Glasses were not widely used when I began shooting in the 1980s. Of course there were those who needed to wear prescription glasses but as a safety item they were largely disregarded.
Times change and we learn from our mistakes. Health and safety has become a necessity at the range just as it has in most of our workplaces.
Why wear glasses?
I think there are two very good reasons to wear shooting glasses in all target disciplines.
1. To reduce risk of eye damage.
2. To improve performance.
In terms of damage we have the obvious.. If you are close enough to the target then there is a risk of the projectile – or parts of it, coming back and hitting you. If you are using a firearm there may also be particles flying into the air at great speed along with exiting hot gasses. Many firearms (often older types) have gaps which allow gases and particles to exit sideways or rearward (old revolvers for example). Now many of you may be well back from the target and using a new bolt action rifle which does not have any gases exit anywhere save the barrel.. Do you still need glasses? I used to think not until muzzle brakes became popular. A muzzle brake is a device which screws onto the muzzle and redirects gases exiting the barrel to reduce felt recoil and/or mitigate muzzle climb. Brakes will generally direct gases to the sides and rearward. If you are next to someone using one then you may experience debris and a pressure wave hitting you. If it is a 50cal then it will be like having a fistful of dirt and stones thrown at you!! The bottom line is that glasses have a become a safety nessecity.
If you have bits of debris getting in your eyes that is obviously going to effect your ability to see properly while shooting. You also have high winds, pollen and particles in the air which can cause the eyes to water or itch which can effect performance.
Glasses can also help modify contrast and/or reduce the amount of light that reaches the eyes. On a very sunny day reducing light getting to the eyes is a good idea as to much light can make us squint. Equally (and more likely in England) dark overcast days might make it hard to see your target due to lack of contrast. Many shooters (myself included) find that a yellow tint can help increase contrast between target and environment.
The glasses on test.
I have selected 2 pairs of shooting glasses to test from two well known manufacturers. The models are both fairly new to the market and represent the latest innovations and increased levels of protection and performance. Each also has features which suit more specific disciplines within shooting sports or certain environments.
Both models meet Natos standardized testing for ballistic safety glasses. Stanags (standardization agreement) are defined tests for a variety of factors. While they are a little to complex for this article I will say that the testing is rigid and meeting requirements denotes consistency, durability and functionality.
Swisseye – Nighthawk.
Swisseye have been making sport specific eyewear since 1996. All of their glasses fulfill EN1836 and their ballistic models also meet Stanag2920 and 4296 requirements. In Laymans terms they will shield your eyes from damaging rays from the Sun and offer ballistic protection deemed appropriate by NATO. Swisseye actually quote UV protection of up to 400nm (among the highest available).
All of Swisseyes frames are shatterproof and made out of non allergic materials.
Swisseyes shooting glasses are found under the subheading “Tactical”. The range of glasses offered cover pretty much all roles and environments from the club plinker through to military personnel on active duty. One of the newest additions to the tactical range is the “Nighthawk” which we are going to look at here.
The Nighthawks come in a black semi hard case. The case is very well made and ideal if you are throwing your glasses in a kit bag full of heavy things.
The case contains a pair of glasses and two extra lens sets neatly wrapped in plastic. The glasses are contained in a grey fabric pouch with drawstring which also serves as a cleaning cloth.
The Nighthawks are very light, feel flexible and offer a large protective optical surface. The flexibility of the arms is a great asset when you are shooting as it allows your ear protection to sit properly and cover the ears. Rigid arms might push the ear pro away leaving gaps. The frames look pleasing and are finished in a matt black. The arms have a hole at each end through which you could tie some elastic – a thoughful addition.
The lens options are clear, dark and yellow. They all have anti fog coating. I have a preference for yellow tinted glasses when shooting. I feel it gives me good contrast. If it is particuarly bright I will use the dark option. I never use clear – again that is preference, others may love clear lenses. Changing between the dark and yellow was very easy and involves clipping the frames and nose clip to the lens.
The seperate nose clip also provides another function – it allows you to mount an inner RX frame which can be purchased seperately. The RX frame can be fitted with Lenses suitable for you by an optician.
I have used the Swisseye Nighthawks for two shooting trips. They performed very well shielding my eyes from the debris kicked up by braked rifles next to me. The targets were clear in all positions. This is important as some glasses are not great in prone and can start to interfere with the sight picture. I had no issues with fogging at all which is another common shortcoming. If you are moving and shooting you get hot pretty quick which causes fogging. Some tight fitting glasses can also cause you to sweat into your eyes which stings and is off putting. Plenty of airflow around the Nighthawks helps mitigate any issues. I would note that for some people working in hazardous environments the airflow may be a negative. Dust and sand could be driven behind the glasses in high winds and cause issues. If that is the case then you might wish to select a design which provides a seal but then you have the sweat/fog issue back..
