People that know me joke that they've never seen me outside without sunglasses on...and that's really pretty accurate! Since an incident I had several years, which I describe below, I now put on sunglasses whenever I go out the door...and I own several pairs.
I think the best pickleball sunglasses or tennis sunglasses should be lightweight, wrap-around style frames and polycarbonate lenses (shatter-proof!) with 100% UV protection.
My favorite sunglasses that meet all those criteria are the Oakley Flak Jacket. Keep reading below if you'd like to see several other top picks and a complete buyers guide included 5 top reasons why you need to be wearing sunglasses and 3 things you can't overlook when buying your next pair to wear on the courts.
Even if you don't want to wear tinted sunglasses (or if you play indoors) you really should think about protecting your eyes.
If you've played competitive pickleball you've probably been hit by the ball at some point (if not on many occasions). When it does happen, I most often I get hit somewhere in the upper body (torso, chest and head).
I would rather look a little dorky playing with my protective goggles that get blasted with a pickleball to the eye so when I play indoors I wear Gearbox Vision Eyewear, they have a option with clear lenses for indoors, are anti-fog and exceed the industry standard for Ball Impact Standards.
Some people make comments that I look silly but to me it seems totally normal to wear eye protection- maybe it's just because I grew up playing racquetball where protective eyewear is just a standard accessory.
My guess is that as pickleball becomes more competitive, getting hit with the ball will become more of an issue -since I tend to see more people getting whacked when watching advanced players compete. Unfortunately it also puts a damper on the game if you are constantly worrying about hitting your opponent or getting hit-it could easily solve the problem and probably increase game intensity if everyone wore eye protection and we didn't have to worry about getting hit or taking someone's eye out!
The Oakley Half Jacket 2.0 polarized composite lenses have a protective coating offering 100% protection from UV. As the name indicates, this is the updated version of the classic Oakley Half Jacket which historically was one of the brands best model of sunglasses. The frame features Oakley's patented no slip Unobtainium® material used on the nose pads and temple tips (behind ears) to prevent slippage.
Snug fit is a key component to a good sport glasses since you don't want them sliding down or falling off just when you are going for a shot! The material is designed to keep the sunglasses properly fitting even when you are drenched in sweat! The rims are semi-rimless, meaning the bottom has no solid rim. The open design on the bottom of the lens is a plus when you are looking downward- this is a big benefit for racket sports since it gives you a less obstructed view especially down angle- like the bounce of the pickleball serve.
The Half Jacket has the Interchangeable lens system making it compatible with Oakley lenses. The extra set(s) of Oakley interchangeable lens would need to be purchased separately, if for example yo wanted to swap out different colored lenses for different lighting conditions using the same frame. I personally don't mess around changing lenses but it is a cool option to have if you'd like different colored lenses to choose from.
Pros: Polarized, Prescription-ready (Rx-able), no slip design.
Cons: Majority of buyers won't bother with interchangeable lenses. So this isn't really a negative mark against these glasses, just probably a feature that only a minority will take advantage of.
The names get a little confusing, but this is the Oakley Flak Jacket (compared to the "Half Jacket" above). Prior to the arrival of the Flak Jacket, the 1/2 Jackets were historically Oakley best-selling sunglasses. While both models still sell well, many people see the newer Flak Jackets as an upgrade from the older model.
The Flak Jackets offer the same UV protection and also feature anti-smudge lens coating. The slip free material to improve their grip even in sweaty conditions has also been incorporated on these. Some of the features of the Flak Jackets that people may like are:
Having said that, many women have commented that they prefer the HALF Jacket, due to it's smaller frame size. You can see a side-side comparison of them in the video below.
If you are shopping for Oakley's the naming conventions can get a little confusing. Just remember that the "Standard" vs "XLJ" vs "XL" is strictly referring to the LENSES, not the frames. Both the Oakley XL and XLJ lenses are longer than the standard lenses and the XLJs have a wave-like cut along the bottom. The XLJ lenses provide slightly more coverage than the standard Oakley lenses.
If you are trying to decide between the Flak Jacket and Half Jacket (2.0) here is a quick and useful video with a side by side comparison.
In addition to protective eye wear and ski goggles, Bolle has a wide range of sports sunglasses. For tennis or pickleball my top pick from their product line would be Bolle Bolt Sunglasses. These are sleek frame style with wrap around temples. The shatterproof polycarbonate lenses are lightweight and feature anti-fog treatment and mirror finish. The lenses are available in polarized and non-polarized versions. There are plenty of style choices with these sunglasses as the frames come in black, white and orange and there are lenses available in amber, grey, green, black and rose.
