I get through a hell of alot of ammunition in multiple weapon systems as a pro shooter. I must admit that although I have always taken hearing protection really seriously, I haven’t always been so careful with eye protection. I guess that boils down to the fact that shooting without ear pro is damn painful where as lack of eye protection can often seem to cause no immediate discomfort. Many guys I work with and talk to feel that modern firearms are pretty much sealed systems which do not spit out crap like the old revolvers did. I felt the same way for a while until I began to notice reddening and pain in my eyes after a day of shooting.
Types of hazard
There is no doubt that modern weapons are well engineered and prevent the escape of hot gases and particles from the action. However some aspects of modern weapons have introduced new optical hazards.
Muzzle brakes do a fantastic job of reducing felt recoil. They do this by directing gases rearward at several times the speed of sound! These fast travelling gases contain particles of carbon, copper, brass and propellant residue. If you are the shooter or even a bystander at the rear of the firing point your eyes are getting bombarded with minute high velocity particles. The gas pressure from big calibers can also cause cumulative damage over a period of time.
Sound moderators are also becoming increasingly popular with shooters. They can reduce hearing damage which is great. However, when used with a semi or full auto system they can increase the ammount of backwash you get every time the action opens and a case ejects. The backwash can contain unburnt propellant as well as the gases and other substances mentioned above. None of these do our eyes much good!
On top of all this we have the richochet issue especially when shooting at steels which is another increasingly popular past time. The bottom line is that modern weapon systems pose just as much risk of optical damage as the old ones did. So what can the shooter do to mitigate the hazard?
Ballistic Eye Protection
You might think that any old glasses will protect your eyes in shooting environments. You would be wrong. Standard glasses and even most “safety” glasses are not designed to stop high velocity objects. Wearing incorrect eye-pro could actually be more dangerous as the lenses could splinter when hit creating even more flying debris.
A few companies make glasses specifically designed for the shooter. One of my favourites is Swisseye who have put a lot of thought into their tactical product range. I have been using several models over the last 6 months and a couple of GnZ testers have taken them into the field for the ultimate endurance testing.
Swisseye have been producing protective glasses for sportsmen for a good few years. They clearly know their stuff. They have an entire range dedicated to tactical applications. All of their tactical models conform to EN ISO 12312-1 which denotes UV protection, EN 166 which denotes multiple fields including high impact protection and ANSI Z87.1 an American standard for professional eye-pro. Achieving these standards tells us that Swisseye have passed rigourous quality testing.
My personal favourites for everyday use in standard conditions. The armored models are available in matt black and OD green. The frames are made from a very robust rubberised material which stands up extremely well to hard use. The polycarbonate lenses offer great clarity and come in “smoke” and clear. The smoke lenses are dark and offer an ideal solution to shooting in bright environments. The clear option suits darker days where impact protection is required. The lens swapping is an easy affair but unlike some glasses I have used in the past remain firmly in place. The nose piece can be adjusted although I did not find it nessecary.
I used one pair for range days and everyday general wear. Another pair was taken and field tested by a good friend of GnZ. Both pairs performed very well. They looked good and felt comfortable. The rubberised frames proved ideal when combined with standard ear defenders. Sometimes ear defenders can be pushed out by hard frame arms or worse can get pressed painfully onto your ears. No such issues with the armored model. All Swisseye glasses come with a soft bag which also doubles as a cleaning cloth. After 6 months neither pair was unduly scratched and still offer superb clarity.
The detection model offers an increased level of protection for harsh environments and tactical situations. Glasses can get knocked when performing entries or moving rapidly through rough ground and urban areas. The tough foam padding on the rear of the frames helps cushion any blows to the user. They also provide a tighter seal around the eyes preventing dust or high velocity particulate from entering. The Detections neatest feature is that the arms can be removed and replaced with a comfortable elesticated strap. You are then able to wear these as a goggle which gives improved seal from particulate and allows certain types of earpro/helmets to be used in conjunction. Swisseye provide the standard cleaning bag and a set of clear lenses for use in lower light conditions. These features make the Detection model ideal for a number of different scenarios added to which they are both light and very comfortable.
The sandstorms offer increased protection from particles and bumps with foam backing in the same way as the Detections do. The Sandstorms however feature a lighter frame and come in 10g lighter than the Detections. The foam backing piece can be easily unclipped leaving you with an even lighter pair of sunglasses.
One of the GnZ testers took these out into desert conditions for several months and used them for every day wear and general eye protection. He reported back that they were both comfortable and much more rugged than he thought they would be. He confessed to sitting and standing on them and they did not let him down.. They did an admirable job of protecting his eyes while driving in dust/sand and he felt they made him “look cool”.. His words not mine! In terms of aesthetics I think all of Swisseyes tactical range look pretty badass!
Swisseyes Net glasses offer a similar level of protection to the Sandstorms but in a different style. They have thicker arms and as such offer better particle protection around the sides. The foam backing piece can be clipped out on these as well either for cleaning or just to lighten things up if the backing isn’t required. In the past I have disliked such padding as it would make me sweat and steam up the lenses. Thus far I have had no such problem with the Swisseyes.
These were the lightest of the models we tested coming in at just 75g. They have adjustable nose pads like the Armoured models and a similar frame material. The rear part of the arms are particuarly bendable which helps when wearing muff style ear protection. The Snowslides look very much like a cool pair of standard sunglasses which is good if you want to wear them away from the range. I found these ideal for hot conditions as they are so light and let plenty of air circulate. They come with a set of spare clear lenses and the usual microfiber bag.
Swisseye continues to innovate in both aethetics and function. I think their current tactical line up offers something for eyeryone. I will certainly continue to use them in daily life and in situations requiring ballistic protection.