The Eyes Have It: Protecting Your Vision in the Outdoors


The eruption of fire as the sun rises over the distant horizon. The glow of a campfire shared with friends and family. The waning light as night chases the sun to set in the west. The nuances of the hair on the side of the buck as seen through the scope just before that moment of truth. The explosion of colors and feathers as the ducks race skyward. The way the trees and scenery rushes to a blur as you accelerate down the trail. The look on your kid’s face when you come home after a hard day, or even that look from a pretty girl passing by you in the store. These are just a few of the millions of wonderful things you don’t want to miss seeing and are just a few good reasons to protect your eyesight.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, more than 2.5 million eye injuries occur in the United States every year. In the outdoors, we do so much to put our eyes in harm’s way that it can be easy to get hurt. There are so many things that can happen to your eyes naturally with blindness, cataracts, macular degeneration, and more. It just makes sense to do what you can to take care of them, right?

It’s not what you think of

When we go to a shooting range, we all have to wear ear and eye protection. They won’t let you on the range without it. Why is that? Of those 2.5 million injuries, only 14,000 are outdoor sports-related, according to the United States Eye Injury Registry. And of that 14,000, about five percent are related to firearms. However, six percent are related to BB guns! While it doesn’t seem like a huge amount, I would contest that any eye injury that is avoidable should be. Ask anyone who has lost his or her sight if they wish they could have prevented it.

Of course, now I get to insert the “You’ll put your eye out with that thing,” line from A Christmas Story. BB guns account for more eye injuries than regular firearms, so that means we’re not doing our part to make sure we’re teaching safety at that age.

Wearing high-quality sunglasses with UV protection will help keep your eyes healthy.
Wearing high-quality sunglasses with UV protection will help keep your eyes healthy.

According to a study published in the Journal of Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, it takes slightly less than two joules of energy for an impact to cause severe trauma to the human eye. For reference, a 5.28-grain, .177 caliber BB traveling at 350 feet per second has an impact energy of 1.95 joules. Yes, you can put your eye out!

Here comes the sun

You’ve undoubtedly heard for years about the dangers of spending too much time in the sun without the benefit of proper sunscreen. Don’t forget your eyes, too. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the eye’s natural defense is the eyelid, which we all know. However, you may not know that the thin skin of the eyelid is not sufficient for filtering all of the harm that can come from the sun.

Have you ever been around in the sun with your eyes closed for some time and then noticed that, even with your eyes shut, everything seems red instead of black? There is still a lot of light coming into your eyes. Laying out sunbathing without sunglasses on is a surefire way to end up with problems at some point.

Wearing sunglasses is the best defense against sun-related eye issues. I could tell you to get expensive glasses, but I won’t. Anything is better than nothing! However, I would suggest taking a look at the lens quality. Make sure it filters UV light and meets minimum standards for impact resistance if you’re going to use them for more than just hanging out on a sunny day. I rotate between a pair of Ray Bans and some sweet Gasket model polarized glasses from Liquid Eyewear. The Liquid glasses have a one-piece aluminum frame and are designed for motorcyclists and people engaged in other outdoor activities.

I wanna ride

I was a teenager, riding all around on my Yamaha Banshee ATV. I had a few buddies that also had quads or bikes and they rode with me quite a bit. I always wore full safety gear, but some of my buddies didn’t. One day, one of the guys, who shall remain nameless, was in the lead on a trail ride through the woods. He was on a dirt bike and was horsing around some. The next thing I knew, he was sprawled out on the ground with a bloody face. There was a stick no bigger around than a pencil jutting from his left eye. Luckily, it hit more to the side of his eye than directly in the center. He did, however, lose 25 percent of the vision in that eye.

There is a reason goggles or full-face helmets with visors are a good idea when riding a dirt bike, ATV, snowmobile, motorcycle, or other machine. The main thing is having something between your eye and impending danger. There are other things, too. Dust can not only cause your eye to water and be mildly unpleasant, but it can impair your vision, leading to other troubles. One old racer’s trick is to add a layer of petroleum jelly to the facial foam of a pair of goggles during really dusty rides. I have had good luck just making sure the goggles fit my face well.

A short while ago, when I was on the test ride for the 2014 Kawasaki Teryx, I was behind some other riders when I was splashed with a thick layer of West Virginia mud. The mud covered my goggles and I was blind. I tried wiping it off the best I could, but my vision was still somewhat impaired. It made keeping up with the rest of the crew harder. Still, it would have been a lot harder if I hadn’t been wearing any. Always wear eye protection—you can’t replace your eyes.

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