Saturday, October 17, 2009

For my New Readers - Can you See Clearly Now?

When you're at the range you need to see clearly. You also have to watch for things that can damage your eyes. Wind, sun and dust are always eye irritants. A piece of hot brass in the eye would be more than irritating. I used to hunt and hike without glasses until I got a piece of a tree branch poked in my eye while wrestling with a tree stand. A little cosmetic damage and a very painful injury to the cornea that came close to wrecking my eyesight.

Occasionally you'll see folks at the range who just wear their regular sunglasses or prescription glasses. Those are certainly better than nothing, and some of the wrap around ones and larger styles I've seen have nearly the same coverage area as glasses designed for shooters. But if you shoot with sunglasses or other glasses that barely cover the eye itself, or due to improper fit, they hang down on your nose, you risk a hot round going where you don't want it. I've done the "hot brass in the bra" dance before. Getting that near the eye would be no fun.

Experienced shooters have learned what works for them. This post is geared for those who are new to shooting, just picking out a pair. Why? Because there are 35+ different brands on the market today, and each brand has many models. That's why I wear pretty much the same thing to work every day. I really don't want to spend an hour picking out what to wear. And shopping for me is the same thing. I research it online, talk to people who know what is good, then make a beeline to the store, grab what I need and get out. In and out in 10 minutes is my goal, with as much loot as I need for the month in that time. I learned my shopping techniques from past generations of Vikings on my grandma's side.

There are some questions you should ask. Clear? Tinted? Prescription or something to go over your glasses? Interchangeable lenses? Lawnmower Pale Ale or IPA (sorry. . wrong question).

And what the heck is an "impact resistance rating?"

Actually, it's one of the most important considerations you should have. Color, fit and style, and protection are all important, but it doesn't matter if the glasses themselves won't protect the eyes. Impact resistance ratings are generally standardized through agencies or organizations such as Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OHSA), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and the U.S. Military. These standardized rating provide the minimum recommended impact resistance for safety based lens. Here is the rating information from each group if any of you are into such bits of information:
  • OHSA Safety Standard 1910.133(a)(2) requires impact resistant lens AND "eye protection that provides side protection when there is a hazard from flying objects."
  • ANSI standards for impact resistance are outlined in article Z87.1 and Z87.3. These standards were provided to ANSI by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and specifically focus on eye safety.
  • U.S. Military - The U.S. Military uses a testing standard called MIL-V-43511C, which is a .22 caliber ballistics impact test. U.S. Military eyewear must pass this standard before being issued to any U.S. military personnel.
I can't say that I've always shot with glasses that met those specs. One or two of the "rental" glasses at indoor ranges were dubious at best. But if I had to buy a pair I'd make sure they met one of these standards.

Color. Look, it's not a fashion show. You don't need to coordinate your eyewear to your outfit, though I've seen that. But I don't have a pink gun either. The colors of the lens are more than fashion, they actually impact how you view your range. If you click on this picture you can see it larger. Here's the difference between clear and yellow on a winter day. The glasses used are those pictured down below.

  • Gray, Gray-Green, and "smoke" tints. These tend to be the most abundant colors, effective at blocking glare without changing your color perception, which makes them a good "all weather" choice. If you're going to have just one pair, this might be your favorite color. Grey is a neutral that allows the wearer to see colors just as they are. They don't enhance the target but they are good in bright sunlight. I shoot almost always outdoors and this color works well there.
  • Amber-Brown lens tints. These are especially good at blocking the blue light commonly found in diffused light such as one might find on a cloudy day. Amber improve both contrast and depth perception.
  • Yellow or Orange tints. These colors give you a sensation of heightened visual acuity. They are common as driving lenses. Lenses in these hues block haze and blue light and will enhance the orange color of the target. If you're shooting at night, the bright yellow tint may also be useful.
  • Purple-"Vermillion" tints. Sorry manufacturers, you can call it vermililon until the cows come home and it's still "pink". However, this color range WILL enhance the orange of the target against a background of tall trees. "Vermillion" itself is useful to highlight conditions where there is a poor background, such as trees, and to enhance the target against that background. One of those love or hate tints, you might like them or find they take some time getting comfortable with.
Then there is just clear. I have those. I shoot at a range that's outdoors but mostly covered and they work just fine.


There are also glasses with interchangeable lens. I haven't tried them so can't offer any advise as to how well they hold up, but they are increasing in popularity in sales.

Just one important note: Tint doesn't necessarily mean UV protection
. A darker lens doesn't guarantee more protection for the eye from the sun. There are three types of UV rays (I'm a very very fair skin redhead, I know my UV rays).

