UKH

Julbo Shield Sunglasses Review

When I first bought a pair of sunglasses for the mountain environment I made a series of mistakes. Buy cheap, buy twice they say. In reality I think I've bought more than that over the years: some were unsuitable, some got scratched, and some got lost. Looking back, with a bit of research, a bit of investment, and potentially a little more care, I could probably have got away with buying a single pair.

The Julbo Shield in use on a sunny autumn evening up on the Moors...  © Mike Hutton
The Julbo Shield in use on a sunny autumn evening up on the Moors...
© Mike Hutton

In my defence, a lot has changed since then. Where previously you might have required a specific pair of sunglasses for the high mountains, which offered Category 4 protection, and a second pair at a less-dark Cat 3 for standard use, now - courtesy of photochromic lenses such as Julbo's 'REACTIV' technology - it's possible to get a pair which offers the highest protection when needed, but that also has the ability to adapt to the environment around you, so that you can still see clearly in less full-on light conditions.

In their most expensive version, Julbo's Shield sunglasses with REACTIV Performance lenses offer protection that varies between Cat 2 and Cat 4, depending on the light conditions. This makes them suitable for a number of environments, ranging from glaciers and high altitude snow peaks, all the way through to walking, running, biking and more casual use in non-snowy places. A major drawback of traditional Cat 4 sunglasses is also that they're so dark, you're not even supposed to drive in them (the AA themselves suggest "sunglasses with these lenses should, by law, be labelled 'Not suitable for driving and road use'"); however, given the Reactiv nature of the Shield's lenses this is no longer an issue. Having to buy only a single pair of shades for all your outdoor needs is obviously a big selling point.

Traditional Category 4 sunglasses are great on glaciers and within the high mountains  © UKC Gear
Traditional Category 4 sunglasses are great on glaciers and within the high mountains
© UKC Gear

but down in town, or on a slightly grey day (i.e. any day in the UK) they're too dark  © UKC Gear
but down in town, or on a slightly grey day (i.e. any day in the UK) they're too dark
© UKC Gear

The Shield frames are also available for less money with a fixed category lens option, Spectron 3 for general use or Spectron 4 for higher altitude. However it's the top-spec photochromic lens that we're looking at here, since this is the clear winner in terms of versatility of use.

The benefit of REACTIV technology goes beyond that though. It also allows you to leave the glasses on all day, irrespective of whether you're in sun or shade, because of the fact they keep adapting along the way (and do so with impressive speed). This makes them a pleasure to use, reducing faff and the risk of damaging or dropping them. There's no need to wear the glasses on your forehead, or find a safe place to tuck them when you're on the go.

On the note of scratching, all lenses are not equal. Unsurprisingly, poorer lenses scratch far, far easier - hence why people get through cheaper glasses at a rate of knots. They're simply not build to last. The Shield features polycarbonate lenses, which offer a high level of durability. Yes you will still want to take care of them, keeping them safely stored in their case when they're not in use, but beyond that they can take an impressive amount of use and abuse. After several months of hard use the pair on review here are yet to show any signs of wear, despite being used rock climbing, scrambling, and worn on an almost daily basis through the summer.

The Julbo Shield in use at Staden Quarry  © UKC Gear
The Julbo Shield in use at Staden Quarry
© UKC Gear

The Julbo Shield in use at Bamford Edge  © UKC Gear
The Julbo Shield in use at Bamford Edge
© UKC Gear

The lenses themselves have a slightly orange tint, which helps to counteract the blue hues of the snowy alpine environment. At lower altitudes, where things are a lot less white, the tint is something I quite like. And once you've had them on for a while you cease to notice the difference. The REACTIV lenses also have the benefit of being polarised, which helps to reduce glare - something that is particularly useful in a bright alpine environment, or if you're out on the water. At lower altitudes, or in more casual use, it has the effect of making certain features stand out and look quite sharp, particularly the skies which look very dynamic (more than once I've been disappointed by the sky after removing them). The only actual downside to polarised lenses it is that they do make viewing screens a little strange. This isn't to say it makes it impossible, just that it messes with them enough to make you have to concentrate. On balance though, the benefits far outweigh this one negative.

The Shield comes with several accessories: a head strap, side shields, a firm carry case and a soft carry case. The head strap prevents them from falling off and is easily attached to the end of each of the arms. If you're alpine climbing or big walling (i.e. in an environment where you really don't want to drop them) then this is essential. In any other environment you can realistically do without a strap, as the fit of the Shield is pretty secure and they seem highly unlikely to fall off by mistake.

The Julbo Shield are a sizable pair of sunglasses  © UKC Gear
The Julbo Shield are a sizable pair of sunglasses
© UKC Gear

but be sure to get a good fit regardless  © UKC Gear
but be sure to get a good fit regardless
© UKC Gear

The two carry cases provide versatility depending on the level of weight and bulk you wish to carry. The firm case is quite clever, insofar as it has protection at both the front and back, but the sides are constructed of elastic - hence it packs down quite neatly. This is the case I used 9 times out of 10, with the soft carry case being there for the occasional time I was out and just wanted something simple to put them in. This case also doubles as a cloth to clean them with, so you could always carry both.

