What are the Best Sunglasses for Kilimanjaro?

What kind of sunglasses do you recommend for climbing Kilimanjaro?

The equatorial sun is very strong. While you should make it a habit to protect your eyes against the sun’s UV rays all the time, on Kilimanjaro it is extra important that you have the right eyewear. A good pair of sunglasses prevents cataracts, growths on the eye (including cancer) and other eye conditions. They also enhance the normal light-filtering capabilities of your eyes, giving you better vision.

What to Look for in Kilimanjaro Sunglasses

What we look for in sunglasses are these three qualilties:

  • They protect the eyes from 100% of ultraviolet rays
  • They have an appropriate tint to block enough light
  • They sufficiently cover the area around the eyes
  • They are comfortable, even when worn for many hours on consecutive days
  • They are durable and won’t break from being dropped or banged around in your pack.

Ultraviolet, or UV, is high-energy light that’s beyond the spectrum visible to humans. UV radiation is harmful to the eyes. Overexposure to this light is thought to be a cause of cataracts, retinal damage and other eye problems. 100% protection from UV rays is an essential function of sunglasses and is the modern standard.

The other factor one needs to be cognizant of is the amount of visible light transmission (VLT). Lower VLT percentage lenses (dark tints) will block more light. Standard sunglasses have a VLT of 15% to 25%. High altitude mountaineers who encounter more intense light because of the thinner atmosphere will sunglasses with a VKT of 5 to 10%.

For Kilimanjaro, grey, green, or brown lenses that have VLT ratings ranging from 10% to 25% are the best.

Some lenses are polarized, which means they filter out reflected light and reduce more glare compared to non-polarized lens. This is not particularly important on Kilimanjaro as the snow on the mountain is limited to the very top. However, polarized lenses do make things look better and we think it is worth the cost.

Below we will review different sunglass options and discuss which are the best for climbing Kilimanjaro.

Casual Sunglasses

These types of sunglasses are not made for outdoor activities; they are for casual outings. Because of this, these sunglasses are typically not as comfortable, perhaps heavier, offer less coverage, and do not stay on as well. From a feature standpoint, they are lacking in many ways and should not be carried on the mountain. They will be problematic. Examples include: aviator glasses, wayfarer glasses, and browline sunglasses. Basically, anything worn for fashion, lifestyle or novelty is probably not the best choice for a high altitude alpine trek. Leave these at home.

Shield Sunglasses

Shield sunglasses are unique in that the lens is one continuous piece that stretches across from one temple to the other. What are great about these types of glasses is that they have excellent field of vision because there is no obstruction in the center unlike traditional frames. Additionally, these sunglasses are usually very lightweight and very comfortable. There arms do not hook around the ears, yet they are snug enough to stay on the face. Most also have interchangeable lenses.

Shield sunglasses are OK for climbing Kilimanjaro. But we feel that the lack of side coverage is a flaw. It would allow for sun, dust, wind, rain and everything else to freely get into your eyes through this space.

Sport Sunglasses

Sport sunglasses are the most popular choice for almost every outdoor endeavor, including hiking and mountaineering. There are endless brands and designs to choose from when it comes to sport sunglasses.

We recommend using sport sunglasses on your Kilimanjaro climb. Find a pair that fit your face, style, and budget. The best sport sunglasses for climbing Kilimanjaro have wrap around coverage, as shown above, to block the elements from the side. Ski sunglasses, which have wider coverage, are great. The frame should not cause any pain or irritation from resting on the nose or from pushing against your head and ears. Comfort is key.

Ski Goggles

Ski goggles are designed to provide the ultimate protection from the wind and cold, while providing the best field of vision. The goggles form a seal with your face that prevents wind, snow and ice from getting into your eyes. It also keeps your eyes moist and warm. But, the use of ski goggles is very rare on Kilimanjaro. They are big, bulky and practically useless for trekking in mild weather. We do not recommend them as they are very limited compared to sunglasses.

Glacier Goggles

Glacier goggles are designed for mountaineering in snowy environments. Because snow reflects light, causing a blinding glare, these glasses feature dark lens with less than 10% VLT and serious coverage around the eyes. Typically they have round lenses and removable leather blinders that provide up to 100% of frame coverage. They work so well because there is no light bleeding in from the sides or the top of the sunglasses.

Glacier goggles have everything you need for tackling Africa’s highest peak. If you like the look (we do), go ahead and get them.

Now that you know what to look for, it’s time to go shopping. A full selection of sunglasses can be found at REI, Backcountry and Moosejaw.

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See What Should I Wear to Climb Kilimanjaro?

See How Do I Dress for Summit Night on Kilimanjaro?

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