Updated June 2017
After a legendary winter in Tahoe, we wrapped up our goggle review, including a slew of options ranging from the most breathable, to the best overall, to the best buy for your buck. We've sifted through the contenders to bring you the best for any type of adventure. The Oakley Airbrake remains our Editors' Choice winner for another year, while Smith Squad Chromapop and Dragon NFX steal the spotlight as new award winners.
Best Overall in the Fleet
Oakley Airbrake XL
Easy lens changing system
Solid protection and durability
Includes high and low light lenses
No quick release strap
The Oakley Airbrake XL
was chosen as our Editors' Choice and once again, it takes its place at the top of the podium. Others in our test lineup compared favorably in some ways, like the great optics of the Oakley Flight Deck
, or the Dragon NFX
for overall protection and comfort. Other Smith contenders placed towards the top, but the Airbrake scored high enough marks in all categories to take the top prize. In addition to top performance, the ease of swapping lenses guaranteed this pair will be a favorite. Check out the Oakley Airbrake MX
, which includes new colors and a redesigned nose construction.
Read review: Oakley Airbrake XL
Best Bang for the Buck
Smith Squad ChromaPop
Offers excellent durability
Comes with a few lenses
With its affordable price tag and performance-oriented features, the Smith Squad
is our pick for Best Value. While there are more stylish goggles (which is, of course, subjective) choices in our test lineup, the Squad is a more classically styled model that had comparable function and performance to some of the pricier models. For the lower, non-bank-busting price, the Squad is fully featured and has several options for frame and strap colors, as well as replacement lenses.
Read review: Smith Squad Chromapop
Top Pick for Resort Riders
Bold, sleek, and shiny, with an armor-like build to boot, the Dragon NFX
is our pick for skiers and snowboards who are looking for solid protection at the resort. The NFX has a futuristic appearance, especially when paired with the available red Ion lens and its brilliant mirrored finish. Due to the substantial construction of the NFX, it may not be suited to the backcountry, but shines (literally) at your favorite resort.
Read review: Dragon NFX
Analysis and Test Results
The goggle test lineup waiting for action at Carson Pass, CA.
Anyone who has had the misfortune of trying to ski or board with a pair of scratched, fogged up goggles can attest to how frustrating and potentially terrifying that can be. A pair of goggles can make or break any skier, rider, or climber's day so we've come up with a comprehensive review to help you snowboard or ski safely and happily. With a dizzying array of new goggles to choose from, some characteristics that you should take into account include overall eye protection, how well the goggles ventilate and breathe, comfort and fit, lens quality and optics, durability, and style. How important each metric is to you depends on your preferences and intended usage.
Enjoying the Smith I/O7's.
While good wind protection is imperative, some airflow is desirable, especially in helping keep lenses unfogged. With no breathability, condensation from perspiration and body moisture, as well as environmental moisture buildup, can easily accumulate on the inside of the lens. Fog prevention is always more effective than attempting to clear the lens after the fact. As is the case with so many other things, it's better to be proactive than reactive. A goggle's breathability closely relates to the wind protection we'll discuss later in regards to a goggle's overall protection.
The most breathable goggle we tested was the Oakley Airbrake XL
, the two Smith
models, and the Bolle Carve
, whereas the Oakley Flight Deck
and the POC Lobes
tended to breathe less, keeping more heat in and potentially allowing more fogging. The amount of breathability you prefer is also tied to the type of conditions you're likely to experience.
The Airbrake goes chuting - all while ensuring optimal breathability from this Editors' Choice.
Skiers who gravitate to the backcountry and tour in stormier environments may end up hiking uphill in their goggles which would make a more breathable option a good choice.
The Carve in action on a snowy backcountry skin track, ensuring a high level of breathability.
On the other hand, skiers and boarders who stick to the resort or tour in drier environments may not care about the breathability to the degree that their wetter conditions compadres do. Once again, keep in mind that some breathability is a good thing, but too much may result in your eyes drying out.
Trying to make some fog in the Flight Deck.
Comfort is one of the test criteria that proves more difficult due to its subjective nature. Several factors come into play here: goggle shape and size in relation to the wearer's facial structure and nose shape, frame material and flexibility, padding material and quantity, as well as strap comfort, and whether you will primarily use your ski goggles with a helmet or a beanie.
The overall dimensions of this piece of face protection is the foundation of fit and comfort. We found that not all goggles are created equally when it comes to fit, and subsequently, comfort. An option with a wider construction generally allows for skiers and snowboarders with larger faces to find a good fit. Conversely, goggles with a narrower construction provide a viable fit for riders with smaller facial structures. We found that smaller models were prone to creating pressure points, primarily to reviewers' cheekbones and bridges of their noses, while larger goggles caused issues with gapping around the frame on smaller users faces. Testers with smaller faces preferred the POC Lobes
, the Smith I/O7
, Bolle Carve
and the Oakley A-Frame 2.0
while larger testers enjoyed the fit and comfort of the Oakley Airbrake
, Oakley Flight Deck
, Smith I/OX
, and Dragon NFX
. Some of our test goggles had good crossover appeal and skiers and boarders with medium face sizes were comfortable in goggles at both ends of the size spectrum.
