“Armless sunglasses”–what? That was my initial thought when I first read about the Ombraz design. In retrospect it seems like an obvious idea: ditch the rigid folding arms that are on most glasses and replace them with an in-situ, adjustable lanyard.
Ombraz Co-founder Jensen Brehm came up with this solution out of necessity several years ago when someone sat on his sunglasses during a camel safari in India. He fixed his shades with a bit of twine, and by the end of the trip he realized how functional and comfortable they were. Why not just make the same thing with better materials? So it was that Ombraz came into existence.
The frames–which are now available in a variety of shapes and colors–are flexible and fitted with Zeiss Optics lenses (polarized or non-polarized, your choice). Legit! I myself have been wearing the Ombraz Classics with polarized lenses since last spring, and I have come to appreciate a few notable advantages of these “armless” sunnies: they pack flat, they generally wear well with helmets (more on that in a bit), and no folding arms means the earpieces don’t scratch your nice lenses.
Have you ever noticed that virtually any pair of well-used glasses has identical, rubbed out spots (scratches) near the lower outside edge of each lens? That’s from the temple tips making contact against the lenses while the arms are folded up. Given enough time, the arms will be pressed against the lenses often enough that the rubbing will start to show, no matter how careful you are about avoiding it. I know because I’m pretty damn obsessive, and I’ve never succeeded in sparing my glasses from this wear and tear. (An Alpinist editor is obsessive?! Shocking, I know.) Besides that, I was trained to look for these scratches when I was appraising glasses as an employee at a consignment shop. Such scratches are often what makes a pair of glasses unwearable, because no one wants to have blurry spots in their peripheral vision. So, get rid of the arms that inevitably produce those scratches and you eliminate that issue. Voila.
Packing flat: this one’s pretty obvious. The frames are rigid, but they are made with a quality plastic that allows a reasonable amount of bending and twisting. Coupled with the soft, spongy sleeve-case (which has a built-in chamois cloth), the Ombraz shades are easily stowed in any pocket and you don’t have to worry about hearing that dreaded CRUNCH; if you put them in your back pants pocket, forget they are there and sit down–no worries! One place I like to stash mine is in the chest pocket of my jacket, where most other shades won’t fit. Also, with the in-situ lanyard, you can just wear them around your neck, but they don’t stay on top of your head as well as regular glasses with arms.
Use with helmets–now here’s where the Ombraz really shine, especially if you prefer to wear your glasses with a lanyard anyway. In the past I’ve had some shades that I couldn’t comfortably wear with some helmets, especially my kayaking helmet, because the straps would press the arms of the glasses into my temples so hard that I got headaches. With other helmets, a typical lanyard–which has extra length to allow for adjustment–would get tangled up with the helmet straps. The adjustment system for the Ombraz lanyard eliminates that extra cord that would otherwise hang down in the back like a rat tail. The strap fits neatly around the base of the skull and I hardly notice it when I wear helmets over the top of it. This is really great for kayaking, because I know the shades are secure and won’t fall off my face when I’m doing tricks or getting tossed upside-down in a rapid. Plus, with the polarized lenses that remove the surface glare from the water, I can spot the rocks under the waves as well as ever.
The main drawback I’ve experienced with the integrated lanyard is that I can’t just pull the sunglasses off my face. This is particularly annoying if I’m wearing a hat or helmet, which I have to remove before I can take off the glasses.
Are Ombraz functional overall? Hell yes. Are they good style? That probably depends on the person and the context. The frame shape of the Originals that I have doesn’t quite seem to be “me.” The in-situ lanyard also reminds me of the athletic goggles my friend wore on the fifth-grade basketball team–cool on the court, less cool off the court. In other words, I would not dream of wearing these shades for a walk along Main Street among the swanky hipsters on First Friday–I’m just not cool enough to pull that off–but I appreciate them for plenty of outdoor activities. As I mentioned earlier, however, the company is coming out with new frame styles and colors. The “Dolomites” frame is rounded and sporty, akin to the classic glacier goggles worn by generations of mountaineers. In a far-off daydream, I can envision myself wearing a pair of those while sipping espresso on a sundeck in Europe or driving a convertible through the Alps. I still probably wouldn’t wear those to First Friday, though. Then again, I would say the same of my Julbo or Rudy Project eyewear.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Ombraz is Climate Neutral certified, is a member of 1% for the Planet, and they are partnered with Eden Projects, planting 20 trees for every pair of sunglasses that are sold. The Ombraz website indicates that 203,360 trees have been planted so far.
As far as I can tell, this young company is off to a promising start, and I honestly hope to see them stick around.
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz grew up paddling on the Colorado River and has been cranking whitewater combat rolls in his kayak since he was 15. He views kayaking as a flow sport and climbing as a control sport, and he needs both types of activities to stay balanced in life.
Made with Zeiss Optics lenses, polarized or non-polarized
Frames are very durable
Glasses pack flat and fit easily in pockets
In-situ lanyard ensures they stay on your face or around your neck
Fit comfortably with a variety of helmets
Available in different frame shapes and colors
20 trees planted for every pair sold
Glasses can’t be removed from your face as easily as regular frames
Style is limited