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How to Choose Ballistic Eyewear

Whether you're a casual shooter, a law enforcement officer or military servicemember, eye injuries from high-velocity projectiles are an ever-present risk. Luckily, though, with a bit of ballistic protection, you can mitigate and even eliminate these hazards altogether.

In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about choosing the right pair of ballistic goggles or glasses. From military and civilian safety standards to ballistic safety eyewear features and more, we have the information you need to stay safe afield.

Types of Ballistic Eyewear

There are three types of ballistic safety eyewear: safety glasses, shooting glasses and goggles. The type you need typically depends on what you're doing; a casual shooter may just need a simple pair of safety glasses (although many shooters opt for extensive ballistic sunglasses to stay on the safe side), while a soldier in combat may need a heavy-duty pair of ballistic goggles. Whatever the case, eyewear must meet or exceed certain protection standards to qualify for a ballistic safety rating.

Ballistic Eyewear Protection Standards

There are three different standards that determine the efficacy of ballistic eyewear. The first is the U.S. civilian standard, ANSI Z87.1. The next are U.S. military standards MIL-PRF and MIL-DTL. Finally, there's the European standard, EN166, 169, 170 and 172. We'll focus on the U.S. civilian and military standards here.

ANSI Z87.1

The ANSI Z87.1 eyewear protection standards establish safety thresholds for job site safety glasses and goggles, shooting glasses and other non-military eyewear in need of official protection ratings (though the U.S. military does defer to ANSI Z87.1 safety standards in some cases). ANSI Z87.1 covers many aspects of eyewear safety, but the most important protective feature it addresses is impact protection.

To qualify for an ANSI Z87.1 impact protection safety rating, the lenses of the eyewear being tested must protect against a ¼″ steel ball traveling at 150 feet per second (that's just over 100 miles per hour). Goggles and glasses that qualify for this rating will have a “Z87+” stamp on them. Eyewear that meets other ANSI safety standards but doesn't qualify for impact protection will have a “Z87” stamp (without the plus sign).

Here's a list of ANSI Z87.1 protection labels:

Z87+Impact protection
Z87-2Prescription eyewear compatibility
D3Splash and droplet protection
D4Protection from dust particles
D5Protection from fine dust
WWelding protection (with a number between 1.3 and 14)
UUV light protection (with a number between 2 and 6)
RInfrared light protection (with a number between 1.3 and 10)
LGlare filtration (with a number between 1.3 and 10)
SSpecial lens tint
VPhotochromic (transition) lenses
HIndicates eyewear designed for smaller heads

Shop ANSI Z87.1 Eyewear


The U.S. military ballistic protection standards MIL-PRF-31013 and MIL-DTL-43511D establish safety thresholds for glasses and goggles, respectively. Like ANSI Z87, both standards cover a range of safety features, including UV protection, chemical resistances, light transmission levels and temperature stability. The most important feature, though, is impact resistance.

MIL-PRF-31013 maintains that military safety glasses must be able to withstand a .15 caliber projectile traveling at 640 feet per second (or about 435 miles per hour). MIL-DTL-43511D states that goggles must be able to withstand a .22 caliber projectile at 560 feet per second (or just over 380 miles per hour). These standards are much more rigorous than ANSI Z87.1, which should come as no surprise; military personnel tend to encounter much faster, more dangerous projectiles.

Additional military eyewear rules assert that glasses and goggles must feature no bright or distracting colors or designs, must be able to be disinfected, must be reasonably comfortable and generally functional out in the field. Shop MIL-PRF Eyewear Shop MIL-DTL Eyewear

Military Combat Eye Protection (MCEP) and the Authorized Protective Eyewear List (APEL)

To make it easier for servicemen and women to find eyewear that meets stringent military safety standards, the Army has its own list of approved safety glasses and goggles called the Authorized Protective Eyewear List, or APEL. APEL eyewear is tested and chosen by the Military Combat Eye Protection program (MCEP).

The eyewear featured on this list must meet ANSI Z87.1 protection standards, as well as the standards established in MIL-PRF-31013 (for glasses) and MIL-DTL-43511D (for goggles). Approved eyewear usually has an APEL stamp directly on the lenses or frames to make them easily identifiable. To learn more about the Army's list of approved eyewear, check out our APEL eyewear buyer's guide.

Ballistic Eyewear Features

While impact protection is arguably the most important aspect of choosing ballistic safety eyewear, there's a multitude of other considerations to be made when trying to find the right pair of glasses or goggles. Here are some common features to look out for when shopping for ballistic eyewear.

