Do I Need Sunglasses or Ski Goggles for Snowshoeing?

Eye protection is an important aspect when planning a snowshoeing excursion. Sunglasses or ski/snow goggles can help protect your vision and also make for a more enjoyable snow trekking adventure. These items should be an essential aspect of planning any snowshoeing trip.

Importance of Eye Protection for Snowshoeing

Indigenous tribes of Alaska developed early snow goggles fashioned out of bone, wood, or even whale baleen for adapting to a snow-centric lifestyle. These goggles featured small slits that limited the amount of sunlight that reached the eye. Developed centuries ago, this was an innovative technology for adapting to the harsh Arctic wilderness.

Today, we understand that there are increased health risks associated with receiving ultraviolet radiation (UV) radiation while in the snow. Notably, UV rays can cause temporary damage to your eyesight via snow blindness and increase the chance of long-term damage to your vision.

Unfortunately, snow and ice are some of the ideal surfaces for reflecting maximum UV radiation. Therefore, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends wearing either sunglasses or snow goggles to block UV rays and prevent snow blindness.

What is Snow Blindness?

Snow blindness is a form of photokeratitis, which is an inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva resulting from exposure to electromagnetic light radiation. This condition is typically caused by the reflection of light in smooth surfaces such as ice and snow, or even sand and water.

Known as snow glare, the even surface of snow and ice scatters less light and instead reflects directly into an individual’s eyes. This is a major reason that winter activities that occur in the snow are at a particular high risk of causing snow blindness. Cloudy days in particular are a high risk factor because UV radiation can still be strong and participants are less likely to remember to wear eye protection.

Additionally, snowshoeing typically occurs in locations that are at higher latitudes and/or higher elevations, where the air tends to be thinner. At these locations, there is less magnetosphere that blocks UV radiation which originates from the sun. 

Symptoms of Snow Blindness

The most common symptoms of photokeratitis or snow blindness include pain, sensitivity to light, headaches, tearing, or blurriness of vision. Any of these symptoms could make a long snowshoe trek or drive home unbearable.

Fortunately, snow blindness very rarely causes a temporary actual loss of vision and is not known to cause permanent blindness. However, over-exposure to sunlight in the winter can lead to long-term conditions such as cataracts or potential cancerous eye growths, so it is imperative to use appropriate eye protection.

How to Choose Snowshoeing Sunglasses or Goggles

First, decide if you are going to be more comfortable in sunglasses or goggles. This decision might also be dependent on the weather conditions and type of snowshoeing activity. For instance, snow goggles might be more effective at blocking wind or snow from flying into your face on a particularly blustery day. However, sunglasses are generally lighter and less intrusive upon your face, and you might favor glasses on a mild-weathered day.

You might also be wondering if polarized glasses or goggles are necessary for snowshoeing. The AAO officially recommends any pair of sunglasses as long as they block or absorb 99% of UV rays, so polarized lenses are not required. Technically, there are two types of UV rays, UVA and UVB, so just be sure to check that your specific desired sunglasses block both types of rays.

Most participants of snow sports favor glasses or goggles with minimal fogging. This factor is harder to determine without testing out a product in person. However, certain brands have made great advancements in developing anti-fogging technology for their eyewear. 

Finally, ensure that the fit of your glasses or goggles is comfortable and well-fitting, since face shape and size can vary. You’ll want your glasses or goggles to be comfortable yet durable.

Choosing Sunglasses for Snowshoeing

When considering the best sunglasses for snowshoeing, some features to look for are  a curved lens instead of a flat lens. Also, wrap-around sunglasses or glasses with “side shields” should also be considered to prevent UV rays from entering the edges of the lens that might be exposed to snow glare.

While many brands of sunglasses can get the job done, top recommendations for a day in the snow include Maui Jim or Ombraz.

Choosing Snow Goggles for Snowshoeing

If you opt for snow goggles, then you may want to choose a pair that allows you to quickly change lenses. Different lenses are designed for different sunlight conditions, and many modern ski and snowboard goggles are equipped with magnetic components that easily pop out one lens for another.

For snow goggles, Smith, Anon, or Spy are some popular brands among skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers. Oakley is also a renowned manufacturer that makes both sunglasses and snow goggles for outdoor winter recreational activities. 

Keep your eyes on the prize by following the above recommendations and you will be properly prepared for eye protection in winter.