While sunglasses can protect your eyes from bright sunlight, most primarily provide frontal protection and those that wrap around more tend to limit peripheral vision. Goggles provide better protection from the sun and elements and all of the models we tested have interchangeable lenses that keep UV light exposure to a minimum while providing varying degrees of visible light transmission (VLT). A higher VLT number means more light is able to pass through the lens and the opposite is true of a lower VLT number. Higher VLT lenses are preferred for lower light days and lower VLT lenses keep out bright sunlight on sunny days.
In addition to protection from sunlight and UV light, another important consideration is protection from the wind. The sheer nature of skiing, snowboarding, and snowmachining creates winds to varying degrees, based on your forward momentum. That combined with natural, environmental winds can wreak havoc on your eyes, drying them to a crisp. A goggle that fits properly, creating a nice seal around the eyes is crucial in wind protection. A goggle's venting system can also add to the quantity of airflow exposure to your eyes and should be a consideration as well.
Not everyone skis through the trees, but some of us do and this is an obvious place that impact protection comes into play. Imagine skiing without eye protection at even moderate speeds through the pines or an aspen grove and catching even a small twig. At best, this would definitely fall into the realm of unpleasant and annoying, at worst, this can actually puncture your eye, causing a globe injury OUCH! Beyond eye vs. tree protection, there are all kinds of random things floating in the air just waiting to become foreign bodies in a skier or snowboarder's eye. Goggles have you covered.
Choosing a Pair of Goggles
There are just a few basics to keep in mind when you're goggle shopping and trying to find the best choice for you. The first step is to find goggles that fit your facial structure. With some exceptions, generally a goggle that's geared toward smaller faces will likely not fit a larger face and vice versa, a larger goggle will likely not be ideal for someone with a smaller facial structure.
After narrowing the general goggle type down, the next thing to look at is how the goggle actually fits. Are there gaps around the foam padding? How about pressure on the nose or cheekbones? Be choosy, since an "it'll probably work well enough for me" attitude will quickly turn into a "why did I buy these @!#$! goggles?!?" attitude after using poorly fitting goggles.
Once you've got the fit down and are feeling comfy and cozy in your goggle of choice, make sure the lens options are what you're looking for. Things like lens tint and corresponding VLT should be considered. If you're primarily out skiing or boarding on bright days, make sure your lens options are agreeable for those conditions. You'll doubtlessly find at least a choice or two in lenses that will work, but some models offer more choices and fine tuning with your lens picks.
Now that you're sure of fit and comfort, lens options and optical quality, it's time for the icing on the cake. It's time to make sure you like the overall style, frame and strap colors, graphics, and so on. Make sure you like the look of your new goggles, or you'll be likely to bury them in the bottom of a duffel bag only to donate them to your local thrift shop when you find them in five years.
To learn more about what makes a goggle work i.e. protection, breathability, comfort, lens quality, and durability, keep reading below. To see which pair we liked best read The Best Ski Goggles Review.
Other than an ill-fitting goggle, another potential annoyance is lens fogging. In years past, goggles were more prone to fogging, back when there was no such thing as dual lens construction, effective venting, or anti-fog coatings. Most of today's goggles utilize those features to some degree or another, and all of our test goggles are dual lens, ventilated, and coated with some type of anti-fog treatment. Not all are created equal and as is the case with most things, you do get what you pay for.
There are two types of goggle lenses on the market today: cylindrical and spherical. Both types of lenses curve horizontally, but spherical lenses also curve vertically. The cylindrical lenses have a flat appearance and spherical lenses have a more rounded "bug eye" appearance. While the extra curve of a spherical lens may not sound like much, the difference is noticeable. Flat lenses tend to have more glare and peripheral vision is also compromised. Because the lens does not curve vertically, the edges of the frame stick out further from the face and do not contour as well to an individual's facial structure. In contrast, spherical lenses provide a clearer, sharper, visual experience. Because the lens is curved in all planes, like a human eye; there is less visual distortion. A spherical lens allows for a better fitting frame as well which in turn increases the peripheral vision. Another less obvious benefit of the spherical lens is the overall average distance from face to lens which decreases fogging.
UV Protection and VLT
Today's goggle lenses effectively block harmful UV light from the user's eyes, so have no fear. The only exception to this would be a clear lens. In addition to UV light protection, VLT (Visible Light Transmission) is another factor to consider. VLT is the amount of light that penetrates the lens to actually make it to the skier's or boarder's eye. A high VLT rating means more visible light is present while a low VLT means less light contacts the eye. Mirrored coatings can block an additional 10-50 percent of available VLT, making them ideal for brighter days. In this review, we mainly tested products with mirrored lenses for bright light days.
