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Thread: Review: 5.11 Tactical Sunglasses – Cavu FF, SOAR, Ascend and Burner FF (Polarized)

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    Flashaholic* subwoofer's Avatar
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    Default Review: 5.11 Tactical Sunglasses – Cavu FF, SOAR, Ascend and Burner FF (Polarized)

    I've taken a look at quite a lot of 5.11 Tactical's kit and been very impressed with everything I've seen so far. While perusing their range, something caught my eye, literally. Being a bit sunglasses aficionado and being sceptical about what was on offer, I asked to take a closer look at 5.11 Tactical's sunglasses.

    So, am I qualified to take a look at these sunglasses? Well though I have no specific qualifications or professional links to eyewear, I totally rely on sunglasses every day of my life due to a particular aspect of my eyes.

    Feel free to skip over the following preamble and straight onto the Sunglasses detail, but if you do take a look, hopefully it will put the review into perspective.



    Some preamble (feel free to skip):

    Though I am fortunate enough to have around 20/10 vision (ie better than normal), my affliction is having hypersensitive eyes. I have to wear sunglasses 100% of the time I am outside during daylight hours, sun, cloud or rain. If ever I don't, the result is a four day long migraine, so I am pretty careful.

    With this lifelong need to wear sunglasses, I have tried pretty much all of the best. With my eyesight being otherwise good, lens quality is one of the most important factors, so typically I have chosen glass or crystal lenses with polarising filters. Of course glass is not suitable for all uses, and with activities such as sports and shooting needing eye protection as well, the plastic lens has its place.

    Sunglasses are a very personal item to choose and many factors affect which ones you will ultimately choose. Budget (or how much you value quality eye protection), face shape, nose shape, head size, eye spacing, eyelashes, style preferences, and the activities they will be used for, are just some of these.

    Personally I have avoided 'designer' sunglasses and have focussed on serious eyewear manufacturers. My 'eye wardrobe' includes models from Rayban, Persol, Maui Jim, BLOC, Bolle and Serengeti amongst others. (REVO are a notable exception as none of their range seem to fit my face well, and Oakley and me did not get off to a good start as I was an early user and their first highly curved lenses resulted in me tripping over every hazard and were quickly returned)

    One other unusual feature I have is very long eyelashes (for a man) which mean that eye clearance behind the lens is important for me, so if you have ever found your eyelashes brushing the inside of a pair of sunglasses, keep an eye out for my comments on this.

    Something many people seem to think about when potentially investing in something other than very cheap sunglasses, is that they don't deserve to be looked after and therefore why would you pay for expensive sunglasses as they will only end up scratched? Taking care of sunglasses is no different to taking care of prescription eyeglasses and only requires the smallest of consideration to keep them in top condition.

    Never push them up onto the top of your head (anyone I see with sunglasses pushed up like this has no interest in clean lenses and good glasses) or put them down lens first. Soap and water and a clean microfiber cloth are all you need to keep them perfectly clear.



    Initial Impressions:

    When looking at the 5.11 Tactical range of sunglasses, the first thing that should get you attention is that in their search for the best performance in active eyewear, 5.11 have partnered up with Wiley X who have designed and made all of the models exclusively for 5.11 Tactical.

    This pedigree really shows through once you start to take a closer look and Wiley X's background in safety eyewear a comforting indication of the build quality.

    Each pair of sunglasses is supplied with a comprehensive kit of accessories (detailed later), meaning you are getting good value as well as good quality.

    Reading the specifications reveals high performance materials, such as the frames being made from Grilamid TR-90 nylon with rubberised moulded inserts for grip, the Polarized lenses are WileyX's 8-layer lenses which exceed ANSI Z87.1-2003 High Velocity Impact Safety & Optical Standards. So we are off to a good start.



    What do you get?:

    Originally 5.11 supplied 3 pairs, so some of the photos were grouped in this way, but a final pair were also sent (the Burner FF) to bring the group up to four.

    The original three – Ascend, Cavu FF (Full Frame) and Soar



    A line up of the four box ends including the Burner FF (Full Frame):


    The original three cases – note that the Cavu case on the left is slightly larger than the others.



    Each of the sunglasses arrives with the same set of accessories, so this will be shown only once.

    Everything comes inside the zip-up semi-hard case, which is also sold separately as a PALS mountable sunglasses case.



    On the rear of the case are a set of 'Slickstick' PALS mounting straps. These can be either PALS mounted or configured as a belt loop.



