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Updated Mar 3, 2022 9:57 AM

Ballistic glasses are half of the “eyes and ears” equation when it comes to shooting safety. It’s important to take them seriously, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. In the Marine Corps, my issued eye pro seemed like it was intentionally designed to fog up, scratch, jab me in the temples, and generally make life miserable. I don’t have proof that those glasses were designed by the Taliban, but I have my suspicions. 

Because those glasses were terrible, they occasionally developed a bewildering habit of falling right off my face as soon as I reached the firing line. I was always so focused on my shooting that I never noticed those foggy pieces of crap resting on the ground until after I’d successfully completed my string of fire. It wasn’t until I deployed that I invested in a pair of my own and realized that ballistic glasses can actually be a real asset if they’re actually built well.

To save you from eye ocular trauma, furious range safety officers, and financial mistakes, we took it upon ourselves to chase down some of the best ballistic glasses out there. Our search was focused on products that meet the U.S. military’s MIL-PRF-31013 standard for protective eyewear. Many can be found on the Army’s Authorized Protective Eyewear List. All of our picks have our vote of confidence when it comes to keeping your eyes safe, your face comfortable, and your chain of command quiet––unless someone’s asking where they can get a pair like yours.

Best Overall

There are a lot of things we look for in a pair of ballistic glasses — safety, comfort, compatibility with your other gear, to name a few — and the Smith PivLock Echo does everything well. It’s our preferred choice when it comes to high-quality eye pro that’s cut out for military life.

Obviously, the PivLock checks all the boxes to earn its MIL-PRF-31013 rating. It goes beyond that, though, to make life as easy as possible. The minimalist design keeps weight down and allows more airflow than most ballistic glasses. The metal temples are so thin that you can fit over-ear hearing protection over them without affecting the seal. Changing out lenses is a snap. Instead of wrestling with a frame that’s somehow not as pliable as the one in a manufacturer how-to video, you’ll just pop off each of the temples and slip the nose pad off. Reattach each piece to the new lens, and you’re ready to go.

As long as you can stomach the price, these glasses are a home run. You’ll need to use a little extra caution when changing lenses as a byproduct of having more loose parts (we can just see a temple flinging into the darkness on a moving seven-ton), but that’s no reason to avoid the PivLock.

Product Specs
  • Safety rating: MIL-PRF-31013
  • Polarized: No
  • Removable lenses: Yes
PROS

Compatible with over-ear hearing protection

Frameless design allows ample airflow

Lens reduces the risk of fog, discoloration, and distortion

Changing lenses is quick and easy

CONS

Lots of independent components to keep track of

Fit is tighter than you might be used to

Lack of a frame could lead to easier scratching

Best Value

Most readers are here because they’re pumped about upgrading their range bag with some killer ballistic glasses. Some of you, though, are here because you made the inexcusable error of using your issued eye pro and need to replace it with something untouched by human hands to avoid being charged double the MSRP by an overzealous (and probably civilian) supply clerk. In that case, we have you covered with this setup from ESS.

You know the ESS Ice is cut out for military duty because it’s what many service members are issued. Does that make them less comfortable than our more expensive alternatives? Yes, it does — but it also means they’re significantly less expensive and don’t put you in danger of being called out for having eye pro that some stodgy SNCO finds “eccentric.” This kit comes with one pair of clear lenses, one pair of tinted lenses, a small bottle of cleaning solution, and a cloth to wipe them down. All that fits in the provided case.

We’re happy to have a quality pair of ballistic glasses on this list at such a low price. Factor in the savings compared to reimbursing supply, and you’ve got a real bargain on your hands. Don’t say we never gave you anything.

Product Specs
  • Safety rating: MIL-PRF-31013, ANSI Z87.1
  • Polarized: No
  • Removable lenses: Yes
PROS

One set of clear, one set of tinted

Adjustable temple tips for a better fit

Consistent with what’s issued

Comes with a hard case, cleaning solution, and microfiber cloth

CONS

Prioritize cost over comfort

Not as desirable as higher-end glasses

Adequate, but not exceptional

Editor’s Choice

Oakley has been killing it with sunglasses, goggles, and eye protection for decades, and the M Frame is doing the brand proud. This is a high-end pair of eye pro and it comes at a fair price. Register on Oakley SI, and you can save even more.