Our Editors' Choice got out a lot this winter, which allowed us to measure its comfort levels - which just so happened to be the highest in our fleet.
Another factor influencing comfort is the style of padding and its materials. Except for the Smith Squad
, all of the models in our test lineup were constructed with three layers of foam. The outermost layer (closest to the frame) is the densest layer, providing a buffer between the relatively hard plastic of the eyewear's frame and the softer layers that contact the skier's or snowboarder's face. The middle layer in the foam sandwich is a bit more porous than the outer portion, providing an intermediate connection point for the materials at either end of the spectrum. Finally, all of our test goggles have an innermost layer with a softer, brushed feel that contacts the skin.
The I/O7 eats up backcountry turns and is one of the most comfortable pairs in our review.
Strap comfort is also important, and thankfully, with the exception of the Bolle Carve
, all of our test straps contained some form of integrated silicone, which means the strap stays where you put it. Without this technology, there is a tendency to over tighten a goggle's strap to keep them in place. While this tightening may not sound like a major issue, this part of overall comfort becomes apparent after a day on the slopes (with an overly tight strap). A comfortable no-slip strap prevents those deep red grooves that become imprinted around your eyes for hours. While trying on goggles, keep in mind that a seemingly minor issue, like cheekbone pressure, or pressure to the bridge of your nose, will quickly become more and more annoying over the course of a long day on the slopes.
Goggle testing in the Smith I/O7 and Smith Squad at Kirkwood CA.
The best fitting and most comfortable goggles also need a good quality lens. Fortunately for skiers and boarders today, lens quality is at an all-time high, providing users with a multitude of high-quality choices. Today's lenses provide a crisp, clear view while keeping lens fog to a minimum with several different proprietary anti-fog treatments. While none of our lenses completely avoided fogging up under every circumstance, they all outperformed lenses from just a few years ago. Beyond fogging issues, another potential frustration and hazard is lens scratching.
Like the anti-fog treatments available from each manufacturer, each manufacturer utilizes a proprietary anti-scratch coating to keep the lenses scratch-free. Lens scratches can grow increasingly frustrating, especially as conditions become more monochromatic as is commonly found with snowsports, especially when skies become increasingly cloudy and the snow starts flying.
Trying to make the Lobes fog up with some heavy snow removal, shovel, then snow blowing. The Lobes earned an 8 out of 10 in the lens quality metric.
All of our competitors fare well in the lens quality and durability categories, with the exception of the inner lens of the Oakley Flight Deck
. We kept each pair well-protected in their bag or fleece pouches (in our ski packs) but the Flight Deck suffered more than our other test subjects.
The Airbrake looks good on or off a helmet, backcountry or resort and had great lens quality.
Matching a lens to light conditions is also crucial, and most goggles have interchangeable lenses just for this purpose. Some goggles have easier to swap lenses, like our Editors' Choice standout Oakley Airbrake
, whereas others like the Oakley A-Frame 2.0
and Bolle Carve
proved harder to swap out. With some lenses, light contrast was improved for lower light and stormy conditions, like the Smith Chromapop Storm
and Oakley Persimmon
lenses. Other lenses are better for bright light and sunny conditions, like the color definition that the Dragon NFX Red ION
and Smith's Chromapop Everyday
The view through Flight Deck's low light Persimmon lens.
During testing, particularly when swapping lenses, we put a lot of fingerprints, sunscreen, sweat, and food residue on our test subjects. We found that all of our test goggles cleaned up nicely with water and the included storage sacks. Today's goggles, and more specifically their lenses, are easier than ever to keep clean.
The NFX Red Ionized lens where it belongs, soaking up the sun.
A high functioning contender also needs to have a decent level of durability. After spending your hard-earned money on fancy new goggles, imagine them falling apart
not particularly ideal. Long term durability is difficult to evaluate, but we can look for obvious weak spots, like scratched lenses or loss of strap elasticity. A reliable pair of goggles needs to be able to stand up to repeated use and abuse in all weather conditions and environments.
Something that most of us might not consider is being crammed into luggage, the repeated packing and unpacking of our bag, and a multitude of other situations that aren't quite as glamorous as ripping powder turns on a post-storm bluebird morning. These particular situations may not be a primary consideration but can significantly contribute to the long-term wear and durability.
Smith's Chromapop Everday lens in variable but scenic conditions. It earned an 8/10 for durability.