If you are shopping for Bollé sunglasses, the abbreviations can get a little confusing. Here are the key terms you might see:
So just as an example if you see a product called: "Modulator Green Emerald Oleo AF". These lenses would be photochromic (darken when exposed to light) since it mentions "Modulator", green colored with anti-smudge (Oleo) and anti-fog (AF). I would not expect these glasses to be polarized since by default they are not- the product name would normally specify "polarized" in the name.
I don't think this list would be complete without mentioning Nike, it is such an iconic brand and has become one of the top brands in Tennis apparel and accessories (Roger Federer anyone...). Nike has a wide selection of sports sunglasses and several of them would be good choices for racket sports but...
The problem I have with recommending some of their models is the PRICE! Some of their newer models (like the Nike Vaporwing) sell for just under $400! Unless I were an elite athlete (getting free sponsorship gear) I really don't see wearing glasses this expensive. If I had to pick one pair of Nike sunglasses to wear for tennis or outdoor pickleball it would be Skylon Ace Sunglasses.
The Skylon Ace is a straight forward, comfortable pair of sunglasses at a pretty affordable price point. They have a sleek shape with a snug enough fit to wear while being active but a little less extreme "wrap" than the other models we've reviewed above. Some of previous reviews were for glasses with the typical sports style wrap around (almost straight temple design that curves around and hugs at the back).
These glasses by Nike are a more traditional sunglass design with temple tips that curve down slightly behind your ears. It's still a wrap around style but just seems to me has a more classic feel...I'm not I am explaining it clearly-might be easier if just to look at the photos and compare...
The nose bridge has horizontal groves that provide ventilation, which help keep the inside of the lenses from fogging and lets the glasses vent a little more which is a nice feature when you are in the hot sun.
This is the least expensive pair of sunglasses on our list and deserves a closer look. I do believe to a certain extent you "pay for what you ..." but on the other hand there's no reason to think you have to pay top dollar for a designer pair of sunglasses to play on the courts.
While I wouldn't trust my eyes to a discount brand of glasses I've never heard of just to save $20, Under Armour is one of the leading sports brands and they are known for quality gear. Like the rest of these glasses on this list, the UA Igniters do offer 100% protection from UVA, UVB & UVC.
A unique feature on these glasses are the fully adjustable nose pads which help give you a more customized fit. The Igniter comes in a wide selection of frame and lens color combinations.
Although I prefer wrap around style sunglasses when playing racket sports- because they cut down on light coming in from the sides and glare when the sun is behind you- I can understand some people don't like the look or feel of the wrap around temples tips or "arm" (the back part of the glasses that wraps around the back of your ear). Also the more of an all-around style that could be worn off the court without looking like a "sports" sunglass.
If you prefer a more squared off frame but still want a sporty pair of sunglasses with 100% UV protection and lightweight frame, take a look at the Oakley Jupiter Square Sunglasses. They come in Non-Polarized and Polarized versions.
According to the American Optometric Association (AOA) you should wear sunglasses whenever you are outdoors, whether you playing sports, walking, working, driving, running errands or really doing any activity in the sun. The four major reasons they give for wearing sunglasses are:
The sun's UV radiation can cause cataracts, skin cancer around the eyes and even cancer of the eyelids. It can also cause "snow blindness (photokeratitis) which is a temporary yet very painful sunburn on the cornea. Hats, even wide-brimmed ones can only block about 50% of the UV radiation that reaches your eyes so the best prevention are sunglasses especially wrap around sport style glasses that cover the sides of your eyes also.
Long-term exposure to the violet and blue portion of the solar spectrum reaches deeper into the eye and could increase risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
A 5th and important reason that I'll add is to protect your eyes from dust and dirt and flying debris in the air. I won't give you the whole long story but it starts with me going out for a leisurely stroll on a bike several years ago (no sunglasses on)...and ending up in the ER for several hours. Basically some tiny speck of dirt got in my eye and by rubbing it, I managed to get it lodged deeper under my eyelid, scratching my cornea (corneal abrasion) in the process.
Luckily I had no permanent damage to my vision, I spent the next several days wearing an eye patch and using eye drops for weeks (not to mention the whopping medical bill from the ER visit). Lesson learned: I always wear sunglasses now when I go out during the day. Sunny or cloudy days -whether I am playing pickleball or just running a quick errand.
Even regardless of the bad luck I had with the dirt getting in my eye, the skin cancer prevention is more than enough reason for me. I've written about skin cancer before on the blog before, I take as many precautions as I can to minimize the chances. Unfortunately, according to The Vision Council, although 3/4 of Americans say they are concerned about the effects of UV exposure only 31% always wear sunglasses when outside.
