A Guide to Ballistic Eyewear

Ballistic eyewear, A.K.A. tactical eyewear, are glasses or goggles that protect wearers from small projectiles such as those present in military environments or where guns are in use. The US military requires that ballistic eyewear for military personnel adhere to standards of impact resistance to protect and prevent eye trauma in dangerous situations. 

How to Choose Ballistic Eyewear:

The lenses of ballistic glasses and goggles are made of either plastic or polycarbonate, the same material used in bulletproof glass. Lenses should be scratch-resistant and block UV rays. They can be prescription lenses or non-prescription. Ballistic eyewear lenses are clear or tinted; different color lenses enhance vision in certain environments. Above all, your glasses or goggles should be comfortable—unworn ballistic eyewear offers zero protection. 

Depending on the activities you’ll engage in, you may want eyewear that meets or exceeds either ANSI or military protective standards. 

Ballistic Eyewear Ratings:

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) tests ballistic eyewear with projectiles traveling at 150 fps (feet per second). Glasses and goggles that pass this testing are given the rating, ANSI Z87.1+ and are suitable for civilian or industry use. 

Civilian eyewear that meets a Military Specified impacts (MilSpec) generally meet the ballistic characteristics clause of MIL-PRF-31013 (glasses) or MIL-DTL-43511D (goggles).  For the US military, ballistic eyewear worn for duty must meet the MIL-PRF-32432 Military Combat Eye Protection Standard (MCEPS). Tests involve subjecting eyewear to small metal balls traveling at 650 fps (glasses) and 550 fps (goggles)—more than four times the speed of ANSI Z87.1 testing. Additionally, military eyewear must have UV protection, a comfortable fit, chemical resistance, and environmental stability (resistance to extreme temperatures and environmental changes).

US military-approved ballistic eyewear is listed on the Authorized Protective Eyewear List (APEL)


History of Ballistic Eyewear:

1880 

Powell Johnson of Barton, Alabama, applies for a patent for eye protectors that would be used by furnace-men, puddlers, firemen, and others “exposed to glare of strong light.” The protective material was cloth, so impact protection was minimal.

1910 

French chemist Edouard Benedictus patents the manufacture of laminated safety glass. This material was used for the windshields of military vehicles and aircraft during World War I.

1940s

Manufacturers begin making safety glasses and goggles for welders, construction workers, etc.

1960s 

The US government tests the ballistic performance of various plastics and glass for use in eyewear. Polycarbonate lenses become the standard for ballistic eyewear.

1971

Researcher EC Wigglesworth publishes a study of the ballistic resistance of 3mm- and 2mm-thick tempered glass as a function of a small steel ball, impact velocity, and lens curvature in “Investigative Ophthalmology.” 

1996

Israeli ophthalmic researcher Michael Belkin demonstrates goggles that filter laser wavelengths to protect eyes against laser radiation soldiers can be exposed to during battle. 

2002

Gentex Corporation patents an eye protection system that includes interchangeable ballistic lenses for spectacles or goggles.

2008

Smith introduces the Pivlock Max Tactical glasses with interchangeable ballistic lenses that exceed the MIL-PRF-31013 standard for impact resistance.