UVC - The atmosphere filters UV-C, not a real concern.
UVA - The cause of sun related drug reactions.
UVB - This type of UV is responsible for sunburn, prolonged eye damage, and many forms of skin cancers. It can penetrate thin cloud layers and up to three feet of water. This is the one that will do the greatest damage to eyes. Just like to the skin, the damage may not be obvious, but may be cumulative.

You will want a pair of shooting glasses that absorb at least 99% of UV radiation. You'll see that noted on the packaging with something like this:

"Meets ANSI UV requirements!"
"Blocks 99% or 100% of UV rays"
""UV absorption up to 400nm"
"Improved - Now with BACON!" (OK, wishful thinking)

Don't rely on the tint of the lens, Any good Polycarbonate lens will block or absorb UV rays well, even in the clear form.

That goes to the next question: What TYPE of lens material? The previously mentioned Polycarbonate is one of those types that is usually recommended by professionals.It has a higher impact rating than Crown Glass and is MUCH lighter. It also has a higher impact resistance rating than CR39 plastic with no appreciable trade off in weight. Crown Glass and CR 39 Plastic offer little or no UV protection.

I wear glasses at work. I have clear disposable contacts for days off, but I understand the expense and trouble of getting prescription glasses that are custom in nature. Not all manufacturers of shooting glasses can be made with prescription lenses. There go some of your choices there. The brands that do have designs that will accept a prescription lens tend to be on the high side of the pricing levels so you will end up paying more for the frame. It may well be a VERY good frame, but it's still more expensive. Most prescription shooting classes have to be custom made by an optometrist or other eye care professional. So you may pay not just more for the frame, but the custom making. Another consideration - most of the prescription lenses are not made from the Polycarbonate, but from the cheaper CP39 plastic. So you are paying top dollar for what might not have been your first lens material choice and you may take a hit on UV protection, depending on how they are made.

These glasses may end up costing as much as that first spouse. Is it worth it?

For myself, I'd consider it
if I could not wear contacts and had to fit my shooting glasses over my prescription glasses. I was just never comfortable shooting with a large pair of shooting glasses over my prescription glasses. But there are other, less expensive, options. It's a relatively new concept called "prescription inserts." Basically they are prescription lenses that are designed to mount inside of the glasses between the eyes and the glasses lens. They look something like this:

It's a pretty new concept and if any of you have tried them ,please let us know. ESS Shooting Glasses (pictured) came recommended though I haven't tried them myself. as I weaer my contacts when I shoot. They are about a third of the cost of a Oakley prescription set up (one brand that I have used and was quite pleased with, though the price was a bit much). For more detailed information on shooting glasses and this type go to: http://www.shooting-glasses-guide.com .

Lastly - look for "fit". It's vital the lens adequately cover enough of the eye area to provide proper protection. This is especially important for the side areas of the eye. Look for shooting glasses with lenses that wrap around past the sides of the eye for complete coverage. The frame material should be something lightweight, which will make a noticeable difference in their comfort. There's plastic, aluminum, titanium. Whatever they're made of, look for adjustable frames or flexible temples, so you can fine tune your glasses to your face. Flexible temples can allow you to wrap around your ear in a "cable" style to help keep the frame in place and the tips of the temples may feature little rounded ends for even greater comfort. Nose pads are nice so the glasses rest comfortably.

So you're saying "that's all well and good Brigid but I don't want to spend $50 or more on shooting glasses." There are other options.

I'm sure there are many that will disagree, but most (not all) safety glasses also make decent shooting glasses. There are some good UV protected safety glasses with high impact resistance available for a quarter of the price of some big name shooting glasses. I have a couple pairs of them as "spares" for shooting with a house guest with no gear, or just to have as a back up. They're cheap, they do the job well and they do demonstrate that not all safety glasses are chintzy. A pry bar was taken to this old pair (the neighbors are watching. . . better wave, they've been looking at me funny since I dropped the bodily fluid clean up kit by the mailbox). WHACK! WHACK! The lens remains intact. Damaged, but not cracked. These guys were TOUGH.


Smith and Wesson makes a good pair of safety glasses/shooting glasses. Less than one ounce, polycarbonate, wraparound lenses and 99.9% UV protection. Hinge stops, temple tips and nose piece, platinum frames. The glasses exceed ANSI Z87.1 performance standards. Less than $18. There are others of the same quality for less and I'm sure the readers will appreciate your suggestions in the comments.

As I've always said. Do your homework, watch and ask. What works for one shooter may not be your favorite. Just protect your eyes. For night or day, sometimes things go flying around.