    The case is a clamshell design with an adjustable stay-strap to control how wide it falls open. Also included are a neck strap, care instructions and soft case that doubles as a cleaning cloth. The glasses are supplied in a protective plastic bag.



    Inside the protective bag, one arm also has a plastic sleeve to protect the arm and lenses from marking.





    Comparing the styles:

    To more directly compare the styles, there are a set of views which have been repeated for each design.

    Starting with the front view with arms folded.







    Then the front view with the arms open.







    Side view showing the arm shape.







    One important detail is the nose piece. For these, in each case a comment is needed to explain the differences.

    The Cavu FF has the entire nose area covered in a rubberised moulding to provide additional grip and stability.



    In contrast, the Soar has no rubber grip areas, instead being the bare frame material. However, thanks to the grip provided by the arms and the overall light weight of the Soar this is comfortable and stable.



    Taking a very different approach, the Ascend has a TPR (ThermoPlastic Rubber) nose piece screwed into place. Due to the positioning of this nose piece, the contact point of the nose piece is much nearer the face and feels close to the corner of your eye, a very different feeling to the other glasses. This is specified as adjustable, but no detail as to if you just bend this or use another method is provided.



    Much like the Cavu FF, the Burner FF has the entire nose area covered in a rubberised moulding to provide additional grip and stability.





    With the general views shown, there are a few other details……

    The Cavu FF hinge seen from inside.



    The TPR grip area on the inside of the arm along with the make and model.



    Inside the Soar hinge the metal arm detail fixing screw is visible.



    Make and model are moulded into the arm and there are no rubber inserts.



    The hinge of the Ascend with TPR grip areas visible.



    Again, the make and model are moulded into the arm.



    With a slightly folded arm the Burner FF's hinge.



    Make and model, and the Burner FF has no rubber on the arms.





    Polarization and why you might want it:

    All of the models on test are the Polarized versions. 5.11 also have slightly cheaper standard lens versions, but the choice of Polarized lenses is my preference for almost every application.



    The WileyX 8-layer Polarized lenses have 11% transmission and a smoke grey tint to provide neutral colour rendition. There is a polycarbonate core that provides the high level of protection and safety.


    So why Polarized, or why not? If you don't already know, I'll try to explain and illustrate this briefly here (there is a lot of reference material on line if you want to know more detail).

    Sorry if this gets too sciency….(links for more detail are included)

    Light exhibits the properties of both transverse waves (transverse - the vibrations are at right angles to the direction of travel) and also as particles (distinct 'packets' of light or photons), but of interest here is the wave characteristic.

    Light waves have both electric and magnetic field components, which oscillate in phase and perpendicular to each other and perpendicular to the direction of energy and wave propagation (ie transverse). (See here for more detail)


    Transverse wave components have a specific orientation, and in certain circumstances, such as when reflected from a surface, this direction becomes aligned.

    Polarizing filters come in different forms with the most commonly used being the Polaroid polarizing filter. During manufacture iodine doped PVA chains are aligned in one direction. The valence electrons from the iodine dopant are able to move linearly along the polymer chains, but not transverse to them. In the direction that the electrons can move freely, energy form the light wave is absorbed, but in the direction where the electrons cannot move little energy is absorbed. So incident light polarized parallel to the chains is absorbed by the sheet; light polarized perpendicularly to the chains is transmitted. (See here for more detail - and here)


    This effect is used to reduce glare from the sun reflecting off horizontal surfaces such as water or road and is strongest with smooth surfaces.



    For me, the benefits of polarized lenses far outweigh the negatives as they allow you to see much more than non-polarized lenses (apart from certain types of display screens used on digital cameras etc)

    To better illustrate this effect, I have used two scenarios with glare reducing polarization and glare allowing polarization. A polarizing filter was added to the camera lens which can be rotated to show the effect.

    In this first photo, the car and its windscreen are shown as if there is no polarization. There is significant glare from the glass and body making it impossible to see well and to see the driver.



    Adding the polarization filter, immediately you can see there is almost no glare from the windscreen (and can in fact see there is no driver) and the bodywork and paint colour is much more visible.




    Rapidly switching between these shows how much difference the polarization makes.




    This time I have placed the Soar sunglasses on the car body to show another effect. Remember that the polarizing filter in the sunglasses is aligned to block the glare from reflected light, so, in this first photo, the camera's filter has been aligned to allow the glare to show as if there is no polarization. The interesting effect is that now the camera's filter is 'crossed' with the Soar lenses (at 90° to each other). When you 'cross' polarizing filters, all light is blocked, so the Soar lenses appear black.



