7 Best Eye Protection for Shooting [2021 Guide] Home / Pistol 101 / Eye Protection

7 Best Eye Protection for Shooting [2021 Guide]

Image of Bryan Hill, Founder of Pistol Wizard Bryan Hill / August 10 2022

If you fire a gun at the wrong thing, the resulting shrapnel or ricochet can cause permanent blindness.

We'll cover US military eye protection (eyepro) standards and what they mean, what else to look for in eyepro, how to protect your eyes while wearing prescription glasses, and help you find the best eyepro for your needs.

On this Page:

  1. Why Wear Eye Protection when Shooting?
  2. What Makes Good Eye Protection?
  3. Best Lens Color for Shooting
  4. Eye Protection for Shooting with Glasses
  5. 7 Best Eye Protection for Shooting

Why Wear Eye Protection when Shooting?

When you fire a gun, the bullet can create debris or shrapnel if it hits glass, metal, concrete, bricks, or dirt. Typical glasses don't stand a chance:

Debris in your eyes can sting and blind you for awhile. But if you get shrapnel in your eyes, you'll need surgery, like this poor guy:
A man being treated for a penetrating eye injury from a shard of metal. This can occur if you don't wear proper eye protection while shooting.
Your sight may be damaged or lost for the rest of your life.


What Makes Good Eye Protection?

So it's smart to wear eyepro when shooting. But not all eyepro is up to task. How do we tell?

Strong Eyeshields

Separate eyeshields on a set of eye protection.

Eyeshields are the lenses that protect your eyes. They're not created equal.
Common safety glasses (using the ANSI Z87 standard) won't help much:

Want eyepro you can trust? Look for these ballistic standards: Those standards all protect against shrapnel, and are roughly the same. When in doubt, check the US Army's Authorized Protective Eyewear List (APEL®) . It lists all eyepro that meets the above standards, and other requirements for US Army Infantry. You can't go wrong with them.

Clarity

Cheaper eye shields distort your vision. This isn't an issue within 15 yards. For more precise shots, this can cause you to miss.

Comfort

The stems on this pair have a soft coating.
Soft stems. Hard stems hurt your ears and head after an hour of wear. Soft stems have a soft coating. It's hard to tell just by looking at a picture, so check reviews.

Earmuff Fit

Thin stems. Earmuffs must seal onto your head to protect your ears from gunshot noise. Thick stems break that seal. Avoid stems that are thicker at the end:
The stems on the top pair are thicker than those of the bottom pair, especially at the ends of the stems.

There's a balance between comfort and earmuff fit. Only the best eyepro does both.

Head/face Fit

If you wear a large hat, your eyepro is probably also size large.

Secure

Stays on your face when you jump, run, sweat, etc. Look for eyepro with an adjustable headband.

It'll have holes or divots at the ends of each stem:
Headstrap Holes
Headstrap Holes

It may not look as cool, but you know what's even more uncool? Shrapnel in your eye.

Anti-fog

Anti-fog protection. Eye protection can fog up when you sweat. Anti-fog is a special coating to prevent that. Not all anti-fog coating is the same. The cheaper kind wears out after a few hours. What do you do?

FogAway anti-fog spray for glasses
Buy anti-fog solution
and apply it to your eyepro as needed.

Maintenance

Eye shields don't last forever. Sunlight, heat, and humidity take their toll, wearing down eyeshields every 1-3 years of use outdoors. The good news is, eyepro lets you switch eyeshields out. Replacement eye shields cost $20-40. Replacing them should take no more than a few minutes. How do you find out how quick and easy that is? Check reviews.


Best Lens Color for Shooting

The best eyeshield color is sport-specific. For indoor shooting, max visual light transmission (VLT) is a good starting point, as indoor lighting can't match the brightness of the sun on a clear day.

