Glasses vs. Contacts

As you can see (pun-intended) from any picture of me, I wear glasses.  I am always in glasses. They’re the first thing I put on in the morning, and last thing I take off at night. I have terrible vision, and without them, even on an established, smooth trail, I fear I would get terribly off-track, potentially worse.

So here is my conundrum, and a question I would love input from those of you reading here now: are contacts the right investment?

Pros:

  • I get to wear sunglasses (Bonus if I get to play around with big, fun, colorful ones!)
  • They weigh less than another pair of glasses (I mean, isn’t it all about the ounces?)
  • When needed, masks are wayyyy easier to wear.*

Cons:

  • My Rx is strong, and as far as I still know, I can only wear a specific type of lens  (Historically, contacts have not been the most comfortable to wear over an extended period of time.)
  • Price –  when your Rx is bad, and you can only get a specific lens, they’re NOT cheap  (With no vision insurance, I imagine I’m looking at $500+.)
  • Weight – even if I did have contacts, I would most-likely still bring two pairs of glasses, plus a bottle of eye drops to help with comfort (Additional measures are never a bad idea when your vision is as strained as mine.)

So, my questions –> Does anyone have any experience with long-distance hiking/thru-hiking with contacts?  Is it easy?  Is it a pain in the a**?  Is it possible to keep them clean?  Does a change in altitude affect wear… is that even a thing?  Anything else I may not be asking?

I would love some input!  If I opt in, I have to start the process now.  I imagine it will take upwards of a month or two.  Then, I would then like to test them out.  And, most importantly, I would have to plan financially….contacts or backpacking gear? Hmmmm…

 

* I am fully-aware of the situation we find ourselves in, and as such, I am grateful for the opportunity to hike during these crazy times.   I am not in the business of doing anything to jeopardize that.  Being that now is my time to hike the PCT, I will follow all appropriate guidelines (set by the PCTA/CDC/Trek), in all appropriate situations, regardless of any personal opinions.

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Comments 24

  • pearwood : Mar 8th

    Hi, Janine!
    Glasses for me for sure. I’ve looked at contacts but they never seemed worth the bother. I’ve been wearing bifocals ever since I could no longer get over-the-counter reading glasses strong enough. And by then I needed some distance correction, too. Computer work is somewhere in the middle; I keep a pair of reading glasses for that.
    One side benefit of starting to wear hearing aids some years ago is that the inconvenience of glasses no long even registers. At least I don’t need to change batteries on the glasses every week!
    Blessings on your way,
    Steve / pearwood

    Reply
    • Janine : Mar 12th

      Thanks for the input, Steve! I am leaning towards glasses only right now, since I’m used to them. Sending blessings your way, too!

      Reply
  • Ross : Mar 8th

    I was hiking in contacts many years ago when I suddenly got a piece of something lodged under a contact. The pain was instant and intense. My hands were grubby, no time or means to wash them, the contact had to come out right then. I lost it of course. I finished the hike with one good eye. I have never worn contacts in the woods since. I now wear my glasses on a keeper so I won’t lose them when my face gets sweaty and slippery. I wear sunglasses over my eyeglasses, moving the keeper to the sunglasses.

    Reply
    • Janine : Mar 12th

      Wow, that’s scary, Ross, but thank you for sharing. If I had to resort to one “good” eye on the trail, it would sadly make it near impossible to finish (just bc of how bad my vision is.). It’s not honestly worth that risk, for me! Thank you for your input!

      Reply
  • Shannon : Mar 8th

    Hi!

    Depending on your subscription – I would go contacts. Specifically, the overnight lenses if they are available to you! You could also look into getting prescription sunglass or sports goggles if you haven’t already and those would either serve double duty or stay on better too! I sweat a lot in the face so my glasses are constantly falling down if I wear them on a hike and get so dirty too which is why I normally stick to contacts.

