Ski goggles vs sunglasses: which should you choose this winter?

Smiling couple posing for selfie
We examine the merits and pitfalls of ski goggles vs sunglasses to ensure you make the safest – and not just the easiest – choice this winter (Image credit: Sollina Images)

For a long time now, ski goggles have been the eyewear of choice on ski slopes around the world, but you will still see your fair share of skiers and snowboarders hitting the hill with wraparound polarized sunglasses instead. If you’ve had problems with your ski goggles fogging up, don’t want to spend the extra cash on a pair of goggles or find their bulk annoying to lug around, you might be wondering if you can wear sunglasses instead, but do they really offer enough protection? Let's examine the merits and pitfalls of ski goggles vs sunglasses to ensure you make the safest – and not just the easiest – choice this winter.

Close up of a skier wearing helmet and goggles

Ski goggles cover more than half your face and seal to your face, which means they protect both your eyes and face (Image credit: Andre Schoenherr)

Ski goggles vs sunglasses: protection 

Let’s start with the most important criteria: how much protection does each option offer you? When you’re skiing or snowboarding, you’re subject to high speeds, the elements and even the occasional branch or other flying object, so you need to get serious about protecting your eyes and face.

Ski goggles cover more than half your face and seal to your skin, which means they protect both your eyes and face from the sun’s UV rays and seal out the wind, snow and anything else that flies near your face. Wraparound shades will do a decent job of protecting your eyes from the sun, especially in conjunction with your helmet, but they don’t cover your face and won’t keep out the elements or much else out, plus they can more easily be knocked off your face.

Snowboarders laughing atop slope

Wraparound shades will do a decent job of protecting your eyes from the sun, but they don’t cover your face and won’t keep out the elements or much else out (Image credit: Jeff Curtes)

Ski goggles vs sunglasses: insulation 

cold temperatures mean great snow, and you might not think of either piece of gear in terms of keeping you warm, but ski goggles actually provide quite a bit of welcome insulation, by sealing out cold air. Most skiers rely on just their goggles to keep their face warm, while the colder skier can also use a neck gaiter or ski mask for their lower face. Sunglasses don't provide any protection from the cold.

A skier wearing goggles is smiling and snow covered on a powder day

ski goggles actually provide quite a bit of welcome insulation, by sealing out cold air (Image credit: Cavan Images)

Ski goggles vs sunglasses: helmet compatibility

We’re just going to go ahead and assume that you’re smart enough to be skiing or snowboarding with a helmet, and you’ll want your eye protection to be helmet compatible. You’ll wear the band of your ski goggles on the outside of your helmet. All new helmets have a clip at the back to attach your goggles, and all new goggles worth buying should be helmet compatible, so if you’re shopping today, you shouldn’t need to worry – but it is good to check that your ski goggles are compatible with your helmet so that they stay in place and aren’t too tight. 

With sunglasses, you don’t necessarily need to worry about compatibility, however you want your helmet to be nice and snug so it might be a little uncomfortable to have the legs of the shades pressing against your temples.

One other place your helmet comes into play is when you stop for a break or head to the lodge for apres. Goggles are easier to just push up onto your helmet without losing them (however this can lead to fogging) while sunglasses will need to come off your face and go into a pocket for safekeeping.

A woman in a red oneskie skiing in the Alps

You’ll wear the band of your ski goggles on the outside of your helmet, so make sure they're compatible (Image credit: Andre Schoenherr)

Ski goggles vs sunglasses: fogging 

One annoying aspect of ski goggles is that they can get fogged up easily, which obscures your vision and means you have to keep pulling them off on the chairlift to wipe them, which can leave you with scratched lenses. One advantage sunglasses have over ski goggles is that they tend not to fog up as easily, however if you know how to wear your goggles and what not to do, you can avoid this nuisance, so read up on how to stop ski goggles from fogging and you’ll be perfectly happy.

Two smiling skiers

Pulling your goggles up like this is a great way to end up with foggy lenses (Image credit: Maskot)

Ski goggles vs sunglasses: weight and packability 

Ski goggles weigh more than sunglasses and are bulkier too, especially since you’ll want a good case to carry them in. This does mean they’re not as easy to stick into your pocket, so make sure you get a ski jacket with roomy pockets. Sunglasses are light and can fit in almost any pocket.

Ski goggles vs sunglasses: durability 

Speaking of sticking things in your pocket, that’s a great place to break a pair of sunglasses. Even the best sunglasses are flimsy in comparison to ski goggles – you can easily break the legs off or pop a lens out. Ski goggles are much more robust. The main issue is one which also plagues sunglasses and that is the problem of scratched lenses, so make sure you carry both inside a protective case and don’t use your clothes to wipe them (read up on how to clean sunglasses the right way).

Cleaning sunglasses

Sccratched lenses can plague both sunglasses and ski goggles if you don't know how to care for yours (Image credit: Kinga Krzeminska)

Ski goggles vs sunglasses: versatility and prescription 

It’s fair to say that your ski goggles have pretty much only one function, and that’s to protect your eyes while you’re skiing or snowboarding. Meanwhile, you can wear your sunglasses for hiking, trail running, water sports and hanging out any time it’s sunny. So, you’ll get more use out of your sunglasses year-round for the price.

If you wear glasses in everyday life, it will be easier (and probably cheaper) for you to get prescription sunglasses, but most of the bigger ski goggle brands do now offer prescription inserts for your goggles, and you can even find ski goggles that can be worn over your glasses.

A skier relaxing in a chair on a sunny day

If you wear glasses in everyday life, it will be easier (and probably cheaper) for you to get prescription sunglasses (Image credit: yulkapopkova)

Ski goggles vs sunglasses: price 

As a specialty item, you might assume that ski goggles will cost more than sunglasses, but when it comes to high quality sports eyewear, you’d actually be wrong. The average price of ski goggles that we’ve tested is $123, while the average cost of a pair of trail running sunglasses that we’ve tested is $154. That said, you can obviously much more easily find a very cheap pair of sunglasses than goggles at the gas station on your way to the mountain, just make sure they offer full UV protection. And as we’ve already established, you’ll probably get more wear out of your sunglasses for your money.

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Ski goggles vs sunglasses
Header Cell - Column 0 Ski goggles Sunglasses
ProtectionProtect your face and eyes from sun, weather and other hazardsOnly protect your eyes from the sun
InsulationSeal cold air outNo insulation
Helmet compatibilityNeed to be compatible with your helmet, but most are these daysNo need to be helmet compatible, though may be uncomfortable with your helmet
FoggingCan get foggy if you don't know how to prevent itWon't fog as easily
Weight and packabilityHeavier and bulkier to transportLight and packable
DurabilityFairly robust, especially if you use the carrying case Easy to break
Versatility and prescriptionOnly one use, increasingly come with prescription inserts plus some are wearable with glassesCan use for most sports and activities, easy to find prescription lenses
PriceAverage price we've tested: $123Average price we've tested: $154 (but you can find very cheap ones)

Ski goggles vs sunglasses: the verdict 

For this debate, we think that ski goggles are the clear winner for skiing and snowboarding. They offer far better protection than sunglasses and you can’t really put a price on that, though if you were to place a price on it, it seems it would still be cheaper than buying a high end pair of sunglasses. They’re also sturdier than any pair of sunglasses. The only real savings you make with sunglasses are that they’re lighter and easier to transport in your pocket, and don’t fog up as easily, but take good care of your ski goggles and they’re the best choice no matter what conditions you’re experiencing.

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.