Last Updated on 27/08/2023
In this guide to the best sunglasses for rowing, we share our favorite shades for racing row boats and intensive paddling. You will learn how certain types of shades can help your aerodynamics and what we look for to make sure your sunglasses stay on your face while rowing.
Rowing is an intensive sport that requires high-performance sunglasses to stay on your face as you repeatedly put everything you have into every stroke of your oars. For starters, you don’t have free and to be constantly pushing your sunglasses back up your nose, let alone the time to do it without getting out of since with your team.
Whether you are a solo rower or part of a rowing crew or team, having a pair of sunglasses that stay in place and improve your color contrast through polarized lenses is a game changer. In this guide, we share the absolute best options out there in terms of performance but also take into consideration their looks too. Jump down the page using the links below or read to the bottom for our beginner’s guide.
7 Best Sunglasses for Rowing
Oakley Radar EV Path Sunglasses
- LENSES: Prizm Deep Water Polarized, Non-polarized, and prescription lenses are available
- FRAMES: Oakleys O Matter™ frame material
The Oakley Radar EV Path Sunglasses are perfect for rowing. Everything about them is optimized for sports, from the shape of the lens, the material on the nose pad, the shape of the arms, and where the grip is placed. They are super lightweight but incredibly durable so that even if you accidentally hit yourself in the face with the end of your oar (it happens), you are unlikely to see any damage.
The lens and shape of the frame give you a wide field of vision even if you have your head down and are rowing with a team. The way the arms go straight back instead of curling around your ears means that they really grip around the back of your head instead of putting pressure on the tops of your ears. The nose pad and grips are made from Oakley’s signature Unobtainium rubber which gets grippier the hotter you get (thrives on sweaty faces).
CONCLUSION: The Radar EV Path Sunglasses from Oakley are extremely well-suited for high-performance athletes like rowers. Once you put them on, they don’t move. These aren’t the cheapest, but they are made from the very best materials and have one of the best designs for rowing, kayaking, or sailing.
Gill Race Ocean Sunglasses
- LENSES: Polarized Category 3, Grade 1 Optic 100% UV 400 protection, 100% UVA, UVB and UVC Radiation Protection, Hydrophobic Outer Coating, Oleophobic Technology on the Inside Face
- FRAMES: Plastic Resin with Adjustable Elastic Band
- BUOYANCY: Yes
The Gill Race Ocean Sunglasses are designed for life at sea and so are maybe a little bit over-engineered for rowing boats, but that is why they are one of the best. You get lots of innovative technology that works well for crew rowing, like the fact the sunglasses float and won’t sink if you accidentally drop them in water. Unlike other sunglasses that have an optional cord connecting the arms at the back, on these, it is part of the design.
The polarized lenses are nice and big for a wide field of vision and plenty of protection. They have a hydrophobic coating to avoid any fogging and also to resist harsh saltwater. On top of this, they are rated as safer than grade one optic glasses and feature Oleophobic technology to resist fingerprints, skin oils, and sun lotion.
CONCLUSION: The Race Ocean Sunglasses from Gill are perfect for rowing and other water sports thanks to the advanced polarized lenses and functional headband at the back. Much like the Ombraz Teton sunglasses above, once you put these on, they won’t come off or slide down your nose – they are fixed in position. They are also comfortable around the bridge of your nose over long periods of practice.
Ombraz Teton Armless Rowing Sunglasses
- LENSES: World-Class Zeiss Polyamide Polarized Lenses
- FRAMES: Aerospace-grade TR-90 Frames, 100% Recycled Marine-Grade Japanese Nylon Cord
The Ombraz Teton Sunglasses are one of our favorites for crew racing as they stay where they are supposed to no matter how hard you row. Unlike other sunglasses, these don’t have rigid arms on the sides, they have an adjustable cord instead. This means that they are incredibly lightweight, comfortable, durable, and fit any head size.
The nose pads are 14 mm wide, so they sit really well without any pinch points as you move to swing your oars. The cords are more comfortable than traditional arms, and they can be adjusted to give a perfect fit every time. The lenses are nice and big so that even when you are leaning forwards to get a deep paddle stroke, you can still see ahead of you.
CONCLUSION: The Ombraz Teton Sunglasses are some of the best sunglasses for rowing because of how comfortable and secure they are. When you have an oar in both hands, it isn’t possible to push your sunglasses back up your nose if they slip down, and with these, that never ever happens. You can get prescription lenses as well as choose a variety of colors and lens types that work well on water. Once you try these, you will not want to go back to your old sunnies.