Anti-scratch Coatings

To ensure they don't shatter, ballistic eyewear lenses are typically made from polycarbonate (a thermoplastic polymer) rather than glass. Polycarbonate scratches much more easily than glass, and scratches can compromise vision in vital situations. An anti-scratch coating won't eliminate the possibility of scratched lenses completely, but it does harden up the polycarbonate to increase its longevity and general scratch resistance. Shop Scratch-resistant Eyewear

Anti-fog Coatings

If you wear everyday prescription glasses, you understand just how annoying it can be when your lenses fog up. For law enforcement officers and military personnel, though, this issue moves beyond mere annoyance and can become potentially life-threatening. An anti-fog chemical coating can help solve the problem and keep your vision clear at all times. Shop Fog-resistant Eyewear

UV Protection

Everyone knows how harmful UVA, UVB and UVC rays can be to your skin. Long term exposure to these rays takes its toll on your eyes, too. If you're out in the sun a lot, consider a pair of tactical sunglasses or goggles that offer protection from UV rays. Shop Eyewear with UV Protection

Prescription Lens Compatibility

If your eyesight is particularly bad, it's very important to ensure your ballistic eyewear is compatible with prescription lenses. Many styles of goggles and glasses offer this feature, and the Army's APEL list even has prescription lens-compatible options. Shop Eyewear with Prescription Lens Compatibility

Lens Color

There's quite a bit more to the color of your ballistic eyewear's lenses than you may first think. Different colors allow different amounts of light to pass through the lenses, which can potentially affect optical clarity or the way you perceive certain colors and contrasts; this is called visual light transmission, or VLT. In general, lower light transmission lenses are better for bright conditions while higher light transition lenses are better for dimmer conditions. Here's the spectrum of color options available in ballistic eyewear, the situations to which they're best suited and the amount of visible light transmission they allow.

Brown lenses work well in fields and other open areas. They help to highlight brown hues and other earthy tones, and they offer a good contrast to orange targets, which can be helpful when training.
Visual light transmission: 35% to 45%

Gray is a good all-around lens color option. Gray lenses don't offer much color contrast or additional clarity, but they do help to reduce the amount of ambient light around you to create a sense of depth and contrast.
Visual light transmission: 50%

Blue lenses offer a very high contrast against green backgrounds; this contrast can be particularly helpful in foliage-dense areas. The one drawback to blue lenses is that they're not very effective when it's especially bright out.
Visual light transmission: 45% to 55%

Like blue lenses, purple lenses work well in green environments. They contrast well against blue, which can be useful for skeet shooters or anyone else with an eye to the sky.
Visual light transmission: 30% to 65%

These lenses work great on foggy, cloudy, hazy days. They mute green and blue backgrounds and enhance orange and red targets, much like brown lenses do.
Visual light transmission: 50% to 60%

Orange lenses work well in bright light to filter blue hues and reduce glares. Like red and brown lenses, they do a good job to highlight orange and red. They can also increase depth perception and contrast.
Visual light transmission: 70% to 80%

Perhaps the most popular color for target shooters, yellow lenses promote high contrast between orange targets. Like orange lenses, yellow lenses filter blue light very effectively.
Visual light transmission: 80% to 90%

Untinted lenses are good for low-light and clear conditions. Other than a level of ballistic protection, clear lenses don't offer many additional visual benefits.
Visual light transmission: 100%

Polarized Lenses

Reflected light and glares can be particularly tough on the eyes. Polarized lenses use a special chemical coating to block out this reflected light, thus eliminating glare. Be carefully about choosing polarized lenses, though — they have their advantages, but also their disadvantages.

In marine or winter environments, polarized lenses can provide much needed glare protection. However, polarized lenses are thin, which can compromise the level of ballistic protection they provide. At certain angles, they can also cause LED displays to become distorted or even vanish completely, which can be dangerous for pilots looking at instrument panels (or anyone else whose job or duties entail looking at an electronic display).

Ballistic Eyewear Fit Tips

Finally, after you've found the right pair of ballistic eyewear, you need to make sure they fit properly. Follow these tips to ensure the goggles or glasses you choose fit well:

  • The weight of your ballistic eyewear should be evenly distributed between your ears and your nose
  • The frame should fit comfortably on your ears and nose without rubbing or pinching
  • Your eyelashes shouldn't make contact with the lenses or frames of your eyewear
  • If you need to make slight adjustments and the frames of your eyewear are made of metal, you can do so by bending them slightly at the temples or bridge
  • If the plastic nose pads don't fit properly, you may be able to adjust those as well

Choosing the right pair of ballistic eyewear essentially comes down to what's best for you. If you're a civilian shooter, ANSI Z87-rated goggles and glasses have you covered for impact protection. If you're in the military, be sure to adhere to the protection standards outlined in MIL-PRF and MIL-DTL. From there, there are plenty of other safety options and features to choose from in order to protect your eyes and keep yourself safe.

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