Photos by Travis Rathbone

Can cheap sunglasses perform well on the water? We tested four pairs that won’t break the bank or your heart if they—oops—sink to the bottom.

A great pair of polarized fishing sunglasses can go $200, easy. But if like many anglers you can’t keep from sitting on them or dropping them off the dock or leaving them at the diner counter, you don’t want to spend that much. Just for you, I tested four pairs that cost $30 or less to learn which offers the best glare reduction, fish-spotting capabilities, durability, and comfort.

Fisherman Eyewear Striper



Bargain Rating: Excellent
Lens Color: Clear amber
Polarization: Excellent
Construction: Excellent
Scratch Resistance: Poor
Comfort: Excellent
Comments: In terms of comfort, the Stripers took the win. The frames are nice and wide, the arms gripped the sides of my head snugly without creating pressure points, and the vented rubber nose pad is a nice touch. Excellent polarization provided good contrast and glare reduction for a crisp, clear look below the surface of the stream. The lenses are fairly dark, which helped combat direct sunlight on the water and while driving. The Stripers did scratch more easily than the others, so take extra care if you buy.

Strike King SKP10



Bargain Rating: Excellent
Lens Color: Clear amber
Polarization: Excellent
Construction: Excellent
Scratch Resistance: Good
Comfort: Very good
Comments: The SKP10 glasses had the best polarization of the lot—I could track my lures underwater from greater distances, even through faster runs and riffles. They had terrific glare reduction and good contrast both on the water and on the road while driving. They hugged my face nicely and didn’t slip. The frames felt solidly made, the hinges were tight and smooth, and the lenses weathered my scratch test with the least damage. Provided you don’t step on them, these shades should serve you well for a good long time.

Berkley Bolton



Bargain Rating: Very good
Lens Color: Mirrored amber
Polarization: Very good
Construction: Very good
Scratch Resistance: Fair
Comfort: Excellent
Comments: The Boltons have nice, wide lenses, which provide excellent peripheral coverage, and yet they are very lightweight. I experienced slight pressure from the earpieces but nothing that made them hard to wear. Overall, performance on the water was very respectable, although these being the darkest lenses, I got the best underwater view only during the sunniest times. That dark tint did, however, make them excellent for driving a boat or car. Earpiece holes allow for a thick-mono or fly-line-backing neck lanyard.

Flying Fisherman San Carlos



Bargain Rating: Fair
Lens Color: Amber green mirror
Polarization: Good
Construction: Good
Scratch Resistance: Fair
Comfort: Poor
Comments: Maybe it’s the shape of my head, but I was constantly pushing these up the bridge of my nose, and it felt like they’d slip off whenever I leaned forward. Typically, a mirrored finish doesn’t overshadow or drastically change the basic lens color. But it did with these. The combo of green mirror and amber lenses gave the world a bluish tone that made everything appear too bright for my liking. The polari­zation was good, especially during cloudy periods, but these couldn’t match the others for underwater clarity.

The Test
Polarization: In both sunny and overcast conditions on a Pennsylvania trout stream in winter, I assessed the visibility of underwater structure, fish, and lures.

Construction: To test toughness, I repeatedly opened and closed the arms and twisted the frames.

Scratch Resistance: I gently rubbed the lenses with the rough side of a Scotch-Brite kitchen sponge, then with a more abrasive Brillo pad.

Comfort: I evaluated the comfort of the earpieces and nose bridges, as well as how tightly or loosely each pair hugged my face. —J.C.