For exact light transmission values and exact color enhancements, Google the manufacturer + lens color guide. So "Oakley lens color guide", "ESS lens color guide", etc. There are (usually small) variations between companies. That said, here's a general guide:

Color VLT Uses
Clear
Clear eye protection lens.
89-92% Best VLT; common for indoor and low-light shooting.
Yellow
Yellow eye protection lens.
80-90% Mutes blue backgrounds and helps orange targets or sights pop. Best for shooting clays in dimmer sunlight (fog, haze, etc.). Best VLT of any colored lens, also used for indoor shooting.
Orange
Orange eye protection lens.
70-80% Mutes blue backgrounds and helps orange targets or sights pop. Best for shooting clays in all but the brightest sunlight.
Red / Vermillion
Vermillion eye protection lens.
50-60% Mutes green and blue backgrounds and helps red and orange targets or sights pop. Best for shooting clays in brightest sunlight. Consider polarized lenses to block glare from bright light.
Purple
Purple eye protection lens.
30-65% Mutes green backgrounds.
Blue
Blue eye protection lens.
45-55% Mutes yellow backgrounds and helps green targets or sights pop.
Grey / Brown
Grey eye protection lens.
12-40% Good in bright sunlight. Consider polarized lenses to block glare from bright light.

Eye Protection for Shooting with Glasses

If you wear prescription (Rx) glasses, you have three options:

  1. Rx Eyeshields
  2. Over-spec Glasses
  3. Rx Inserts

Prescription Eyeshields for Shooting

Rx eyepro with Rx lenses. They're the best, but cost the most.

Take standard eyepro and give them specially-made eyeshields that both correct your vision and protect it.

  • Most streamlined.
  • Most fashionable.
  • Most expensive.
  • Rx eyeshields wear down every 1-2 years of daily use. Replacements cost $180-650.

Over-spec Glasses for Shooting

Over-spec eye protection fits over prescrition glasses.

These are made to fit over prescription glasses you already own.

  • Use your prescription glasses, instead of buying lenses just for shooting.
  • Cheapest.
  • Most aren't ballistic rated. Make sure the protection standard is MIL-PRF-31013, MIL-PRF-32432, or GL-PD 10-12 MCEP.
  • Not one-size-fits-all. Check the max width of glasses it fits over.
  • Least fashionable.
  • Worst earmuff fit. Always use earplugs and earmuffs with these.

Prescription Inserts for Eye Protection

Smith Optics Rx System

These feature a Universal Prescription Lens Carrier (UPLC), which holds separate Rx lenses to fit between your eyes and your eye protection. Take Rx-compatible eyepro, a Rx insert system, and some specially-fitted Rx lenses, and you're good to go.

  • Eyeshields wear down every 1-2 years, but your Rx lenses don't.
  • Cheap maintenance ($20-40 for eyeshields).
  • UPLC is a major standard; no worry about finding lenses that fit.
  • Maintains earmuff fit.
  • Must work with your optician to make UPLC-compatible Rx lenses.
  • Clunkier than Rx Eyeshields.

7 Best Eye Protection for Shooting

  1. Eyepro Selector
  2. Best Shooting Eye Protection

Eyepro Selector

The best shooting eye protection for you depends on your needs. Take out the guesswork with our Eyepro Selector:

My Eyewear

My Prference




Best Shooting eye Protection

If you'd rather browse, here's our roundup of the best shooting eye protection.

Best Standard Eye Protection for Shooting

  1. Best Eye Protection for $20 or less
  2. Best Eye Protection for Use with Ear Muffs
  3. Best Fashionable Eye Protection
  4. Most Comfortable Eye Protection
  5. Best Polarized Eye Protection

Best Shooting Eye Protection for $20 or less

On a tight budget, or need some loaner eyepro? Get the Pyramex Itek. It gets the job done at a dirt cheap price. How? It skips all the "nice to have" features.

Updated hourly

Pyramex Itek
$3.89
$2.79
@ Safety Glasses USA
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$2.79 @ Safety Glasses USA
$3.89 @ Optics Planet
Safety Cert MIL-PRF 32432
Anti-fog None
Clarity None
Anti-glare None
Comfort None
Earmuff Fit
Headband
FogAway anti-fog spray for glasses
Buy anti-fog solution
and apply it to your eyepro as needed.


Best Shooting Eye Protection for Use with Ear Muffs

The ESS Crossbow Suppressor has super-thin ear stems, to give you the best fit possible with ear muffs. The better the muff fit, the more effective your ear protection.

And since it's in the ESS "Cross" series, it has a ton of aftermarket support: Need new lenses, a new frame, nose piece, etc.? No problem.

