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I'll be backpacking Europe in the winter (snow and rain) and parts of my trip will be outdoors, such as hiking in Dolomites, Italy. For purposes of packing light and risk of losing expensive gear, I don't know if I want to bring both sunglasses AND goggles/glacier glasses, especially since I wouldn't use them for the majority of the time. Nonetheless, I don't want to damage my eyes.

I'm no outdoor expert, but is it generally advised that people take both types of glasses? I won't be doing any mountaineering or ice climbing, but at what point do sunglasses become insufficient in protecting my eyes?

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5 Answers 5

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When I first planned my trek in Himalays I was suggested to keep my Gogs and Glares with me when I am outdoor-bound, in snow.
A good article in my Adventure related Database rtf files says: "Hours of bright sunlight can burn the surface of the eye, causing a temporary but painful condition known as Photokeratitis. Over time, unprotected exposure can contribute to Cataracts, as well as cancer of the eyelids and the skin around the eyes.

UV exposure also may increase the risk of macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over age 65. While cataracts can be removed surgically, there is no way to reverse damage to the macula, the area in the center of the retina. To protect your eyes, it is important to wear sunglasses that block out harmful UV light. "

A coating of snow reflects nearly 80% of the sun's rays. This means that your eyes are subjected to 80% more light on a clear day when the ground is covered with snow than when you are on a grassland.

One more tip for ya fellow: I guess, You know that Retina is that magical thing which makes you see things by simply converting light into electrical signals and send it to brain. To make you see something, most of the light is incident on the center of the Retina. And, the retina is more sensitive to Blue and Yellow light. Thats why I chose to have a Blue tinted Snow Gog. So, one such glass will help your eyes filtering out most of the light that is not blue or yellow and will make it easier to see objects directly ahead.

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I own only glacier glasses and use them as sunglasses as well (I take off the "blinders").

If you decide to go with sunglasses only, make sure they offer proper UV protection (not all of them do). Reasons as explained by @WedaPashi (I'd only add that while cataracts can be operated IMHO that is no reason not to try and avoid them).

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Why take 2 when 1 is enough? I own only ski googles, which I use the whole year as sunglasses, even in city. For longer trip a spare pair could be a wise choice, however. –  Lukasz Aug 20 '13 at 6:22

The sides on glacier glasses are invaluable when on a snowfield, as the sheer amount of light hitting your eyes is increased dramatically by the high reflection from the snow.

Ordinary sunglasses allow a lot of light to hit your eye from all sides.

I would recommend always using the sides when on snowfields.

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I'll be backpacking Europe in the winter (snow and rain) and parts of my trip will be outdoors, such as hiking in Dolomites, Italy.

I won't be doing any mountaineering or ice climbing [...]

I'm having a hard time decoding this. In US English, "backpacking" means backcountry hiking, but I guess in British English this means that you're going on a vacation where you travel mostly in buses and trains, with a backpack. You say you're going to be hiking in the Dolomites in winter, but not mountaineering -- so are you going to be snowshoeing? Hiking on routes where roads have been plowed? Walking through areas with consolidated snow with enough of a boot track that you can walk in it? Walking mostly in snowless low-elevation areas with only short excursions to higher elevations to cross mountain passes?

but at what point do sunglasses become insufficient in protecting my eyes?

It's hard to tell from your description how many days you're going to be in bright mountain snow, and how many hours each day. Goggles might be overkill and unnecessary weight. You could try sunglasses, and also bring a small amount of duct tape wound on a small stick. If you're in very bright snow all day long, you could put pieces of the duct tape on the sides of the glasses for extra protection. You might also find it handy to bring a bandana that you can put under your hat so it hangs down on the sides of your face and reduces the amount of light getting to your eyes.

Both the bandana and the duct tape are multi-use items that are worth bringing anyway. The bandana can also be used for blowing your nose, or can be put under your hat to reduce sun exposure on the skin of your face and neck. The duct tape can be wrapped around toes if they start to get blisters, and can also be used for minor repairs of tarps, ponchos, etc.

Sunburn might be more of a practical concern than snowblindness. In high winds at low temperatures, you may also find that you want goggles rather than sunglasses in order to protect your eyes from the wind.

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Well, I'll be traveling from country to country, but in almost every country, I'll be in the backcountry hiking for at least a day trip. In other parts, I will be camping. –  MarkE Aug 20 '13 at 4:32

In Europe your will be hiking on altitudes less than 5000 m, and on these altitudes you can go with sunglasses without heavy specialized equipement.

However not any piece of sunglasses will do.

First, they have to be either made of glass (which stops UV rays) or special UV-proof plastic. Not every plastic stops UV rays, and if not, using it is even more dangerous than looking with bare eye: dark tint makes less visible light fall on your eye and the pupil gets bigger, accepting more UV light, which is not stopped by plastic.

Most of plastic sunglasses are made of more or less UV-protective plastic nowdays. You will need the ones with UV protection factor 4. It the sticker on your glasses just says "protects from 99% of UV" without mentioning the protection class (2,3,4), it is not enough. I would also make sure that the manufacturer is reliable, because if they cheat, it may cost you your eyes.

Second, you have to choose a model which blocks as much of side light as possible - they have to fit perfectly without gaps. No gap from below is absolutely a must, a little light entering from the top is OK (there is no snow there, he-he). You can also allow for a little light from left and right sides, but try hard to minimise it. Sometimes a little duct tape will help to patch the remaining holes, as Ben Crowell have said already.

Finding glases that fit you perfectly is not very easy, so you'll probably spend a lot of time at the stand and try a couple of dosens of models.

If your sunglasses are made from plastic with good UV protection and they fit you well (in terms of no holes), they are enough for European altitudes and you don't need anything else.

Bonus tip. If your drop and brake your glasses in the middle of the trail and the frame is more or less undamaged, you can improvise an UV-protectant solution by inserting paper instead of glass into the frame. Cut a narrow slot or hole in each "glass". You will be able to see something and block most of light at the same time.

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