- Buyer's Guide
Three Companies Bringing Innovation to EDC Sunglasses
The true test of a person’s EDC kit is when it is reduced to the bare essentials. After you ditch that 30L pack, what are you normally carrying? I would venture for many folks the trinity includes watch, phone, keys. What comes after that? Maybe flashlight, knife, watch? As long as I’ve been an adult, I’ve always had a pair of EDC sunglasses with me, whether it’s on my face, tucked into my collar, or in my bag. Sunglasses are nothing new but for an item that is such a core part of so many, it sure hasn’t had the coverage it deserves.
To set expectations, this is an article for someone who views sunglasses as an investment and would rather have one good pair of glasses for EDC. This is not for the person who loses their glasses all the time or someone who enjoys getting a $5 pair at the corner bodega and replacing them every three months.
I didn’t want to just focus on any pair of sunglasses, but went looking for brands or models that are trying to be innovative. Granted, the innovation speed in the sunglasses industry does not approach what you’d find in packs or other outdoor goods – it’s really difficult to radically change a frame and two lenses, you know?
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t try and these three companies caught my eye for putting themselves out there by trying something new.
I first came across Popticals at this past Outdoor Retailer. I saw their ads in the daily newsletter but also stopped at their stand outside of the Pavilions. Admittedly, I thought they looked kind of gimmicky – being ‘collapsible’ and all – and after talking to the rep for a minute, then walking away, I was left with mixed feelings.
First, I found out the lenses were Carl Zeiss, which any camera or optics geek would recognize. Then I found out they were priced around $200 which seemed surprising to me, not because there aren’t plenty of glasses that cost that much, but because I didn’t expect them to be that much. I didn’t think much about them but their PR person reached out and offered to send me a sample.
And after using them, my opinion of the glasses have totally changed! After closer inspection, I realized they are a high quality pair of sport sunglasses, with the added benefit of being collapsible and storable in a custom case. Let’s go over the features, starting with the lenses. As mentioned, the lenses are produced custom for Popticals by German glass experts Carl Zeiss. While most sunglasses lenses are made with polycarbonate, these Zeiss lenses are made of nylon which are up to 20% lighter. Naturally, they also provide 100% UVA and UVB rays, are covered with a coating called Pel to repel water, dust, and oil, and are polarized to reduce glare.
Besides having incredible lenses, the real secret sauce of Popticals is their patented FL2 Micro-Rail System which allows the glasses the fold down small, for storage in a custom case. To deploy, you simply pull the lenses apart then let the strong magnets draw the two ends together and attach in the center. Then you deploy the temple arms and you’re ready to go. When you are done, reverse the steps and use the attached carabiner to attach the small case to your pack, or leave it in your pocket.
I loved that when I was using the Popticals, they felt and performed like other nice glasses in my collection but when I was done with them, I could quickly and easily pack them away in a protected case. I didn’t have to worry about the glasses falling off the top of my head as I bent over, or getting scratched in a pocket or pack. Recently, I had an issue with popping the lens out of the frame, while operating the folding mechanism to collapse the glasses. This happened twice, once on each lens and both times was in the same area (center, near the nose area). This was the only time it has happened and while cause for concern, it seems like an isolated incident.
My only niggle has to do with fit. I tried the PopGun, PopStar, and PopH2O and while the first two fit best, all three were problematic with my face and nose structure. This is actually a really common issue for me, since I have a shallow face. For most people, these glasses would fit perfectly. I was told that Popticals is currently working on producing new frames to address this very problem.
The glasses are produced and assembled near Milan, Italy but Popticals is a US company headquartered in Missouri. Due to the unique way the lenses and frames are assembled, customers would have to send their entire pair to the service center, but Popticals assures me their policy is just to replace the parts needed and charge appropriately. Read the next paragraph and you’ll know why this is a refreshing policy.
I have seven pairs of Oakleys and most of them have at least two pairs of lenses, with different tints and intensities. You can say I am a fan. So imagine my surprise when I had to deal with their warranty department, on two different occasions. Both times were disappointing. In one case, Oakley would not sell me a single replacement lens, forced me to mail the whole pair back, and replaced both lenses. The cost was over 70% of a new pair of the same glasses.
