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Reviews > Eye Protection and Binoculars > Sun Glasses > Zeal Optics Essential Sunglasses > Test Report by Kurt Papke

Zeal Optics Essential Sunglasses

Test Series by Kurt Papke

Initial Report - May 9, 2017

Field Report July 11, 2017

Long Term Report - September 12, 2017

Tester Information

Name: Kurt Papke
Age: 63
Gender: Male
Height: 6' 4" (193 cm)
Weight: 225 lbs (102 kg)
Email address: kwpapke at gmail dot com
City, State, Country: Tucson, Arizona USA

My backpacking locales have been a combination of Minnesota, where I have lived most of my adult life, and the Southwest where I moved to take a new job in 2009.  I have always been a "comfort-weight" backpacker, never counting grams, but still keeping my pack as light as easily attained.  I wear sunglasses almost 365 days/year to protect my eyes from the Arizona sun.

Initial Report

Product Information

Manufacturer: Zeal Optics
Provenance:
The company is headquartered in Boulder, Colorado.  The sunglasses are labelled "Patent Pending Mauritius", but where they are manufactured is unclear.
Model:
Essential
Year of manufacture: 2017
MSRP:
US $99
Warranty:
Two years
Manufacturer website: https://www.zealoptics.com
Color tested:
Frames: Navy Blue
Lenses: Dark Grey

Also available in White/Blue, Matte Black/Gray, Shiny Demi-Tortoise/Copper, and Brown+Olive Fade/Copper
Materials:
Z-Resin Bio-Plastic Frame
Ellume Bio-Plastic lenses

Bio-Plastic = not petroleum-based, derived from plant materials
Size:
One size available only
Website indicates "Medium-Large"
Lenses:
Polarized, Rx-ready
Weight: Listed: N/A
Measured: 1.1 oz (31 g) without case

Initial Inspection

sz01

The above picture shows, starting from the upper-left and going clockwise: front view, soft case, temple pads, labeling on temples, hard case, view from the back.

The sunglasses seem of good quality - the frames are quite flexible so they should tolerate some abuse.  The nose pads are integrated into the frame which I like - no wire pads to break off.  The lenses seem very optically flat - I could not pick up any distortion.  I inspected the lenses for defects and could not see any flaws with the naked eye, just "Zeal" stamped into the upper-left corner.

I slipped them on and they fit my head perfectly.  The frame temple flexibility seems like it will provide good comfort.  There is no doubt the lenses are polarized, that was immediately obvious as soon as I looked out the window.  The lens tinting is quite dark, they should provide good eye protection in the bright Arizona sun.  They fit somewhat close to my cheeks and brows - there should be some light coming in around the edges, but not close enough to cause fogging issues when I start to sweat.

Trying Them Out

I put on the glasses and went outside on a bright sunny day during the early afternoon and went for a stroll.  The Essential sunglasses felt very comfortable, no distortion, and a good level of sun protection.  The polarization was very obvious looking in the East sky - it was considerably darker than with non-polarized lenses.

Summary

I am looking forward to get the Essential sunglasses into the field and seeing how they perform.  The biggest problem I've had with sunglasses over the years is scratched lenses.  It'll be interesting to see how these lenses hold up under backcountry conditions.

Things I Like So Far:

  • Good quality design and workmanship including optically flat lenses.
  • Appear to be very comfortable and durable.
  • Good eye protection.
  • "Green" manufacturing - nice to know of the plant-based materials used in their manufacture.

Things That Concern Me Upfront:

  • I could not find any labeling for UV protection.  In this day and age, when everyone is concerned with UV exposure I found that a bit surprising.

Please check back in two months for my field report.

