Color Clarity: Does Your Goggle Lens Color Matter?

In the market for ski goggles? Check out this guide for everything you'll need to know to pick a goggle lens that will keep your vision sharp on the slopes!

Goggles on a table.

Photo by Camron Zavell

If you’ve shopped for ski or snowboard goggles lately, you might have noticed an overwhelming number of options for goggle colors. Oranges, reds, pinks, yellows, blues, you name it. And for every color, there are about 1000 variations of shades, reflectiveness, and other terms you’ve probably never heard of. It can get to be a bit of a headache!

And given that skiing is a relatively dangerous sport, being able to see well is a top priority. Hitting a bump or a patch of ice that you didn’t see could hurt you, putting a lot of pressure on finding the perfect pair of goggles that will be comfortable and help you see well while on the slopes.

So what are the main differences between the thousands of options?

The main differences are the ski goggle lenses. Different lenses excel in different types of lighting conditions. Some lens colors are great for bright days, some great for overcast days, some great for flat light, and some are good for a little bit of everything. Below we will break down everything you need to know when shopping around for your next pair so you can keep your eyes happy and stay safe on the slopes!

Visible Light Transmission

Close up of a skier wearing red goggles.

Photo by Camron Zavell

To understand the strengths and weaknesses of different goggles, we will start by looking at Visible Light Transmission (VLT). VLT refers to the amount of light that passes through the goggle lens. It's measured in percentages and usually listed in the tech specs on goggles when shopping online. Many factors play into this, such as the thickness, color, material, etc.

If you are looking for a lens to use in bright light conditions, mostly on very bright, sunny days, you will want a lower VLT % which will keep most of the sun out of your eyes so you can see better. These will help protect your eyes and face from UV rays from the sun and snow.

If you are skiing mostly in overcast conditions, you will want a higher VLT so that more light is let in, and you’ll be able to see a bit better.

Many good middle-of-the-road VLT options will be great for variable conditions where the weather changes a bit throughout the day without hitting many extremes of flat light or extreme sun. The variable light lens lets a fair amount of light in without blinding you or making it too dark to see well.

Clear lenses such as those used for night skiing are usually around 75% VLT, whereas the dark black mirror lenses you’ll see on the slopes are generally closer to 6% VLT.

The VLT in different colors will vary a bit depending on the manufacturer, so if there is a goggle brand you like in particular, make sure to search that goggle manufacturer's VLT chart but as a general rule of thumb here are the primary goggle colors and their VLTs.

A chart relating VLT to lens colors and what types of conditions the lens colors would be good for.

Other Things to Look For in a Lens

Contrast Enhancing Lens Technology / Contrast Mirror Coating

In addition to the color of the lens, the coating on the lens plays a massive role in visibility as well. Most goggles have a contrast-enhancing coating, though every brand has a different version of this technology that does the same thing. This coating manipulates the light spectrum in order to enhance colors that your eyes are responsive to while filtering out the “background noise” colors. The purpose of this is so that you can see details a bit better and react to terrain a bit better while skiing.

Here are a few of the leading goggle brands and their specific type of contrast-enhancing lens tech:

  • Smith Chromapop
  • Oakley Prizm
  • Anon Perceive
  • Dragon Lumalens
  • SPY Happy Lens

Contrast enhancing coatings are one of the main differences in price points across goggles, and although this can cause them to get pricey, it's well worth the extra investment in your safety!

Photochromatic Lens

You are probably familiar with photochromic lenses if you've ever seen eyeglasses that look like regular glasses indoors but turn into sunglasses when exposed to light outside. Those types of glasses are just more advanced photochromic lenses. This works in goggles because the lens will darken (lower VLT) in sunnier conditions and be a bit lighter (higher VLT) in overcast conditions.

These can get a bit pricier, but again well worth it. Most people who find themselves skiing in variable conditions end up purchasing a goggle that comes with two lens colors (mentioned later in this article) and getting a photochromic lens essentially takes the guesswork out of figuring out when it's time to switch to a different lens and prevents you from needing to carry around a spare goggle lens to switch throughout the day. A good option for a photochromic lens would be the Julbo Cyrius Goggles.

Polarized

One of the most common questions I get about goggles while working as a Ski Expert here at Curated is about polarized lenses. Polarized lenses are popular in sunglasses and are great for helping reduce glare. Most goggles, however, are not polarized. The reason is that the job of a polarized lens is to reduce glare; it often prevents a skier from being able to see a patch of ice. Polarized lenses can also mess with your depth perception, which is also an issue when skiing. Though some polarized goggles are on the market, I wouldn’t recommend them. Instead of a polarized lens, a good option would be to look for that Contrast Enhancing Lens Technology mentioned earlier.

