Put the Sisters of Mercy tape on the Walkman and take trip back quarter of a century with the Pit Viper 1993!
Sunglasses, sunnies, shades, whatever you call them are an important accessory for the climber and mountaineer. Pit Viper have entered an already crowded market place with a retro aesthetic and tongue in cheek attitude. But are they any good? In a word yes, they may not rank at the top of the tree for high performance optics but they certainly get the job done and as will become clear in the review you’ll probably get more use from a pair of The 1993 Pit Viper Polarized in a year than you will from your more precious ‘high end’ shades. In the UK we probably underrate the importance of sunglasses as we get less chance to use them than sunnier locales but protecting your eyes should never be neglected – and it’s not just sun there’s the wind, dust, debris, falling ice etc.
Started by Chuck Mumford and born out of a frustration with breaking expensive performance eyewear Pit Vipers have their origins in safety and tactical eyewear so durability is part and parcel of their DNA. The ‘1993 Polarised’ model we were sent have a splatter graphics effect reminiscent of my early 90s Bolle Edge which together with the gold mirror finish lens means they’re not for people who prize subtlety or stealth!
As Kev informed me as we walked into Sneachda “That’s a strong look”! The frames are supplied with two types of ear hook, standard and full and the mechanism that allows you to swap between them also allows length adjustment to customise fit. In addition the arms can be angled up or down and the nose piece moulded to shape. Not being a curved ‘tension’ arm type fit means that it’s not very secure to wear them perched on the top of your head but you can get matching Chums retainers to secure them and that will allow you to drop them to hang around your neck. The lenses are not interchangeable and are somewhat less curved than most other modern performance eyewear that I’ve used. This means that there is some ingress of light at the sides, however this combined with the traditional sidearms means the Pit Vipers pack nice and flat so easily fit in a pocket and are less subject to crushing.
The non polarised version have a a squared end to the lens that helps keep light out whilst still keeping a flattish form factor. The polarised lenses themselves are pretty good. They are nominally a Cat 3 (Light Transmission: 18%) and have proved effective across a wide range of light conditions, they even work in quite low light which is handy when going in and out of shade on a climb and for your general UK winter (or summer!). In high winds they work as a good shield too, even in 50+mph summit of the Ben conditions I found I had no need to dig my goggles out to navigate off. Compared to the high end offerings from the market leaders they are not optically quite as ‘sharp’ in my subjective opinion but I don’t have the facilities to compare them objectively and they are certainly more than good enough. What is beyond dispute is the robustness – the lenses are still unmarked despite a callous disregard for their wellfare throughout a winter season of being sat on, stuffed into pockets with cameras, compasses, phones, and chewy bars. I’ve used them winter climbing, running and biking both on and off road and always been totally happy with the lenses. Moreover to paraphrase from the world of photography
“The best sunglasses are the ones you’ve got with you”
Because the Pit Vipers are so reasonably priced and tough they just live in my winter climbing pack. As a result they’re always there when needed and have seen far more use this winter than all my other sunnies put together.
- Pack flat-ish
- Great value
- Optically not quite top flight (but still plenty good enough)
- Can’t wear on top of your head securely (narrow skulls like mine anyway!)
Richie is the enthusiastic amateur of the team. Enjoying all aspects of climbing but especially alpine, winter and his local grit . Having managed to survive the vagaries of both fluorescent Koflachs and rainbow tights in the 80s he looks forward to an even more stylish future. A shady past in mountain marathons and adventure races, including the Marathon des Sables, means he’s an advocate of fast and light. Though the former is debatable if you’ve seen him on a tricky lead!