Julbo Bivouack: Guaranteed 20/20 Vision Past 100 Years of Age*

*Statement not made for informational purposes and contains no claim therein.

How’s that for legalese? Anyway, it wouldn’t be a Master of None review without spurious claims and shocking provocations, so I thought I’d get one out of the way in the headline. There you have it.

For those of you living beneath the marketing weight of Oakley or in a solitary desert fortress, perhaps you haven’t heard of Julbo, a French manufacturer of eyewear. They make goggles, prescription sunglasses, and high-end sunglasses with polycarbonate or glass lenses. (Oh yeah, helmets, too. I’ve never even seen one of their helmets, so if it’s brain protection you’re looking for, then click “back” and hit the road–I’m not your guy!)

And because we’re speaking of protection, let’s revisit the happy trail which brought me to Julbo. I have a pair of lightweight, interchangeable-lens glasses made by Smith and I love ’em. The replacement lenses are inexpensive and I always leave a set of yellow-tint ones in my backpack, in case I’m caught after dark on my bike or if I want to swap ’em out for Nordy skiing in flat light. I’ve used the Smiths a few times climbing and skiing, though, and I quickly discovered they’re not up to superbright conditions, nor situations in which there’s scattered, diffuse light. After a few days of returning from the mountains with red, irritated eyes, I began to look elsewhere.

Enter the Julbo “Bivouack” with Julbo’s “Camel” lens. The Bivouack features magnetic, removable (magnetic–cool) shields for preventing light from entering from the sides and the Camel lenses are photochromic–which means they go from medium tint to really dark as the sun intensifies. The Camel is one of Julbo’s most expensive lenses, designed for snow/glacier, high-altitude, and use anywhere there’s intense light. I’ve spent 25-30 days in them thus far and think they’re the perfect combo for a high-performance sunglass suited to the mountains. Here’s why:

Weight. The polycarbonate Camel lenses are way lighter than glass, but my experience thus far suggests they offer as good protection as far heavier glass. I owned a set of Costa del Mar glasses (high-quality optics, glass, pretty cool), intending to use them for long days in bright conditions, but their sheer weight made them unbearable. Once I started sweating, they slid down my nose and after several hours the weight itself makes them uncomfortable. Love the idea of enhanced protection, but for climbing the shatter factor is a concern and for skiing they’re just not suited to having ’em on my nose all day.

The Bivouack is feather light, but offers increased protection from the Camel lens and removable side shields. Climbing in Red Rocks in bright sun and on predominately white rock, the Bivouacks left my eyes relaxed and happy after six hours. Ski-touring above treeline on a bluebird day, the shields cut down on unwanted light and the Camel lens darkened adequately to let me look skyward and howl with delight–last year, when we had snow. Remember that? Seems like a decade ago. Ugh. (One quick note: the lenses darken with exposure to UV radiation, so wearing them inside your car they don’t seem to work as well. Plus, the Camels are so dark I’m not sure driving is a good idea in them.)

The Bivouacks, looking pretty low-key. Julbo makes contrasting frame/side shield combos, too.

Quality. Anyway–so having worn them a bunch, I can say the quality is top-end. The frames are covered by a soft, grippy material that stays up very well when worn outside my cap. The glasses never slide down and need readjusting. Further, they come with a removable strap which comes off in about ten seconds and six months into using them it hasn’t loosened or gotten annoying. I’m not Johnny Huckgnar and therefore don’t yard-sale too frequently, but I guess a keeper strap is a good idea.For use with a helmet it’s nice to have the option to drop the strap, too.

A cool feature on Julbo’s website is the detail they provide on each model. Julbo gives you lens width, nosepiece width, and temple length in millimeters. Millimeters, for my Tea Party friends, are these funny units of measure they use in Obama-socialist countries where hospitals are free and the populace loaf around all day and make, like, 200K a year. Amazingly, this “metric system” is based on factors of ten, which sounds really hard, but once you get used to it you save a lot on batteries and shit. Oh yeah, I should note Boulder and Berkeley use millimeters. The American site (JulboUSA.com) doesn’t seem to have this info, so visit the French one (Julbo.fr) if you want to geek out.

There are several choices in lens configurations with almost every sunglass Julbo makes. I had a pair of “Instincts”  a couple years back, but managed to scratch the exact middle of the lens on day two of owning them. (I’m an imbecile, but I must admit I wondered if perhaps their lenses weren’t as durable as some others. I think it was probably just pilot error ((as it always seems to be with me)), because the Bivouacks have been bomber since I got ’em.) The Instincts had Julbo’s “Zebra” lens, which starts lighter and doesn’t get quite as dark as the Camel. For mountain biking, driving, and generally monkeying around, I actually prefer that lens. For being in the mountains or mid-winter, though, I’d stick with a Camel. Decisions, decisions.

I also have a pair of Julbo goggles, the “Revolution.” These I scored through the American Mountain Guides Association and they have the Zebra lens–super versatile and I like the shape of the goggle, though I avoid goggles in general: fog. Regular readers will remember I am a Sweaty, Fat Bastard, which means I soak base layers, fog goggles and generally ooze vapor, especially going uphill. The Bivouacks will fog briefly if I have my face tucked inside my jacket collar, but they seem to vent pretty well. The lenses have little slits on the edges, and these purport to help with anti-fogging. Seems to work.

The Bivouacks with side shields removed, as well as the keeper leash

The one kick-in-the-sack downside? A set of Bivouacks with Camel lenses will run you $190. Is it worth it? Your call, but I spent a week with a 51-year-old mountain guide in Canada and he warned me about being outdoors a ton, wearing cheaper glasses, and Al-Qaeda. I guess my approach is having the Bivouacks and only wearing them for ski tours and climbing days–no hiking, traveling, driving, etc–and relying on their super UVA/B/C protection, without scratching them up. I always wash them gently after a day out, because the salt from my sweat will nuke lens coatings and the grippy, frame covering. This is true for all glasses–take care of them!

These are spendy, for sure, but if I get five seasons out of them, they’ll be worth it. And yes, I should note Julbo hooked me up–but I still treat them like they’re worth two bills! The Bivouacks are my go-to sunglass any time the sun’s out and it’s going to be bright. Great product and a cool company. Check ’em out.

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