Shooting glasses: how to choose them and why you should wear them
James Simon focuses on shooting glasses, for use in the stands or on the peg
Most clay shooters adopted shooting glasses as an essential piece of kit many years ago, and they’re now mandatory at many clubs and competitions. However, they’re still far less popular in other forms of shooting, which is a shame because they have many benefits to offer. So, even if clays aren’t your thing, don’t lose sight of the advantages they can bring. (Take a look at our list of best clayshooting jackets.)
Shooting glasses are key for UV protection
Even if you’re shooting where there’s minimal risk of flying debris, you still need to protect your eyes from UV light to lessen the risk of developing cataracts. This condition, a fogging of the eye’s lens, arises from a variety of causes including smoking, diabetes, drinking too much alcohol and, tellingly, exposure to too much UV light.
If you enjoy an outdoor lifestyle – in which shooting plays a big part – it’s likely you’re spending much of your time staring fervently at the sky, searching for targets. Even under cloud cover, your eyes will still be exposed to as much as 80% of the UV they would experience in bright sunshine. Some studies suggest that UV levels under broken cloud can be higher than beneath clear skies.
So living in an often murky UK doesn’t let us off the hook. The early symptoms of cataracts are mild, but even slight blurriness won’t produce the kinds of scorecards you’ll want to wave under your mates’ noses.
The solution, of course, is to wear glasses that are going to protect your eyes from UV light. Look for glasses that carry the CE UV400 mark and/or British Standard BS EN ISO 12312-1. These will block harmful UV rays up to 400nm (nanometres), and will also safeguard your eyesight from keratitis solaris, or sunburn of the eyes.
Contrary to popular belief, the colour or tint of your glasses has no bearing on UV protection performance.
Accuracy benefits aside, it’s easy to appreciate why many clay shooters wear protective glasses. Most of us can recall days when the clays have ‘fought back’, bloodying an exposed hand or cheekbone. A small, sharp fragment could rob you of your vision for ever. (Read the shooting safety rules here.)
Away from the clay grounds, it’s still important to wear shooting glasses whenever there’s a risk of ricochet or falling debris. Shooting in – or on the edge of –woodland is the kind of location where you’re likely to, quite literally, face shots ricocheting off trees or suffer from falling leaves, twigs and small branches.
Standards to look for
Glasses marked EN 166 or ANSI 787 will have reached the required impact standards set in Europe and the US respectively, so look for these as well as the aforementioned UV400 mark.
We’re all aware that some sunglasses are darker, or offer more respite from the light, than others. But when it comes to shooting glasses can we get a more precise insight of a lens’s tint density?
You will commonly come across tint density being categorised in two different ways. The simplest is a widely used scale from zero to four:
• Cat 0 lenses have little tint and offer next to no protection against glare
• Cat 1 lenses have a very light tint but also offer little protection against glare
• Cat 2 lenses have a medium-light tint and offer good protection against glare
• Cat 3 lenses have a medium-dark tint and offer high protection against glare
• Cat 4 lenses have a very dark tint and offer extremely high protection against glare
Most likely, you’ll only be wearing Cat 1 lenses in winter, but Cat 2 and Cat 3 lenses are perfect for bright summer days in the UK. Cat 0 lenses are only useful if you’re shooting at night and Cat 4 lenses are almost certainly too dark for shooting; they’re designed for high-altitude ski mountaineering.
Bloc, Oakley and a host of other brands often categorise their lenses using this scale.
A second, more precise way to gauge tint strength is to refer to the VLT percentage. VLT stands for visible light transmission, the higher the percentage the more light is passed through the lens unhindered. For example, a lens specified as 3% VLT will be extremely dark because it stops 97% of the light from reaching your eye. An 80% VLT lens, on the other hand, will be very light.
As a rough guide, lenses rated between 20% to 50% VLT are said to be a medium tint, and will be useful for most shooting applications in sunny conditions. Any lens between 50% to 80% is good for overcast conditions, and anything above 80% is perfect for very low-light or night shooting.
Pilla Sport often reveals a lens’s VLT value in its products’ names; for example, 20CN, 40CN and 78CN are three CN lenses available in different VLT strengths. Pilla and others also progressively blend colours and VLT values to compensate for shooting under a bright sky but over comparatively dark topography.
