Competitive Shooting

Eye Protection: Safety Versus Prescription

Woman wearing safety glasses shooting a scoped rifle from the bench

Looking at firearms in use, it is pretty evident that plenty of gas, unburned powder, and oil droplets are in the air. Add ejected cartridge cases from your firearm (and those of people around you), possible ricochets… and it’s a bit of a wonder that many shooters make it to old age with their vision intact. The relative infrequency of eye injuries comes from the widespread use of protective glasses.

Woman wearing safety glasses shooting a scoped rifle from the bench
Even under controlled range conditions, brass or debris from another shooters can be a risk to your eyesight.

Unfortunately, those of us who require corrective lenses have long faced an awkward dilemma—we could either wear prescription glasses or ballistic eye protection, but not both. Contact lenses plus shatterproof glasses provide a solution for some, but not everyone likes those. Fortunately, several companies have begun offering projectile-proof ballistic eyewear with lenses tailored to your specific prescription.

One such company is TacticalRx, which makes multiple styles. However, other popular brands such as Wiley X, ESS, Radians, and Oakley also now cater to the “visually challenged” shooter. Optical clarity from these new brands of ballistic prescriptions is superb. Photogray lenses will lighten or darken in response to the ambient light levels. Likewise, you can choose multiple levels of tint or colored lenses that match your conditions and shooting preferences. The more fashionable curved variants often work best in low strength prescriptions. At minus 5 diopters or so, the fishbowl effect at the edges becomes disconcerting for action, though it remains perfectly usable for precision shooting. The less curved variant works equally well for low- or high-strength prescriptions and adds side shields for better protection from casings bouncing off range lane dividers.

Contrast these offerings with the potential results of a debris strike to your glasses without the ballistic protection or glasses that do not cover the same amount of real estate. Some have made the argument that glasses don’t protect the rest of the face. While true, I do not see full face shields becoming a trend anytime soon.  A scratch to a cheek or nose, or even a broken or chipped tooth is not in the same league as your eyes. Your eyes are by far the most vulnerable part of the face, and can be badly hurt by gas from suppressor blowback, fragments of bullet jackets or lead splash, or other relatively minor projectiles. With or without prescription lenses, these glasses are a worthwhile investment in personal safety, not to mention a good gift.

Which eye protection brand or model do you trust to protect your vision and why? Do you wear prescription lenses in your safety glasses? How has it affected your shooting? Share your answers in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (19)

  1. Thanks to the author for this article. While safety/ballistic glasses have been around for some time it is always good to be reminded about the importance of eye protection. Mostly shooters are good about eye protection, but do not take your vision for granted!

  2. Having worked in a Machine shop at a gear manufacturing plant.in the 1960’s I have been wearing PRESCRIPTION SAFETY GLASSES for more then 30 years. IT’S NOT NEW TECH. Go to a eyeglass doc/company (Walmart), get your eyes checked, then using that prescription, have them MAKE A PAIR OF PRESCRIPTION SAFETY GLASSES. They cost a little more, but well worth the cost of protecting your eyes. So you’ll still be able to enjoy the sport in the future.

  3. To see the “bead” on V-notch, open sighted rifles I had to go to tri-focals. Works out fairly well. Interestingly, with peep sights, regular single vision prescription glasses provide a good sight picture. I’m told this is the “pin-hole effect” in optical speak.

  4. I am fortunate enough to live a few miles from Tactical Rx so have 2 pairs of prescription glasses that they made the lenses for.

    My first pair was for shooting with an amber tint in a Smith tactical fame.

    The second pair was purchased for riding my Motorcycle and, although safety glass, is not marked with the ANSI standard for either the glass or lenses. In this case, I brought in a pair of frames for them to make the lenses for.

    Both pairs give me better sight than any of my other pairs of non-safety glasses.

  5. I don’t wear glasses but my old shop teacher told me that all Prescription glasses where safety glasses? I am also well aware that safety glasses and ballistic glasses are not the same but i am not aware of anyone that uses ballistic glasses that doesn’t shoot as a daily part of their lives. Love a little more information or clarity thanks

    1. Not all prescription lenses are safety rated. It depends on the material—trivex and polycarbonate are safety rated versus plastic and glass which are not.

      Also have to take into consideration that the spectacle frames have to be safety rated—ANSI Z87.1 must be written on the frame.

      Safety lenses in everyday nonsafety frames can create a false sense of security. Do not take your vision for granted!

  6. As I’ve gotten older I’ve gone from perfect vision to needing readers to eyeglasses with bifocals. I’ve tried a few different ballistic rates glasses (currently wearing Wiley X).

