What separates a $50 pair of ski goggles from a $235 pair? Sure, sometimes it’s the name on the goggle strap, but often it’s the technology in the goggle itself, i.e., the quality of the lens. Entering the $200 range, you’re typically looking at better antifogging capability and features such as light-sensitive adjusting lenses.
Just like a good pair of boots or a good pair of skis, the right goggles can be worth the investment and will improve a skier’s or snowboarder’s on-mountain experience. Fogged-up goggles or a pair that make you feel like you’re looking through a tunnel everywhere you go can really make for a frustrating day on the mountain.
Anyone hitting the hill for more than the annual trip should consider investing in some solid eyewear.
This week, we checked out the world of spherical lens goggles with the Smith Optics I/O and VonZipper (VZ) El Kabongs to see if spherical lenses lived up to the hype. Not only that, but we also got to test the Smith’s photochromic, light-adjusting lens technology, which lightens and darkens based on changing weather conditions.
Spoiler alert: Spherical lenses make a difference, and the photochromic lens is awesome.
Spherical vs. Flat lenses
The biggest price jump between a cheaper, entry-level goggle and a higher-end model has to do with the lens — specifically, is it spherical or flat? From there, costs increase slightly for polarized or light-adjusting lenses. The difference between spherical and flat, or nonspherical, lenses is in field of vision and amount of light distortion. Spherical lenses allow for a wider field of view, greatly improving peripheral vision, which obviously is nice on a ski slope. Like the name implies, spherical lenses are rounded, designed to simulate the lens in your eye. The spherical lens allows light to pass through the way it’s supposed to. A flat lens will bend light, creating some degree of distortion. A flat lens also can create tunnel vision, whereas a spherical lens opens your field of view.
Having long opted for the cheaper alternative, I immediately noticed the difference the spherical lens makes while testing the Smith and VZ models. I was never a fan of goggles and often opted for sunglasses instead, in order to not lose peripheral vision. I also constantly found myself putting goggles on my head if I was trying to find something in a jacket pocket on a chairlift, for example.
Both the Smith I/O and the VZ El Kabongs made it much easier to look down and see what I was doing than did my previous flat-lens goggles, and on the slope, my peripheral vision was greatly increased. As far as spherical lenses are concerned, I’m sold. Still, frame design and padding could potentially counter the benefits of a spherical lens, but that was not the case with the models tested.
Both also offer features that makes it easy to change lenses and have both a variety of replacement lens options.
Heres a quick look at each:
Smith I/O goggle with photochromic and polarized lenses
While the lens on the I/O is extremely easy to pop out to change — thanks to its two-clip quick-release system — with Smith’s photochromic light-adjusting lens, you may never need to. Its rose-tinting lightens and darkens based on weather conditions, making it extremely versatile in most situations. Only on the sunniest of days would a more tinted lens be a consideration, and even then the photochromic lens performed admirably. It absolutely shined in low light. Smith Optics goggles come with a suitable alternate lense. We also tested the company’s polarized lens, which is a great option for a sunny day. Polarized lenses reduce glare. Smith’s polarized lens also holds up pretty well in low light. In addition, they offer plenty of other replacement lens options in the $40 to $100 range.
As for the design, the I/O offers a medium fit suitable for most head sizes. The three-layer foam makes for a comfortable, breathable fit while not obstructing the field of vision that the spherical lens offers. You really can see more of what’s around you.
The I/O also offers a 5X antifog dual-lens technology. When tested, the lenses fogged only slightly while wearing a neck gator and blowing directly upward. Even then, the lens cleared quickly. Assuming that’s not how you breathe while skiing, there should be no trouble. The goggle’s strap has a quick release and a rubber strip that helps keep it from slipping on a helmet.
All in all, this is a solid, extremely versatile goggle well worth the investment.
Retail: $175 to $235; replacement lens: $50 to $100
VonZipper El Kabong
VZ is known for its stylish, oversized reflective lenses, and while a number of the company’s models look large, they actually fit most head sizes. The El Kabongs we tested offer a number of features similar to Smith’s I/O goggle; in fact, they could probably be goggle cousins. The El Kabongs also have quick release with push-button clips on either side of the lens, and like the I/O, the frameless design makes it easy to change lenses.
While VZ doesn’t currently offer light-adjusting lenses, the company does have a variety of tint options, including polarized lenses. And for a rider going for steeze, VZ provides a number of mirrored-lens colors.
The oversized lens also provides an excellent field of vision while not feeling bulky or cumbersome. We tested one of the SpaceGlaze green-tinted lenses. It performed admirably in both sun and low light. The VZ goggle also comes with a yellow replacement lens well suited to foggy, low or flat light conditions. The El Kabong’s foam padding with polarfleece exterior provides both comfort and breathability. The dual-lens antifog system also keeps the goggles from fogging up.
The El Kabongs are a solid blend of style and performance and a great option to take to the slopes.
Retail: $185; replacement lens: $40 to $60