    Reply
    • Janine : Mar 12th

      Thank you for responding! My Rx is -10 in both eyes, so lenses are very limited. I would honestly have to check to see what’s available for me nowadays. Maybe things have changed in the past 10 years there! Either way, I am looking into rx sunglasses…see if that is an option to me! I sweat so much, too, in teaching hot yoga, but I find that as long as the arms of the glasses are tight enough, they don’t slip as much. I could also be really used to it! Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  • SomeGuyInDenver : Mar 8th

    Janine,

    The struggle is real! While I never destroyed glasses on a thruhike, I have lost a lens once, and had 2 frames break on weekend adventures.

    I did 4 big thruhikes in glasses, and I would do it again.

    Long time glasses wearer & 13,000+ mile backpacker here. My correction was in the -10 range for both eyes, and as I got older I needed progressive lenses for any multi-range viewing.

    My AT thruhikes were with wire-framed glasses (first with clear lenses, second with Transitions lenses), and my PCT & CDT hikes were with prescription glacier glasses when hiking, and my daily wearers for around camp & town.

    Check out options for cheaper glasses in your area. Costco offers $199 hi-index progressive lenses with basic AR coatings and Transitions. Costco has some great inexpensive frame options. They will use new frames you provide for about a $35 fee. Sams and Walmart have similar offerings. Single vision high index lenses should be less expensive.

    In 2020, ReplaceALens.com made a custom pair of glacier glasses using the Altice Eclipse Frame (single vision with polycarbonate lenses for distance) for about $145 with frame & discounts. (Local to me in Denver.)

    With a ‘big’ correction, in-person fittings are critical to minimize eye strain for high correction and any progressive lenses. Tweaking the PD (pupillary distance) and lens height for progressive lenses may be difficult in a mail-order situation.

    For cleaning I would carry a small spray bottle of mostly isopropyl alcohol with a little water a few drops of dish detergent and wipe off with microfiber cloths. (Use one “dirty’ cloth to brush off the lens, and one ‘clean’ cloth to dry & polish.) You might be able to control the fogging with a wax treatment like “Cat Crap” which is used by divers and skiers on goggles, but the isopropyl will clean it off.

    Watch for bullshit upgrade coatings! “Blue-blockers” are total crap. (The lens of your eye is already slightly yellow [blue-blocking], and it will get worse as you age.) UV coatings are only needed on a few lens materials. Polycarbonate is naturally UV blocking. The need for hard coat / anti-scratch coatings varies by lens materials, too. (A strong vote for COSTCO in this area – most coatings are included with their lens packages.)

    BUT… It is very tempting to order a cheap pair from Zenni Optical as a backup pair! These could get you down the trail and avoid a $$$ emergency replacement. Also, you won’t feel bad about gluing or taping together a broken $75 pair of glasses.

    Another possibility is carrying a spare frame purchased from eBay and carrying it in your emergency kit.

    Carry an eyeglasses repair kit, and be certain the screws fit your frame! CIGNA used to give out a great little kit during open enrollment events at my old employer.

    Keep us updated on your choices!

    Cheers,
    TWN

    Reply
    • Janine : Mar 12th

      Wow, TWN, THANK YOU for all the information!!! I, too, have about a -10 in both eyes, so I am going to research some of the options you’ve shared! Over the past few years, I have gone thru Zenni to order glasses, and as of yet, they work out just fine. I have 4 pairs of Zenni glasses, so my initial plan is to bring two of them on trail. And, I do have a repair kit! I find that with vision like ours, kits are essential to have on hand! lol

      I can tell as I age, my vision is changing, and I want to adapt accordingly. I am going to look into ReplaceALens.com, as you mentioned.

      I do not have a Costco or Sam’s membership, but there is a Walmart close enough by me, I will look into it! Also, I am fortunate that I have an eye doctor who takes my yoga classes consistently, so I should use the resources available to me for at least the exam! 😉

      Reply
  • CD : Mar 9th

    I’ve worn contacts in all conditions while backpacking. Wind, sand and rain haven’t been a problem. I usually wear sunglasses in daytime. I’ve. Carried a. Pair of glasses for years and have never needed them.

