Glasses on the Trail: How to Make it Work

Many people wear some form of corrective lenses and if you’re gonna hike 2,000+ miles ,or perhaps even a small portion of a local scenic trail, you’ll want to bring those with you so that you can see and enjoy the scenery.

Stop; pause for a second.

Before you grab your typical everyday glasses or contacts and head out the door, I want to throw some info your way so that you can successfully hit the trail and avoid issues with your vision. Considering your choice of eyewear can be a critical part of your Trail experience.

Glasses on the trail

The main problem: Fogging

This common issue can be brought on by rain, fog, temperature differences, or just high humidity. Don’t bother scoffing and saying something about anti-fog sprays or what not… I’m not the only hiker with glasses who can’t get that stuff to work. Fogging is a huge issue as you can’t half see (or can’t see entirely) and it made me feel like I was missing everything the trail had to offer.

Temperature differences:
The time of year you are planning a hike could affect your choice of eyewear. While this isn’t the larger of the two issues we’re discussing, it’s worth talking about to avoid this simple nuisance.

I once went on an outdoors trip in the Fall in North Alabama (which is much different than Florida autumn, I assure you) and was unprepared for the constant fogging of my glasses due to my cold weather attire and how it affected my hot breathe hitting my cold glasses. Instant fogging.

For anyone acclimated to a colder climate and hiking in a temperature that is familiar to you, this issue is probably something you already know how to manage. Just remember to consider your hiking attire, particularly head gear, in combination with your glasses if it’s new gear. Also, if you’re not familiar with the cold and you’re hiking the trail in an area that’s forecast to be colder than you typically deal with, make sure you can stay warm without fogging up your lenses.

Last note on temperature: If you’re considering a lengthy hike in the snow, don’t forget to lookup snow blindness ( photokeratitis ) caused by too much exposure to the sun’s UV rays and choose eyewear that will effectively block out the sun’s UV rays.

This is probably the more common issue. Depending on where you’re from and where you are planning to hike, don’t forget about the humidity you might experience a trail your hiking destination. I’m a Florida guy and we have a ridiculous amount of humidity. I still found myself managing it differently before, during and after a rain storm on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail. I thought I was prepared due to everyday life with high humidity. I was wrong.

What can you do to avoid humidity issues?

That’s the big question, right? So let’s talk about managing this issue. I thought hiking meant I should have two pairs of glasses. My first pair is my “regular” glasses and the other are “sport” glasses. It’s good that I was thinking ahead about my eyewear needs, but I didn’t do any testing and ended up wishing I had known more. Let me explain: The sport glasses are supposedly more durable, have more eye-coverage and even have an “anti-fog” coating. That sounds good, but it is that eye-coverage that created a micro-environment for humidity to trap. Like I alluded to earlier, the anti-fog coating didn’t do much. My “regular” glasses have smaller, flatter lenses and don’t wrap around or surround around my eyes as much, so they fog less.

Hannah's glasses on the trail

Humidity solution No. 1 – Lens/frame geometry
What we are basically talking about is the lens and frame geometry of your glasses. It’s hard not to sound nerdy at this point, but it makes all the difference. Some glasses trap moisture and some don’t. In fact, there is at least one company that specializes in crafting glasses and frames that trap moisture so that you can work or play on electronic devices for a longer period of time without experiencing dry eye issues. As a hiker, you want the opposite of that. Flat, open lens geometry will trap less humidity and fog less than curved, wrap-around glasses (most sporting, sunglasses are an example). Flat lenses/frames also let more air movement through to pass by the lenses which will help clear fogging without needing to remove and physically clean your lenses. I suggest choosing a pair of glasses with frame geometry that won’t trap moisture.

“Microclimate” lens geometry video:

Humidity solution No. 2 – Cleaning cloth

While we are on the subject, I would also like to mention that I choose to carry a lens cleaning cloth. It’s well worth the weight in my opinion as the synthetic clothing that I wear on the trail doesn’t clean the lens. In fact they scratch the lenses if anything.

I would recommend this whether you have fogging issues or not, but it’s a huge help if you do. Removing surface debris and oils can help keep moisture from building up as fast. Don’t think twice about throwing in a lens cleaning cloth.

Humidity solution No. 3 – Disposable contacts
If you have the option for contacts, I feel safe recommending it. I can’t personally vouch for this because I’m unable to wear them at all; I’ve tried. I recommend the disposable kind you can drop in daily, and I’ll tell you why. I became friends with a hiker named “Kringle” who had fogging issues like myself and he showed me his contacts that he only wears when hiking due to the fogging issues. Wow! I had never met someone who only wears contacts for hiking. They must work well for him because he’s an avid hiker and I leap-frogged almost the entire Georgia section with him and he wore them daily.

I guess one drawback to this would be carrying the trash as you have to carry the container(s) with or without the lenses in them. Also, if you are doing more than about a 7-day hike then re-supply would be critical. Consider bringing at least one backup set, as well. Drop one in the dirt and it will be no easy task to salvage it, if at all possible. I’ve met a few hikers who admitted they wouldn’t do this just because of the general grime that comes with hiking. It may not be for everyone, but it’s an option.

General tips:
1. Testing – If you can possibly test in the environment you’ll be hiking then I highly recommend it. See how your eye wear interacts with that environment etc. – You will gain more than this article can give you with your experience.
2. Hat – many people wear a hat, but I like a ball cap style hat because it helps keep rain off my lenses in conjunction with my rain gear as well as keep out random pollen, leaves, etc that fall out of the trees. I use an outdoor research swift cap.
3. Cleaning cloth – already mentioned above, but seriously just take one with you if you use glasses

So that’s my warning label on wearing glasses on the trail. Be prepared to deal with fogging and manage it or perhaps even thwart it with some contacts or “breathable” lenses/frames.

