If you’re new to shooting–especially if you have zero law enforcement or military experience–you’re probably wondering what eyepro is. Those of us in the military will tell you that we love acronyms and we love shortening words and contracting words because we speak in shorthand. Eyepro is one of those terms that just has happened to leap from tactical employment to the shooting community in general. Eyepro is short for EYE PROtection. You have to wear it at any established shooting range. You can rent some from most ranges, but it behooves a shooter to go out and buy themselves a pair of eyepro. So, what should one look for when they’re buying eyepro?
Well, out the gate, it should be noted that some ranges will allow you to wear regular sunglasses or your prescription eyeglasses in lieu of eyepro. It varies from range to range, so rather than risk it and possibly having to pay extra to take out a pair of range eyepro, I would strongly recommend investing in a pair of your own.
Now, a little background on eyepro: in the military, there’s what’s called APEL, the authorized protective eyewear list. This is the list of eyepro the military is authorized to wear for fieldwork. They have their own testing standard which means the eyepro is ballistic rated. This means the lenses will withstand certain types of blasts. For example, the Oakley M-Frames I wore in Iraq are, by company claim, able to withstand shotgun blasts. It’s useful in protecting your eyes from shrapnel and the like. This, of course, led to jokes about how if our FOB (forward operating base) was mortared, the rest of us would be torn to shreds but our eyes would be okay, but I digress. I noticed on the APEL eyepro that all of it was marked Z87.1, and a lot of us grunts thought this meant the standard for eyepro. Turns out, we were all mistaken: Z87.1 is the industrial standard for eyepro. It’s also the lowest rating for shooting glasses. Not all Z87.1 rated glasses are ballistic, but they will get the job done for shooting. If that’s confusing, think of APEL is to Z87.1 what a square is to a rectangle. All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. Continuing with that analogy, all APEL-rated eyewear also happens to be Z87.1 rated, but not vice versa.
So, since we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get to the part you’ve been waiting for: which eyepro should you choose? Well, much like selecting a firearm, eyepro should be a personal preference. However, I have asked a few people–some professionals and some firearms enthusiasts–what they thought, and here’s what they had to say:
DESTINEE (YouTube gun vlogger for Fate of Destinee, Arms Guide managing editor)
On a whim, still enamored with the then new purchase of my Beretta M9, I saw a pair of purple-tinted Beretta eye pro on the shelves at the range just before heading out to the lanes. I thought, “why not?” and picked up a pair. They only set me back about $15 and the clear “Wal-Mart special” pair I had been using up to that point wasn’t anything special, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try something new. I haven’t done any ballistic testing to see how well they handle impacts (after all, I bought them to wear, not to destroy), but I now have a couple of years invested in their use. I’ve found the particular tint works well for me as it appears to increase the contrast of what I see, which increases how clearly I can identify targets. On the opacity scale, the lens tint is rather transparent, so my eyepro shade isn’t ideal under extra bright conditions. But, the purple hue is effective under most other light conditions. For the money I spent, they work for me: they keep lead, casings, bullet jackets, and any other debris from my eyes, and the tint is appreciable in most lighting conditions. Plus, I like the color purple. So far, that has been enough for me.
I’m on a tight budget when it comes to the shooting sports, so if I can save a few bucks on gear that still gets the job done, I’m there. Gateway Safety sunglasses have an acceptably sleek appearance, wear comfortably, and cost under ten bucks, so I can keep more than one pair handy. With hardcoated poly-carbonated lenses, these glasses hold up pretty well against scratches and protect against high-velocity impacts.
Not to be redundant, but my favorite form of eye protection while I was in the military was Oakley M-Frames. When I was in 3/75 we got issued Wiley-X eye-pro which was all but useless. Our Battalion Sergeant Major told us he would rather get us eye pro that protects the eye 90% of the time which we would actually wear as opposed to the Wiley-X glasses/goggles which covered the entire eye but we never wore because they fell apart and fogged up like no one’s business. I’ve used all sorts of other eye pro like the ESS goggles and even those high speed Oakley goggles with the fan inside them but I always found the M-Frames with replaceable lenses to be the best thing going. They are so comfortable that you forget you are wearing them, and rarely fog up and if that is an issue there are gel solutions which can be put on the lenses which will completely solve the problem.
Over eight years, many training ops, and three deployments, I’ve used just about every brand of eyepro, from Wiley-X to ESS to Revision, to Oakley. Oakleys were issued just before my first deployment, and while I’ve used the other three mentioned brands since, I’ve always preferred the Oakleys. This isn’t because of the “cool guy” factor; they tend to fit a lot better, and be more durable. I’ve had ESS glasses fall off if I looked down. Wiley-X was almost as bad. I’ve used both M-frames and Half-Jackets. I tend to prefer the Half-Jackets because they’re a bit lower profile.
I’m personally in the Oakley camp. I’ve used Wiley-Xs, ESS eyepro, Revision, and other cheap eyepros across the board, both in my recreational shooting and in my duties as an infantryman. Oakley M-Frames are consistently the best I’ve ever used. They’re durable, fairly scratch resistant, and are very comfortable to wear. I’m apparently not the only person in units I’ve served with to share this opinion: in Iraq, I had two pairs of Oakleys go missing when I took my eyes off of them. They are apparently that hot of a commodity!
Bottom line, though, you shouldn’t just take any of our words at face value. Go seek out what eyepro works for you, see what’s within your budget, and go from there. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: these articles are meant to be a guide for you, the reader, not marching orders. Take what we say here and bear it in mind, but make sure to do your own research and reach your own conclusions. You’re the shooter, and you’re the one who has to use the gear, not me.
Featured photos of individuals owned by those photographed, displayed here with their permission.