Eyeglasses or Contact Lenses for a Thru-Hike?

If you battle with bad eyesight like I do, deciding on contacts or glasses for a thru-hike is a big decision. I’ve seen numerous forums on WhiteBlaze.net discussing the issue. However, I have to say, there is no right answer. Just like every piece of gear, it all depends on you.

My Method

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For my 2013 thru-hike, I brought both contacts and glasses. My contacts were two-week lenses that I would take out at night. I would ALWAYS carry one extra pair of contacts. I was reading a forum before my thru-hike about a hiker losing his contact on an extremely windy day. I did not want this to happen to me, so I always had a backup pair. Also, I am comfortable with contact lenses because I have worn them since I was 13.

However, I decided to bring along my glasses as well. I am prone to minor eye infections from accidentally sleeping in my contacts or getting dirt in my eye. When these infections happen, I cannot wear my contacts for three or four days. My glasses were also great to have if I had to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.

With this incredible back story on dealing with my oh-so-exciting lack of sight on the trail, let’s go through the pros and cons of glasses and contacts for a long distance hike.

Glasses

Choosing to wear glasses on your thru-hike is not necessarily a bad decision. For some, contacts are more hassle than it’s worth. Since I switched from glasses to contacts often on the trail, I actually carried a glasses case. I made the case out of bubble wrap, which worked for my entire hike. However, if you are known to be a bit reckless, a lightweight hard case might be beneficial for you.

Pros

  • Do not have to carry saline solution or contacts case.
  • Do not have to use your dirty hiker fingers to remove/put in your contacts
  • Do not have to worry about replacement pairs in mail drops.

Cons

  • Eyeglasses tend to fog up. This depends on the type of lenses your have but basic lenses do fog up from your body heat. From some quick research, I found this anti-fogging product to have the most positive reviews on Amazon.
  • When it rains, it blinds. Test out your glasses in the rain first before you completely decide to go for glasses just to see how much you can stand the water spots. This (and the fogging) are my biggest cons for glasses wearing. However, if you are dead set on wearing your glasses, maybe consider carrying a lightweight umbrella for your rain gear.
  • Eyeglasses may slip off your face when sweating or going downhill. This can be fixed by using an eyeglasses retainer like I did. The retainer also comes in handy to hang from your hammock line at night.
  • Replacing your glasses might be tricky. This is just something to consider. Contact users can easily replace a broken lens from the backup pair they are carrying. However, if anything might happen to your glasses, replacing them isn’t as easy. Keep your prescription on you or on your cloud to make things just a bit easier if an accident does occur.
  • You can’t wear sunglasses. However, transition lenses might be ideal. I hiked months without sunglasses after losing pair after pair. It’s not the end of the world.

Tips for glasses wearers

  • Take a “beater” pair of glasses. You will be living outside for six months, some damage or scratches might occur.
  • Carry some cloth to clean your eyeglasses. Dedicate a cloth for cleaning your lenses and only your lenses.
  • For hammocks: Hang your glasses by your eyewear retainer

Contacts

Wearing contacts on the trail is not the worst idea. I had no problem taking out my contacts every night and putting them in every morning. As long as you have *relatively* clean hands, you are all good. Before I left for the trail, I went to my eye doctor to have an up-to-date prescription. I then ordered all the contacts I would need for my duration on the trail. I put my contacts in my mail drops.

Pros

  • Perfect vision when hiking in the rain or sweating.
  • Contact lenses are easier to replace than eyeglasses. If you choose to carry an extra pair of contacts, which I highly recommend, you have your backup pair if you lose or break a lens.

Cons

  • Must carry saline solution. I carried the smallest travel size I could find. If you are super nit-picky about weight, this might be an issue.
  • Must use your hands to put on/remove lenses. Like I said, this was no problem for me. Just a quick rinse in a water source should suffice.
  • Must remove/put on lenses without mirror. If you are new to contacts, this might be hard for you.
  • You are vulnerable and blind if you get an eye infection. This is only if you choose not to bring eyeglasses with you as well. From past experience, I know that contacts and eye infections do NOT result in fast-healing eyes, no matter how many eye drops you indulge in.

The decision to choose glasses versus contacts is an important one. Without your precious lenses, Appalachia’s beautiful mountain views will be nothing but a blur. With some input from a few writers on Appalachian Trials, the decision to go with one or the other does vary. Let’s face it, the best way to handle your vision issue is to get LASIK before your hike like one writer did. However, another writer finished his miles just fine wearing his trusty pair of eyeglasses. Four eyes, saline slave, or LASIK luxury, your decision all depends on you.

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Comments 5

  • Megan Earl : Jul 21st

    Luckily for me, I have great vision and have never had to worry about glasses or contacts. My husband, however, is not so lucky. He used to have glasses and he really liked them. Once he switched to contacts, though, he said he’d never go back. Like you mentioned, it’s convenient to be able to hike without having to worry about foggy lenses. He’s a prettye outdoorsy person, so that’s definitely a big thing for him.
    Megan | https://www.anewvisioninc.com

    Reply
  • Opthamology : Oct 30th

    No matter the combination sunglasses are also important for protecting your vision. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  • Krystal Brown : Jun 13th

    I am a contact lens wearer. I have some helpful tips for taking care of contact lenses on my website (which will be more useful to you off the trail). https://krystalbrownblog.wordpress.com/2015/12/15/contact-lens-tips/

    Reply
  • Cynthia : Sep 17th

    You can wear sunglasses made to fit over glasses. Also if you choose carefully you can find regular sunglasses that fit over your glasses.

    Reply

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