Friday, April 24, 2020

ROKA Eyewear Review: Run and Sport Focused Photochromic Prescription Sunglasses Priced Right

Article by Sam Winebaum


Roka Hunter Photochromic Prescription Sunglasses ($265)


I have worn glasses since the age of five, being very near-sighted. I have always struggled with sunglasses on the run and for other sports. Straight up prescription sunglasses were expensive and as I often run in changing light required a non tinted pair to come along. In recent years I have worn a large size Julbo Aero series photochromic when I know light conditions will change or a Revo polarized  over my small frame regular prescription glasses. Not bad options but optically not ideal and when fancy regular glasses are combined with state of the art sports glasses an expensive proposition.


Enter Roka. I recently got satellite radio and heard many commercials for Roka, an Austin, Texas company founded specifically to serve the eyewear needs of endurance athletes (running, cycling, swimming) with a direct to consumer model. As a direct to consumer business their pricing is more than fair. My photochromic prescription lens pair of Hunter glasses had an MSRP of $265, less than the frame alone of my other pair purchased at a local optician. Of course you also need to provide a recent prescription, best not over a year old. 


I reached out to Roka and they were kind enough to set me up with a test pair in my prescription. Roka’s motto is “The most technically advanced eyewear that doesn’t look technical.” As someone who wears strong prescription glasses every moment of the day and for sure running I was intrigued to put their claim to test. 


Frames and Lenses

Roka has a vast array of stylish frame styles and colors for each. Frames are either in a super light nylon or in titanium and alloy aviator styles. The available men’s prescription frames are here, women’s here. I chose the Hunter frame from their Austin Collection below. The Hunter is considered an “optical” frame as opposed to “sun” but can be outfitted with a photochromic lens as I did.


Subject to availability Roka can send a frame selection try on kit. I did not ask for the kit and should have. The Hunter frame I selected is quite large for my face. 

The frame provides a wide viewing range for running and nordic skiing but is a bit too large aesthetically for me with the lens quite thick at the edges. A smaller frame might have also helped reduce thickness. In the photo below bottom the Hunter and top my regular much smaller framed prescription glasses.

The frames are incredibly light durable nylon with a bendable titanium core. Despite being considerably larger in lens surfaces and frame my Hunter lenses and all weigh only 27 g, just 3 g more than my much smaller regular glasses.  Adding my 27 g non prescription Julbo Aero over the regular glasses, as I did before, had me lugging 50 g. No need for that now!

All Roka have patented Geko technology. The temples have a ridged sticky elastomer surface which is hydrophilic and chemical resistant, has “traction” and is designed not to snag hair. 

I don’t have enough hair to test the no snag but can say compared to my more wrap the ear regular and glasses I have had no irritation around the ear with the Geko temple and far superior grip.

The nose pads have the same Geko material with the glasses coming with 3 different replaceable sizes to customize fit to a variety of nose bridge widths.


Lenses

A variety of lens material and tints are available. I selected a Trivex photochromic lens with a spec of 87% visible light transmission unactivated and 14% activated. 


I typically select a photochromic with the highest possible unactivated transmission (as clear as possible) for dim light and for daily use so that the lens has little darkening to it indoors. As seen below the lenses fully deactivated and below that fully activated.

The lenses have scratch resistant, anti-reflective, anti-fog, super-hydrophobic and oleophobic coatings.


Note that all photochromic lenses, as far as I know, including Roka’s, do not darken much if at all when driving as the windshield blocks rays that activate the photochromic properties.


Ordering Process


In addition to a recent prescription you will need to provide a pupillary distance measurement. If your prescription did not include it you can use Roka’s measurement template here


I suggest you take ROKA up on their frame trial offer to select a frame that works best. I did not but should have as the Hunter frame I selected is a bit big for my face for everyday use but..the greater expanse of lens sure has been a help as a broader field of vision while trail running and nordic skiing!


My order was placed November 25 just before the Thanksgiving holiday and received December 11. Excellent turnaround for a custom lens product.


The ROKA prescription ordering FAQ is here


Performance

I tested the Roka for five months in all kinds of mostly winter and spring training conditions. Activities included road and trail running, snowshoeing, nordic skiing and hiking. I alternated the Hunter with my regular glasses for indoor non sport uses and with a non photochromic sunglass for bright sun driving.

Training conditions included a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions in New Hampshire and Maine at near sea level and in Park City, Utah at approximately 7000 feet /2100 meters.

The nature of all photochromic lenses is that in cold once dark they return to greater light transmission very slowly if at all while reacting more quickly in warmer conditions. This said a snowshoe run end of day light had me seeing plenty fine even if the lenses were still dark as well in dimming overcast light. 


I have not as of yet had warm conditions to test and as soon as I do will update the review. Changes in light transmission are particularly useful in trail running where you may rapidly go  in and out of shade and at the beginning and end of day.


In a side by side test with my benchmark Julbo Aero Lite (17%-75% visible light transmission range lens) the Roka transitioned from completely activated by sun (14% visible light transmission) in temperatures of under 20 F to fully inactivated 87% transmission at room temperature in a nearly identical 6 minutes. Note that the Roka by spec has a broader range of visible light transmission from more protective to clearer.  Interestingly another Julbo with a different photochromic lens with 12% to 87% visible light transmission, so only slightly more clear deactivated than the Rola was about two times slower to transition to inactivated than the Roka In similar conditions. 

The optical quality of the lens is excellent and not having two layers of lenses is for sure a bonus for me. The scratch resistant, anti-reflective, anti-fog, super-hydrophobic and oleophobic coatings all were effective. Five months in of sometimes rough use I see no scratches and sweat and fog are admirably well kept at bay.

The only time I wished for different lens performance was in extremely bright light reflecting off snow at Park City’s altitude. I wished for more substantial anti reflection characteristics. Roka tells me this may be due to the flatter front geometry of the lenses in the Hunter frame. But this was minor and I sure wasn’t going to spend the rest of the day and evening in wrap around shades with red or yellow tinting as the Julbo have!


Fit and security has been outstanding. Zero slip, never a finger up to push them back up no matter the position of my head or how sweaty my head got. The Geko temples are superb in their very light on the ears yet totally secure grip. The nose pads grip just fine with a light never irritating but very secure non slip fit. I did just notice as I was writing the review, but didn’t notice at all when using, that at some doubt I lost a nose pad at some point. Replacements are available.


Conclusions

With great optics, light and secure as can be frames, and a direct to consumer model providing great value at $265, Roka delivers a state of the art photochromic prescription run or any sport eyewear which never has to be changed out for the rest of your day’s non sport activities in pretty much any kind of light. If they could somehow figure out a way to make photochromic magic work for driving as well they would be beyond a home run!


For this lifelong prescription glasses wearer, who literally can’t function without glasses, and someone who often runs in changeable light and who has struggled with all kinds of other options Roka  have been a wonderful new daily all day companion. Don’t need a prescription version Roka has blue light (computer) and of course many other sunglass options as well as other tri and swimming gear to choose from.


SHOP FOR ROKA HERE


Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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