Maxing out your ear protection comes at a cost: Some find that the ESS Crossbow Suppressor fails to stay on when earmuffs are off. The workaround is to switch to a regular ESS Crossbow frame when not using earmuffs. The lenses are compatible, so you can buy a separate frame for around $5. But do you ever use eye protection without earmuffs?

There's also the Oakley M Frame 3.0. They seal well with earmuffs, and are comfortable and secure whether muffs are on or off. What's the catch? They're pricey!

Updated hourly

ESS Crossbow Suppressor
$117.00
$50.00
@ Optics Planet
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$50.00 @ Optics Planet
$50.00 @ Optics Planet
$99.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
$117.00 @ Safety Glasses USA

Oakley SI M Frame 3.0
$233.00
$136.00
@ Midway USA
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$136.00 @ Midway USA
$146.00 @ Optics Planet
$153.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
$153.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
$153.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
$233.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
$233.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
Safety Cert MIL-PRF-31013 GL-PD 10-12 MCEP
Anti-fog
Clarity
Anti-glare None None
Comfort None
Earmuff Fit
Headband
Easy Maintenance
Lens Cost ESS Crossbow Replacement Lenses.
$30.00
$27.00
@ Safety Glasses USA
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$27.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
$30.00 @ Optics Planet
Oakley M Frame 3.0 Replacement Lenses.
$44.00
@ Midway USA
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$44.00 @ Midway USA
$44.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
Best fit with earmuffs. Uses ESS 740-0433 U-Rx insert Works great with earmuffs.


Best Fashionable Shooting Eye Protection

When you want eye protection you can wear outside of the shooting range, get the ESS CDI. They're the best combination of features and value among fashion-forward eyepro.

Fashion has its price:

  • Earmuff fit is good, but not as good as an ESS Suppressor or Oakley M Frame 3.0.
  • Peripheral vision isn't as good as eyepro with one big eye shield.
Is the ESS CDI the one eyepro to rule them all, or should you also get traditional eyepro for shooting? That's up to you.

Updated hourly

ESS CDI
$135.00
$90.00
@ Safety Glasses USA
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$90.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
$94.50 @ Safety Glasses USA
$100.00 @ Optics Planet
$100.00 @ Optics Planet
$100.00 @ Optics Planet
$100.00 @ Optics Planet
$100.00 @ Optics Planet
$135.00 @ Optics Planet
Safety Cert MIL-PRF-31013
Anti-fog
Clarity
Anti-glare None
Comfort
Earmuff Fit
Headband
Easy Maintenance
Lens Cost ESS CDI Replacement Lenses.
$
$22.50
@ Safety Glasses USA
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$22.50 @ Safety Glasses USA
$25.00 @ Optics Planet


Most Comfortable Shooting Eye Protection

The ESS Crossbow maxes out comfort in its design, with premium features for a fraction of the price. And if the fit isn't just right, you can try the other "Cross" series frames that all work with the same eyeshields:

  • Crossbow - standard
  • Suppressor - for earmuffs
  • Crossblade - standard size, compatible with Crossblade NARO nose pieces
  • Crossblade NARO - lenses and nose pieces for smaller faces

The downside? Wearing these with earmuffs can get uncomfortable after an hour or two. The workaround? Get a Crossbow Suppressor frame for around $20 and swap over your eyeshield when using muffs.

The alternative: the Oakley M Frame 3.0. They're comfortable and secure whether earmuffs are on or off. The catch? They're pricey!

Updated hourly

ESS Crossbow
$110.00
$50.00
@ Optics Planet
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$50.00 @ Optics Planet
$50.00 @ Optics Planet
$50.00 @ Optics Planet
$99.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
$110.00 @ Optics Planet

Oakley SI M Frame 3.0
$233.00
$136.00
@ Midway USA
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$136.00 @ Midway USA
$146.00 @ Optics Planet
$153.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
$153.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
$153.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
$233.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
$233.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
Safety Cert MIL-PRF-31013 GL-PD 10-12 MCEP
Anti-fog
Clarity
Anti-glare None None
Comfort
Earmuff Fit None
Headband
Easy Maintenance
Lens Cost ESS Crossbow Replacement Lenses.
$30.00
$27.00
@ Safety Glasses USA
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$27.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
$30.00 @ Optics Planet
Oakley M Frame 3.0 Replacement Lenses.
$44.00
@ Midway USA
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$44.00 @ Midway USA
$44.00 @ Safety Glasses USA


Best Polarized Shooting Eye Protection

The ESS Crossbow has polarized lenses you can buy on their own, or in a full package. It has specialized frames for different fits (Crossbow, Crossbow Suppressor, Crossblade, and Crossblade NARO). If one doesn't work for you, for $5-20 you can get a frame that's just right.

