Trending Topics

When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Thank you for reading and supporting our efforts.

Expert picks: The best tactical glasses for safety and clarity

Find the perfect pair of tactical glasses with our expert recommendations, focusing on safety, optical clarity and advanced protection

Tactical eyewear.png

Your eyes are your most vital asset in any demanding situation, so protecting your eyesight is critical. While regular sunglasses may protect your eyes from the sun’s damaging rays, they are not designed for the demanding situations faced by the military, law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel. This is where tactical glasses come in.

Tactical glasses, both clear and tinted, are engineered for peak performance and ultimate protection. As the son of an optometrist and someone who’s relied on glasses for most of my adult life, I’ve spent all my life immersed in the eyewear world. This experience has fueled my passion for finding the perfect pair of glasses for every situation.

Join me as I delve into the world of tactical eyewear, exploring what makes tactical glasses different, and listing a few key features you need to consider. More importantly, I want to provide you with my favorite tactical glasses that I have vetted over the years in my search for the best tactical eyewear.

What are tactical glasses?

Most of the glasses and sunglasses you find in the mall, big-box stores, or even at your optometrist’s office are not tactical glasses. Tactical glasses are designed for specific purposes that regular glasses are not. Here are some key features of tactical glasses:

  • Ballistic protection: Tactical glasses are built to withstand high-velocity impacts, such as shrapnel or debris.
  • Durability: Tactical glasses are made from tough materials that can withstand harsh conditions and rough handling. The lenses may be made from polycarbonate or Trivex plastic, and the frames are made from nylon Grilamid, or a T90-type durable material. These materials are designed to be lightweight but strong.
  • Optical clarity: Even with the ballistic protection and durability features, tactical glasses provide clear vision without distortion. This is crucial for those who rely on their vision for tasks like shooting or navigating in low-light conditions. They also are scratch resistant.
  • UV protection: Many tactical glasses also offer UV protection to shield the eyes from the sun’s harmful rays.

Glasses ratings explained

When selecting tactical glasses, you need to consider four distinct safety ratings. Any of the military standards are significantly stricter than what the federal government requires for private businesses. As a bonus, all military standards for eye protection are compatible with prescriptions, the lenses must be easily detached using no tools, and the glasses cannot degrade under exposure to extreme temperatures.

The four standards are:

  • ANSI Z87.1: Minimum standard for any safety glasses. As police, fire, or EMS personnel, you should only wear safety or sunglasses that meet at least the ANSI Z87+ standard. While these glasses protect your eyes from dust, debris, and chemicals, they are not rated for ballistic protection.
  • ANSI Z87+: Same standard as ANSI Z87 but with a higher impact standard. ANSI Z87+ glasses are shot with a large and slow steel ball at 1.1 Joules.
  • MIL-PRF-31013 is an older US military standard that mostly covers ballistic resistance and optical clarity. This standard surpasses the ANSI Z87+ standard but is not as good as MIL-PRF-32432.
  • MIL-PRF-32432 glasses are much stronger. Instead of being shot with a large and slow steel ball at 1.1 Joules, they are shot with a small and fast steel penetrator at 7.4 Joules. This is the new US military standard for glasses and goggles for both prescription and non-prescription wearers. It covers standards for optical qualities, UV protection, light transmission levels, chemical resistance and temperature stability.

Now onto some of my personal choices.

Best overall: Wiley X Airrage

My go to tactical glasses have always been Wiley X brand. First, they meet the military’s most stringent standards and second, many Wiley X brand glasses come with a foam insert sealing your eyes from dust. This is particularly important in dust storms or high winds. I have owned well over a dozen Wiley X sunglasses and once you try them, you will see why Wiley X is the preferred brand for the US military.

Meets ANSI Z87+ and MIL-PRF 32432 standards.

