn’t matter too much, except sometimes when they’re too light. It’s typically difficult even to find the weight of a pair of shades as most brands don’t include it in the specs they publish online or on point-of-sale hang tags. Generally speaking, most sunglasses fall in the range of 0.75 ounces (21.5g) and 1.5 ounces (43g) and the difference is barely noticeable unless you’re trying them on in a side-by-side comparison. Typically the shades on the heavier end wind up providing a more secure fit while you’re running, but the super-light frames can sometimes be awkwardly willowy, especially when you’re running fast in hot, sweaty conditions.

Brian is an award-winning journalist, photographer and podcaster who has written for Runner’s World, The Times, Outside, Men’s Journal, Trail Runner, Triathlete and Red Bulletin. He's also the author of several books, including Kicksology: The Hype, Science, Culture and Cool of Running Shoes. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, and loves to run, bike, hike, camp, ski and climb mountains. He has wear-tested more than 1,500 pairs of running shoes, completed four Ironman triathlons, as well as numerous marathons and ultra-distance running races.

With contributions from