Best of luck seeing all that the trail has to offer!

 My first pair of glasses on the trail



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Comments 18

  • Baatz : Jun 1st

    I wear both glasses and contacts. However I don’t like wearing contacts on muli day hikes because the hygiene and possibility of putting a Dirty Fingers into my eyes when I put my contacts in. This really worries me. What are your thoughts on this? It is not always easy to have clean hands especially by the fingernail area.

    • Joshua Johnson : Jun 2nd

      I think that does fall into a personal decision and possibly trial and error (carry Backup glasses?). I’ve gotten to know the hiker I mentioned above that does contacts and I think he spends a little time with some water and what not to make sure the fingers he uses to get the contacts in are clean. Yes worth it to him. I personally have a rotational correction that makes contacts bothersome and almost useless even outside the woods so it’s not really an option for me.

    • Connie : Jun 20th

      I’m no expert, but I use wet wipes to scrub my fingers and then rinse them off with water before putting on/taking off contacts while backpacking. It’s worth the extra weight and convenience of using contacts!

      • Joshua Johnson : Jun 20th

        Thanks, Connie! Sounds like you and “JDUB” (below) use a similar process. Sounds like WetOnes and some water is a great idea.

  • Doctari : Jun 14th

    THANK YOU!!!! Quite helpful!

    • Joshua Johnson : Jun 14th

      You’re welcome! Keep your eye on this post (no pun intended) as I plan to expand it soon into a more robust feature-length article

  • jdub : Jun 19th

    Wearing contacts is not an issue – you just need to establish/stick with your routine. Insert and removal in your tent or over your sleeping bag, preferably over a pack towel or baggy as well, so if you do drop one it doesn’t go in the dirt.
    It may require a little extra weight (cleaning solutions/case/mirror/wet ones for hands) but it can be done quite easily. I guess one issue that may be problematic is if you are prone to having them pop out on you, but I have not had such issues.

    • Joshua Johnson : Jun 19th

      Thanks for sharing! Wish I could try the contacts route; I have a rotational correction in one eye and they just don’t sit right regardless of whether i’m out on the trail or at home. Popping them in over the sleeping bag or somewhere like that sounds like a great tip.

  • Mary B : Jun 19th

    I am a wearer of glasses but wear disposable contacts for hiking. Best thing for me. I am planning a 2019 AT thru and this is my plan with back up glasses also.

    • Joshua Johnson : Jun 19th

      Sounds like a good call, Mary!

    • Baatz : Jun 20th

      Fellow 2019 hiker. We hope to see you on the trail in 2019.

      I have to say I would be nervous putting them in and taking them out because of hygiene. But maybe on my next few small hikes I can give it a try.

      • Joshua Johnson : Jul 18th

        BAATZ, I will probably be section hiking in the Smokies in 2019! Since I start a few weeks after most try-hikers, you might see me as well. Feel free to keep up on social media. My Instagram and Twitter are both @designpassion

  • Pando : Jun 23rd

    Much like you I can’t wear contacts. I’m also from Florida with nightmare humidity and plan on a thru-hike attempt and have been weighing options. Unfortunately, I have the added issue of being far-sighted and only needing glasses for reading. While it might not seem necessary while hiking, it’s a pain to dig for glasses to look at the smartphone/camera/audio/guidebook.

    I’ve purchased regular magnifying “readers” as well as bifocal reader polarized sunglasses and those have been the best option for Florida because they serve, obviously, as normal sunglasses and reader glasses and, thankfully, don’t have that awful bifocal line. But the AT is a different beast so we’ll see.

    Fogging is an issue with the sunglasses because they wrap but I keep a tiny section of shamwow in the hipbelt pocket. Probably could just use the wipe…can’t be much of a weight difference I’m sure.

    Thanks for this though. Always curious what others are doing.

    • Joshua Johnson : Jun 26th

      I actually carried a small shamwow style towel section (about 5″x5″) as well. It’s really a pain to wipe down the glasses all the time but if you’re just using them for near sighted needs (like the smartphone, guidebook etc you mentioned) then it might not be so bad. I used my absorbent towel to wipe out my tent from rainshowers etc. Really helped get the moisture out if i had to set it up in the rain or what not. Just soak up the moisture, wring it out and go again.

  • Ashley Kennard : Jan 28th

    Cat crap solves ALL of the fogging issues!!! I spoke with my optometrist pre-trail and am ever so grateful she recommended this product. I carried it with me and reapplied maybe every 4-6 weeks. My hiking partner used it on his sunglasses, and I shared it with fellow glasses-wearing hikers as well. You just wipe it on with your fingers and then wipe it off with a lens cloth. Worked amazingly well! I still use it in the “real world.” I also carried a ball cap with a bill to keep the rain and snow off of my glasses when necessary. I had zero issues wearing glasses on trail (I, too, was worried about gross fingers and contact lenses). I will say that my frames did “dry out” from being so exposed to the elements for so long, so I had to get a new pair when I got home. Another great piece of advice is that most optometrist offices will adjust your glasses for free. I got mine adjusted in Manchester Center Vermont because the had loosened up on my face and the woman working there was so wonderful! She told me tales of the haunted Bennington section ?.

    • Josh Johnson : Jan 28th

      Nice! I don’t know how long this product has been around but I wasn’t aware of it until now. Maybe I’ll get a chance to check it out – Thanks!


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