A good pair of sunglasses for playing outdoor pickleball or tennis should ideally have an ergonomic design that wraps around the sides of you face to give maximum coverage from the sun to prevent sunlight from the sides from distorting your vision or forcing you to squint.Apart from providing more coverage, this style of sunglasses provide a more snug fit that is less likely to slide down the bridge of your nose or possibly fall off while making sudden movements during play. The most important specifications you should look for are:
Although there are a variety of lens tints that can work for sports glasses, gray lenses are a top choice to deliver clear color vision is grey.
So you might be thinking: if pros are not wearing sunglasses, why should you? Let's keep in mind that the real reason for wearing sunglasses when your outdoors is to protect your eyes- not for enhancing performance. We mentioned above (skin cancer, macular degeneration, snow blindness, headaches, squinting, etc), those are much more important to consider!
Green: Good contrast for low-light conditions. General purpose use. Tennis/Pickleball=Yes
Brown/Amber: Good for variable light and everyday conditions. Red element improves depth perception an important for judging distances accurately. Good for shooting/aiming sports. Tennis/Pickleball=Yes
Yellow: Good for foggy or hazy and other low-light conditions. Filters out blue light making them ideal for computer screens and other electronic devices. Tennis/Pickleball=Yes
Grey: Best tint for true color perception and highest light reduction. My top choice for Tennis/Pickleball.
Blue/Purple: Aesthetically pleasing and trendy color for lenses. Best known for enhancing color perception. I would not wear for pickleball or tennis sunglasses.
Pink: Red and pink lenses offer the greatest level of contrast and can be stylish but I would not select these for sports in general so not a great pick for sunglasses to use for pickleball.
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Although some glasses are marketed as gender-specific and that makes a lot of sense for fashion sunglasses, many sport sunglasses are unisex. Of the glasses on this list, the Oakley Flak Jacket may be considered men's sunglasses because of their slightly more chunky profile whereas the Oakley Half Jacket is preferred by many women because of it's more feminine frame.
I think that any of these glasses could be worn by equally by a man or a woman but if I had to choose one from the list as best women's tennis sunglasses I would choose the Oakley Half Jacket. Another nice thing about these is if you are looking for something more feminine, they do also come in other styles such as a white frame with violet color accents - if you'd rather not have the masculine all black "Arnold-Schwarzenegger-I'll-Be-Back look".
Don't forget about younger players! More kids and teenagers are playing pickleball and tennis and they are often neglected when it comes to quality sunglasses. I often see young kids out playing in the sun without sunglasses and and when they do have them they are usually more like toy glasses.
Kids deserve to have high quality, comfortable glasses that block 100% of UV. Over their lifetime they will spend a lot of time in the sun and are susceptible at a young age so I think it's much better to get in the habit early. The Oakley Quarter Jacket Iridium Sunglasses (Youth Fit) or the would be one of the top picks for quality youth sunglasses. Recommendation from my teenage son: Under Armour Youth Nitro (disclosure- he is a basketball player, Steph Curry fan and understandable he loves Under Armour stuff- they do make good quality gear at a decent price).
At the pro level, the ball is moving extremely fast. Rafael Nadal regularly serves that ball over 125 mph (200 kph)...and he is not even the fastest serve on the tour! At those speeds, any changes in your perception of depth of field, interpretation of spin or velocity of the return...or changes in visual clarity or light could have a very negative impact.
Pro players need to be at the top of their game and remove and obstacle that can get in their way. The frame on the glasses can block a small portion of their field of view. Changing light conditions from clouds moving overhead, changing sides after sets, or the waning light towards the end of an evening match could throw off their perception. Although these may be slight differences, at the pro level it can have a big impact.
A pro player may need to worry about slight changes in light or the frames possibly blocking a tiny sliver of their view but they are also returning serves coming at them at well over 100 miles/hr. For most of us mere mortals, it's simply about protecting our eyes!
P.S. It is worth noting that a few Pros do play with sunglasses, including current pros Tommy Robredo and Samantha Stosur among others...and Andre Agassi did occasionally play with Oakley's on back in the day. On the other hand, the percentage of pro pickleball players sporting sunglasses is much higher than tennis, if you attend an event like the US Minto Pickleball Open you'll see a a large much bigger ratio of players with sunglasses on the court that you would in pro tennis...
I hope this buyers' guide and the top sunglasses review have provided some useful in formation to help select the best pair that work for you. Regardless of your personal preferences on style, lens color, etc. it's important to protect your eyes whenever you are outdoors. Any of these sunglasses would be a good match for outdoor racket sport including other sports such as paddle-ball or platform tennis. The important thing is that they offer full protection against UV light and have a shape and design that works for active use and won't fall off in the middle of a set.