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Gear review of Zeal Optics Magnolia sunglasses - SNEWS
The Boulder-based brand claims that Magnolias stay in place no matter how strenuous the run, hike, or ride. I tested whether these shades work as well at the crag as on the trail.

First, I must confess. I'm a cheapskate when it comes to sunglasses and for years I've been wearing cheapies when I climb out of fear of dinging up my nice pair. Two weekends ago, I was halfway up a route when my grip started to loosen on a precarious pinch and the last thing I had time to do was push up a pair to save them from a 30-foot tumble.

But I didn't have to because I was wearing Zeal Optics Magnolias in Smoke Tortoise. The ProFlex rubber inlays behind the ears and on the nose bridge kept them from being thrown off by my sudden movements and sweat.

As of press time, Zeal is winning our “best sunglasses” poll with 24 percent of the vote. Click here and vote for your favorite brand. 

Out of Zeal's 29 ambassadors, only one is a climber. The rest are explorers, surfers, runners, and snowboarders and skiers. So as an avid runner and climber, I was stoked to put them to the test on the trail and at the crag in a wide range of sweaty, jostling pursuits.

Amelia Arvesen in Red Rock Canyon, LV

Amelia Arvesen, assistant editor at SNEWS, on top of a rock at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Las Vegas, Nevada.

First, I took them for a spin at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just outside Las Vegas, Nevada, where a group of friends and I spent a long weekend climbing in temps that reached the low 90s with wind gusts up to 30 mph.

Black Corridor at Red Rock Canyon

The Black Corridor is a popular climbing area, with more than 30 sport climbs lining the rock walls. It's accessible from the second pullout at Red Rock Canyon.

At the Black Corridor, an area no wider than a long hallway packed with more than 30 sport climbs, there’s shade until midday, when the sun shines directly down into the slot. The switch to full sun happened mid-belay for me, and I quickly slipped on the shades. The polarized and photochromatic lenses cut the glare and I could see clearly up to my climber, who was swiftly clipping our rope into the draws. And despite my profuse sweat, the Magnolias didn’t budge.

The next day we went to an area called The Wake-Up Wall. The wind picked up around noon, forcefully throwing sand and bits of gravel at us for the remainder of the day. I was grateful for the moderate curve of the Magnolia’s frame (the base curve is 6), which kept my eyes more protected than a freebie pair. (If you prefer more coverage and protection, here’s a review of another pair that we love. 

Base curve refers to the curvature of the frame. Style-oriented sunglasses are often relatively flat, with a base curve of 4 to 5, which means the frame doesn’t conform to the shape of your face. Higher base curves, 8 or 9, is more common in active or performance sunglasses. It means a frame is rounded and shaped to wrap more closely. This prevents light from sneaking in.

Since then, I’ve worn the Magnolias on several trail runs and during my 7-mile daily bike commute. And the verdict is the same: They stay put, they block light from all angles, and weighing less than an ounce, they feel like nothing on my face.

In fact, sometimes I forget I'm wearing them, which is the ultimate compliment one can pay to a pair of sunglasses. Zeal attributes that weightlessness to its Z-Lite thin injection process. Basically, air is injected into the castor plant-based frame material (Z-Resin) to make it lighter, but still durable and flexible. Plus, manufacturing Z-Resin produces less CO2 than traditional petroleum-based plastics.

Oh, and did I mention that they look pretty sporty?    

Zeal optics magnolias selfie

Amelia Arvesen, assistant editor at SNEWS, on a trail run in Boulder.

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