In 2012 I got laser surgery to avoid having to hump two pairs of glasses into the backcountry, both prescription sunglasses and regular corrective lenses. Since then, my 20/15 eyes have become slightly (but noticeably) more sensitive to the sun and wind. For this reason, I tend to be pickier about my choice in sunglasses. Whether you’ve had surgery on your eyes or not, you’re going to want sunglasses that protect the eyes from ultraviolet rays as well as from the wind and whatever it may be carrying. I’m talking about days when you’re rest-stepping up something like the Ingraham Glacier on Mt. Rainier (Tahoma) on a bright sunny morning, or a windy morning when little ice pellets are whizzing through the air at top speed, plinking you in the eyeballs.
During my tenure as a mountain adventurer, I’ve used everything from scratched-up sunglasses snagged from the lost-and-found bin to high-end, top-market brands. With that said, this was my first pair of Dragon Alliance sunglasses, and before diving into the details of my experience with these sunnies, I will simply say that Dragon is clearly a top-of-class brand with top-of-class products. I had the opportunity to research, fondle, try on and choose between four different models, and they all seemed well-made, stylish, and solid.
The Flash LL Ion’s made the cut because of their ample facial coverage, and more honestly, their radical look; they took me back to my first pair of wild purple glasses with slats that looked like slanted window blinds instead of actual lenses. My childhood allowance paid for them on a family trip to New York City in the mid-80s when breakdancing and pop-music reigned. My little 10-year-old, rural-esque North Carolinian butt wanted to be cool-like-that. I suppose I still do, so hence, the Flashes. Me wearing them probably makes them less cool, but for those of you who can truly handle these stand-out pieces of functional fashion, there is no doubt that heads will turn.
The primary criteria for what I deem necessary in pricey outdoor sunglasses like these Flash LL Ions consist of the following: 1) Protection from the UV rays that come from all directions, bouncing off snow, water and even rock (and those UV rays are 10,000 feet closer, or more, when climbing at high elevation in the mountains)–this means quality lenses and wrap-around coverage; 2) They’ve got to fit well or else your cheeks get tired from squinting and holding them up in front of your eyes all day, or second scenario–you’ll poke yourself in the face with your ice axe from reaching up and pushing your poorly fitting sunglasses back up your nose over and over again (true story); 3) Straight-ended temple tips, as opposed to the classic rounded earpieces that most glasses have (straight-ended tips allow them to be worn more comfortably with a helmet); and 4) Style. I realize that some of you out there do not care much about style, but many of us do, even if only a little.
The lenses on these bad boys are high tech. I used every bit of my prefrontal cortex’s executive functions to grasp the descriptive language on the Dragon website. What I have learned through this process–and I am not only stating this in elementary form for the reader, but because this is my personal level of understanding–is that there are different types of coatings and infusions that eyewear companies put on and in their lenses, not only to protect from UV rays, but also to enhance and clarify vision as well as protect from scratches. In theory, less-researched coatings with lower quality ingredients distort light, wear out more quickly, and offer less protection. Dragon uses Lumalens technology, which the company claims does all of the above. Perhaps it does, but I haven’t been able to discern an obvious difference from other sunglasses, at least clarity of vision.
After comparing a pair of $40 Suncloud Milestones that I snagged from REI in a pinch, and a pair of Julbo Montebiancos that have been my go-to shades for years, I can’t honestly say I noticed a difference in my perception of my front-yard view of Longs Peak or the changing aspen trees in the foreground. I thought maybe the Sunclouds would seem blurrier, but they weren’t, as far as I could tell, though the paint on their frames is wilting and flaking off without having been used much.
Here’s what I can say–and this feels big to me–my girlfriend and I did a 19-mile hike/climb/trail run in Colorado’s Collegiate Wilderness of Waverly Mountain (13,292′), Mt. Oxford (14,153′), and Mt. Belford (14,197′) and by the end of our almost 12-hour day in a cloud-less but smoke-filled sky (from wildfires), followed by a three-hour drive back home, I felt awake, light, clear-headed, and ready for more. Without accurate experimentation using controls and experimental variables, I can’t say for sure that the lenses kept the UVs from beating down on my occipital lobe, making me tired, and frazzled, but hey, I want to believe Dragon’s claim that their lenses reduce eye fatigue just might be true.