After months of extensive and sometimes abusive testing, we inspected all of our test subjects, checking the lenses, straps, padding, and lenses for signs of wear or damage that may have happened on the way. All of our test goggles fared surprisingly well and showed almost no wear even at the end of our testing.
The Editors' Choice Airbrake was put to the test in the Halls of God.
The biggest reason most of us wear goggles is to protect our eyes to make skiing and riding more enjoyable - while also increasing safety. Our eyes provide some of our most important sensory information, especially for motion sports like skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling. One of the most distinct elements the eye needs protection from is bright sunlight, especially in the extremely bright environments we find in snowy mountainous places. Aside from the direct light from the sun, the reflected light from the snow really intensifies things. While bright light can be unpleasant and make it difficult to quickly see your environment, the unseen portion of the light spectrum can do real damage to the eye.
Ultraviolet (UV) light overexposure can quickly and easily cause a horrible case of photokeratitis, which is the fancy medical term for "snow blindness." In a nutshell, snow blindness is a sunburn of the eye, or to be more precise, a sunburn of the cornea. Descriptions like "sand and jalapeno juice in my eyes" make the condition sound like something to avoid like the plague and the best way to do that is with good lenses that block UV light. Fortunately, most modern goggle lenses, with the exception of some clear lenses, are designed with this in mind. For overall protection, all of our test goggles fared well, but some stood out more than others. Not surprisingly, our Editor's Choice Oakley Airbrake
and the Dragon NFX
, as well as the Smith I/OX
and Smith I/O7
, kept our eyes safe and happy throughout the testing process.
This award winner fits a variety of skiers and boarders.
Visible light transmission (VLT) is another consideration when picking ski goggles and lenses. This is a measurement of how much visible light is able to pass through the lens and on to the user's eyes. Lenses with higher numbers allow more light to pass through to the eye and are more suited to lower light conditions and conversely, the opposite is true for lenses with small numbers. Mirrored lenses, like the big and bold lenses of the Dragon NFX
, also add to a lower VLT number and can be appealing for skiers and boarders who get out in extremely bright mountainous environments. While a mirrored lens can be your best friend on a bluebird, sunny day, but they're obviously not the right choice on a stormy or overcast day. On days like that, a lens with a higher VLT rating, like Oakley's Persimmon lens or Smith's Chromapop Storm lenses are the way to go. Every manufacturer offers lenses with varying degrees of VLT to tailor your goggles to particular weather and light conditions. Matching lenses to your environment is an important part of goggle and lens selection.
Goggle testing the Smith in 80-90mph winds...ouch! Both Smith models scored 8 out of 10s for protection.
Another important factor in regards to protection is wind protection, which is also closely related to fit. A poorly fitting pair will leave gaps between the eyewear's foam and the rider's face, which creates openings that allow airflow to enter. Some airflow is a good thing, keeping the lens fog-free as well as providing ventilation when things get too warm. A greater degree of airflow, like the Oakley A-Frame 2.0
and the Bolle Carve
, can dry the eyes out and make skiing or snowboarding more difficult. If more protection is something you're looking for, the Dragon NFX
, POC Lobes
or Oakley Flight Deck
may be a better choice.
The low light Persimmon lens in its element - the Flight Deck scored above average for protection, earning a 7 out of 10.
An often overlooked element of snow eyewear protection is keeping the eyes safe from impacts. Tree branches, twigs, random foreign bodies in the air, your ski poles, ice chips, and even sliding falls into rocks are some of the inherent hazards involved with skiing and snowboarding. Even though impact protection may not be as high on the list, becoming involved with just one of these hazards may quickly make impact resistance a desirable feature. Fortunately, all of our test goggles have impact-resistant lenses included, but additional coverage like the Dragon NFX
or Oakley Flight Deck
can aid in keeping skiers' and boarders' faces protected from things like tree branches and rock.
The red Ion lens on the NFX on a sunny day.
Goggle style is a subjective criterion and a matter of personal taste. While we can objectively test things like breathability and protection, as of today, there is no test for style - which may be a good thing for some of us who are style-challenged. Some of our test goggles had a more classic look, like the Oakley A-Frame 2.0
and the Bolle Carve
, while others had a more modern appearance like the Dragon NFX
, POC Lobes
, and Oakley Flight Deck
The Lobes makes a good option for hiking or skiing.
In the world of snow sports like skiing and snowboarding, equipment costs can quickly add up to a small fortune. A good ski goggle can dramatically improve a skier's or rider's performance and even the fun factor, for a relatively low cost. Purchasing $200 goggles seems downright affordable when compared with $2000 carbon fiber skis, $1000 boots, etc. A performance snow goggle with good fit, comfort, protection, breathability, optical quality, and durability can really increase safety and enjoyment while playing or working in the snow.
Post-goggle testing goodies in the Smith Squad.