    Reply
    • Janine : Mar 12th

      Thank you for sharing! I really appreciate you reading and chiming in 🙂

      Reply
  • Mary Phalen : Mar 9th

    I’ve needed vision correction since 4th grade…50yrs! That has included glasses and every kind of Toric lense for astigmatism ever made (my vision is bad..I’m legally blind.) I carry both on long trails. Glasses are easier and more convenient. But they also break, and are hot to wear on sweaty summer days and a pain to wear in the rain. You also don’t get the peripheral vision you have w lenses. The lenses I use are the extended wear meant for days at a time so there’s less fuss w removing and sterilizing and all the supplies that go with that. Sunglasses are a go! Masks are a go! Seeing while I’m laying down is a go! My solution now is to use extended wear lenses most of the time and swap out w the glasses as needed. I use a bounce box to ship additional lenses ahead when hiking for months. You would need to try this style out at home ahead of time to make sure you can tolerate them overnight…some ppl just can’t. Another issue I found w the lenses, because of my prescription strength, is that I need reading glasses w them if I need to check a map or use a phone etc. So I carry a very tiny collapsible pair of readers. I use my Rx glasses when I want to give my eyes a rest, usually on zero/nero days in town and sometimes on trail when I’m not needing sunglasses and depending on weather (I personally don’t do well wearing the contacts in very windy conditions.) Sometimes I just don’t feel like bothering w the lenses. I carry a few packs at a time figuring I’ll get a weeks worth of wear each and a small bottle of solution. Every body is different. Try out some options at home before you go to see what works for you. Good luck!

    Reply
    • Janine : Mar 12th

      Thank you, Mary, for that information!! Wow, that was so helpful! I have been in glasses since I was in 1st grade, so I share your struggles! I am a -10 in both eyes, and I also have a stigmatism.

      It may be sad to admit this, but I did not even know extended/overnight lenses existed. They must be a new development, and one I should definitely look into! I think first things first, I need to get in for an exam. I fortunately have an eye doctor that takes my yoga classes, so I am going utilize her expertise!

      Thank you, again, for commenting!!

      Reply
  • Jeanette Ninyo Pearson : Mar 10th

    You are a glasses gal so I say – stick with glasses! (And bring an extra pair or two)!

    Reply
    • Janine : Mar 12th

      <3

      Reply
  • chris armstrong : Mar 10th

    I know it can be costly, but highly recommend LASIK if that is an option for some. Best thing I did last year in preps for the AT this year. Otherwise it’s a toss up in my opinion.

    Reply
    • Janine : Mar 12th

      Thanks for sharing! I wish LASIK was an option for me. I have been told it is not, but that was back in 2008, so I think it would be worth another look!

      Reply
  • Jill Brauchla : Mar 10th

    Knowing you, and knowing my experiences with both glasses and contacts while backpacking, I would stick with the glasses. Although I have backpacked with contacts, it’s a pain and the contact solution does add a little weight if you would be bringing backup glasses anyway. Dealing with them in any kind of weather or after hiking a 20-30 mile day sounds miserable. If you wore contacts already as your primary option then maybe I would suggest differently. My eyes have reverted back somewhat after LASIK back in 2008 now and I have glasses again, but I don’t plan to deal with contacts again (and I wore them for a LONG time before lasik).

    I really wouldn’t worry too much about the mask thing with the glasses and wouldn’t make the glasses/contacts decision based on that; you’re mostly going to be out solo in nature and you’ll really only need one catching a ride or in town getting resupplied. I will say, get a decent KN95 if you can, because Tom’s dad has found that those are so much better with his glasses than any others (and he tried a LOT of them because he was miserable with his glasses fogging up). Definitely all masks are NOT created equal when it comes to glasses. I finally found some decent reusable ones with my glasses but there was some definite trial and error along the way.

    Reply
    • Janine : Mar 12th

      Thanks for commenting, Jill! You know me well, and I agree that glasses are looking to be the better option. I will probably go the glasses route, but I think an eye exam is never a bad idea!