Most popular: Oakley Standard Issue Ballistic M Frame

Most officers are familiar with the reliable Oakley brand. Oakley makes dependable frames and has a variety of glasses to choose from. The lenses are made from Oakley’s proprietary material Plutonite for optical clarity and are durable and customizable. Oakley’s are extremely popular in the police and EMS fields.

Meets ANSI Z87.1 and MIL-PRF-31013 standards.

Best value: 3M SecureFit 400 Series Safety Glasses

You do not need to spend a fortune to protect your eyes. The 3M SecureFit 400 Series glasses are built well, fit comfortably on your head because of the M Pressure Diffusion Temple Technology, and are anti-fog and anti-scratch. I particularly like the 3Ms as shooting glasses or if I am working the night shift when sunglasses are not required. For EMS fields, these glasses provide all the protection you need for a safe night. If you just need safety glasses without a prescription, these are the glasses for you.

Meets ANSI Z787.1 standards.

Best in humid areas: Magpul Helix Eyewear

If you are a police officer, you probably have Magpul items in your patrol bag now. Magpul AR15 magazines are considered one of the most reliable options for rifle operations, but most people do not know Magpul makes very good sunglasses.

The Magpul Helix outperforms other options like Oakley and Ray-Ban in humid or wet environments. Moisture and condensation cause normal lenses to fog or collect water. Magpul’s Helix lens and frame design sheds sweat and moisture, keeping your field of view clear.

Frames are constructed of TR90 for strength, flexibility and impact protection.

Meets ANSI Z87+ and MIL-PRF-32432 standards.

Best lens enhancement: Smith Operators Choice Elite

The Smith brand is known for high-quality eyewear and is a popular choice for fishermen and snowboarders. The optional ChromaPop lenses allow for greater definition and natural color, and provide an advantage for operators scanning a hostile environment because color and movement seem to “pop.” Smith uses Carbonic lenses that offer impact resistance and clear optics.

Meets ANSI Z787.1 and Mil-PRF-31013 standards.

Fastest lens change: SwissEye Blackhawk Pro

SwissEye was one of the first companies that produced sports glasses with an innovative anti-fog/anti-scratch. The company offers a superior design that is comfortable to wear and provides the highest standard of protection. Because of the easy-to-remove lenses, this makes them a popular choice for competition shooters and for public safety providers working midday into the night as you can easily change from tinted glasses during the day to clear for the night.

Meets ANSI Z87+ and MIL-PRF-32432 standards.

Find your perfect pair

Choosing the right tactical glasses depends on your specific needs and priorities. Whether you prioritize ballistic protection, comfort, affordability, or features like anti-fogging or quick lens changes, there’s a perfect pair for you. Remember, protecting your eyes is a must, so stick with tactical glasses that offer superior protection and functionality compared to regular glasses.

Pro tip: If you see the MIL-PRF-32432 standard, that pair of glasses can take a prescription. If you find a pair you like online, you can always go to your optometrist to order them with your prescription. Many eye insurance plans can help cover the cost of prescription sunglasses.

Also, under OSHA and federal guidelines, your agency covers ANSI Z87+ rated safety glasses. Ask your department to give you a pair if you need them.

Be safe out there and remember to always wear your glasses.

NEXT: Gordon Graham on why public safety providers should wear sunglasses

Joshua Lee is an active-duty police sergeant for a municipal police department in Arizona. Before being promoted, Joshua served five years as a patrol officer and six years as a detective with the Organized Crime Section investigating civil asset forfeiture, white-collar financial crime, and cryptocurrency crimes.

Joshua is a money laundering investigations expert witness and consultant for banks, financial institutions, and accountants. He is also an artificial intelligence for government applications advisor and researcher.

Joshua holds a BA in Justice Studies, an MA in Legal Studies, and an MA in Professional Writing. He has earned some of law enforcement’s top certifications, including the ACFE’s Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE), ACAMS Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS) and the IAFC’s Certified Cyber Crimes Investigator (CCCI).

Joshua is an adjunct professor at a large national university, and a smaller regional college teaching law, criminal justice, government, technology, writing and English courses.