People who need prescription shooting glasses are faced with a slightly different set of specialized problems when making their purchase.
As I have several friends who require a prescription shooting lens, I’ve seen firsthand just how frustrating and difficult these issues can be. If you have good vision and can wear regular shooting glasses, be ever so thankful as finding the right pair of RX shooting glasses can pose a major challenge.
Let’s take a few minutes and talk about some of the specific problems encountered with prescription shooting glasses:
Availability – Not all manufacturers of shooting glasses offer models produced with a prescription lens, so your available choices may have already decreased. Only certain manufacturers have designs that will accept a prescription lens. Most of these manufacturers are on the higher end of the pricing spectrum, so you end up paying more for the frames. Even inexpensive generic prescription safety glasses are difficult to find.
Pricing – Most prescription-based shooting glasses lens has to be custom made by an optometrist or other eye care specialist. Anything with the word “custom” in it always comes at a higher price. While one of my buddies was searching for some shooting glasses that would work with his prescription, he contacted Oakley and inquired about the price of a set of Oakley prescription shooting glasses. The quote: $385 with a 4-5 week turnaround time.
In that scenario, you’re basically paying more for a specialized frame that accepts prescription lens, and now you have to pay again for the lens themselves. While you can’t put a value on your sight, this set-up is getting to be a pretty expensive pair of shooting glasses.
Lens material – We’ve already talked about Polycarbonate as being the premier choice for lens material. The same features that make Polycarbonate so effective also make it the most expensive lens material to work with.
As a result, about 90% of the prescription shooting glasses produced today are made with CR 39 Plastic lenses instead of polycarbonate. Although CR 39 Plastic is certainly better than no shooting glasses at all, I’d still rather have Polycarbonate as my lens.
If you’re in the market for prescription shooting glasses, here are the typical options:
Shooting glasses with “custom made” prescription lenses inserted
This is the more traditional approach and, at one time, was really the only RX shooting glasses option on the market.
In this scenario, you provide the glasses manufacturer with your eye prescription (i.e., whatever your individual lens corrections might be). Then they take the frame that you purchase and manufacture your prescription into the lenses; then, the lenses are inserted into the frames. You are delivered a final product that has your individual corrected eye prescription built-in.
Many top-level shooting glasses brands offer this option today, and it really is a somewhat customized solution.
Here are the pros and cons of that approach:
- The lenses “should” be built to your needed RX so, from a prescription standpoint, they usually offer a very good solution optically.
- As this style is typically modeled on a traditional sunglasses type design, you may be able to take them to an optical shop and have the fit tweaked as you would if you bought a set of regular glasses.
- I briefly touched on it previously, but this is most likely the most expensive option of all your possible solutions.
- This design normally only offers a single set of lenses professionally mounted in place, meaning the shooter is limited to a single lens color option.
- This design typically (but not always) offers lenses that are shaped more like a traditional sunglasses lens, so they may not offer side coverage.
- If you’re prescription changes as you age, you’ll need to send them back and purchase a new set of lenses in your new prescription.
This isn’t necessarily a bad option and is more popular in shotgun based shooting sports like trap and skeet shooters compared to a pistol, rifle, and tactical shooters.
Over the Glasses Shooting Glasses
This option, which is also commonly called OTG shooting glasses, is basically a set of glasses, or more typically a goggle based design that a shooter just puts on over or on top of his or her prescription glasses. This style does not offer an actual prescription; rather, the vision corrections are based on the normal prescription glasses you wear.
This is another popular option as it tends to be fairly easy to deploy and is relatively effective. When my near vision started to decline as I aged, I found that I really needed bifocals to clearly see the sights of a pistol. This over the glasses approach was the first option that I tried with bifocal glasses.
However, just like most things in life, this approach also has some pros and cons:
- Out of all the prescription shooting glasses options currently on the market, this tends to be the least expensive.
- You get to wear your “regular” corrected glasses, so it’s also one of the easier solutions on the market.
- This style normally has side coverage built-in, which is a plus.
- Glasses come in a vast number of different styles and sizes; to accommodate as many styles and sizes as possible, most OTG designs are large, so the actual fit ends up being more like a wrap around goggle versus a set of glasses.
- The actual fit over your specific pair of glasses may not be all that good. Most of the OTG models are kind of “one size fits all,” which means the quality of the actual fit can vary. This was the issue I encountered, and I ended up having to tighten the straps on the OTG glasses so tight to keep them in place that they became uncomfortable to wear for any length of time.
- Depending on the quality of materials used in the over the glasses shooting glasses, you may lose some clarity and depth perception. You may also encounter an issue with glare and/or flare from direct sun.
- Depending on the actual over the glasses design, the farther the OTG glasses end up being away from your glasses; the more distortion can occur. Think about wearing glasses and then looking through another lens as it’s moving away from you. The farther it moves away, the more distortion occurs.
If you are on a tight budget or someone who only shoots once or twice a year, this might be an option for you.
If you have vision that requires some really significant correction (which I’m basically right on that line as my vision is getting worse and worse as I age), then this might be an option for you.
So what’s the best option for prescription shooting glasses?
There is a third option for RX shooting glasses, and it’s a cross between the two traditional options I discussed above. It’s also worth looking into as it’s my preferred choice if you need RX shooting glasses.
It’s a concept called “prescription inserts.” Basically, prescription inserts are prescription lenses designed to mount inside the glasses between the eyes and the glasses lens. They look something like this:
This approach has become very popular as, in some respects, it offers the best of both worlds between traditional shooting glasses and OTG shooting glasses.
With this approach, the shooter has the flexibility to use the glasses both with or without the prescription insert (if needed), and the change is fairly quick and painless.
Also, the shooter can have prescription inserts with different prescription inserts for use in different scenarios.
For example, one of my shooting buddies has vision that requires correction, but he cannot wear contact lenses. He’s a little older than me, so his vision requires corrections to see at a distance, but he also has issues seeing close up (due to age).
He uses a single pair of shooting glasses with two different sets of prescription inserts. He uses one set of prescription inserts for shooting a shotgun, which corrects his long-range vision, and wears another set of prescription inserts with transitional bifocals for shooting handguns.
Now I will say that while this prescription insert concept has become more mainstream, not every shooting glasses maker has integrated the concept into a well functional design.
An integral aspect of the effectiveness of the prescription inserts are tied to two factors:
- The design of the prescription insert lens themselves
- The distance between the prescription insert in relation to the shooter’s eye.
The optical companies who have been successful with the prescription insert approach have done so by creating a dummy lens in the insert itself that can guide the optometrist or ophthalmologist to follow, which ensures a correct field of view and reduces any optical aberrations.
A few brands have implemented this approach better than others, and I’ll include some links to the brands and models that perform the best in this category.