LOOK: The Oakley Sunglasses That Took 15 Years to Create

Do Oakley's new PRIZM lenses actually enhance athletic performance? We put them to the test.

Sunglasses aren't that complicated, right? Besides style, not much goes into them other than protecting your eyes from the sun.

That's what I thought before I attended Oakley's PRIZM Games. The folks at Oakley invited me and other media members to beautiful Mammoth Mountain, located in Mammoth Lakes, California, to put their new PRIZM lens technology to the test.

At first, I was skeptical. But I came out a believer.

Oakley PRIZM Lens Technology

Oakley PRIZM

Sunglasses filter light to protect your eyes from the sun. But they darken the entire color spectrum and create a washed-out look. Some colors should be filtered—our eyes are particularly sensitive to blues—however other colors should be left alone or even enhanced.

Recognizing this conundrum, the engineers at Oakley set out to create a lens they could tune to a specific color profile. After 15 years of research and development—Oakley has been in business for 40 years—the PRIZM lens was unveiled.

To the naked eye, the PRIZM doesn't look much different from a traditional sunglass lens. However, the resin that forms the lens is mixed with dyes that filter specific colors. This manufacturing technique allows Oakley to create a lens "recipe" that is optimized for the color profile of a specific sport or environment.

For example, a golf PRIZM lens improves contrast between the multiple shades of green on a course.

On the other hand, a PRIZM road lens improves the contrast of pavement so you can more accurately plan a safe path for cycling or running.

Oakley achieved this by removing harsh or overly dominant colors, reducing transitional colors and enhancing colors deemed important for the activity by Oakley's engineers and vision scientists. The lenses were then handed over to Oakley's field test team, which tested the prototypes in exotic locations to verify their performance. If the lens didn't meet expectations, they went back to the drawing board.

The resulting product creates a vibrant and high-contrast look in a lens that protects your eyes and highlights the colors critical for your performance.

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Putting PRIZM to the Test

As part of the Oakley PRIZM games, we had the opportunity to test the glasses in three events. I chose trail running, fly fishing and an outdoor workout.

Trail Running

My first event was a run that took place about 10 minutes outside Mammoth Lakes on a trail that led to Mammoth Rock. The trail was 2.6 miles, starting at about 7,500 feet above sea level with a 700-foot climb.

For the run, I was outfitted with the Oakley Radar EV Path PRIZM Trail.

I'll put it bluntly. I don't run. I would rather squat until I can't feel my legs than run even a mile. So combined with the altitude, let's just say this was a significant challenge. I felt like I was going to die on the way up the trail, and the loose sand on the first mile didn't help my cause.

Thankfully, the run downhill was much easier to handle, and I was happy with my overall pace.

The run took place on a sunny day. From the trailhead, the landscape and Mammoth Rock appeared washed out when viewed without sunglasses. With the PRIZM lens, the color of the trees popped, and the improved contrast helped me see greater detail when looking at Mammoth Rock.

I didn't think sunglasses would matter much when running a trail. However, this version of the PRIZM lens is tuned to increase the contrast of the terrain to help identify obstacles, plan a safe path and easily transition between full sun and shadows. Considering that I'm not the most graceful person in the world, I appreciated the performance of the sunglasses, especially on sharp curves with a steep dropoff.

Trail Run

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Fly Fishing

The folks from Oakley took us to the Owens River, which is world-renowned for its trout fishing and beautiful landscape.

I grew up fly fishing and know firsthand the value of a good pair of sunglasses when fishing. My first pair of polarized sunglasses were a total game changer, reducing the glare of the water—which gets annoying after several hours in a river—and even helping me see below the surface of the water.

So I was excited to try out the Oakley Flak 2.0 XL PRIZM Shallow Water Polarized sunglasses. This lens is tuned to reduce blues and highlight browns and greens to improve your view of the riverbed, and hopefully help spot fish. It's also polarized, which reduces glare on the surface of the water.

Without glasses, the river was a deep blue, and I couldn't see through the surface except in my immediate vicinity. With the glasses, I had no problem seeing the riverbed, which was extremely valuable for identifying areas where fish congregate.

Unfortunately, we were fishing in the middle of the day under full sun and heat, so there wasn't an abundance of fish feeding. I got one bite, but finished without catching a fish.

Fly Fishing

Outdoor Workout

For my final event, I did an outdoor workout at a field outside town. I was outfitted with the Oakley EVZero Path PRIZM Road. This lens is actually tuned for running or cycling on a road, but the folks at Oakley explained it's a good all-around lens for an outdoor workout.

The field was in the middle of the hot sun, so I was thankful to be wearing the PRIZM glasses.

Two local trainers took us through a short workout that included a relay race with a Sprint, Bear Crawl, agility ladder sequence and a final 90-Yard Sprint. Luckily, this type of competition is up my alley based on how I work out. The altitude made it more difficult than expected—I was breathing heavier than normal even after my warm-up—but I gave everything I had and put in a solid performance. My team, which was anchored by three-time Ironman World Champion Craig Alexander, took home an easy victory.

Did the sunglasses help my performance? I'm not sure the lenses made a huge impact on my ability to sprint or bear crawl. However, I was impressed with how well the sunglasses stayed secure on my face during these dynamic movements.

Outdoor Workout

Everyday Sunglasses

Oakley was kind enough to outfit me with the Latch PRIZM Daily Polarized Woodgrain Collection for daily use. I've been using them for about a week since returning from the event, and you can count me as a fan.

I've always been hesitant to wear sunglasses on a regular basis. I prefer to view the world unfiltered. Only within the past two years did I start wearing sunglasses. I have a crappy pair that I purchased for $15.

Now I actually prefer the color profile and contrast created by the PRIZM lens. When I take them off, everything seems overly bright with a teal hue.

Performance Eyewear

Oakley took us to a laboratory on wheels and performed a battery of tests that measure the performance and safety of their sunglasses. I was shocked at what I saw.

Many sunglasses on the market cause image distortion. You might not notice it because your brain automatically corrects the issue, but a distorted image forces your eyes to move rapidly, which can cause a headache if you wear them too long. Oakley's HD optic technology ensures the glasses don't interfere with your natural vision.

Also, we saw sunglasses shot with a BB at over 100 mph and hit with a metal spike. The Oakleys came away relatively unscathed, while competitor glasses shattered. Sports are played at a high velocity, so this is a critical, yet often overlooked, aspect of quality performance eyewear.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: SUNGLASSES | VISION TRAINING