      Reply
  • Troy Zohner : Mar 12th

    I have backpacked for over 25 years and have worn contacts about 30. I would go with what’s familiar to you I definitely wouldn’t do contacts without finding a lens that fits and works well and you know it’s performance in the field. If you do use contacts on a thru hike don’t change your hygiene for your eye care on the trail because eye infections aren’t fun. In thirty years of contact wear I only had two torn lenses and that was in the 90s with lenses that were overdue for replacement. On trail I use my normal lenses and remove them nightly. I carry the smallest bottle of solution o can find. I also carry a tiny bit of Bronners too lather my hands and rinse them before removal. I also carry a pair of glasses just in case if I need vision overnight in a hard case. Yes , gasp I have 6 oz extra I eye care when I have full bottle of solution but remember backpacking isn’t about weight. It’s about enjoyment. Do whatever will make experience more enjoyable and at the same time take care of your eyes safely. I hiked the AT with contacts and many more backcountry nights with no issues over 25 years, but I wouldn’t recommend it as your first time with contacts on a long hike if you’re not into a good contacts wearing routine.

    Reply
    • Janine : Mar 12th

      Those are great reminders, Troy! Thank you, and you are absolutely right. I do not currently have a contact-wearing routine, and while I still have a few months before I leave for trail, I know and trust that I am comfortable in glasses. They do not require any add’l fuss, at least none that I don’t already deal with on a daily basis. You have definitely given me some good points to consider, so thank you!

      Reply
  • Paul : Mar 14th

    I had LASIK on both eyes in 1999 and it was one of the best things I ever did. Life changing for sure. I’m Canadian and I was the only Canadian in the office getting it done. Everyone else were Americans on LASIK holidays to Canada. You save so much $ and hassle over time. I’m still perfect long vision 21 years later. I wish they could also correct for the age induced short sightedness. 🙂. Have a great thru hike, wife and I SOBO’d in 2019 and loved it!

    Reply
  • Matt : Mar 21st

    I have worn contacts daily for 35 years (-9.0), but when I’m on the trail, I wear prescription sunglasses. I carry an extra pair of regular glasses to wear in the evenings or mornings outside of the full light of day. Whichever pair I’m not wearing goes in a soft case in a chest pocket in my hiking shirt. I am considering trying a relatively cheaper pair of mail-order photo gray glasses to get it down to just one pair.

    I settled on glasses because I didn’t like worrying about my fingers being super clean before sticking them in my eye, and because of the extra weight of solution. Contact lenses are fiddly even in the comfort of my own bathroom, let alone on the trail. After a few times with contacts, I just decided to go with the simplest routine on my little backpacking trips.

    Reply
  • Clay Bonnyman Evans : Mar 25th

    Hi, Janine. Perhaps I’ll meet you out on the trail; trail name is Pony.

    I’ve done all my 3,000+ miles of long-distance hiking — including the AT, CT, Foothills, Alabama Pinhoti, and Great Plains Trail pilot trail (S. Dakota-Nebraska) — in gas-permeable contact lenses, which I realize not everyone can wear. I also bring a pair of glasses with attachable sun lenses.

    Gas-permeable lenses are, to me, super easy. It does require I have to bring a case and some saline/solution, but I’ve never had any issues on trail.

    Cheers!

    ~Pony

    Reply
  • Jessie Kline : May 18th

    I’m thru hiking the AT next year and came here for advice! At first I’d planned to put a spare pair of glasses in a bounce box, but I decided to forego the box altogether.

    Living so actively for 5-6 months in glasses will take a real toll on my sanity so I’m going soft monthly contacts and a pair of glasses for camp and hoping for the best.

    My biggest hangup is how I’m going to get my hands clean enough to be comfortable touching my eyes… I know I can use wipes or bio soap and water to wash but I’ve far less confidence in that than a sink.

    I’m only -2.50 though so I can’t call for pity. Ya’lls struggle is real.

    Reply

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