The History of Side Shield ‘Glacier’ Glasses

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Glacier glasses, the iconic eyewear of mountaineers and adventurers, have a fascinating history rooted in necessity and innovation. Join us as we explore the journey of glacier glasses, tracing the development of a crucial piece of outdoor equipment that has safeguarded explorers for over a century. We are proud that our own Heron Glacier are now part of its esteemed history.


Dating back to over 2,000 years ago, the Inuit and Yupik in Canada and Alaska made a form of snow goggle to block UV light and glare using ivory, bone and other natural materials. These had a curved shape to offer 360 protection around the eyes, only allowing a small sliver of light to pass through. This slit also served to enhance the acuity of their vision.

During the 1700s and 1800s, mountaineering grew in popularity in Europe with men and women venturing out to explore glacial environments and new peaks. At this time, it was not uncommon for explorers and climbers to use a rudimentary piece of cloth with holes cut into them to cover their face, and shield their eyes from the sun’s glare. It was far from high tech, and understandably did little to protect their eyes from dangerous UV.

One of these mountaineers was John Ruskin, an art critic from England who spent time in the Alps both in the pursuit of art and exploration. In the valleys of Chamonix, he famously hired a local craftsman to make him a form of sunglasses to cover his eyes with tinted lenses. 

This was followed not soon after by Jules Baud’s invention of ‘cristallier frames’. Having grown up in the Jura mountains, he saw cristalliers (people who search for precious crystals) struggle with the bright sunlight of the high mountains. He made them a form of sunglasses with blue tinted lenses - and most notably, side shields. 

Shuttle forward to the 1900s (and both World Wars), technology evolved rapidly and gave the world new forms of smoke and colored glass technology - perfect for optics. It was also a time of fashion - and between the 1920s and 1960s, side shield ‘glacier glasses’ became more readily available (mostly secured behind the head with a head strap rather than malleable temple ends).

Stepping into the 21st century, glacier glasses that looked hyper-cool and readily found in the ski and mountain towns during the 1960s-1980s were no longer available like before. What had happened to these iconic sunglasses? The ones around seemed decades outdated, and in need of a long overdue technical reboot.

And thus, VALLON’s flagship product took form. We revamped an iconic style of glacier glasses with 21st century optical technology. We designed them with Cat. 4 polycarbonate lenses with a mirror finish that provide excellent UV and shatterproof safety. We paired this with Swiss-invented TR90 frames and fully adjustable temple ends which makes the sunglasses light, adaptable and importantly, durable. We sold them in a few key colors: Black, Brown and Grey. The Heron Glacier took off, and years later, here we are today selling side shield sunglasses used by the world’s top mountaineers and explorers.

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