All of the goggles we tested this season have a three layer padding system, a layer with the highest density foam attached to the frame, followed by a softer layer in the middle, and finally, a soft, wicking layer that actually contacts the user's face.
As long as the goggle fits well, the three layer foam padding is effective, but if the frame doesn't fit, the foam may not be enough and pressure points are present.
Ask An Expert: Brendan Burns
Brendan Burns is a professional snowboard guide working for Exum Mountain Guides and the Jackson Hole Mountain Rersort Alpine Guides. He has been in the snowboard industry for close to 20 years. He started as a snowboard shop employee and manager and then began teaching snowboarding lessons 13 years ago. He has an AASI level 3 snowboard certification. Brendan has also worked as a trainer and examiner for the American Association of Snowboard Instructors. He is a lead coach and guide for the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Steep and Deep Camps, and Mountaineering Camps as well as a lead guide for Exum Snowboard Mountaineering Camps.
What do you think is the most important thing to consider when you buy ski goggles?
The most important thing is the fit and clarity of the lens. You want to make sure that they fit properly to your face and nose to ensure a tight seal. In addition, you want to make certain they fit the type of helmet you wear.
What types of things do you consider when you buy new goggles?
When making a new purchase I consider the history of the brand, what warranties come with the purchase, and how easy it is to change lenses.
What are your tricks for keeping your goggles fog-free?
Keeping lens fog free can be tricky, especially if it's a huge powder day and you are riding hard, or hiking for your turns and working up a sweat. To ensure your goggles stay fresh, make sure to air them out and keep them dry between days of riding. If you are waiting on an early morning lift line, and it's snowing, keep them in a pocket or your pack to help ensure the foam and lenses dry. I make a habit of taking my goggles off in a gondola or other covered lift between runs on powder days. I can inspect them, clean and dry the foam and wipe the lens with a cloth. When you are hiking, make sure to take your goggles off and store them in your pack, or outside pocket of jacket. Keeping them anywhere on your head will definitely lead to fogging. If you must keep them on your head, turn them around so the lenses are low on the back of your head. You can throw a goggle bag or bandana inside them to help keep any moisture out.
How do you clean your goggles?
I normally use the goggle bag or lens cloth to clean my goggles. Never use any paper products, such as paper towels or toilet paper. This can scratch the lenses. To get them really dry, use a soft cotton face cloth, this will soak up all the moisture on the lens. You can keep the cotton cloth in an inside jacket pocket and it will stay dry. I like to rinse my goggles in warm water to help clean any dirt, sunscreen (or makeup if you wear it) out of the foam.
How do you store your goggles when you aren't using them?
I store my goggles in a safe place out of the goggle bag for the first day after riding. By safe I mean somewhere where they won't get smashed. For long storage, I always keep my goggles in the goggle bag and in my helmet. You want to be sure to keep the goggles far from any heat source, as high heat may melt or warp the frame, lenses, or foam.
What types of lenses do you use?
I prefer a green or amber mirrored lens for my goggles. The green or amber helps you see variations in the snow surface better than some of the other lens colors. The mirrored exterior helps with the suns glare. On whiteout days, I use a yellow or pink low light lens. On bluebird days, I use the darkest mirrored lens I can find.
If you were on a budget, what's the most important thing you would make sure to not skimp on when buying goggles?
I never skimp on goggles. You may wind up spending more than you wanted to, but a good pair of goggles will last longer and ensure you have good vision while out on the hill. If you can't see what you're skiing or riding into, you can get into major trouble. Buy 'em once and buy 'em right!
If you could only have one pair of goggles, what color lens would you have and why?
For the one lens goggle I prefer the Green Sol-X mirror lens that Smith makes. It's my go-to lens for most days.
What kinds of activities or conditions do you use your goggles or when do you go goggle-free?
I rarely ride without goggles. I prefer to have goggles on even on the warm sunny days. There are times that I will ride with sunglasses, but not many.
Do you use different a type of goggle when its sunny and bluebird vs. when its stormy?
I use the same goggle frame and change my lenses for the light conditions. As I mentioned earlier, different lenses work for different light conditions.
Do you have any accessories that you use with your goggles (cleaning spray, lens cloth…?)
The goggle accessories I use most are the goggle bag, goggle cloth and goggle sponge that has a chammy on one side and a sponge on the other. The sponge is great in wet conditions. If you ride in really wet conditions, the ski-gee, which is a small squeegee, works awesome. I have used Cat Crap, a type of anti-fog product that also works great.
Is there anything that we didn't already cover that is important to consider when buying goggles?
I think we covered it. Don't sell yourself short by buying bunk goggles!