Maui Jim Local Kine Wrap Sunglasses
- LENSES: Superthin Glass Mirrored Lenses with PolarizedPlus2 lens technology, MAUIGreen Mirror Coating with Scratch Resistance
- FRAMES: Lightweight Injected Nylon frames
The Maui Jim Local Kine Wrap Sunglasses are extremely popular with rowers, sailors, skippers, fishermen/women, and anyone who owns or uses a boat (or yacht). They feature a wide temple arm to help block sunlight from every angle, but because of the large lenses that wrap around, you get an excellent range of 180+ degree vision. Maui Jim makes sunglasses for water sports like rowing, fishing, golf, running, driving, hiking, and tennis, but they have become the luxury eyewear brand for many more sports.
The frames are nice and solid, which makes them a bit heavier than other lightweight options with a more robust feel to them. The lenses are available in four tinted colors, all designed for water and to enhance your clarity of vision even when there is sun glaring off the water’s surface. The way I describe these to people is like a cross between Oakleys and RayBans.
CONCLUSION: The Local Kine Wrap Sunglasses from Maui Jim are very well made, durable, and comfortable, and they make you look the part when you are rowing. But there are better options out there if you are the kind of person who cares more about shaving a second of their personal best rowing record. That being said, it’s hard not to want a pair of these just because they make you look cool.
WindRider Polarized Floating Sunglasses
- LENSES: Composite Polarized Lens, 100% UV Protection, Hydrophobic Outer Coating
- FRAMES: Plastic Resin Frame
- BUOYANCY: Yes
The WindRider Polarized Floating Sunglasses are designed for fishing but work amazingly well for all watersports from rowing crew to paddleboarding. Each of the arms has a small air-filled chamber so that if your sunglasses ever fall in the water, they just float and will never sink. There is also a small hole on the tip of each arm to attach a sunglasses clip so that the chances of you even dropping them are slim to none.
The features that make this pair one of the best rowing sunglasses are the fact that they float, have polarized lenses with a hydrophobic coating, and have ventilation at the temple, so they don’t fog up on cold mornings on the canal. All the design features that were implemented to improve performance for fishing translate directly to rowing. They also come with a lifetime warranty in case anything ever happens to them.
CONCLUSION: If you are a keen rower and spend a lot of time around water, then the Polarized Floating Sunglasses made by WindRider are highly recommended. The arms are perhaps a little wider than most to house the air chamber, but not by as much as you might expect, and overall you don’t really notice a big difference. Check em’ out if you’ve ever lost a pair of rowing sunglasses in the water.
Costa Del Mar Blackfin Sunglasses
- LENSES: Polarized Costa 580P Polycarbonate Lenses, 100% UV Protection Coating, Scratch Resistant Coating
- FRAMES: TR-90 Nylon Co-Injected Resin Frame
The Costa Del Mar Blackfin Sunglasses are super comfortable and reliable for blocking UV rays and looking cool while you row. Costa Del Mar is an ocean lifestyle brand that makes some of the best sunglasses in the world, which just so happen to be favored by many Olympic athletes. We see them as being similar to the Maui Jim Local Kine Wrap Sunglasses above and of equal quality – it is no surprise to see they are both in the higher-end price bracket.
The polycarbonate lenses are polarized to block out harsh yellow and blue light reflecting off the surface of the water while enriching beneficial reds, blues, and greens. This technology sits within the lens. On the outside, you also get a mirror lens as well as UV scratch-resistant coating that also resists oils and fingerprints. All of this means that you get peak conditions no matter how bright the sun is.
CONCLUSION: The Blackfin Sunglasses by Costa Del Mar are a superb choice for rowing if you can afford them. We would say they fall into the weird category of high-performance/luxury sunglasses that have become popular for their quality and have recently become a bit of a fashion statement. They are designed for a hard life at sea and so cope with the intensity of rowing as well as any other.
bollé Anaconda Sunglasses
- LENSES: Polarized Polycarbonate Lenses, 100% UVA and UVB Protection, Permanent Anti-Fog Coating
- FRAMES: Resin Frame with THERMOGRIP Temple and Nose Grips
The bollé Anaconda Sunglasses have been around for a pretty long time, and they remain pretty much unchanged, for good reason. They wrap around your face to give the most sun protection and a wide peripheral field of view so you can keep an eye on your oars when you are rowing. Thermogrip hydrophilic grips on the nose bridge and on the inside tips of the arms help to direct moisture and stay in position without slipping.
