All shooters need protective eyewear. This is especially true of anyone in bright environments with high winds blowing dust or sand. For service members, operating a weapon without protective goggles or glasses is not allowed except under immediate dire circumstances, and it puts your eyes and possibly your life at risk. Recreational shooters and law enforcement may not always be in windy high-dust environments, but no-one wants to lose an eye from something easily remedied by just wearing glasses when shooting. Quality impact-resistant sunglasses also reduce eyestrain and improve vision in bright sunlight, and the U.S. Environmental Agency suggests wearing UVA and UVB-blocking sunglasses during all outdoor daylight activities to reduce the chance of cataracts, cancer around the eyes, and certain other vision-related problems.
For about three years I owned a pair of Oakley sunglasses that I was very happy with. Unfortunately, I lost them shortly before a planned Gunsite class. Knowing I would need good glasses for the long shooting sessions at the class, and also wanting quality sunglasses for my pending deployment to Afghanistan, I searched the web for good glasses at reasonable prices. I had loved my Oakleys, but after pricing them, thought perhaps I could find a better value with another brand. I remembered being impressed with the Revision glasses I had handled at the 2011 SHOT Show, and hearing that they were now the primary supplier of protective eyewear for the Army. I also had what I thought was a brilliant idea: I could buy what Revision calls their “Photochromic” light-adjusting lenses and use them in any light, even at night! I ordered the Hellfly Photochromic Glasses for $99.99 and free shipping from Optics Planet in September of 2011. (As of today, these are 89.99, with free shipping, from Optics Planet.)
I received the Hellflys, which came with a nice hard case, just days before attending Gunsite 250. I wore them a few times, just long enough to note that they did not darken when driving during daylight hours. At Gunsite, I discovered some problems with the Hellflys. The bright Arizona sun was much too bright for the glasses. Sweating made the glasses frequently slip down my nose, and I had to adjust them upward several times an hour. When we shot at night, I found that the Hellflys always retain some tint, and they reduced my vision in low light.
Since I’d already paid for them, I took the Hellflys with me to Afghanistan. In December, I fell heavily on my right side, with my Hellflys in my right-side cargo pocket. Surprisingly, the Hellfly did not break, even though I landed hard enough to badly bruise my leg.
While in Afghanistan, I discovered more problems with the Hellflys. The lenses seemed to scratch easily, and after only about four months, the rubbery coating on the earpieces began to peel. I still had the problem of the glasses slipping down on my face frequently, as well. I decided I should just return to the Oakley fold, and then I discovered Standard Issue.
Oakley Standard Issue, or SI, is a program for military, police, and first responders. After verification of identity, which in the case of military and federal law enforcement can be as simple as supplying your official email address and having it verified, members of the of the SI program can buy selected Oakley glasses and other gear at dramatic discounts. After setting up my SI account, I ordered Oakley Fives Squared and Fuel Cell glasses.
After consideration, I’m not going to give the SI prices for these, but I will repeat that it is a dramatic discount, and speaks very highly of Oakley’s commitment to our military and law enforcement. Shopping the SI website showed a variety of Oakley glasses with grey lenses, but none of them came with their black (which Oakley calls “Black Iridium”) lens tint. (This is disappointing for those in or headed to very bright environments, but Soldiers should probably be reminded that Army Regulation 670-1 only allows sunglasses with “gray, brown or dark green” tint.) Oakley describes their grey as allowing 18% light transmission, while grey polarized allows 17%. The difference in their description seems to be mostly “truer color perception”. Since the polarization option adds about $30 to the price, I bought one in grey and one in grey polarized.
I bought the SI Fives Squared with Grey lenses. I quickly found them to be not only extremely lightweight, but also very comfortable. The Fives Squared had smaller lenses than many other sunglasses, which has both good and bad points. These glasses are mildly “retro” in look, and don’t scream Tactical!, so they make a good pair of everyday glasses for someone who does not instantly want to be labeled as military, law enforcement, or wannabe. At the same time, the smaller lenses translate to less facial protection compared to those same dedicated shooting glasses.
The Fives Squared worked well in general, but in times of high wind, did let some dust reach my eyes. The grey tint worked well in somewhat dim to somewhat bright light.
The SI Fuel Cell looked a little like a larger version of the Fives Squared, with lenses that are almost cartoonishly large. I did not notice a real difference in the light level with the grey polarized lenses on these compared to the standard grey lenses, but did see a difference in color depth, which seemed incredibly vibrant when wearing these. Like the Fives Squared, the Fuel Cell also worked well in somewhat dim to somewhat bright light, but the middle of the day in the summer in Afghanistan especially left me wishing for a darker tint.
The Fuel Cell’s very large lenses probably offer more frontal protection than the Fives Squared, though the Fuel Cell also allowed some dust into my eyes during very high wind. The big problem for me was that the earpieces of the Fuel Cell hurt my temples if I wore them for long.
Both of the Oakley sunglasses came with soft covers that I lost on several occasions, so eventually I managed to get some scratches on both, though they did seem more resistant to scratching than the Revision Hellfly. Having worn the more comfortable Fives Squareds more often, they naturally had suffered more abuse, so I left them in Afghanistan, in case some other soldier needed them.
I bought a pair of Wiley-X XL-1 Light Adjusting glasses from a forum member on The High Road while preparing to come back from Afghanistan. After my disappointing experience with the Hellfly, I did not expect the light adjusting feature to be of much use, but they were priced reasonably, so I thought I’d give them a try. The XL-1 proved to be very “goggly” in appearance, but the glasses fit very well. The tint in the XL-1 looked fairly yellow, and it didn’t change when I drove. I began to wonder if I had in fact been sold just a yellow lens, until I walked out for a while, and realized the LA tint had not darkened previously because I’d always been behind UV-filtering auto glass.
Unlike the Hellfly, the tint on the XL-1 actually lets you see better in dim light. In sunlight, it darkens enough to work well for bright light, though another tint might work better for extremely high glare. The XL-1 comes with removable foam inserts to seal against the wind. While I believe this feature was especially designed for motorcycle riders, it would have definitely worked for keeping dust out during wind storms in Afghanistan. The shape of the XL-1 conforms to the wearer’s face, so they should work better than glasses with squarer lenses for protecting against blown dust and wind, even without the foam inserts.
As of December 19, Optics Planet had the XL-1 LA for $101.99 with free shipping. The main downside to these glasses is that they look like you should be doing something that involves extremely high speed when wearing them. If avoiding looking tactical is a goal, that should be fine.
Oakleys are superb glasses, and the SI program shows dedication to the well-being of US troops and emergency responders. I found the Oakley Fives Squared very comfortable and an incredible bargain when purchased through SI. The Oakley Fuel Cell with Grey Polarized lens was very optically clear, but hurt my temples. The Revision Hellfly proved to be impact resistant but scratched easily, fit poorly, and started literally flaking apart after a few months. The XL-1 Light Adjusting glasses fit wonderfully, work well for almost all light conditions, and only cost about $10 more than the Hellfly. If you can stand looking extra-sporty, I strongly recommend them.