When it comes to fit, the level of protection a pair of sunglasses provides is drastically reduced or improved based around how well they fit your face. The closer the fit around the edges, the greater the level of protection. If the fit on the top isn't quite perfect it can easily be remedied by using a helmet or a cap. If the bottom doesn't seal well you're potentially in for trouble, especially on glaciers, as the light bouncing back will likely cause issues. The side shields, which are supplied as standard, solve the problem of light coming through the sides.

Due to the Shield's alpine focus, the lenses are sized larger, as the level of protection required is high due to the extreme levels of light. But of course size alone doesn't necessarily guarantee good fit, so as always we recommend trying before buying to ensure a good fit around the top and bottom. For users of either gender with a smaller head/face, the 'womens' Shield M might offer a closer fit.

Summary

Whilst there are many cheaper products out there that would do a passable job, the top spec version of the Shield glasses aren't trying to compete with those. Their photochromic REACTIV lenses mean that they can be worn in a wide range of conditions, in both sun and shadow, high altitude and low, and hence they can be kept on all day. This makes them a very different product from your average pair of fixed lens sunglasses, be those Category 2, 3 or 4.

Thanks to Julbo's build quality they should stand up to rugged use, so providing you look after them (and don't lose them) the Shield have the potential to last a lifetime. The REACTIV version costs a bit more than the same frames with fixed category lenses, but this is a worthy investment if you want one pair of shades to take you everywhere from high altitude peaks to the hills of home.

Julbo say:

Julbo has produced a stylish frame for those who climb, run or ride in the mountain to reflect both their spirit of adventure and technical ability. All terrain and all protection, SHIELD will open both your field of vision and your mind to what's possible: REACTIV Photochromic lenses for perfect vision, and non-slip curved temples with Grip Nose so they stay on your head when things get bumpy! Air Flow ventilation and removable soft feel side shields guarantee maximum comfort. The sleek rectangular shape ensures style and bold moves go hand-in-hand.

  • Lens depth : 45
  • Distance : 17
  • Temple length : 130
  • Base : 6
  • Hinges : Yes
  • Lens size: 59
  • Age : Adult
  • Weight: 32g
  • Nose Grip : Flexible, shock-absorbing grip insert on the bridge.
  • Air Flow : Venting incorporated into the frame to facilitate air circulation and prevent fogging.
  • Cord attachment : Allows attachment of a cord.
  • Fabric side shields : They are soft-touch to provide maximum comfort and do not cause irritation in contact with skin.
  • Grip Tech temples : Exclusive soft material on the temples that doesn't stick to hair, for perfect grip and comfort.
  • Removable side shields : Side protection from sunlight.
  • Total Cover : Maximum protection from sunlight in extreme conditions.

For more info see julbo.com



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20 Oct, 2020

For those that don't know it might be worth including a table about what the different categories mean, particularly as "category 4 lenses only transmit between 3% and 8% of light and are not suitable for driving at any time. Sunglasses with these lenses should, by law, be labelled 'Not suitable for driving and road use'" - source AA website.

I'm never quite convinced what 3% to 8% actually means to anyone, because it certainly doesn't mean anything to me. To put it another way, but has anyone ever walked into Outside and asked for a pair of sunglasses that have a 5% transmission rate? I suspect the answer is a resounding 'no' - they come in asking for a pair of sunglasses for use within the Alpine environment (or whatever else they're looking for). As a result, what I went into detail on were the practical differences in between the various categories and their usage, because that - at least from a laymans perspective - is something that everyone can understand.

I was also convinced that I'd mentioned driving, but that must have been edited out somewhere along the line (which is strange, given that it's actually a serious point). Due to the Reactiv nature of the glasses, the chances of them actually 'reacting' up to category 4 whilst you're driving is very, very unlikely, as there's simply not enough light (on a glacier, in the sun, yes; in a car, no...). Comparing them to my previous Cat. 4 Julbos side-by-side there's a marked difference in how much light they let through, particularly in the shade - hence driving in them isn't a problem.

20 Oct, 2020

Did you try them in cold conditions ? For many years I had reactolite (?) glasses for day to day use and in winter I found that although they went dark very quickly when the light increased, even at minus a lot (Alps, Norway) they were quite slow to go the other way. So if I walked into a shelter I couldn't see anything for a while with my specs & if I took them off I couldn't see much as I'm very short sighted.

But that was some time ago, is the modern technology any better ?

Hi Doug,

Due to the nature of travel throughout 2020 I only had a chance to use the Shield throughout the UK, so the lowest temperature I got down to was in/around the 5 degrees, which certainly didn't make a difference to the speed in which the lenses reacted. That said, I - much like you - was curious as to how they'd react at super low (i.e. alpine winter) temperatures so did a bit of digging...

Julbo say that the REACTIV High Mountain 2-4 lenses "get lighter or darker regardless of the temperature". This is marketed quite actively within their range of ski goggles, which use the acronym 'NTS', which stands for Non Temperature Sensitive. This is obviously a major selling factor for snowsports, where the weather is consistently cold (and a delay in adapting to the light + environment would be consistently annoying). Clearly the same could be said for mountaineering too.

Hopefully that goes some way towards answering your question, even if it isn't from personal experience.

20 Oct, 2020

Do you know if replacement lenses are available?

For years I used a pair of Julbo Tensing glasses, simply replacing the lenses every so often. However Julbo no longer make the model and the supply of replacement lenses has dried up. Shame as I loved them: cool orange frame!

I've since bought the Julbo Explorer 2.0 which has replacement lenses.

That saves money on replacing the full kit and also less waste.

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