    Now the camera's filter is aligned to block the glare. You can now see that the camera's filter and the polarizing filter of the Soar's lenses are aligned, as the lenses appear transparent. The glare is also gone.




    Switching between this shows the clear advantage of filtering out glare using polarising lenses.





    Unfortunately, these days it is not all win, win. With the polarizing filter playing a vital role in LCD screens and the screens used on many portable devices, you can find your sunglasses' filter becomes 'crossed' with the display screen and you cannot see it. Tilting you head slightly sideways can immediately relieve this, but if you rely on devices with polarized screens you may need to think twice about polarized lenses. I still use them as this is not enough of an issue for me to be without the benefits.



    What are they really like to wear and how they compare

    Before giving a description of my experience of each of these sunglasses, I must point out again the PALS mounting in use. Though of course the 5.11 bags mostly have a sunglasses pouch built in, I tend to use this for other items as it is so easy to reach. The 5.11 sunglasses cases however allow you to simply mount these anywhere you want on your PALS equipped bag. Here it is show on a MOAB 6.




    Your choice of sunglasses will be affected by several factors which really boil down to, what activity you will wear them for, how they fit and styling. The 5.11 range all exceed ANSI Z87.1-2003 High Velocity Impact Safety & Optical Standards, so are suitable for just about any civilian activity. Fit and styling are a much more personal aspect (although styling can provide additional performance) so I can only try to give you an idea of how I have found them.

    Style wise, here are some photos to give you an idea of how they look. From left to right there is the Cavu FF, Ascend, Soar and Burner FF.

    Heaviest in build of all four designs, the Cavu FF have a very sharp wrap around style with good lens height and peripheral coverage.
    The Ascend look typically wrap-around in design, but are spaced slightly further from the face.
    With the 'softest' look of all the Soar are an aviator style so have tall large lenses for great all round coverage, with the styling feeling less aggressive than the others.
    The Burner FF are the 'tightest' wrap design, most closely curving around the face.




    Now moving onto some more specific comments for each of these designs…

    The Cavu FF does feel the heaviest of the four, and is the only design which after extended wearing periods has made me want to shift them around a little to take the pressure off my nose. However these glasses provide a very good coverage and protection from light leaks around your peripheral vision. The arms provide a positive grip only moving a little when bending and straightening a lot during the course of an activity.




    I've found the most notable feature of the Ascend to be the different style of nose piece. During use, they feel to me as if they are slightly pulling on the corners of my eyes. Despite this they are very comfortable, and have provided relief from pressure points that other sunglasses have aggravated. They seem to sit slightly low on the face (possibly remedied by the 'adjustable' nosepiece) leading to a noticeable light leakage over the top, though sideways cover is excellent. Used with a cap, this is not an issue.

    Ascend Update: with the review complete I was prepared to risk breaking the 'adjustable nosepiece' of the Ascend and went for it. It is indeed adjustable as inside the rubber nosepiece is a metal form which can be bent. The metal support also can be moved slightly from side to side, as well as the width of the nosepiece being adjustable. Having made some adjustment, though the main characteristics are the same, I was able to reduce light leakage over the top by raising the position that the Ascend sits on my face.




    Initially I thought these would be my least favourite, but the function of the Soar glasses has put them right to the top of my list. These are the lightest of all four, and noticeably so, without quoting actual weights. The arms provide quite a tight grip so hold the weight off your face further still. The smooth nosepiece sits incredibly comfortably and has so far not caused me to notice any pressure points. Thanks to the firm grip on your head, the Soar are incredibly stable and despite wearing them while carrying out heavy (and sweaty) labour, they stayed put.

    The aviator style means taller lenses and this has given excellent vertical protection and no light coming over the top. No noticeable peripheral leakage so an all-round top performer in comfort and protection.




    Last to appear for test, the Burner FF has a feature I normally can't get on with. The tight wrap usually gives me eyelash clearance issues. None of the other designs have had any eyelash contact, but if placing the Bruner FF fully on, I do get this issue. However the saving grace is that with a small tweak forwards (not enough to impact protection) I have clearance. This does mean it becomes a conscious feature, but has not been the problem I expected it would be.

    Like the Soar, the Burner FF feels very light. The arms also provide a tight grip even though again like the Soar there is no TPR on the arms. Even in strenuous activities the Burner has stayed securely in place, but the depth of the nose pad, though being comfortable and never giving pressure points, seems to trap sweat more than the others.




    Don't forget that as well as the case, and soft case/cleaning cloth, each of these sunglasses comes with a neck strap.

    The strap can be worn loose as shown to allow them to hang round you neck when not in use, or the band can be tightened to secure them even more firmly in place.



