Gear Review: Smith Optics Elite Tactical Sunglasses

gear bagSitting at a lunch meeting, my colleague squints and rubs their eyes.

“Peeps bugging you?” I ask.

“Yea, it’s these damn sunglasses. Every time I drive for more than a few hours with them on my eyes get really tired.”

“Hmm … are they polarized?”


As a fisherman, I’d come to wearing polarized sunglasses almost exclusively. Every place, every day, and experienced the same, worn, tired eyes after prolonged face time. But I was loathe to seek an alternative, likely requiring I give up the matte-finish, full-coverage frames I’d grown accustomed to.

Smith Elite Tactical Sunglasses

Full frame AND maximum impact resistance

Aww, scratch all that bullshit above. After the jump comes the real reason I switched to these sunglasses (spoiler: it ain’t because I got a “hookup”) …

The reality is when you rock skills like this, you need serious eye protection!

I’ve hit myself with flies more times than I count (and that’s coming from an accountant). The forward cast impacts aren’t a problem as I possess the melon thickness of Cro-Magnon Man. But I’ve always wondered about, actually dreaded, the idea of a fly smacking me just below the forehead – that would make constantly yelling “DUCK!” to the guide on the poling platform seem like a good day out. What I lack in casting and water reading skills – you know, general fishiness – I’ve always been able to make up for with exceptional eyesight. Can’t risk it, or I might as well start using bait [again]. Throw in the fact that I’ve broken my fair share of sunglasses, shattered lenses included, and that I’m prone to seeking serious value in my gear (read: cheapskate), and you wind up with a formula for fierce need of bombproof shades.

Enter stage left, the Smith Elite Tactical line of sunglasses. Designed for police and military use, they exceed ANSI Z87.1 and US MIL-PRF-31013 clause specifications. What does that mean for the wearer? Z87+ declares the lenses passed all high-impact testing requirements that qualify ballistic eyewear i.e. that which can withstand hits from small projectiles and fragments encountered by civilians. Like the average fly gone awry. In military parlance, it’s a .15 caliber projectile traveling at a velocity of 640 feet per second, or enough power to put a conehead streamer, in the hands of an FFF Certified Master Casting Instructor, to shame. And even if every one of your casts resembles a fricken laser beam, you’re likely to still be sitting pretty each and every time those sunglasses magically transport themselves from your head to the boat deck or river rocks (while you’re posing for the hero shot, of course).

impact resistant

What do I personally like about the Smith Elite Tacticals?

  1. Low frame flex – most poly-lensed sunglasses tend to feel flimsy, as though the lenses will pop out with just a little twist. These don’t, not by a longshot.
  2. Extremely durable – I’ve dropped them on solid concrete, and they still don’t have a scratch.
  3. Clarity – As good as anything else I’ve worn, but I’ve never been 100% sold on one tint, composition, or technology over another either. Maybe my eyes have always been good enough that it just doesn’t matter, nevertheless the view through these suit me just fine.
  4. The rivers can get pretty darn crowded – it’s a condition called combat fishing. I figure if the shades are good enough for the military, then why not I? But before you run out to design and patent a ballistic kevlar vest, I’ll save you the trouble because I’m not buying – I usually just head to the bar or golf course (or both) when a week’s worth of fishing forum hot-spotting is apparent.

Meanwhile, I’ll add that the Elite Tacticals are featherweight class, hence nearly unnoticeable on the face. They are very comfortable for all-day wear, assuming you picked a frame style that suits; an addition to the plus column is there are plenty of choices. I wore a non-polarized version, the Hideout with Ignitor lenses, every day for months before picking up another set, in brown polarized, for fishing.

Last but never least when the wallet’s gotta come out is the price. Polarized lenses will run you between $125 and $140, with the high end for the camouflage frames – only hunters and uber-agro anglers need apply there, and the latter should get a Valium script while they’re at it. Non-polarized versions will run you $80 to $100. Not a bad deal – actually a very good deal – for premium quality sunglasses that may never see the light … of a warranty repair center.

MG signing off (eyes safe and secure in their sockets for the immediate future)

FTC Disclosure: The author exchanged hard currency in an arms length transaction for these sunglasses, and he’d gladly do it again. So he can say whatever the hell he wants to about them.


William G Salminen says:

Thank You Michael, Billy G Salminen Ellsworth, Maine

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