Nothing kills the high of an outdoor adventure faster than a subpar pair of shades that don’t live up to the hefty price tag you purchased them for. You know the kind. Sunglasses that break easily, fog up at the mention of humidity, and leave your eyes feeling sunburnt and dry after spending a long day exploring under the sun. A large handful of my recent adventures have been plagued by the curse of the faulty glasses. Fogged up lenses rendered my former favorite pair of sunglasses useless during a hike to McAfee Knob on the Appalachian Trail over the summer. A recent afternoon kayaking session under the blazing summer sun above Lake Michigan left my eyes feeling burnt and a little painful. So I embarked on a search for a pair of shades that would meet my always-evolving needs, I came across Zeal Optics’ recently-released Isabelle sunglasses.
The Isabelle shades are sleek and stylish in any situation, but rise to the occasion when needed. These fashionable frames passed their first outdoor adventure test on an early morning paddle in a sea kayak out into the shining ripples of water in the Saguenay Fjord in Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec. The morning started out beautifully—calm water and lingering clouds hanging low and drifting between the neighboring cliffs. Out and back was the plan, and the serenity of the morning guided us farther away from the shoreline, and most of the way back, until it was broken by a fast-moving storm that covered the surrounding landscape and water and opened up on our group ten minutes before returning to our launch site. Torrents of rain fell down. I kept the Isabelle’s over my eyes to shield the rain and reduce the amount of water on the lenses, all the while waiting for my visibility to fall apart and the subtle heat in the air to cause the lenses to take on a sheet of annoying fog. But they didn’t. They held their own. And when I finally reached the shore and ducked into a cabin for cover, I carefully dried the lenses and the frames and the glasses were as good as new. Zeal’s Isabelle shades retail for $149.
Pros: Lightweight. The Isabelle’s frames are made from a plant-based polycarbonate with the outdoor adventurer in mind—which means they’re incredibly light and comfortable—but also durable and impact resistant. The addition of ProFlex rubber along the parts of the frame that hug your face (i.e.- the nose and the behind the ears), add to the comfort factor of the glasses, allowing them a good grip without leaving those noticeable red marks or your nose or an aching pain in your head from the glasses hugging to tightly. And the Isabelle lenses are 99.9% polarized with 95% HEV protection, providing some serious protection for your eyes from the damaging effects of spending prolonged periods of time in the sun. The Isabelle sunglasses also have some give on their hinges, which comes in helpful when they’re attached to my Chums. And at the risk of sounding vain, perhaps my favorite pro about Zeal’s Isabelle glasses, is the style factor. I opted for the smoked tortoise look, which has become a staple on my face for everything from rafting trips to afternoon hiking treks, to late-summer patio brunches, and everything in between. Being able to rely on one pair of shades for all of my sunglasses needs is a big pro in my book.
Cons: I’ve become a big a fan of these glasses since adding them to my gear arsenal, so the list of cons is minimal. The only thing about these glasses that has taken me a moment to get used to is the cat eye style of the frame, as it’s not a style that I typically reach for. But that’s less of a con of the Isabelle glasses, and mostly just a minor con for my face.
Where I Took Them: Sea kayaking in the Sagenuay Fjord in Quebec Canada, and exploring the shores and charm of Canada’s Prince Edward Island.