High Gear: Reviewing Zeal Optics plant-based sunglasses | SummitDaily.com

High Gear: Reviewing Zeal Optics plant-based sunglasses

Allison Seymour in the Decoy from Zeal Optics on a summer backcountry mission to Drift Peak in Summit County. The Boulder-based manufacturer uses plant-based and other sustainable materials for all of its sunglasses, including high-adventure models.
Special to the Daily |

Zeal Optics sport sunglasses | $149-$219

Models: Incline, Decoy, Big Timber


Company founded in Colorado

Petroleum-free construction

Environmentally friendly

Plastic lens is shatterproof

Replacement lenses

Hard Case


Plastic lenses aren’t completely scratch resistant (problem with all sport glasses)

In Colorado, a good pair of sunglasses is one of the most important accessories you can have. I’ve had friends visit me over the years, and after not respecting the intensity of our sun in the mountains, they ended up regretting their decision the next day with puffy eyes and extreme sensitivity to light. Why? Due to the diminished atmosphere up here at altitude, the sun is stronger than at sea level. Add a reflective snow surface and we’re looking at UV and other sunray intensities well above the beach. Sunglasses have to work extra hard up here.

I’m really hard on my gear and sunglasses are no different. I don’t really leave the house without them. I also don’t use Croakies (they annoy me) and glasses fall off my head a lot, so they must be tough. Even when I’m not planning on getting into the hills, I’m ready to deal with any and all conditions that might get thrown at me. I generally veer to the polarized option for this very reason, but it’s also good for everyday life around here. Driving in dodgy conditions requires seeing through the haze that rain and snow can provide, and anything that helps you better see what’s going on around you on the highway is great in my book. The polarized lenses are also great for fishing — they cut through the surface glare and allow you to see the fish in a given pool.

Being a skier, I use my sunglasses mainly on the snow. I’m a big fan of amber, rose and copper lenses. Snow shadows are blue and colored glass gives more contrast to those blue tones by shading them in brown or black. Seeing what’s coming is very important, and so I stay away from the grey or blue tints because it’s more of the same. Plus, who doesn’t like looking at the world through rose-colored glasses?

Zeal appeal

Zeal Optics is a company I’m stoked to be involved with. The future may be in plastics, but at what cost? Petroleum is fraught with issues. Global warming is a real threat and directly tied to the burning of fossil fuels (aka petroleum). Extracting petroleum and securing wells lead to wars and more greenhouse emissions, but we can’t get away from this until we find alternative power sources.

This isn’t time for a discussion about global warming — it’s merely a statement that we need to find alternatives to the petro-life. Generally speaking, plastic is made from petroleum, but Zeal glasses are not. Here’s how they do it, taken from the Zeal website:

“All Zeal sunglasses incorporate the use of Z-Resin, a plant-based material derived from the castor bean. This material replaces traditional petroleum-based plastics in our manufacturing process and significantly reduces the amount of CO2 produced. This durable material contributes to a lighter finished weight than competitive frames, making our sunglasses more comfortable for everyday wear and activity.”

Being on our planet’s side is a good thing. It’s also cool to know that such a durable and sturdy frame comes straight from nature: If a pair of Zeal glasses enters a non-oxygen environment — say, they get dropped and left in the water — they will disintegrate in about a year, with only the hinges and screws remaining.

Meet the Zeal family

Sunglasses companies make many different styles to fit the myriad faces in our world: skinny faces or long faces or wide faces. I have a skinny face and a big nose, so I use the Big Timber and Incline models. You might want a different model.

Frame strength

What matters is the durability of the build, not the style (though they do look good). The frame strength is great. The hinges haven’t failed yet and the nose bridge cushions are comfortable on your face from dawn till dusk.

Being that I don’t use Croakies or straps, one feature that I really enjoy is the spring of the frames. No, there’s not a mattress-style spring built into the glasses — I’m referring to the way they grip your face. When I look down, they don’t come off. When I’m skiing, they don’t come off. They fit tightly, but not too tight, and when I put them on my hat they generally stay there.

Looking for something different? Try the polarized sport sunglasses from Native Eyewear, also of Colorado

Lens function

Lens function and durability are great. I use the AutoSun lens, which is photochromic and polarized. The lens automatically adjusts tint to how much sun is out. When I’m on snow for a long time, it’s great to have a darker lens without having to change sunglasses (or swap through interchangeable lenses). The polarized lens coating allows me to see through storms when driving and spot the exact fish I want to catch in the streams.

As with any plastic, lens durability is less than that of glass, but I would not want to go into the backcountry with glass lenses for fear of them breaking into my eyes. The plastic lens is shatterproof, so at least that risk is mitigated.

Truth is, if you’re going to get after it in the hills your lenses will get scratched. Zeal lenses perform on par with most of the other manufacturers I’ve tried, and the polarized coating seems a bit better — there’s no rainbow haze on my sunglasses so far.

Zeal also takes care of customers. My Big Timber lenses got all messed up in the desert and they replaced them for me. There’s too much waste in our world, so why buy a whole new pair when you can just replace the lenses? Lenses can be purchased at the Zeal flagship store in Boulder. If a customer sends their sunglasses in for repair, they can also buy replacement lenses at that time.

The verdict

I love my Zeals — go get some for yourself.


Fritz Sperry is a skier, author, photographer and artist who has skied extensively in the Colorado backcountry. He’s the author of: “Makingturns in the Tenmile-Mosquito Range,” and “Makingturns in Colorado’s Front Range, Vol. 1,” both available from his company, Giterdun Publishing.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Now more than ever, your financial support is critical to help us keep our communities informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having on our residents and businesses. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.

Your donation will be used exclusively to support quality, local journalism.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User