We looked at many pilot sunglasses to identity the best for flying. We considered sunglasses from several brands but Ray-Ban, Serengeti, Randolph Engineering, and American Optics kept on coming up time and time again as the best sunglasses for pilots.
We had a look at non-polarized aviator and non-aviator sunglasses, tint color, lens material, gradient, ultraviolet protection, and frame thickness until just the best remained.
The 6 Top-Rated Sunglasses for Pilots
The Serengeti Velocity ticks all the right boxes for sunglasses for flying. They are very lightweight and comfortable thanks to their titanium frame and silicon gel nose pads. Such a light and thin frame means that they won’t get in the way of your headset, which is an all too common complaint pilots have when wearing sunglasses.
The gradient lenses, made of lightweight mineral glass, are photochromic which adjust to the brightness of the sun throughout the day. These get darker the brighter it gets, but manage to quickly adjust when it becomes lighter again, so as not to negatively impact a pilot’s vision.
American Optical Original
These American Optical Original Pilot Sunglasses put the company on the map. Considering U.S. military pilots have put their trust in these non-polarized sunglasses for 50 years you just know they are good.
They meet rigid military specifications, so are designed to last, and provide full protection against ultraviolet rays.
Another pair of sunglasses for pilots that were originally designed for the U.S military and meet stringent standards are these Aviator Sunglasses from Randolph Engineering.
Also made in the USA, compared to the American Optical Original the most immediate difference is the nicer case and inclusion of accessories. The Randolph Aviator case is made from leather, comes with a cleaning cloth, extra screws, and nosepads. Besides this, they also have smoother arm movement, and softer, more comfortable nosepads. Ultraviolet protection of both is very high.
Randolph Concorde Aviator
If you prefer a pair of sunglasses with more of the classic aviator shape, the Randolph Concorde is the better choice.
Named after the Concorde supersonic passenger airliner, these have the same high quality designed to meet rigid military pilot sunglasses standards and UV protection as the Original Aviators.
Ray-Ban RB3025 Aviator
No list of the best aviation sunglasses would be complete without the mention of Ray-Bans. Hear the name Ray-Ban and you immediately think of the RB3025 with its iconic teardrop shape, crystal lenses, and metal frame.
For something a little different, the Ray-Ban RB2132 is worth checking out too. They have the classic Wayfarer shape.
The Serengeti Summit is a good choice if you need a pair of sunglasses for flying but are on a budget. Pilots have had good things to say about the sunglasses’ clarity, which is largely down to the single-gradient lens.
The Nylon TR90 frame is lightweight and flexible to ensure that the sunglasses sit comfortably on your temples while also being able to withstand sudden ground shocks.
Important Features to Consider When Buying Pilot Sunglasses
- Polarized vs. Non-Polarized Lenses:Pilots should always opt for sunglasses with non-polarized lenses. Polarized lenses may be great for filtering out glare, but this is precisely why they are not recommended for flying. Instruments in the cockpit tend to already have anti-glare filters to make them easier to read. But when wearing a pair of polarized sunglasses the filtering becomes too much. There’s also the issue of looking outside the cockpit to spot other aircraft. It becomes more difficult to spot light reflecting off shiny surfaces like another aircraft’s wing or windscreen when wearing sunglasses with polarized lenses.
- Tint Color:The best tint color for aviation sunglasses is a neutral gray. This is because it distorts color the least. Sunglasses best suited for flying should screen only 70-85% of visible light and therefore not distort color too much.
- Lens Material:Crown glass, monomer plastic (CR-39), and polycarbonate plastic are the three most common lens material used in sunglasses. Polycarbonate lenses are lighter and more impact resistant while CR-39 and glass lenses have better optical qualities. While there may be a clear reason to use non-polarized over polarized lenses, there is no real preference for the lens material of aviator sunglasses. Ultraviolet protection is excellent from all three.
- Photochromic Lenses:Photocromic lenses darken when exposed to bright light and lighten under dim lighting conditions. Considering these lenses can take a long time to once again lighten after having exposed to bright light they generally aren’t recommended.
- Frame Thickness:While the style of frame of an aviator’s sunglasses may come down to personal preference, it’s wise to make sure they do not interfere with the wear of aviation headsets or protective breathing equipment. While safety is of course important in both of these aspects, the discomfort of having the sunglasses push against your temple becomes an annoyance.
- Fit:Sunglasses for flying should fit well so they are not displaced from turbulence or when performing aerobatic maneuvers.
Frequently Asked Questions
What sunglasses did Tom Cruise wear in Top Gun?
In the film Top Gun, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, the character played by Tom Cruise, wore Ray-Ban RB3025 aviation sunglasses with gold frames and green lenses.
What are the best pilot sunglasses for women?
The best pilot sunglasses for women are generally the same as the best ones for men, only in smaller sizes. Aviator-style sunglasses in particular are generally known to be unisex. A good model designed specifically for women, though, is the Kate Spade Women’s Amarissa Aviator Sunglasses.