The Nighthawks certainly took a few knocks while we were out. Plenty of muck getting kicked out from other rifles with muzzle brakes and general muddy surroundings. The lenses remained unscratched after a quick wipe down. Vision remained excellent throughout the testing.
Swisseye have a huge presence in Germany but little in the UK or America right now. Working out a price from the German distributors looks to be around £40. That is a very good price considering the quality and standards met. Don’t be that guy who spends £2000 on great glass (scope) and then dons a pair of scratched up £5 non brand glasses. Your great glass will be utterly wasted!
Bolle Tactical – Raider.
Bolle are a name that do not need much introduction. They were a French company which can be traced back to the early 1900s! Bolle have been a popular brand in the safety glasses market and have also specialised for some time in shooting glasses. More recently they also branded some of their shooting glasses “tactical”.
The model I am going to compare is the Raider which has many similarities to the Swisseye Nighthawks and a few differences.
The Raiders also come in a semi rigid case which is again very well made. Opening the case reveals two spare lenses. The lenses are clear, smoke and yellow. The smoke option is on by default and can be changed with ease. The Raiders also appear to accept an RX lens if needs be via a similar clip-in.
The First and most obvious difference is the shape and overall size. The Raiders look a little more like wrap around sunglasses where as the Swisseyes look like shooting glasses. Both looks have their benefits and drawbacks.
The raiders have a detachable foam insert which when fitted closes any gaps around the eyes. A great idea if your in dusty environments. Even when the insert is removed the glasses sit fairly close to the face leaving little room for particles to enter. The downside to the design and size is that when in prone the upper part of the thicker frames can get in the way of your sight picture a little. Again there is always a trade off. The expansive lens size and thinner frames of the Nighthawks allow a better view in low prone but they will let in more debris due to a larger gap around the edges.
The arms which unclip allowing you to swap to the strap.
The really smart feature with these glasses is the addition of a thick elastic strap. The arms unclip allowing you to clip the strap on and turn them into goggles. When combined with the foam insert this gives you a very close, secure fit. Clip the arms back in and loose the inserts and they look like fairly regular wrap around sunglasses again. I thought this feature may be particuarly useful to military/contactors in dusty/desert environments. Glasses for the suburban/base days and goggles for dusty conditions or where a more secure fit is needed.
I used the Raiders for both static target and practical shotgun. During the practical shooting I ran with the strap and foam insert as we run and gun. Commonly your glasses slip down your nose as you run and sweat. No problems with the Raiders which stayed firmly planted. The strap is also very comfortable with ear protection. I had no issues with fogging despite it being a very damp day.
I thought I may have issues with sweating around the eyes while running the inserts and the strap. It seemed the air holes did their job and allowed enough flow to prevent too much heat building up.
For the static prone shooting I found the foam inserts too thick. I shoot from a very low prone position and my head angles forward due to a neck problem. This means I end up looking through the upper part of the glasses. If the frames are really thick they encroach into my sight picture. Removing the inserts helps but they are still not quite as good as the Nighthawks for me in prone. After I finished shooting I was able to keep the Raiders on as sunglasses on the way home without looking odd. A good feature.
The Bolle Raider kit will cost around £45 in the UK. Great value considering a similar set of sunglasses in terms of lens quality would set you back about the same.
Both glasses worked very well in terms of functionality and comfort. The testing did not reveal a clear “winner” but did outline the strong and weak points of both the Nighthawks and the Raiders.
Best Glasses for the range:
If you are shooting at the club or gun range I would highly recommend the Swisseye Nighthawks. They provide ample protection from both UV rays and high speed particles. They have a very wide field of view allowing great uncramped sight picture. They look like shooting glasses so the RO will be happy you are complying with range rules!
Best glasses for mil/LEO/Contractor.
The ability to convert from glasses to goggles and ensure such a close and secure fitting make these ideal for commercial hard use or military operations. Equally practical shooters who need to move rapidly with minimal kit may find this feature set a real asset.
Swisseye Tactical – http://www.swisseye-tactical.com/en/tactical-glasses
Bolle Tactical – http://www.bolle-tactical.com/tactical-spectacles