Despite what Hollywood tells us, there’s more to a pair of sunglasses than looking cool at an awards show. A great pair of sunglasses is critical when you spend a lot of time outdoors and on the water. Looking good is a bonus. Priority number one is high-quality polarized lenses.

Polarization increases contrast and visual clarity, improves visual comfort, reduces eyestrain and allows truer color perception. It also cuts the horizontal glare bouncing off metal objects (like passing cars) and, most important to myself and I’m sure many of you, the glare on water, allowing me to see into the water much better than a non-polarized pair of sunglasses.

I had never worn polarized lenses until my first trip to Maui. I had forgotten my usual sunglasses, so I walked into a sunglass shop. I walked out of it with a pretty expensive pair of glasses. My wife also bought a pair of polarized glasses. Later that day, we went on a whale-watching trip and could hardly believe what we were seeing.

Before long, we were shouting back and forth to each other phrases like “Oh wow, did you see that” and “check out that fish.” The people around us were confused. They couldn’t see what we were seeing. I took off the glasses and the less exciting view of the hot Maui sun reflecting off the ocean bounced into my eyes. I put the glasses back on and reveled in all the amazing fish only my wife, I, and a few others could see.

The glasses didn’t come off for the rest of the trip and I have never bought another type of sunglasses since. It’s fitting that having discovered polarized sunglasses in Maui, Maui Jim’s are our recommendation for the best polarized sunglasses. Kaenon, founded by a pair of Southern California brothers, is a close runner up.

Lenses

What makes Maui Jim our pick? First and foremost, it’s the lenses. Maui Jim revolutionized polarized lenses with its PolarizePlus2 technology that uses rare earth elements to equalize and optimize natural colors. A polarization filter absorbs 99.9 percent of reflected glare, a bi-gradient mirror reflects direct glare, and an anti-reflection treatment catches and absorbs bounce-back glare.

It’s hard to describe just how great the world looks through a pair of Maui Jim’s. Colors pop like you have never seen them before. Grass and plants are a brilliant green. Even the water, the sky and clouds have more definition with their glare all but gone.

Glass is the superior choice when it comes to lenses, possessing better optics then any other material. Maui Jim employs a proprietary SuperThin (ST) Glass that it claims is about 20 percent thinner than the glass other brands use. I always select glass lenses for their superior clarity even though glass is heavier and can shatter.

However, this is one reason Maui Jim offers other four lens options in all — ST Glass, Polycarbonate, Evolution, and Maui Pure. Maui Jim’s Polycarbonate lenses are stronger, lighter and more comfortable than glass. Your face can definitely feel the difference. However, they don’t compare to glass where it counts most and, personally, I’m willing to sacrifice a bit of safety for glass’s superior optics.

Lens technology has advanced greatly in recent years, and Maui Jim has been paying attention. Its Evolution lenses combine the quality of ST Glass with polycarbonate’s advantages. They have better optics than standard polycarbonate lenses, and polycarbonate’s strength and durability. I still prefer ST Glass, as it’s clearer. But I think most people will have a hard time giving up Evolution’s advantages.

Maui Jim’s newest offering is Maui Pure. With optics so close to glass the difference is hardly noticeable, Maui Pure lenses use an ultra-lightweight, injection-molded resin that’s scratch and shatter resistant. They strike me as the future of sunglasses, and a lens option I would consider over glass.

Maui Jim also offers four lens colors. Natural Grey is best for bright direct light. HCL Bronze and Maui Rose are great for everything from full sun to overcast conditions, and Maui HT is perfect for low-light occasions when darker lenses won’t do. I prefer HCL Bronze, which I think provides the best coverage for the broadest range of situations. Maui Jim offers models in each of its four lens types with all four colors available for each model.

Support

Maui Jim stands by its products with some of the best support I’ve ever experienced. It will replace a pair of lenses for $60, a great discount over the $200-plus cost of a new pair. It also stands behind its frames. Recently, I returned a pair that looked like they had been sat on. Maui Jim charged me $10 for processing and sent my glasses back good as new in 12 days. I have been told by many people that the company’s reputation for legendary customer service is well earned. Now, I agree.

The Teak Rail is not alone in its admiration for Maui Jim. The Maui Jim page on Amazon displays uniformly high ratings. In addition, I visited several sunglass and outdoor supply stores. “What should I buy for the best quality lens,” I asked the salespeople in charge of sunglasses Every single person directed me Maui Jim.

Kaenon Contender

Kaenon also makes great polarized-lens sunglasses, and its California-style frames are possibly even cooler than Maui Jim’s. Kaenon’s SR–91 Polarized Lens, which it touts as the first “no compromise” polarized lens, also combines glass’s clarity with the scratch and shatter resistance of polycarbonate.

I have tried many pairs of Kaenon glasses and the company does indeed have a great lens. Its glasses come with color options similar to Maui Jim’s, and are so light you hardly feel you’re wearing anything. The frames are made with a thermally stable TR-90 resin that makes them unlike any frames I had previously worn. And while extreme light weight is a great attribute in a pair of glasses, I always felt I might break the plastic when putting them on.

Kaenon has received online complaints of sweat and salt water causing its lenses to fog up. Many of the users report that Kaenon customer support told them their lenses should not be exposed to sweat or salt water, which is not what one wants on the deck of a boat. In addition, Kaenon charges $100 for a new pair of lenses, while Maui Jim charges $60.

Kaenon make a great pair of glasses and a great polarized lens. However, it’s our second go-to choice for a pair of sunglasses.

Conclusion


Maui Jim sunglasses take our pick as the best sunglasses for sailors.If you have a larger head and are looking for a full frame wrap around style we high recommend the Maui Jim Canoes Sunglasses. They have great coverage, and the Maui Evolution lens helps keep the weight down with the larger frame. If you are looking for a metal frame we really like the Maui Jim Black Coral. They are great looking and have the superior optics of the ST Glass Lens. But really no matter which pair you pick, you are going to love them

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