    None of the designs exhibited any visual distortion (which other curved lenses I've tried have done) or disorientation at any point during testing to date.

    All these designs have provided good wind protection.

    I did come across a couple of minor issues. One case's PALS popper did not pop, and one of the neck straps had a broken adjuster, however 5.11 quickly arranged for replacements to resolve this. None of the issues were with the sunglasses themselves.


    Initially I was very sceptical about the sunglasses offered by 5.11 Tactical, thinking they were just a 'branded accessory' that 5.11 fans would buy. However I could not have got this more wrong, as they have proven to be quality eyewear in their own right.

    Being manufactured and designed in partnership with WileyX exclusively for 5.11 Tactical, gives them the performance of this established eyewear manufacturer with 5.11's styling.

    These sunglasses have proven levels of safety, and use robust quality materials which should provide you with durable eye protection.

    So far I would estimate that I have spent around 200 hours wearing these 5.11 sunglasses, and this is one very impressed (and discerning) sunglasses user.






    Test samples provided by 5.11 Tactical for review.
    Last edited by subwoofer; 07-25-2013 at 01:33 AM.
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    Flashaholic* subwoofer's Avatar
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    Default Re: Review: 5.11 Tactical Sunglasses – Cavu FF, SOAR, Ascend and Burner FF (Polarized

    reserved for updates...

    Update added to main review:
    Ascend Update: with the review complete I was prepared to risk breaking the 'adjustable nosepiece' of the Ascend and went for it. It is indeed adjustable as inside the rubber nosepiece is a metal form which can be bent. The metal support also can be moved slightly from side to side, as well as the width of the nosepiece being adjustable. Having made some adjustment, though the main characteristics are the same, I was able to reduce light leakage over the top by raising the position that the Ascend sits on my face.


    Long term update:


    So it has now been 216 days since I posted the review. This is not a specifically meaningful number of days, but just that I now wanted to post an update.

    I took one of the models, the Cavu and made this my everyday wear. Now I mean every day, as previously explained I have to wear sunglasses in all weather outside during daylight hours, so this has been EVERY DAY since posting the review.

    I hate dirty glasses and use a dry microfibre cloth to wipe the lenses clean. From time to time I wash them with hand soap and dry carefully.

    Considering these are plastic lenses, they are doing very well. No marks are evident at all. In fact the only change is that the white printed text on the inside of the arms has now disappeared completely. Apart from that they look like they first did out of the box.

    OK, considering that I rely on eyewear and hate scratches, I am careful, but I'm still only human and do drop or knock them from time to time. They are holding up very well.






    Note: Before anyone asks, I am NOT the model featured here as I had to find a more attractive face to model them.
    Last edited by subwoofer; 02-25-2014 at 07:08 AM.
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    Flashaholic* subwoofer's Avatar
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    Default Re: Review: 5.11 Tactical Sunglasses – Cavu FF, SOAR, Ascend and Burner FF (Polarized

    Tactical Reviews by Subwoofer
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    Flashaholic* techwg's Avatar
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    Default Re: Review: 5.11 Tactical Sunglasses – Cavu FF, SOAR, Ascend and Burner FF (Polarized

    I love my new 5.11 Ascend polarised edition. They are so nice. Expensive.... considering my last pair were by Sunwise and cost me £15 but these really do the job well and have extra protection from things flying at you too. What is the life expectancy of these polarised versions? Some people say the technology wears off over time?

    Also, what cleaning products should I use?

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    Flashaholic* subwoofer's Avatar
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    Default Re: Review: 5.11 Tactical Sunglasses – Cavu FF, SOAR, Ascend and Burner FF (Polarized

    Quote Originally Posted by techwg View Post
    I love my new 5.11 Ascend polarised edition. They are so nice. Expensive.... considering my last pair were by Sunwise and cost me £15 but these really do the job well and have extra protection from things flying at you too. What is the life expectancy of these polarised versions? Some people say the technology wears off over time?

    Also, what cleaning products should I use?

    They are worth the price; and right now I am also wearing the Ascend. Both the Cavu and Soar are now worn out and I had to retire them. The Ascend had been given less use, and are now my EDC glasses. Consider this was written in 2013 and the Cavu and soar were worn every day and carried everywhere for four years. Pretty good value.

    Cleaning, well, really you should be using only approved glasses cleaning fluid and cloths, exactly as you would with prescription glasses, but I've personally been giving them a bi-weekly wash with liquid hand soap and water and drying them off with a microfibre cloth.
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