The M Frame is what most shooters probably think of as the quintessential ballistic glasses. It’s light, comfortable, and tougher than it has any right to be. The Plutonite lens is backed by immense research and development that results in a crystal clear view that’s true to life. The inner surface is also coated to prevent fogging up, and you can switch between clear and tinted lenses in seconds. The temples are nice and soft, so they stay comfortable, hour after hour. The whole package is designed to be compatible with helmets and night vision optics, even if it isn’t quite as slim as a frameless design like the Smith Pivlock.

Oakley’s premium positioning is one reason people stay away from the brand. We get it — paying more than $100 for a pair of shooting glasses is a big ask. Take our advice and set up an account with Oakley Si: the program provides Oakley products to U.S. service members at serious discounts so you can get top-tier protection without blowing the budget.

Product Specs
  • Safety rating: MIL-PRF-31013, ANSI Z87.1
  • Polarized: No
  • Removable lenses: Yes
PROS

Known for toughness and quality

Choose the right combination of frame and lens colors

Oakley SI discount is no joke

Easy to switch lenses

CONS

Styling has a video game vibe

Top of the frame may get in the way

Oakley SI discount requires you to set up an account

Best Premium Ballistic Glasses

Gatorz is one of those companies that makes us realize that some people are doing a much better job at life than us. With a price north of $200, it’s understandable if you haven’t heard of the brand before, but the Magnum is worth plunking down some extra change to feel like a member of the one percent every time you hit the range.

For starters, there’s no plastic allowed in the Finer Things Club. Gatorz builds the Magnum’s frame from aerospace-grade aluminum and creates a cozy fit with a fully adjustable nose pad. The frame itself is strong enough to be bent to fit your head perfectly without compromising its structural integrity. Lenses are built to the military’s specifications for ballistic protection and come in clear, tinted, or photochromic. The Magnum comes in a steel case that’s just as high-end as what’s inside.

The more time you spend at the range, the more it makes sense to invest in something like a pair of Gatorz. Those of you who spend most of your time in the field, on live-fire exercises, or deployed will get more than you paid for with the Magnum. Buy once, cry once. And then relish in everyone else admiring your shades.

Product Specs
  • Safety rating: MIL-PRF-32432A, ANSI Z87.1-2015
  • Polarized: No
  • Removable lenses: No
PROS

Extremely durable aluminum frame

Selection of clear, tinted, and photochromic lenses

Coated to protect against fog and oils

Adjustable to get the perfect fit

CONS

Far more expensive than the alternatives

Tested to slightly different standards

Lenses are not interchangeable

Best Everyday Ballistic Glasses

If you’re balling on a budget (and the current pay scales suggest you probably are), it can be cost-prohibitive to get separate sunglasses and ballistic glasses that both get you excited to wear them. Fortunately, Magpul has enough fashion sense to offer several ballistic glasses — like the Radius — that can save your eyes while still looking good in civvies.

You might be tempted to opt for Magpul’s Explorer (we are, too). Those glasses look great and are ballistic-rated, but they leave the sides of your face exposed and therefore don’t rate MIL-PRF-31013 status. The Radius, on the other hand, is absolutely cut out for military ranges and deployments and still rocks with a pair of board shorts and your t-shirt of choice. We also like that the styling is subdued enough for actual field use without going over the top with shapes that look like they fell straight out of a video game. Choose from black or flat dark earth frames, clear lenses, and polarized or non-polarized tinted lenses.

One knock against the Radius is the lack of interchangeable lenses. Being able to swap out clears for darker lenses would make it just about perfect. Oh well, for less than $75 you won’t hear us whining about it.

