3 Oct 2014

How to spot cheap sports sunglasses

Table: How sunglasses compare Table: How sunglasses compare

Endurance athletes know very little about sports sunglasses. They buy overpriced established brands thinking they are buying quality. It's not their fault they have been tricked by slick marketing and a monopoly of the sports sunglasses industry by two 'mega' sunglasses companies.

It was the same a few years ago when there were only a few brands of running shoes around. Then athletes got smarter and wanted more variety and the monopoly was broken. Unfortunately due to the dominance of two big sunglass companies; sport sunglasses are still way behind. 

These mega sunglasses companies control the whole sunglass supply chain; so most people do not know they are not buying 'top notch' sports sunglasses.

So how can you spot cheap sports sunglasses?

Well read on - and learn!

I could go on and explain all the best materials and lenses that a top quality sports sunglasses should have; but that's not going to help you when you're buying the sports sunglasses from a shop or on-line.  I have done that with other blogs and on the AMO Youtube channel.

For me, spotting cheap sports sunglasses comes down to three issues - Features, Materials and Guarantees:


The features are the easiest things to spot. 

Do the sports sunglasses have adjustable nose pieces and temple arms? If not, then they are not top end. They may have just have adjustable nose pieces but you really want both.

Adjustable/flexible temple arms are a top feature of good sports sunglassesAdjustable/flexible temple arms are a top feature of good sports sunglasses

Also, look carefully at the temple ends and the nose pieces. Are they made of a 'soft sticky' material or hard plastic? Hard plastic is not sticky and will irritate your skin. That's cheap!

Do the temple ends have a large rubber ends where they touch the side of your head? Cheap sunglasses will have small rubber bits (often made of hard plastic) or no rubber temple ends at all.

Finally, ask if the lenses come with any special coatings like a hydrophobic coating which sheds water or an anti-fog coating. If they do not, or the sales assistant has no idea, then they are not top quailty.

Look for hydrophobic or anti-fog coatingsLook for hydrophobic or anti-fog coatings

The top sports sunglasses should have these features.


What about the frame material for the sports sunglasses? Really good sports sunglasses brands will tell you that the frame is made from a type of plastic polymer called "TR90". The best type is "Grilamid TR90" from Switzerland. Grilamid the 'best of the best'.

TR90 is the best frame material for sports sunglassesTR90 is the best frame material for sports sunglasses


If it does not say what the sunglass frame is made from it is probably just plastic. Normal plastic frames have a lower tensile strength, are more likely to shatter and have less resistance to UV light and chemicals such as sun tan lotion and hair spray. Often is it very hard to spot the difference between TR90 (which itself is 'hybrid' of plastic) and lower quality plastic without a good 'flex' test.

Find out what the lens material is made from? Ask the sales person. It should be polycarbonate; but even then there is a wide variation in quality and clarity from bad to very good. Often in the shop, in artificial light over short distances, it's hard to spot poor quality lens material and a foggy or unclear lens. One of the best lens materials is Trivex NXT. 

When sports sunglasses are made of Trivex NXT it is a major selling point and it tells you by a sticker on the lens or packaging. Cheaper sports sunglasses will not tell you what the lenses are made out of. The problem is, often the sales assistant will have no idea, or just say the lenses are made from a "plastic" material or "pure polycarbonate" (as I was once told)! Look for this NXT logo.

Grilamid NXT is the best lens materialGrilamid NXT is the best lens material

The sunglass lenses should be 2mm thick. If not, then the impact resistance will be lower. Endurance athletes will need some decent impact resistance so the lenses will not shatter if hit by a stone or tree branch. 

If you examine the edge of the lens carefully (ideally with a magnifying glass) and it is laminated (you can see lines on the edge of the lens), then forget it. This is a laminated (or layered) lens and the optical characteristics and the impact resistance will be poorer than polycarbonate and NXT.

Finally, do not get decieved by any fancy or scientific sounding materials that some sports sunglasses manufactuers use. These are names made up by the marketing people, often they are not real materials and it does always not mean they have any proprietary or special/unique technology. 


Reputable sports sunglasses brands will stand behind their products. Ask about the warranty policy. Top brands will guarantee their sports sunglasses for life. This is a good example of a life warranty.

Reputable brands will also state on the frame the international standard the sunglasses are made to. These can be any international standard but it should say it somewhere on the sunglasses' frame. Most international standards are similar (but for me) the European "CE mark" is slightly higher than the American Standard. The Australian standards are also good.

Really good sunglasses will exceed these basic international standards, as quite frankly they are not a very high bar to achieve - but that's beyond this blog.

Finally, a word about UV protection. Even the cheapest sunglasses can achieve this standard. Just because it says "100% UV protection" does not mean it is high quality. It is just a basic minimum. It also does not mean the lenses are clear, impact resistant etc.

So, hopefully, after reading this blog you now know how to spot cheap sports sunglasses!

To summarise, look for these features and for more information check out more detail in this table.

Summary: Key features to look out for in a good sports sunglassSummary: Key features to look out for in a good sports sunglass

Theses are my views. Please let me know yours.


As a reward for reading this far, AMO sunglasses are offering you an additional 10% discount if you purchase a new pair of AMO sports sunglasses. Just enter discount code "BLOG1024" at the AMO Shop





Tim Hallworth is a triathlete, adventure racer and ultra marathon runner and together with his wife Fenny is the founder of AMO Sunglasses.

For more information about sports sunglasses check out more of my blogs at this location or on the AMO You Tube Channel.

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