    While they give me protection and help my normal vision shortcomings, they still do nothing for helping me see my front sight clearer. I can go to magnified glasses just for shooting, but that won’t do anything for me in a self defense role while I’m going about my regular business.

    I thought about putting a small bifocal area on the middle left of my right lens (dominant eye) but I’m not sure how it would effect other things. At the cost of prescription glasses I’ll let someone else try first.

    For now, I guess I’ll have to go with regular glasses and try a mini red dot sight on my carry pistol for day to day regular life.

    1. I’m an optometrist and shooter. Bifocal might not be the best for this specific need. A trifocal would offer the increased ‘working distance’ to see your front sight. Ex. The focal length (area of clearest vision) of the reading part a bifocal is typically set around 16” (40cm) while a trifocal has an additional section that can focus further out around 40” (~1m). Progressive lenses can accomplish this too but they’re more $$$.

  7. As a shop teacher and cabinetmaker, I’ve been wearing prescription safety glasses for decades. Any optometrist can provide them. They cost a lot more, of course, especially bifocals. The curved versions, however, are new to me, as are photo gray lenses. Wearing my seat belt saved my life in a head-on crash. I always wear it. I also always wear my safety glasses whenever my eyes might be at risk. I would not choose between not seeing well and possibly not seeing at all! Not when I don’t have to choose. It’s good that you brought up this topic.

  8. I am now using my second pair of Oakley prescription safety glasses. That represents several years. They are not cheap but have been worth every penny. I can use them in the operating room and gun range or tactical. I have progressive lenses and find them excellent for vision and protection.

  9. They make an everyday safety practice sound new and wonderful. I’ve been using shatterproof lenses since I started wearing prescriptions . It’s a common industrial practice and many companies will foot the bill for affected employees. Thank you OSHA .

  10. This article fails to note significant differences between the eyewear promoted and prescription safety glasses meeting ansi standards. We have had quality prescription safety glasses for years with sideshields that protect against the injuries mentioned.

  11. “several companies have begun offering projectile-proof ballistic eyewear with lenses tailored to your specific prescription.” was this article written in the 1980’s?

    Prescription safety glasses have been available at least that long.

    They used to cost a bit more than ordinary prescription glasses – now they cost a LOT more.

  12. I have recently started shooting with my prescription lenses. They are polycarbonate and are a larger aviator style that covers around and below the eye. They are also photogray, so that they adjust to bright light.

    One disadvantage is that I used to use interchangeable colored lenses in my shooting glasses, which allows for fine tuning the glasses for the weather and lighting conditions.

    However, my shooting, both rifle and shotgun, has improved with the use of prescription glasses.

  13. It isn’t as simple as making polycarbonate lenses in your prescription. You also have to take into account the position of your head and eyes when shooting. When I shot Service Rifle, I ended up looking through the inner upper quadrant of my right lens when I was in position. I got around this by taking all my stuff to my optometrist at the end of his day and getting into position, and then he marked where the center of correction needed to be, and had lenses custom-made. Please think about that before buying prescription shooting glasses.

    1. Good point, Mike. It depends greatly on what kind of shooting you do. As you point out, for rifle shooting the shooter might not be looking straight forward, and depending on the prescription that can make a great difference. For other shooting sports, such as most pistol shooting, the shooter is more likely to be looking through the center of the lens, but depending on their vision some adjustments might still be needed. For some people, upside-down bifocals are the solution.

      The first step is to consider if your regular prescription glasses work with your shooting style (preferably during dry fire). This will tell you a lot about what kind of adjustments might be needed. Having an eye doctor who is a shooter is a big plus.

  14. I wear ANSI Z.87 over glasses ,over my Rx glasses.There are times when they will fog,but there really is no good alternative. Rx safety glasses re pricey and can be heavy in weight.
    Please don’t use the word”challenged”.It is not a challenge.IT ISA HANDICAP !
    Same applies to glaucoma and cataracts.
    Additionally having a re-attached retina requires a longer length of pull..
    Wearing Rx glasses also requires both ear plugs AND ear muffs for hearing protection-one doesn’t get a seal with only ear muffs[the glasses stems prevent that.]
    aDDITION

    1. My regular prescription glasses are in the metal frame ‘aviator’ style — mostly because that’s what I like and find most comfortable.

      Many safety glasses are wraparound style and made to fit quite close to the face.

      I find it very easy to wear safety glasses BEHIND my regular prescription glasses.

  15. Slightly on, slightly off topic, I’d like to know other risk factors as well, especially carcinogens. Lead for starters. I shoot about 1,000 rounds a month…what am I exposing myself too?

    FYI…WInchester Super Clean Ammo is amazing. I love that stuff. Very affordable, NO LEAD, much less fouling then any other ammo I’ve used (cheaperthandirt best pricing fyi).

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