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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Insights on Eyewear

More Tips From Fellow Paddlers Not Quite a Google of Goggles

By Tamia Nelson

June 25, 2013

Early in my life with Farwell, I crushed his glasses beneath my heavy climbing boots. (And no, he wasn't wearing them at the time.) Luckily, the tempered‑glass lenses survived, and I managed to twist the frames back into a semblance of their former shape. Farwell wears them to this day. But the experience reminded me just how important glasses are to anyone with less than perfect vision.

Until recently, this didn't include me. I was long blessed with better than 20/20 uncorrected vision in both eyes, and I could decipher the smallest print with ease. But the years have taken their toll at last, and a pair of reading glasses has become my constant companion. I even wore them to type the words you see before you. Nor can I escape my new dependency by lighting out for the territories. It doesn't matter if I'm following a route on a map, reading the display on a GPS or digital camera, adjusting the mech (derailleur) on my bike, or just checking the cooking instructions on a packaged entrée — I now need glasses to do all these things, and many more besides. Of course, I'm not alone, as the letters I received around an earlier article on eyewear made abundantly clear.

And what my correspondents had to say was as interesting as it was valuable. So I'm taking this opportunity to pass it along. After all, …

The Eyes Have It

That's goes without saying, doesn't it? Sight is arguably the paramount sense, and if you need glasses to get around, you really need them. But accidents happen even in well‑ordered lives, and when some heavy‑footed bumbler smashes your last pair of eyeglasses flat, you won't always find an optician around the corner to put things right. My success in using waxed twine and baling wire (no joke!) to shore up another pair of Farwell's specs prompted Ric Olsen, a frequent contributer to In the Same Boat, to offer these observations:

Just another reason to carry a packet of dental floss, Tamia. It is perfect for this kind of repair. I am now trying to think what I could have made or fashioned the metal frame out of from among my normal "carryings." Thanks for the mental challenge!

I also read in one of my survival books that glasses can be replaced by putting a cover over the eye with only a pinhole in the center for viewing. By limiting the amount of light to the eye, it can then focus and read with limited ease.

Ric's right, as usual. Dental floss is versatile stuff, capable of being put to many more uses than the name suggests. Here's what my waxed twine and baling‑wire repair looked like, by the way:


Improvise and Adapt


I used the twine because that was what I had on hand at the time, but dental floss would have worked equally well. As for using a pinhole to replace a broken lens, however, I'm a bit less sanguine. While it's true that a "pinhole occluder" — an opaque disk pierced by many small (≈1 mm) holes — will correct refractive error in the eye, it does this at a price: a much reduced field of vision and greatly diminished illumination. Still, if you've no alternative… But a spare pair of glasses would be a far better solution to the problem. (NB While we're on the subject of improvised eyewear, sailors and winter wanderers will find that opaque goggles with narrow slits make an acceptable alternative to sunglasses. If you break your glacier glasses high up on a snowy slope on a sunny winter day, or lose your last pair of sunglasses overboard in mid‑passage, that's worth remembering. Ultraviolet keratitis — aka "snow blindness" — is no fun.)

The bottom line? If you need glasses, always carry at least one spare pair. But as anyone who's bought prescription eyeglasses lately will know, they don't come cheap. That's why all my spare reading glasses were purchased at a local dollar store. (My mainstay pair are proper prescription eyeglasses from a dispensing optician. And yes, there is a noticeable difference in quality.) Sad to say, however, this …

Dollar‑Store Solution …

Isn't available to everyone. For example, nearsighted paddlers won't find suitable corrective lenses at the dollar store. (Dollar‑store eyeglasses are simple magnifiers. These can correct for the most common visual defect attributable to aging — presbyopia, to give it its proper name — but they'll do nothing to help the nearsighted see distant objects more clearly.) Until quite recently, then, impecunious myopes had no choice but to dig deep into their pockets. The only alternative? To accept blurred vision as the norm. And a damaged pair of glasses was a significant loss. Now, however, the global marketplace is beginning to change the game, as this letter from Skip points out:

As an eyeglass wearer, I appreciated your article. Fortunately, my eyes are not so bad that I can't get by without my lenses. The world just isn't very crisp without them. I've come across a website that sells prescription glasses at seemingly unbelievable prices, especially if you've ever had to buy glasses from an eye doctor. Zenni Optical sells ordinary glasses for USD8. Yes, EIGHT dollars. They have sports goggles and sunglasses as well, though they're slightly more expensive — in the USD20 to USD30 range. With prices that low, it's easy to have a spare pair at the ready. And just to be clear, I don't get a kickback from them, nor do I have any fiduciary interest in the company. I've just had really good luck with them and thought I'd share.