Product Specs
  • Safety rating: MIL-PRF-31013
  • Polarized: Yes
  • Removable lenses: No
PROS

Wear them to the range, then out to dinner

Excellent wraparound protection

Choice of polarized or non-polarized lenses

Frames are rugged enough for use in the field

CONS

Still fairly tactical in appearance

Smaller production runs can limit the availability of colors

Not as comfortable as glasses with soft temples

Best Glasses for Motorcyclists

If there’s one hobby that’s as near and dear to service members’ hearts as shooting, it’s riding motorcycles — ask me how I know. Many riders prefer an open-face helmet and need eye protection that’s capable of intercepting gravel that got spit out of a truck tire while blasting down the highway. My advice? Go all in and pick up the Bobster Mission.

The Mission is compliant with the military’s MIL-PRF-31013 requirements so it’s approved for wear at military live-fire ranges and overseas. Its understated black frame is just as military-friendly. On the bike, it offers great protection against all kinds of road hazards and will remain comfortable in between stops for gas. The removable foam padding is a nice touch that you’ll find on a lot of higher-end motorcycling glasses. That can take some getting used to, but it does offer an extra level of protection that we appreciate.

Like the Magpul Radius, the Mission is cut out for life on base, on the bike, and on your own. It’s a good deal at less than $100, and sellers like Revzilla offer frequent promotions to make these glasses even more affordable.

Product Specs
  • Safety rating: MIL-PRF-31013, ANSI Z87.1
  • Polarized: No
  • Removable lenses: No
PROS

Riding glasses that meet military ballistic standards

Styling looks right at home on the bike or around town

Foam padding can easily be installed or removed

Priced competitively, especially considering the versatility

CONS

Limited frame and lens color selection

Lenses are not removable

Foam padding takes getting used to

Best Ballistic Goggles

We know this is a list of the best ballistic glasses out there, but it wouldn’t be complete without recognizing that many of you also use ballistic goggles. With that in mind, we have to recommend the Wiley X Spear.

These goggles have passed the government’s rigorous MIL-PRF-32432 standard for ballistic goggles. That’s no small task; we hear it’s an even higher bar to clear than what ballistic glasses get put through. One thing we appreciate about the spear is the way the elastic strap is attached to the goggle frame. The pivot lets you place the strap anywhere on your helmet without pulling your goggles up or down at an odd angle. This frame was also designed specifically for use with night vision optics, so you don’t have to choose between great eye pro and being able to see at night. Pick from black or tan frames and a variety of lenses.

Compared to ballistic glasses, goggles naturally have fewer opportunities to be useful and take more getting used to. They fog up easier and trap heat against your face. Still, there are times when they offer much-needed protection over open glasses and this is our pick for those kinds of days.

Product Specs
  • Safety rating: MIL-PRF-32432
  • Polarized: No
  • Removable lenses: Yes
PROS

Great goggle-to-skin seal to keep out dust and debris

Compatible with NVGs

Can be ordered with extra lens options

Coated to protect against scratching and fogging

CONS

Not as comfortable as ballistic glasses

Likely to get less use than ballistic glasses

A little bit pricey if you don’t use goggles often

Why you should trust us

I set out to find quality ballistic glasses you’ll actually want to wear because I, too, have made do with gear that barely checks the boxes. There are times when the bare minimum is good enough, but the instant a piece of shrapnel gets intercepted millimeters from your cornea is not one of them. I’ve used various makes and models of ballistic glasses when shooting handguns and long guns; behind iron sights, red dots, and magnified optics. I know how important it is to have clear vision when you’re shooting for a living and I wouldn’t have you use anything but the best you can get.

Types of ballistic glasses

“Ballistic glasses,” “eye protection,” and “safety glasses” get tossed around interchangeably and there are some important reasons not to mix them up. A woodshop and an open-faced motorcycle helmet do not present the same hazards. What you deal with on a shooting range and what you face in combat are two very different things. There’s great eye pro for all those scenarios, but it isn’t one-size-fits-all kind of gear. 

Ballistic glasses for shooting

If you found your way to Task & Purpose, you probably need ballistic glasses that are tough enough for the international two-way shooting gallery. Eye protection for shooters can be divided into two categories: those built to civilian standards and those built to military standards.

The civilian ANSO Z87.1-2020 standard requires ballistic glasses to protect your eyes from projectiles in a wide variety of settings. This includes hunting and recreational shooting, but the threats you’ll encounter in those activities are nothing compared to the dangers of a hot battlefield. The military’s MIL-PRF-31013 standard subjects ballistic glasses to much harsher testing, and that’s the standard we used for this gear guide.