Bollé is most well known for its snow sports sunglasses but is branching into more sports where the conditions require similar levels of performance, like rowing. Because of their heritage, they are incredibly durable both in the resin frame and in the Cat. Three lenses are made from polycarbonate. They don’t scratch easily and protect your eyes from any low branches if rowing down a river with overhanging trees.
CONCLUSION: The Anaconda Sunglasses from bollé are a little bit narrower than the Maui Jim shades but equally as comfortable and protective. The lenses are HD polarized, which supposedly improves color perception by up to 30% for better contrast while in your rowing boat. The lenses alone make these worth it, but the design is also quite timeless. You will be pleased to see these cost less than a quarter of what some of the models do in this guide.
Different Styles of Sunglasses for Rowing
There are many different shapes, sizes, and designs types of sunglasses out there, but how do we know which is best for rowing a boat in? We considered the intensity of rowing at full speed and how the types of movements we make impact the type of sunglasses we choose for rowing. Whether you are an elite rower or an amateur, here are some of the different frame types we looked at:
Aviators are not very well suited to rowing at all and are, in fact, one of the last types of sunglasses we would recommend for rowing. They are big and lightweight, which gives you some nice benefits, but they lack structural any real grip on the side of your head and so will often slip down your nose or fall off if you aren’t careful. Avoid aviator sunglasses for rowing if you are serious about pursuing the sport and less bothered by appearances.
Sports sunglasses often have a wrap-around design that provides a wide field of vision and lots of sun protection from all angles. Sports sunglasses are also designed to handle lots of movement, and so feature a grip on the nose bar as well as along the arms. It is fairly standard for sports sunglasses lenses to have a hydrophobic coating that helps to repel moisture, oils, and fingerprints and avoid any fogging up from perspiration.
Shields or Visor Sunglasses
Shield sunglasses that have a single lens are often referred to as visors when rowing. They offer a complete field of vision without any nose bar to obstruct your view. There’s only one shield lens pair featured in this guide, but not because they don’t work, just because it was such a competitive lineup.
Semi Rimless Sunglasses
Semi-rimless sunglasses feature a frame that runs across the top to secure the lenses in place, but then there is no frame around the bottom of the lens. The benefit of this type of glasses frame for rowing is that your downward vision is completely unobstructed, which can improve spacial awareness when rowing. The downside is that they are slightly less durable without any support at the bottom, so be careful not to sit on them by accident.
Goggle sunglasses are a combination of swimming goggles and sunglasses designed for all kinds of watersports where most sunglasses would fall off too easily. They have large lenses with UV protection and mirrored finishes with a cushion that gives an air-tight seal. They are good but better suited for sports where you are actually in the water a lot.
Guide to the Best Sunglasses for Rowing
To create this rowing sunglasses guide, we spent three days researching, trying on, and testing different sunglasses using a rowing machine. Here are some of the things we found to be important:
Lens Color and Polarization
When you are out on the water, glare reflecting off the surface can be blinding and definitely isn’t good for your eyes in the long run. We found that yellow and blue lenses with mirrored finish and polarization offered the highest contrast between colors, even on a dark day. The difference between polarized lenses and nonpolarized lenses is quite obvious, so we certainly prefer the polarized options.
You can get a few different types of lens finish that you should look for, but the main ones are:
- UV Resistance
- Scratch Resistance
- Mirror Finish
- Hydrophobic Finish
- Anti-fogging Treatments
UV resistance is a given with any sunglasses we recommend. If they don’t protect your eyes, we don’t use or suggest them to you. Scratch resistance is important for mirrored lenses, as even a small scratch can ruin a good pair of glasses. Mirrored finishes look cool and also help reflect bright sunlight for extra protection. Hydrophobic and anti-fogging finishes help resist moisture, oils, fingerprints, and other marks from showing on your lenses and prevent fogging up on cold days.
If you read our guide to the different types of sunglasses frames above, then you will know that we highly recommend the sporty wrap-around shape for rowing. Single-lens sunglasses or shields are also very good for watersports.
When looking for the best glasses frame shape for rowing, we first try and choose something that will stay put and not slip down our nose. This means a good grip, a good fit, and a lightweight frame. Elite rowing athletes may go a step further and choose a frame style that is also aerodynamic to reduce wind resistance when competing at a high level.
Field of Vision
Having a wide field of vision and a clear line of sight is an advantage when racing a rowboat. Some things that can help to improve these are wider lenses, taller lenses, lens shape, frame shape, and how close the sunglasses sit to your face.
