Sunglasses have changed little since the late 1920s when a New Jersey entrepreneur sold them. Styles have evolved, frame materials and lenses have gotten better, but the nuts and bolts of their construction today are essentially the same as the first ones sold on the Jersey Shore. That makes the colors of ombraz all the more fascinating. Instead of traditional sidearms, the company uses a thin nylon strap to hold them on your face, like a permanent version of sunglasses straps that you can tighten.
Ombraz has a few models that all feature the same technology and are considered to be almost indestructible and top notch for adventures like paddling, cycling and climbing. We loved the design when the brand launched two years ago, and for the past few months I’ve been testing a new model, the Leggero ($ 140). I ran and rode them a few hundred miles, climbed with them, and did happy hour with them, and I basically lived with them on my face for a week while riding my bike through the desert when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. After constant testing in the field and around town, I love the Leggero. I hate it too. Let me explain.
What I like
I dig the big, square frames; They make me look like some morally bankrupt movie producer from the 1970s that I like. And there’s a lot to love about these sunglasses that go beyond aesthetics. Dropping the sidearms is more than just a shtick – it’s damn smart. Most sunglasses rely on tight sidearms to keep them snug against your face. However, they can create annoying pressure points behind your ears that can lead to a headache if you wear them for too long. The nylon strap with two sliding buttons holds it securely with no visible points of contact, so that the Leggero remains surprisingly comfortable even after a long day. And I like to hang them on my neck, locked and loaded for when the sun breaks through
(Photo: Graham Averill)
The absence of sidearms also reduces weight (the Leggero weighs 20 grams, which is comparable to high-end running goggles) while eliminating the tiny screws that have to be painstakingly reinserted if they inevitably fall out. And yes, avoiding sidearms for a strap makes them difficult to crush. I threw them on the ground and stepped on them in hiking boots, and they always remained unharmed. I put them in my back pocket and sat on them repeatedly and they came out like new (which says something if I weigh 190 pounds). Granted, the lenses – polarized glass from Germany – collect scratches, but the frames themselves are pretty flexible.
Sounds like a love affair, doesn’t it? Not so fast.
What I do not like
Putting on and taking off these glasses is a pain in the ass.
The process isn’t technically difficult – it just loosens or tightens the nylon strap, but these actions require two hands, and many of the things I do with sunglasses also require two hands. That means I have to take both hands off the handlebars or the rope when belaying (don’t do that). When I wear a helmet, there is added complexity as the Leggero’s strap gets caught in the strap of the helmet. And when I have a beer and it suddenly turns sunny, I have to turn off my brew. Unacceptable.
I have a couple of minor issues too. I would prefer nasal pads with better grip – the Leggero needs more tension to keep it from slipping when I work up a sweat. And the tightening process has a slight learning curve: it took me a few days to finally find the sweet spot with the belt tension.
So, yeah, I hate those sunglasses a little, but does that outweigh my love for them? Under no circumstance. The biggest compliment I can give a pair of sunglasses is that they disappear on my face. And that happens again and again with the Leggero. I put them on, do the things I do, and I totally forget that I wear them. Bravo. Although I know the Leggero over-consciously during a transition (when it gets cumbersome and requires two opposing thumbs), I still plan to wear it on bluebird days when I ski this winter. I also look forward to putting them on the beach this spring and summer. I will definitely paddle and maybe even surf with these glasses. And I’m sure I won’t lose them because they are stuck to my head.
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Main photo: Graham Averill