There’s nothing worse than struggling to see the trail and lines in the snow on flat-light days or being blinded by the sun on bluebird days. Snow goggle brands have done the R&D to develop lens colors and contrast-enhancing technologies that uniquely cater to certain weather and lighting conditions. There are plenty of things to consider when choosing a snow goggle, and finding the right lens plays a huge part.
Snow Goggle Lens Color Guide
1. Which Snow Goggle Lens Color is Best?
2. Contrast and Color-Enhancing Lens Technology
3. Visible Light Transmission
4. Single Lens VS. Interchangeable Lenses
5. Are Polarized Lenses Good for Snow?
6. Best Goggle Lenses for Bright Conditions
7. Best Goggle Lenses for Every Condition
8. Best Goggle Lenses for Low Light Conditions
Sunglass Rob and Eyeglass Tyler know the importance of having the right lens for the environment you're riding in. They go over how lens choice affects your vision and overall experience on the mountain, as well as which type of lens is best for each weather condition.
As Sunglass Rob and Eyeglass Tyler mention in the above video, this is not a straightforward question. "Best" has many connotations. In its simplest form, the best snow goggle lens color depends on the conditions in which you typically ride. You want to make sure you're prepared for the light conditions on your mountain. Even before you start thinking about the different lens technologies offered by different brands, you need to consider how much light you want to pass through the lens or to be blocked. This is where Visible Light Transmission (VLT) comes into play. Knowing the VLT of a lens makes it much simpler to determine the best lens for your riding conditions. More on this will be explained in a moment.
Each snow goggle brand has its own formula for its take on the best contrast and color-enhancing lens technology. This allows you to pick up on the details in the snow and terrain for a safer and more confident ride. Most of these technologies work in a similar fashion. Specific dyes manipulate the light spectrum to filter out "noisy" or distracting colors while simultaneously enhancing the colors that your eyes are more responsive to. This helps to enhance your perception of the trail so you can see every detail and can react faster to the changing terrain and light conditions.
Oakley has PRIZM, SMITH has ChromaPop, 100% has HiPER®, SPY has Happy, Dragon has Lumalens, and Anon has PERCEIVE. Each lens technology aims to be optimized for the various conditions you'll encounter on the mountain.
The level of darkness a snow goggle lens has is known as Visible Light Transmission or VLT for short. You'll see it written as a percentage; the higher the number, the more light you get to your eyes & vice versa. This is also simplified into 'categories' – either Cat 4 - Cat 0, or S4 - S0 ("S" for snow). The higher the number here means less light is getting to your eyes. In terms of VLT, an S4 lens will be in the range of 5-10%, an S3 lens in the range of 12-20%, an S2 lens in the range of 20-40%, an S1 lens in the range of 40-70%, and an S0 lens in the range of 70-100%. Keep in mind, no lens can achieve 100% light transmission. Any time you put a lens in front of your eyes, some light will be absorbed by the material or reflected off the lens surface.
On a sunny, bluebird day, you would want an S4 and on a snowy, whiteout day, you would want an S1 or S0. So-called 'everyday', or medium-light, lenses are going to be ideal for the majority of daytime conditions. Everyday lenses will be in the S3-S2 range.
There are pros and cons to using a goggle with a single lens or having a goggle with multiple lenses. Interchangeable lens technology gives you the ability to more easily/intuitively swap lenses on your goggles. These models typically also include a bonus lens, meaning you get a lens meant for brighter or everyday conditions and a lens for cloudy or snowy conditions. Having the option to easily swap lenses if the weather takes a turn means you're always prepared to have the best optical experience for the current light conditions. However, this also means you have to carry an extra lens with you on the mountain. Not to mention, some interchange styles are not as easy as others, which can mean fumbling with your goggles.
Wearing a single-lens goggle has its ups and downs as well. Those everyday tints we mentioned earlier might not be the best option in super bright or super dim conditions, so the choice is up to you. Some riders prefer a single lens for almost every condition while other riders enjoy having the option to swap lenses out if the weather really takes a turn.
Polarized lenses are great at reducing glare, but it's a contentious topic as to whether they are the best idea for ski goggles. Glare is horizontal light. Light directly from the sun is scattered, but when it hits a horizontal surface, it becomes horizontally polarized. Polarized lenses are filters also horizontally polarized, cutting out horizontal light. This sounds good because there can be plenty of glare off the snow. However, that glare serves the purpose of discerning ice from snow, so if you cut the glare, you reduce your ability to spot ice patches.
Some brands boast a hefty assortment of polarized options. For example, Zeal offers many polarized lenses in their Optimum Polarized lineup. Their tech offers 95% polarized lenses, so you still have some wiggle room to pick out ice patches.
It should also be noted that some people report that polarized lenses affect their depth perception.
For those who prefer to hit the slopes on bluebird days, a darker lens tint will be your best bet to keep the glare out of your eyes. These lenses typically have a lower VLT between 5% and 18%. The best lenses for bright conditions on the mountain are either a plain dark grey, dark brown, or dark rose lens coupled with a heavy mirror. A solid mirror helps deflect glare, while the grey, brown, or rose colors add contrast. Contrast helps you see all the bumps and troughs of the snow both in and out of shadows.
If you're an all-weather skier who'd rather not worry about changing your lenses, we recommend going with an everyday lens featuring a happy medium of VLT. These lenses allow the goggles to perform fairly well in all conditions. Universal lenses typically have a medium copper, rose, or brown tint with little to no mirror. The tints give you contrast for overcast conditions, while still providing sufficient protection for sunnier days. No matter what Mother Nature throws at you, these lens colors will have you covered. If you're interested in exploring medium tint lens options, we have a complete guide of the best lenses for all weather.
For low light/flat light conditions, you'll want goggle lenses with a yellow, amber, or light rose base. These lens colors offer the highest VLT, usually ranging from about 40-60%. This lighter tint allows as much light in as possible and provides you with enhanced contrast throughout those darker days. Check out our ultimate flat light lens guide for a more in-depth breakdown.
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