Larger lenses offer more viewing space for your eyes to see, but we found that curved lenses increased this even more than flatter lenses. The wrap-around style that stays close to the contours of your face with large ‘bubble-like’ lenses seems to offer the best field of vision.
Polarized lenses are super important for rowing and other watersports because of how much clearer they make everything. When you are being hit by the sun from above and also reflecting back up at you from the water can be dazzling at certain times of the day.
Polarization turns glared colors into high-contrast vision by reducing strong yellow and blue light and improving reds, greens, and beneficial blues. This, in turn, allows you to see further into the distance as well as recognize obstacles hiding beneath the surface of the water.
The temple arms arguably provide the most grip on a pair of sunglasses. They can also be one of the most common causes of discomfort.
We consistently found that the best sunglasses for rowing all had some kind of rubberized grip on the temple arm tips, if not a full wrap-around strap. Lightweight sunglasses with flexible arms provide the most comfort, but getting a good fit is just as important as if you were trying on a pair of jeans.
The hinges that link the temple arms to the main frame are probably the weakest point on any pair of eye shades. When testing a pair of sunglasses arms, always give the hinge a little flex to see how well it is made.
Grip on the Nose
The part of your sunglasses that rests on the bridge of your nose should ideally have some kind of grip to stop them from sliding. Oakley uses their own signature material called Unobtainium, which gets tackier the warmer it gets and the more you perspire. I try and avoid the types of nose grips that you see on aviator sunglasses or reading spectacles because they pinch my sinuses and can cause a headache if I’m not careful.
Comfort matters when you are rowing for hours. A small niggle can turn into more than a little irritation while you are physically draining yourself on a rowing boat. The only way to know if a pair is going to be comfortable is to try them on, so be sure to buy from a place that you can easily return them to, like Amazon.
To check for comfort, push the sunglasses gently against your face and then push them down around the ears to see how it feels. If you feel that the fit is a little tight or loose around your ears, or they easily slide down the bridge of your nose when you shake your head or look down – try another pair to compare.
Most sunglasses fit most people, and especially the ones we tested all seemed to fit without an issue, but if something doesn’t feel right straight away, then the chances are it will only get worse over time.
Durability is important with any sports sunglasses because accidents happen all the time. Especially when rowing, it is so easy to get hit in the face by low-hanging branches along a river or to let go of your oar for a split second only to have it whip back at your face.
The areas that we checked the most were the temple arms and the hinges that connected them. If you accidentally sit on your sunglasses, it is often the arms that snap first. It is a little harder to test the scratch and abrasion resistance without risking damaging them, so we didn’t do that, but it is very clear that the higher-end sunglasses resist scratches better than cheaper mirrored lenses.
This may be more of a preferential thing, but we like lightweight sunglasses for high-intensity sports that require a lot of mobility. The lighter the sunglasses are, the less they seem to slip off our faces when jogging, mountain biking, rowing, or nordic skiing. Weirdly though, the heavier sunglasses were more comfortable.
Why Sunglasses Are Important for Rowing
Sunglasses are important for rowing to protect your eyes from the sun and the glare reflecting off of the water. If you spend a lot of time rowing on sunny days without eye protection, you can potentially cause long-term damage to your vision. Polarized sunglasses go a step further and improve your color contrast which helps you see better when rowing.
As well as protecting your eyes from the sun, sunglasses also protect your eyes from low-hanging branches over rivers that you may come into contact with from time to time. Another benefit is that if you ever splash your oar into the water, sunglasses block dirty river water from going into your eyes. The final benefit of sunglasses for rowing is that they make you look cool.
What is the Best Color Sunglasses Lens for Water?
The best color lenses for rowing sunglasses are yellow, blue, green, and mirrored silver. They all help to reduce glare when you’re out on a rowing boat. Harsh blue light and direct yellow sunlight are the biggest problems and so if you can reduce those and enhance other, more beneficial colors, then you are on the right path. More important than the color of the lens, though, is whether they are polarized or not.
Do You Need Polarized Lens Sunglasses for Rowing?
You don’t need polarized sunglasses to go rowing, but they make a significant improvement to your vision and are highly recommended. Polarized lenses have invisible filters on them that selectively block harmful and intense types of light while simultaneously improving the contrast of less dominant colors. The cost difference is often negligible and is well worth it, in our opinion.
We hope you found this guide to the best sunglasses for rowing useful. It took us a long time to do the research and format this article but we would love to hear your thoughts on where we can improve.