Moving on, let’s talk about fit. Right out of the gate, before even ordering the Flash LL Ions as one of the four candidates for testing, I knew these sunglasses were likely too large for my head; one of my climbing buddies supported my assessment immediately when I said, “Hey, these are those sunglasses I told you I was reviewing. How do they look?” He said, “Can I be honest?” Me: “Yes” (pronounced with two syllables and a dip in the middle as if waiting for the bomb to drop). “They’re too big for you.” Even though I already knew it, it hurt a little. OK, so I have a small head; it makes me that much more lightweight for sport climbing.
On the Dragon website, the size options for the Flash models (Flash LL Polar, Flash LL, and Flash LL Ion) all only come in extra large. Don’t worry, though. The rest of you adults and most kids with regular-sized heads won’t be affected, just those few of us grown-ups who have to go to the kids section when shopping for hats. Self-deprecation and humor aside, the Flash sunnies fit well, and they even stayed on my face and stuck to my nose and temples with little slippage. The straight temple tips fit right up under my beat-up old Petzl Meteor climbing helmet without a problem.
As far as style, these sunglasses are way too cool for me; I degrade their coolness while they bump mine–good for me, bad for them. I felt like that financially functional office rat going through his mid-life crisis driving a convertible Ferrari. It’s cool though, mid-life is easier knowing that I once had my wonder years of Joshua Tree shirtlessness 20 years ago.
Beyond my personal four criteria for a good pair of sunglasses, let me inform the reader about a few more notables. The “LL” stands for Lumalens. “Ion” refers to the two colorful lens and frame options for the Flash LL Ions: Matte Grey with Lumalens Green Ion (the ones I tried) and Matte Dark Tortoise (splotchy browns) with Lumalens Orange Ion. The Flash LLs and the Flash LL Polars both come in black only. I chose the Flash LL Ions because they sparkle in photos and stand out a little from your everyday black sunglasses with dark lenses. Were I actually to choose a pair of Flash sunglasses for skiing and snow mountaineering, I would undoubtedly choose the Flash LL Polar; polarized lenses have an extra coating that reduces glare and are often only necessary when spending generous amounts of time on water or snow.
For you die-hard environmentalists, you’re gonna dig this. The frames are made of “injection molded plant-based resin.” In short, here’s what Dragon says about it: “Castor plants are harvested for their beans. Oil is pressed from the beans and then turned into pellets, which are melted and injected into frames.” Go Dragon!
The Flash LL Ions had no obvious negative aspects in regards to function. Like any expensive pair of sunglasses, they require extreme mindfulness, almost anal-retention, to minimize accrual of scratches; unless you are unlike me and privy to bountiful salaries and an extra Porsche in the separate six-car garage, you’re going to want to utilize the complimentary sunglass mini-stuff-sack whenever not wearing them on your head; and also, make sure to use said stuff-sack to do the wiping of the sunscreen and avocado from the lens–using your microfiber polyester quick-dry shirt will quickly drop your mood with a nest of tiny scratches right on the convexity of the lenses. I already mentioned it above, but for those with shrunken Beetlejuice heads like mine, stick to other Dragon sunglasses that are offered in smaller sizes. Finally, it was apparent that these big and bold sunglasses definitely take up more room in the top compartment of the pack; style has its price to pay, even if small.
In the future, I’m not sure if I will be reaching for my Flash LL Ions as my first choice simply due to their size being a bit large for my face. From what I have experienced with the Flash LL Ions, however, I will not hesitate to consider other Dragon models when my smaller Julbos run their course and I’m tired of the paint flaking off the Suncloud frames onto my shoulders.
Mike Lewis is an IFMGA/AMGA mountain guide living in Berthoud, Colorado. He has been guiding and instructing rock, ice, alpine climbing and skiing since 1993 throughout the US and internationally.
Stylish, copious face coverage
Option for polarized lenses
Environmentally conscious production
Takes up room in pack
Fits large heads better than small heads
Scratches on the lens show easily