Of the many ridiculous crazes to sweep over performance outdoor gear, the giant lens-style sunnies with retro colorways might be one of the very best. The Smith Optics Wildcat Performance Sunglasses are one such specimen. Now you too can look like an 80’s Outdoor Magazine cover photo, but with the added performance benefits of modern technology.
Smith Wildcat Sunglasses Features:
- 1 ChromaPop™ bright light lens and 1 interchangeable clear lens
- Hydroleophobic lens coating
- Medium fit / XL coverage
- Hydrophilic megol temple & nose pads for a secure fit
- Auto-lock hinges
- 5 base cylindrical lens
- Microfiber bag and zippered case included
- Hybrid TR90 & TPU construction
- Two-position adjustable nose pads
- MSRP: $209
Big, Bold, Beautiful
With Smith Optics’ stuff, you might as well start with the optical quality. Feed the Habit writers have reviewed quite a few of their products over the years, and I was an early fan of their ChromaPop lens technology. The Wildcat ships with two different lenses depending which package you buy. I received the ‘Get Wild’ colorway (love the retro vibes) which included their ChromaPop Black lens. It also included a clear lens for low-light conditions, which all of the colorways ship with. Overall, five out of the seven options ship with the ChromaPop Black lens, so it’s a popular one.
The ChromaPop Black is a 5-base cylindrical grey-based lens, and it’s one of Smith’s darkest options. The Visible Light Transmission (VLT) is only 10%, making these quite dark. For reference, many of the darkest mountaineering-specific lenses are in the 5-7% VLT range. So the ChromaPop Black really is quite a dark lens, making it ideal for sunny days on the mountain or the trails. These lenses are polarized (ChromaPop is technically a polarization technology), with the idea being that they block out transitional wavelengths where colors mingle.
Something that I tend to like about the grey-based lenses is that there is not a great deal of color distortion. This works in tandem with the ChromaPop technology to enhance separation in between color spectra to enhance clarity. The idea here is that the lens basically enhances contrast, meaning that it can also be used in a wider range of light conditions than a comparable lens without the technology.
This is my third pair of Smith sunglasses with this technology, and it really is great polarization. I’ve used these for skiing, fishing, rafting, road cycling, mountain biking and rock climbing. Really pretty much the whole spectrum. They consistently produce wonderfully clear vision. A hydrophobic coating help repel sweat, mud and muck.
The frame on the Wildcats is simple, stylish, and good at what it does. The lens is very similar in profile to what I tested with the Smith Arena Max glasses I tested a few years ago, but this frame wraps around the entire lens. It’s a really, really good frame – lightweight and grippy, meaning that it stays on your face even when you’re being thrown around in rock gardens. You can think about these like a goggle replacement sunglass, which is exactly what I was looking for for my ski touring. I hate crawling uphill in goggles, and waiting to put them on at the top of the skin track can lead to fogging issues.
I originally got this pair to use for backcountry skiing, but shortly after I received them my state entered a COVID-related Stay-At-Home order. Out of respect for the authorities and first responders, I didn’t do any more backcountry after that and as a result only got a couple of backcountry days in with the Wildcats. So, most of my testing wound up being aboard either a road or mountain bike.
One of the perks of the Wildcat’s frame is the excellent peripheral vision. I especially appreciate this on my road bike, since I often encounter traffic. The frame also does well in the wind and, in the way that good shield sunglasses do, they deflect wind away from your eyes. At 135mm in width, these are truly a full-coverage lens. On the mountain bike, what I most appreciated was that these are light and they mostly stay in place.
On the bike I did sometimes find myself having to push these back in place (inevitably smudging the massive lens). This is an interesting problem – it’s not the weight, as these are very lightweight. If anything, I think the temple pieces could be longer and more aggressive for a more secure fit. The thing is, everyone is a little different here depending on the shape of your head. It certainly wasn’t bad enough to be annoying and these were better than most glasses.
Smith’s technologies are creative and address many of the common problems that cyclists have. For one, the nose and temple pads are made of their ‘Megol’ rubberized material that attracts water (from your sweat) and become ‘stickier’ when sweaty. So, in theory they stay in place and won’t slide down your nose. They’re a medium-size frame overall but they stretch to fit my big head just fine. Ventilation is another strength: I cannot report a single episode of these fogging on me.
Finally, a creative little touch is the two-position adjustable nose piece, which can be clicked to provide either a slightly wider or narrow grip on your nose. I’m stoked about this feature and it beats the reversible one that was on the Arena Max’s – that system broke after a couple of years (Smith warrantied it without issue), but this looks like an improvement.
One thing I noticed about the one-piece frame + shield combo is that it was tricky for me to get the glasses straight on my face. Like many people, my ears are different heights, and that can cause problems with glasses. With the Wildcats, I had to really twist the frame repeatedly to get them to sit level on my face. If you know that your ears are a little uneven, expect to notice it with the Wildcats.
The actual mechanism of changing out the lenses is easy enough, although it’s worth taking a peak at the instructions before you bend anything out of place. Just pull the top of the frame up, then twist the twist-lock temples off. Smith takes care of you with a great hard carrying case and a microfiber bag, too.
- Really great optical quality – Smith Optics still has the corner on it for active lenses
- ChromaPop tech does help the lenses perform in a wide variety of scenarios
- Dark lenses are good for heavy sunlight and could probably even cut it on a glacier
- Megol rubber is super grippy and works well
- Two-position adjustable nose piece is a great touch
- Great ventilation – these have not fogged on me yet!
- You get a really nice hard case out of the deal
- Despite Smith’s best efforts, these can still slip down your face
- Fit has to be adjusted to be just right for them to look level on your face
- 5/7 models have the ChromaPop Black lens, which is really very dark
The Bottom Line: Smith Wildcat Sunglasses
The Wildcats are hard to miss and easy to love. They’re going to be my go-to option for a long time because they really do function as a good goggle replacement. This means that they’ll be on my face for both cycling and skiing, and I may even take them up on some limited glacier use this summer. That tells you something about their impressive versatility – not many lenses can do that much. Go try on a pair to make sure they’ll fit you, decide what lens you want, take them on a ride and spatter some mud on them. These shine in the sunshine.
Buy now: Available from REI.com