Does this sound too good to be true? Well, I've never done business with Zenni Optical myself, but Farwell may give them a try in the near future. Then he can report firsthand. And competition being what it is, I'm sure that other discount optical houses have entered the retail marketplace, too. So the cost of spare pairs of glasses should be coming down. A caveat: You'll still need a valid prescription, and that means making an appointment with an optometrist or ophthalmologist. But this is something you'll want to do, anyway, since many diseases that threaten sight — glaucoma is one — do much of their damage silently. When your vision hangs in the balance, a regular check‑up by a qualified professional is mighty cheap insurance.

Of course, glasses are an imperfect solution to the problem of diminished vision. That's what drives people to purchase contact lenses or seek refractive surgery. Neither Farwell nor I have any experience of either, but we've both had long practice in dealing — or more accurately — failing to deal with one the most common nuisances bedeviling eyeglass wearers:


It's a particular annoyance with close‑fitting wraparound glasses in humid environments, and it's been a bugbear of mine for years, as this excerpt from an early column attests:

Getting back to sweat for a minute, form‑fitting frames do a good job of blocking incident light from the sides, but they're often fog‑prone. A wide selection of creams and drops are offered for sale in the catalogs, each one claiming to banish fogging forever. I wish I'd found one that works for me. You may have better luck. If not, you'll probably need to leave your close‑fitting frames behind anytime you're headed into the tropics (or the arctic).

Not a very encouraging summary, is it? But it seems I've been a little short‑sighted, and veteran In the Same Boat reader Mona took the time to set me straight. Here's what she had to say:

I'm getting ready (I hope) to get my kayak into the water this season. I was reading the articles in the In the Same Boat Archive when I came across this, which you wrote in 2005. In it you referred to products that supposedly prevent clouding of lenses and your experience with their failure.

As a scuba diver I can attest that the defogging products designed to prevent face masks clouding up at depth are very effective. It never occurred to me before to try one of them to prevent summer fogging, but I'll test mine as soon as I can dig it out of the dive bag. (I bet it's buried down at the bottom.) There are myriads of these products on the market. A Google search would no doubt provide many options, and your local dive shop would have at least one brand to try.

In addition, please let me share a secret with you that until now only divers have known: We had a product that worked perfectly fine before defogger was sold in tiny bottles. It was clear gel toothpaste. That's right, any gel toothpaste, rubbed over the glass inside our masks and rinsed, left a thin layer of protection and prevented fogging. It's cheaper than defogger, too. Some divers still rely on toothpaste. Any flavour or brand works as long as it's gel. I used Close‑up brand. Perhaps Farwell will find some of this information helpful.

What can I add? Besides my heartfelt appreciation, that is. Thanks to Mona, my search for a defogger that lives up to the name is at an end.

And now for a tip of my own. It concerns a tool I first learned about during my days as a field geologist. I was occasionally caught short without a hand lens just when I needed a closer view of a map or specimen than I could get with my unaided eyes. That's when I reached for my …

Fresnel Magnifier

I should make it clear at the outset that these have their limitations. They offer only modest magnification, and they're no substitute for reading glasses if you're settling down to have a go at War and Peace. But they do allow you to read the tiny print on labels or see things that would otherwise be invisible. Best of all, the smaller fresnel magnifiers slip easily into a wallet or tuck between the pages of a notebook. And they weigh as near to nothing as anything tangible can. I've been carrying one around with me for years, and while I don't use it often, it's good to know it's there.

Mine was made by Itoya and it's called the Pocketlens. I'm afraid I can't remember where I got it, or how much it cost, but Campmor now sells them for three bucks, so it can't have set me back very much. It's bendy plastic, too, which means it won't break. It will scratch, however, but it comes with a protective plastic sheath. Problem solved. Anyway, here it is in action:

Close Encounter With a Pocketlens

As you can see, it won't replace your Hastings triplet, but it will make it easier to decipher the minuscule symbols on topos and marine charts. And it couldn't be much handier. In fact, now that I've found the Pocketlens for sale at Campmor, I think I'll get a couple of spares. Just in case. You could call it being prepared.

Lone Tree

Whether you're at your desk or on holiday, it's hard to keep your focus if your vision isn't up to par. And good vision is doubly important to paddlers and other backcountry wanderers. (If you have any doubts on this score, Farwell can tell you about the day he mistook a bear for a dog.) I've written about peripatetic eyewear before, but it's a big subject, and I certainly didn't cover it all. Happily, though, some knowledgeable readers have helped me fill in the gaps, adding their own insights on eyewear. So here's looking at you, folks!



Further Reading

From In the Same Boat:

From my own website:

And from Wikipedia:


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