Field Report

Field Experience

Date
Location
Trail
Hiking Distance
Altitude
Weather
May 25-30 Monument Valley and Canyonlands NP in SE Utah Canyonlands
5 mi (8 km)
3900-6200 ft
(1190-1890 m)
Sunny, very windy with blowing dust, temperatures 50-85 F (10-29 C)

Canyonlands

This was an epic 6-day tour of Monument Valley, Valley of the Gods, Gooseneck State Park, and Canyonlands NP White Rim Trail by Jeep.  Though it's a little hard to see from a distance, the following photo shows me (in the center) wearing the Zeal Essential sunglasses along the White Rim with my traveling companions.  This photo was taken mid-afternoon, and the blazing sun is evident.

zs03

I wore the sunglasses pretty much all the time during daytime hours for six days, including the brutal drive between Tucson and Canyonlands and the 4-day drive through the White Rim Trail.  Here I am in front of Airport Tower and my trusty Mango Tango Jeep in Canyonlands just getting ready to pull out for the day's drive, wearing the Zeal Essentials:

zs02

I was impressed at the comfort of the frames and the lack of eye fatigue when using the glasses on this trip.  This is a punishing experience for the eyes, between the bright sunlight, dust, driving glare off the windshield, etc.  I was very pleased with the Zeal Essential sunglasses on this trip!  So far so good - no scratches too!

Summary

In addition to the Canyonlands trip, I've been using the Zeal sunglasses for my everyday use in Tucson.  I didn't get any backpacking in during June, as I was traveling virtually the entire month, to Portland Oregon and North-Eastern Wisconsin.  I took the Zeal's with me on both trips, got a lot of use from them, and they managed to avoid any scratches to the lenses despite the abuse they received in my luggage.

Pros

  1. Good optical quality & clarity
  2. Excellent all-day comfort
  3. So far, very scratch-resistant
  4. Robust design - I have not used the hard case at all, and they have survived a lot of abuse

Cons

None that I have perceived to-date.

Long Term Report

Field Experience

Date
Location
Trail
Distance
Altitude
Weather
July 29-August 6
San Juan mountains between Durango and Silverton, Colorado
Various
45 mi (72 km) total across 7 hikes
8000-12,500 ft
(2440-3810 m)
38-75 F (3-24 C)
Sun, rain showers, high winds
September 2-10
Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada
Falls Chain
About 80 miles (130 km) paddled, 25 double portages
1380 ft (420 m)
39-75 F (3-24 C), clouds, high winds, rain, then sunny

San Juans

This was a 9-day car camping trip to the mountain trails between Durango and Silverton Colorado.  We hiked every day that we were not driving to/from Tucson, and stayed in the same group campsite (Chris Lake) the entire week.

I wore the Essential sunglasses all day for 9 days, whether driving from/to Tucson, on the trail or in camp.  I have to say these are some comfortable sunglasses.  One of my hiking companions was so smitten with them, that he ordered a pair when we had a cell signal.  Here's a couple of snapshots of the sunglasses on the trail:

Zs04

The top photo was taken at Ice Lake, the bottom one taken along the Colorado Trail near Molas Lake.  It was nice to have the polarized lens when I was at a body of water, as I had better visibility without the reflections.

I am amazed I still have no scratches in the lenses.  I have treated the glasses pretty roughly, never using a case, just stuffing them in a pocket.

Quetico Paddle

This was an 8-day paddle and portage up the Falls Chain to Lake Agnes and back.  The sunglasses were on my face whenever it was not raining, and the polarized lenses were invaluable for being able to see structures in the water that we needed to avoid with the canoe.  On the third day out I had the sunglasses in my chest pocket for a shady portage, hefted a food pack up onto my shoulders, and the strap pressed down over the glasses and broke the left temple:

zs05

They broke right at the hinge.  The good news is they were still usable!  The nose bridge is substantial enough that they held the glasses in place, and I used them for the rest of the week.  I was the butt of a few jokes from my fellow paddlers, but at least my eyes were protected!

Summary

The items in my Field Report summary are still holding true: these are comfortable, robustly-designed sunglasses.  I had intended to continue to wear them until they broke, which unfortunately has occurred, but there are very few glasses that would have survived the weight of an entire food pack coming down on them.  I am sad that I will not be able to continue to use the glasses, because I really liked them.


Thanks to BackpackGearTest.org and Zeal Optics for the opportunity to contribute to this test.


Read more gear reviews by Kurt Papke

Reviews > Eye Protection and Binoculars > Sun Glasses > Zeal Optics Essential Sunglasses > Test Report by Kurt Papke



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