Ballistic glasses for work

If you need eye protection for work on a construction site, machine shop, lumber yard, or other dynamic environments, the ANSI standard is more than sufficient. You can open up your options and save a bundle by shopping in this category of eye protection, too.

These glasses can also serve you perfectly well in recreational shooting sports. You don’t need the very toughest eye protection to poke holes in paper or knock down game animals, so you should be in good hands with a pair of ANSI-approved shooting glasses. Just don’t bring them to one of Uncle Sam’s shooting ranges. 

Ballistic glasses for motorcycling

We’d love to believe that every service member is a stone-cold gunslinger, but the reality is that most people shoot once a year to qualify––if they even do that. It’s entirely possible that there are more motorcyclists than serious shooters in the U.S. Military. 

The military requires service members to wear a DOT-approved helmet, but you don’t have to wear a full-face helmet. Open-face alternatives are popular, but they aren’t the safest type of motorcycle helmet. Aside from leaving your money-maker exposed to asphalt and truck bumpers, they do nothing to protect your eyes. You can upgrade your riding safety with a solid pair of ballistic glasses. Your options range from impact-resistant sunglasses to padded goggles. All of them are better than your reflexes.

Key features of ballistic glasses 

Ballistic glasses need to protect your eyes from debris, shrapnel, and projectiles––that’s a given. But they also need to be clear enough to provide a quality sight picture and tough enough to remain that way in the field. If you’re going to spend your own cash on a pair, it better be comfortable, too.

Ballistic standards 

We’re not suggesting that you should take your favorite pair of shades to the range and pepper them with 12-gauge target load because we all know that would end poorly. That’s exactly why they don’t belong at the range. Ballistic glasses, on the other hand, are built specifically for that kind of abuse and are subject to strict performance standards.

There are a whole bunch of standards for protective eyewear, but the most common is ANSI Z87.1-2020. This standard acts as the stamp of approval for protective eyewear built for the civilian market. If you own protective glasses for work, hobbies, or recreational shooting, “Z87+” is probably stamped somewhere on the frame.

The military’s MIL-PRF-31013 standard is much higher, though. That’s because instead of protecting your eyes against mulch getting flung out of a lawnmower, ballistic glasses need to stop projectiles like shrapnel from explosives. If you want an excellent visual of the differences between these standards, check out this video from ESS. Every pair of ballistic glasses on this list meets or exceeds MIL-PRF-31013.

Color and clarity 

You can’t shoot what you can’t see, so your eye protection needs to offer an excellent view at all times. Most ballistic glasses come with clear lenses that let you see the world exactly as it is. Some use tinted lenses that act like sunglasses. Others use various colors that are designed to improve your vision in specific circumstances.

One common problem with eye protection is fogging. Moisture from the air or your breath can condensate on the lenses and effectively blind you, so the best ballistic glasses use anti-fogging coatings to stay clear. They should also be resistant to scratching since you aren’t going to be babying your eye pro.

Fit

Being safe and having a good view are great, but you aren’t likely to wear your ballistic glasses if they aren’t comfortable. In addition to finding something that fits the size and shape of your face, you’ll need to find eye protection that works with the rest of your gear.

Oversized frames can interfere with the proper fit of your helmet. Large temples might offer protection from the sides, but they can break the seal of over-ear hearing protection and compromise your hearing. It might be tempting to buy the ballistic glasses that look the coolest to you, but step back and make sure they’ll be able to do their job. There’s a reason most of our picks are pretty minimalist in design.

Benefits of ballistic glasses

Let’s not make this more complicated than it needs to be. 

Not getting your eyes blown out

You got two eyes? You like them? Watch this if you’re still on the fence.

Not incurring the range safety officer’s wrath

Now that you’ve made up your mind about buying some decent ballistic glasses, let’s not forget that the military is full of fashion police just waiting to check your vibe over a mirrored lens or something. Shopping with the Army APEL in mind is a good way to stay on the first sergeant’s safe side, but it isn’t an exhaustive list.