For example, if you find earmuffs are uncomfortable, switch frames to the Crossbow Suppressor.

Updated hourly

ESS Crossbow Polar One
$135.00
$132.71
@ Cops Plus
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$132.71 @ Cops Plus
$135.00 @ Optics Planet
Safety Cert MIL-PRF-31013
Anti-fog
Clarity
Anti-glare
Comfort
Earmuff Fit
Headband
Easy Maintenance
Lens Cost ESS Crossbow Replacement Lenses.
$30.00
@ Optics Planet
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$30.00 @ Optics Planet



Best Prescription Eye Protection for Shooting

  1. Best Rx Eye Protection for $20 or less
  2. Best Rx Eye Protection for over $20

Best Rx Eye Protection for $20 or less

If you have Rx glasses already, the Champion Over-spec is the cheapest way to protect your eyes. Just slip them over your glasses and you're good to go. They work with glasses up to 1.80" high, 5.00" wide, and 5.50" long.

Updated hourly

Champion Over-spec
$14.95
$12.90
@ Midway USA
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$12.90 @ Midway USA
$14.31 @ Impact Guns
$14.95 @ Optics Planet
$14.95 @ Optics Planet
Rx Insert Fits over prescription glasses up to 1.80" high, 5.00" wide, and 5.50" long.
Safety Cert MIL-PRF-31013
Anti-fog None
Clarity
Anti-glare None
Comfort
Earmuff Fit None
Headband None
Easy Maintenance N/A
Lens Cost N/A

Best Rx Eye Protection for over $20

For higher-quality eye protection, you need prescription inserts. The ESS Crossbow series has great support here. If you shoot outdoors, consider polarized lenses. For indoor shooting, save money with standard lenses.

When you have your inserts made, let your optometrist look at your eyepro. The curvature of the ESS Crossbow may get in the way of standard Rx lens inserts, but optometrists can work around it if they can analyze your eyepro first.

Updated hourly

ESS Crossbow
$110.00
$50.00
@ Optics Planet
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$50.00 @ Optics Planet
$50.00 @ Optics Planet
$50.00 @ Optics Planet
$99.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
$110.00 @ Optics Planet

ESS Crossbow Polar One
$135.00
$132.71
@ Cops Plus
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$132.71 @ Cops Plus
$135.00 @ Optics Planet
Rx Insert ESS URX Prescription Insert for ESS Crossbow and some Oakley frames.
Check price
Amazon
ESS URX Prescription Insert for ESS Crossbow and some Oakley frames.
Check price
Amazon
Safety Cert MIL-PRF-31013 MIL-PRF-31013
Anti-fog
Clarity
Anti-glare None
Comfort
Earmuff Fit None
Headband
Easy Maintenance
Lens Cost ESS Crossbow Replacement Lenses.
$30.00
$27.00
@ Safety Glasses USA
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$27.00 @ Safety Glasses USA
$30.00 @ Optics Planet
ESS Crossbow Replacement Lenses.
$30.00
@ Optics Planet
Compare Prices
Check price Amazon
$30.00 @ Optics Planet

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References

  1. Oakley Sunglasses Lens Tint & Colors Guide (2021)
  2. Wiley X Standard Lens Anatomy (2020)
  3. Authorized Protective Eyewear List (APEL®) (2019)
  4. Personal Protective Equipment - Military Eye Protection (2019)
  5. MIL-PRF-32432A, PERFORMANCE SPECIFICATION: MILITARY COMBAT EYE PROTECTION (MCEP) SYSTEM (2018)
  6. MIL-PRF-31013, PERFORMANCE SPECIFICATION: SPECTACLES, SPECIAL PROTECTIVE EYEWEAR CYLINDRICAL SYSTEM (SPECS) (1996)
  7. ESS Impact Testing - U.S. Mil Spec vs. ANSI vs. no protection (HD Version) (2013)
  8. Eye Protection and Shooting Glasses Review (2012)
  9. ESS Ballistic Testing Video '08 (2010)


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