And third party replacement sources are frankly, confusing, non-homogeneous, and risky. eBay is full of sellers of varying feedback scores. There are countless websites that look like they came from a HTML bootcamp. And there are hordes of vendors from China. It’s hard to know who to trust…
And that’s where Revant come in…
Founded by Jason Bolt in 2010 after figuring out that replacing his broken glasses after a mountain bike crash would be challenging, Revant now has over 60,000 SKUs of replacement lenses for top brands like Oakley, Ray-Ban, Smith, Maui Jim, and more. I was given a coupon code to try out. My girlfriend stores her Wayfarers naked in her purse and the lenses had naturally developed little scratches [don’t get me started], so it felt like the perfect opportunity to rope her (and her beatin’ up Wayfarers) in for the test run.
Since my girlfriend’s 52mm Wayfarers are a pretty popular model, I had no problem finding them on the site but I quickly realized I was facing a paralysis of choice. You see, for the RB2132 there are 26 lenses offered, in three ranges – standard, polarized, and performance tuned. We went with the black polarized option, which were an upgrade from her factory pair. They were of course priced higher, but if I got a matching set of lenses, they would have cost $24. The Wayfarers are $140 so there’s a much better value proposition here than OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) replacement.
The replacement lenses are paired with a short YouTube video that shows exactly how to replace the lenses on your exact pair of glasses. I am not sure how many videos they’ve produced but being able to see someone work on the exact pair I was upgrading, was an unexpected but welcomed bonus. My only niggle is it was actually quite difficult to get the lenses out of my particular frame. I struggled and fought with it and it took three tries to finally pop them out.
So, how good are the lenses? Do they hold up to brands known for their optical excellence? From what I can tell, yes. There really isn’t much in the lens world that is proprietary anymore. Revant lenses are rocking the same technology and lens tints as the competition (yes, even compared to Oakley). They offer a 60 day warranty and if you can’t find your glasses among the 60,000 models they have in stock, you can ship them your glasses and they’ll custom cut you a pair of new lenses. AND, they’ll cover shipping both ways.
You probably know you shouldn’t wipe your glasses with anything but a microfiber cloth. Cleaning them with your t-shirt, cycling jersey, or paper towel (eek) is asking for micro-scratches all over your expensive lenses. If you are fortunate to remember to carry a microfiber cloth with you, you’re all set but if you’re forgetful or don’t own a cloth, Sacuba has a solution. They are the world’s first self-cleaning sunglasses. At first, I wasn’t sure if this concept would even work or how well it could be executed so I asked for a sample.
I received the glasses in a nice ballistic case along with three interchangeable lenses (four total), a microfiber pouch that doubles as a cleaning cloth, and a floating head strap. The way the glasses work is you turn them towards you and grip the edges (near the temples) with your forefingers and use your thumbs to push the lenses up. They pass through two strips of microfiber material that run the width of the sunglasses. Your glasses are instantly clear of liquids, oil, and debris. Then you push the lenses back down to their original position. In practice, the lenses were clean after the first push up, but the second pass is needed to return them to a usable state.
The instructions say you can do this while they are on your head, while riding a bike even, but I would really advise against this. The motion is kind of awkward and while you are cleaning, your vision is impaired. I tested the glasses by spraying water, smearing light dirt, and wiping my fingers on them and everything got wiped off with each pass.
Depending on the package, the glasses come with different interchangeable lenses. They are exactly the same shape but differ depending on the lighting conditions they are optimized for. Changing the lenses is quite simple once you get the hang of it. You unclip the lever lock on one side of the frame and swing out the arm. Then you pull out the lenses and position the new ones in it’s place. You need to make sure you position the pointy ends in the right slots, bending the lenses slightly before re-securing the lock. Anyone familiar with Oakley’s sport-centric glasses with interchangeable lenses should feel right at home here.
It takes some practice to know exactly where to place your fingers so you can get leverage but not smudges on the lenses as you are trying to rid them of … smudges. When I handed the pair to friends, they struggled with it for a minute then figured it out pretty quickly. Overall, everyone’s been impressed with the glasses, myself included!
*What’s your go-to EDC eyewear? Share in the comments.