Your command’s leniency may vary, but it’s hard to go wrong with flat black frames and clear lenses. If you’re going to deviate from the relative safety of that combination, look for moderately tinted lenses and frames that are matte green or tan––although we have to point out that Oakley sells the M Frame in multicam and it looks the business.

Not getting a bill from supply

Regular readers know that I had to reimburse supply for eye pro that got destroyed in Afghanistan and that I’ still very annoyed. If you weren’t savvy enough to take your issued gear directly home and put it away until you check out, you might be in the same boat. If that’s the case, it’s almost definitely cheaper to find a replacement pair on the open market than to pay the government to replace them for you.

If yours aren’t already scratched or broken, put those bad boys away and get something decent to actually wear. Quality ballistic glasses are bound to be more comfortable and look better in addition to being something you can actually use and enjoy. 

Ballistic glasses pricing 

Budget

There are bargains to be found in the sub-$50 ballistic glasses market if you know where to look. Some, like the ESS Ice, offer more than enough protection. They keep costs down by using simpler designs and less expensive materials. The result is a product that doesn’t feel as high-end as the alternatives but still meets the same safety criteria.

Be wary of glasses that are compliant with ANSI Z87.1-2020 but not MIL-PRF-31013. They can be great for yardwork and casual days at a shooting range, but they aren’t cut out for the demands of military life. These glasses are easy to spot because they’re incredibly cheap––we found some for less than $5.

Mid-range

Many of the popular ballistic glasses on the market fall into the $50 to $100 price range. These can be a great compromise for buyers who want a little extra comfort or style from their MIL-PRF-31013 eye protection but aren’t ready to make the leap to premium ballistic glasses.

Some of our favorites are the Magpul Radius and Bobster Mission. Both provide enough protection to satisfy the military standard and come in subdued color schemes that are sure to keep uniform guideline enthusiasts happy. You can also find higher-end glasses on sale every now and then. Oakley also offers products to service members at a hefty discount through Oakley SI

Premium

Considering the kind of abuse ballistic glasses have to endure, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see triple-digit price tags for premium options. For that kind of money, you can expect top-tier materials that will last many years in the field. You’ll also get to enjoy more comfort since premium ballistic glasses are designed to be worn with a helmet and ear protection for hours on end.

Some of our favorites come from Smith Optics and Oakley. Premium glasses are worth the investment in our opinion because they’re often more comfortable and longer-lasting than less expensive options. If you really want to treat yourself, jump up to the Gatorz Magnum.

How we chose our top picks

We started our search for the best ballistic glasses by making a list of the brands we know and trust. Are there up-and-coming manufacturers that make good eye pro? There probably are, but we’ll let them cut their teeth on someone else’s readers. Next, we factored in applicable safety standards. Safety glasses designed for civilian use are held to the ANSI Z87.1-2020 but might not be up to the realities of combat, so we only included glasses that meet the U.S. military’s MIL-PRF-31013 standard for ballistic eye protection. Sticking to options that appear on the Army APEL is a safe bet (and some of our picks can be found on that list), but there are lots of options that are as good or better and are appropriate for wear in uniform, so we didn’t confine ourselves to that list.

FAQs on ballistic glasses

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: What ballistic glasses does the U.S. military use?

A: Whichever ones are the cheapest and/or have the best lobbyist, we’d assume. Any ballistic glasses that meet the military’s safety standards and satisfy your uniform regulations are likely a significant upgrade.

Q: Do ballistic glasses really work?

A: Yes, they do. Ballistic glasses that meet MIL-PRF-31013 standards, in particular, are held to an extremely high standard and offer a great deal of protection against shrapnel.

Q: Do ballistic goggles offer more protection than ballistic glasses?

A: Goggles aren’t necessarily a better line of defense against projectiles, but they will keep dust and sweat away from your eyes better than glasses because they fit tightly to your skin. Fogging and heat may be more problematic, though, so there’s no perfect answer.

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Scott Murdock is a Task & Purpose commerce writer and Marine Corps veteran. He’s selflessly committed himself to experiencing the best gear, gadgets, stories, and alcoholic beverages in the service of you, the reader.

Task & Purpose and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Learn more about our product review process.

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