Interchangeable Goggle Lens

Many goggles on the market are sold with more than one lens. Usually, one will be a variable light lens and the other a low light lens, or a variable light lens and the other a bright light lens. These typically attach with a snap or magnets and are super simple to use. You can either carry around the spare lens in a jacket or backpack pocket or keep the extra lens in the car in case there's an unexpected change in the weather.

They have grown in popularity over the last few years, and they are a really great option if you get the right one. The Smith I/O Mag Chromapop and the Smith 4D Mag are fantastic options, just to name a few. If you are exploring interchangeable lenses, just make sure that the changing feature is easy to use and reliable. Some goggles that use this feature end up letting way too much air in your goggles as you are cruising down the mountain, and you will end up with dry eyes at the end of the day!

Also, make sure that you aren’t compromising on the two lens options and that there is one that you will likely use way more than the other. For example, some dual-lens goggles come with a bright lens and a low light lens, neither of which is fantastic for variable; in the middle days—which for most of us is most days—there will be some clouds in the morning, some sun in the afternoon, some clouds after lunch, etc. You will be annoyed with constantly switching between lenses and never feel like you can see very well. Interchangeable lenses are a great option, but just make sure that you are really excited about one of the lenses, then consider the other to be a bonus lens!

Anti Fog

Anti-fog coating is almost not worth mentioning just because every goggle on the market these days comes with a good anti-fog coating on the inside of the lens and vents to let excess moisture out. Some of the lower-end goggles won't have this, and you'll be left with cloudy vision and stopping every few minutes to wipe the inside of your goggles out. But in general, as long as you pick a quality brand of goggles, this won't be an issue.

It’s worth mentioning that you should try to avoid rubbing the inside of your goggles or getting snow on the inside of your goggles because this can prevent the anti-fog coating from working correctly, and over time it can remove it entirely.

It's also important to note that if you are pairing your goggles with a helmet with bad ventilation, or using a balaclava/neck gaiter, fogging might occur in your goggles, but this is normally something that can be avoided with a bit of a repositioning/adjustment to your other ski gear and is usually not the fault of your goggles.

Frame Size

If you have a smaller face like me, you might find that most goggles fit a little too big, and you end up feeling like a bug with huge eyes in goggles. If this is the case, anything labeled “S” or “Asian fit” will be a good option for you because these tend to have smaller frames. If you have a larger face and need a larger fitting pair, anything labeled XL or L will be a better match for you.

If you need to wear glasses under your goggles, look for goggles that have OTG (over the glasses) in the name.

Strap

Another obvious difference across goggles is the strap. In addition to being different colors, some straps are slightly different sizes and designs. I like to look for a strap that has a line of silicone on the inside, so my goggles don't slide around on my helmet or hat. This is pretty easy to find and a feature that most goggles have!

Ok, now on to a few of the top goggles on the market!

Best Sunny Day Specific

Three goggles. From left to right: the Oakley Flight Deck Ski Goggles, the Glade Optics MagFlight Goggles, and the Smith I/O Mag Goggles.

Best Variable Light Conditions

Three pairs of goggles. From left to right: the Zeal Hemisphere Goggles, the Electric EG2-t S with Bonus Lens · 2022, and the Anon M4 Toric Lens Goggles.

Best for Low Light or Flat Light Conditions

Three goggles. From left to right: the Anon M2 Goggles, the Smith I/O Mag Goggles, and the Scott Vapor Goggles.

From left to right: the Anon M2 Goggles, the Smith I/O Mag Goggles, and the Scott Vapor Goggles

A Few Honorable Mentions

Final Thoughts

Goggles on a helmet.

Photo by Sam Clarke

When buying goggles, think about the conditions you'll be riding in and your budget. If you really only ski on sunny days, it's not worth the extra investment to have a dual lens with a low light option. If you find you can only really go night skiing, a clear or almost clear lens with minimal contrast technology but strong anti-fog capabilities will be the best! For most people, a variable lens with a mid-range VLT and contrast coating will be the most low maintenance while helping avoid eye strain.

The pricier goggles with the higher technology contrast coating might seem like a big investment now, but they will last you for a long time and keep you alert and safe on the slopes. Your vision is your first line of defense to avoiding danger while skiing, so definitely consider it a worthy investment!

If you still have questions or are unsure about which pair of goggles is best for you and your specific situation, reach out to a Ski Expert here on Curated and we would be happy to answer any questions you may have and get you squared away on the best pair of goggles for you by sending a personalized list of recommendations!

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Hey there! My name is Hunter and I grew up in Ogden, Utah - one of the most underrated places for skiing IMO (but shh don't tell your friends). I considered leaving the state for college for all of five minutes until I realized the access to skiing, climbing, etc. in Utah is unparalleled. So I just...

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