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A Close Look at Shooting Glasses

Not all eye protection is created equal. Here's what to consider to find the best glasses for shooting.

A Close Look at Shooting Glasses

Consider these features to find quality shooting glasses. (Photo by Richard Mann)

About 44 years ago my cousin Johnny and I were plinking with our .22 rifles. I had a Model 61 Winchester, and he had an old Remington Rolling Block. I had something else that at the time was really cool: a box of the then new and now legendary Stinger ammunition from CCI. I’d been shooting the ammo in my Winchester, and Johnny asked if I thought it would work in his old rifle. This ended up in me trying it out. Johnny was four years older than me, and he understood ballistics and old guns a little better than his 11-year-old cousin.

When I pulled the trigger, I thought an atomic blast had gone off nearby. My face felt like it was being pelted with molten steel. I panicked and might have peed my pants a little. I threw the rifle down, grabbed my face and screamed something that was very inappropriate for a pre-teen. When my cousin finished laughing, he took my arm and guided me back to the house while the tears ran down my cheeks.

When the hammer fell on that old Remington the pressure was just too much for the little rifle to handle. It blew the hammer and block back, blew the empty case out and sprayed my face with hot gunpowder. For a while I could not open my eyes. Even after I did manage to pry them open, I could not see very well.

You’d think I would have learned my lesson, but sometimes I still—very stupidly—forget to wear shooting glasses. Just a few months ago while zeroing a rifle with a proven handload, the case ruptured. After that rush of hot gas in my face I said things even an adult shouldn’t.

Ruptured cases are not all that common, but I’ve seen my fair share—and not with just handloads. One factory round nearly destroyed an AR-15, another disassembled a Glock, and a third almost took a bolt-action rifle apart. Being too lazy to wear shooting glasses is about as smart as pointing a gun at yourself. I hope—I think—I’ve finally learned my lesson.

Don’t risk it. Protect your eyes every time you shoot. Good shooting glasses are mandatory, but not all eye protection is created equal. To find quality shooting glasses, consider the following features.

Impact Rating

For adequate protection, you need high-impact-rated glasses that meet the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z87.1+ standard. This is very easy to determine; all glasses that meet this standard are marked with a “+” sign on a lens or the frame. (The high-impact protocol tests the frame and lenses together as one unit.) The “+” designates that the materials and design of the glasses have passed high-mass and high-velocity impact tests, and they give protection from at least a .25-inch steel ball traveling at 150 fps. Shooting glasses with prescription lenses that pass the high-impact tests are rated ANSI Z87-2+.

There are other ANSI Z87 standards for splash and dust protection, designated with a “D” in three levels, but these are most applicable to industrial safety. In addition, ANSI Z87 provides for markings that describe the lenses’ UV protection, light transmission, and anti-scratch and anti-fog properties. The markings can appear to be quite complicated on some models of safety glasses, but for shooting, make sure the lenses have the high-impact “+” rating.


Anti-reflective coatings aren’t just for riflescopes and binoculars. In shooting glasses, they help to reduce reflections from the front and back surfaces of the lenses. This allows for more light to pass through the lenses and optimizes visual acuity. In other words, anti-reflective coatings improve the view through the lenses and reduce eyestrain.

A secondary benefit of anti-reflective coatings is that some improve scratch and dust resistance. Some manufacturers of shooting glasses, such as Leupold with its Diamondcoat technology, add further scratch resistance in the form of specialized coatings.

Lens Material

The lens material is also important. Most high-impact-rated glasses are made of polycarbonate, which even in a thinner lens, offers better protection than plastic or crown glass. Polycarbonate is lightweight and economical. The downsides to polycarbonate are it scratches easily and reflects more light than glass or plastic, making scratch-resistant and anti-reflection coatings important.

Trivex, a monomer instead of a polymer like polycarbonate, offers advantages over polycarbonate. The material was developed in 2001 by PPG Industries for the military as visual armor. It offers greater impact resistance than polycarbonate and is lighter. Perhaps just as important to shooters and hunters, Trivex has greater optical clarity and permits more light transmission. Trivex lenses provide crisp, clear views, as well as lightweight strength and protection.


I’d like to offer two additional bits of advice. The first is to find quality protective eyewear that fits you comfortably so you’ll wear it any time you’re pulling a trigger. The second is to never let your buddy talk you into to shooting high-power ammunition in an antique rifle.

Photo by Richard Mann

Good as Gold

I’ve beentesting shooting glasses from Hunters HD Gold for about a year. They meet ANSI Z87+ high-impact requirements, have anti-reflective coatings and use Trivex for the lenses. They also bring something else to the table that’s particularly important for hunters. The lenses have a warm photochromic transparency designed to offer contrast and clarity by bringing all colors into the eye’s most comfortable range of light.

By darkening on exposure to specific types of light, these lenses work in bright or low-light situations. They can help you see better in the morning and the evening, and help with night blindness, macular degeneration and seasonal affective disorder. They also block 100 percent of UVA, UVB and blue light. Hunters HD Gold glasses are available in five non-prescription styles, and the company will also grind your prescription into the lenses. MSRP: $369;

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