Lens quality, particularly with regard to distortion, is categorised using three classes:
• Class 1 optics promise minimal distortion and an unparalleled viewing experience
• Class 2 optics offer good visibility but with some possible distortion
• Class 3? Come on, shooting is already difficult enough!
Distortion-free optics are critical in all shooting disciplines, so most shooting glasses on the market will be Class 1.
Yes, they can look a little odd. To provide an uninterrupted sight picture, shooting glasses invariably feature a large single-piece wrap-around lens and are frequently frameless, which can look stylish.
However, the glasses also tend to sit quite high on the head, which can appear a little unsettling. The reason for this is that, as you bring your head to the stock, invariably you’ll start looking up ‘through your eyebrows’. In other words, if you were to wear normally proportioned glasses, you’d be gazing through the top third of the lens, perhaps even over the top. This is accentuated for clay and game Shots because they tend to be aiming skywards most of the time.
The solution is to build up more lens real estate at the top of the lens, hence the unique top-heavy look. It’s important to mention this because, unlike choosing fashion sunglasses, your primary objective isn’t to select a pair based on how much they flatter your face. Instead, you’re aiming for the big picture.
If you need prescription lenses, don’t worry, you have a few options. The least expensive route is to purchase shooting glasses with optical inserts that house prescription lenses. Outwardly, they appear similar to any other pair of shooting glasses, fundamentally a large one-piece lens. However, internally a smaller insert attaches to the bridge area, acting as a carrier for two separate lenses. This option can be very affordable, less than £30 – excluding the cost of the prescription lenses – but the comparatively small size of the insert means that your sight picture will be compromised. They also have a habit of misting up.
If you have the budget, buying a pair of fully prescription-glazed glasses is the way forward. Most frames, such as the popular Pilla 580, feature two large, separate lenses, which means they look a little more like everyday sunglasses than sports glasses. It is also possible to buy glasses with big, curved polycarbonate lenses, such as the Evolution PRX 6925 or a hybrid of the two approaches, such as the Pilla Magneto 2 Rx.
Are they worth it? How much is your sight worth to you? As you can buy a good-quality, four-colour kit for less than £70, it’s nonsense to believe that shooting glasses are a costly luxury. Admittedly, Pilla glasses can be expensive, but then you’re paying for development costs and superb Zeiss lenses.
And, remember, you can’t hit what you can’t see.
What’s the best tint for you?
How do you choose the right colour shooting glasses for you? Is it simply a matter of choosing a hue that complements the colour of your outfit? This is the approach some Shots take, with mixed results both in terms of accuracy and sartorial elegance. Instead, think in terms of some colours being able to help your vision in certain weather conditions, while other colours can make a target visually ‘pop’ from its background. Let’s work through a basic palette.
Grey lenses cut all light across the visible spectrum equally, without increasing contrast. They are fantastic to use in brightly lit conditions, especially when shooting into the sun.
Lenses in amber, vermilion, brown and light brown are good all-rounders. They can be used in most conditions, including variable light. Brown tints increase contrast and make everything appear sharper.
Yellow is best for British Shots because it’s especially suited to poor light, low visibility and dark, cloudy skies. In these conditions it greatly increases contrast, making it popular with both clay and game Shots.
Red, rose and orange filter out blue light, which is at the hazy end of the spectrum, making everything in the field of vision appear sharper. These are high-contrast, high-definition colours, suited to overcast conditions and great for clay shooting because they emphasise orange and pink clays.
Purple is considered a background neutraliser because it nulls green and brown backdrops, such as fields and woods. This enables the shooter to see standard black clays better, but it is also remarkably good at separating orange, white or pink clays from a dark background. A very popular choice in almost all light conditions.
Clear lenses are particularly good for shooting in woods, where typically there’s not much light but a great deal of debris. Provided they have been manufactured with a UV filter, clear lenses can still protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. Also useful for shooting at night.
You won’t need all of these colours, but it is always useful to own a selection. It’s nearly always more cost-effective to buy frames and lenses as part of a multi-colour set than to build a collection one at a time.