Bliz Eyewear, a Sweden-based company entered the US market about a year and a half ago with their full line of eyewear products, from performance sunglasses to ski goggles to casual wear sunglasses. Prior to entering the US market Bliz developed a large following in Scandinavia for performance sunglasses and goggles specifically for Nordic skiing competition. Bliz is a young brand having been established in 2007 by Future Eyewear Group AB (FEG). FEG also has other brands e.g. Prestige, Granite, Dr. Zipe, and Swing. FEG has been around since 1984 and has operated primarily in Scandinavia. However, the popularity of the Bliz brand has expanded well beyond Scandinavia including all of Europe, Russia, and the US. Many of the 2014 Olympic Nordic skiing medalists wear Bliz product, e.g. Marit Bjorgen, Marcus Helner, and Charlotte Kalla among many others. Bliz has been adding trail running athletes to their roster as well, most notably, Emile Forsberg.
The growth of the brand is the result of providing a high level of technology and design with an attractive price point. Where many other brands offer active eyewear products in excess of $200 a pop, Bliz has ventured forward at a much lower price point in the $100-$130 range for the same or better technology. We all know that eyewear is incredibly cheap to manufacture (like less than $5 for a high level model) and that we are therefore paying principally for design and marketing (not to mention profits!). Bliz has at least staked out a middle ground on the price equation thereby giving the other competing brands a run. Let’s hope this leads to an eventual normalization of pricing. Time will tell.
The Scourge of Fog
The primary challenges in eyewear for high intensity active sports such as Nordic skiing, running, and mountain biking are fogging (moisture precipitation on the surface of the lens) and changeable light conditions. Fogging in particular has been a big issue, for instance, because it will essentially incapacitate a Nordic skier who is traveling at competitive average speeds of 2-3 min/km (3-5 min/mile), not to mention regular sub 1:30 kms on downhills (60 km/hr (40 miles/hr)). It was common up through the mid-2000’s to see competitive Nordic skiers throw whatever sunglasses they were wearing to the side when conditions rendered them “opaque”. Anti-fog coatings, sprays, and potions generally did not work, particularly for the high humidity, active precipitation situations not uncommon in Nordic skiing (or running, or mountain biking for that matter). Fogging was one the more frustrating issues for participants in such events as it lead to non-optimal experiences and, in some cases, danger.
We are fortunate that products have been developed that very effectively deal with fogging. The product developers have made the realization that the only way to robustly deter the formation of fog is to optimize ventilation in and around the interior lens surfaces. Given the very large variation in human face shapes this required that the user be provided with the ability to adjust the sunglasses for optimal ventilation. This has been generally accomplished by utilization of fully adjustable nosepeice elements that allow for positioning the sunglasses well above the surface of one’s face and thereby allowing for substantial airflow across the inside lens surfaces. Bliz has been a pioneer in the development of such nosepieces and adjustable nosepeieces are included on all of the Bliz performance sunglasses. I can attest to the efficacy of this technology. In fact since switching to the Bliz product line, I have not not experienced any significant fogging in Nordic skiing, trail running, or mountain biking. Life has become better!
Although numerous high performance models are available from Bliz, I have been most impressed by the “Tracker” model and now use this sunglass exclusively for all competitive sports that I participate in (Nordic skiing, trail ultramarathons, and cross country mountain biking).
The “Tracker” is a very flexible model in that it can be used in a full frame set-up as above or without a lower frame (“frameless”). In addition one can change the look of the frame by switching the lower “jawbone” frame element to the provided, contrasting color. Shown below is what comes in the box:
Here are a few of the ways the sunglasses can be configured:
I have used the Bliz “Tracker” model for an entire Nordic skiing season (about 3000 km (1800 miles)) and the first part of this year’s running season (about 1600 km (1000 miles)). The conditions have ranged from super cold (-38C (-37F) – we just happened to be in West Yellowstone, Montana for their coldest day of the year) to very warm (35 C (95F)) and moisture ranging from active precipitation (snow and rain) with humidity ranging from 15% RH to 100% RH. Not all permutations of these conditions have been experienced but rather a full spectrum of those typically expected for these sports.
The most remarkable thing has been that in both skiing and running I have yet to have these sunglasses fog. I cannot say this for any other sunglass products that I have used, including models from Smith, Scott, Oakley, Rudy Project, Bolle, and Salomon. As far as I can tell the reason that the Bliz has performed so well with respect to fog is, as mentioned above, the adjustable rubber-coated nosepiece. Proper adjustment of this element allows the sunglass to rest far enough away from the surface of one’s face to provide sufficient air flow to prevent fogging. This position above the face also allows the lens surface to maintain a temperature closer to ambient and thereby reduce the driving force for condensation. Although other sunglasses that I have used have adjustable nosepieces, the sunglasses were all designed in such a way that I was unable to get the eyewear far enough from my face to maintain sufficient ventilation and close-to-ambient lens temperature. Another factor that plays a role here is slippage of the nosepiece where even when properly adjusted, some nosepieces slip into other, undesirable, positions. The Bliz “Tracker” nosepiece stays in position and does not move any significant amount- it would appear that the rubber-like material that Bliz uses on the surface of the nosepiece is very well selected for the purpose. I cannot say this for other product that I have tried, since slippage was always a problem.
I addition, Bliz, (as well as many other manufacturers) have used wire-core Grilamid in the temples for light weight and flexibility. The temple tips are also coated with the same grippy rubber material as is on the nosepiece. This helps with keeping the sunglasses in place and is another factor that makes fogging essentially non-existent, at least in my experience.
Also provided with the sunglasses is a strap that integrates with the temples that wraps around one’s head to allow for super-secure fitting. I tried the strap a few times but found it to be superfluous as I have yet to have any issue with the sunglasses staying put.
Setting fogging aside, the “Tracker” provides very good coverage and I have seldom been in conditions and orientations where I felt that the coverage was compromised. This is partly due to the width of the temples near the hinge which is rather wide but no much so that one might feel that the field of view is being compromised.
The optical quality is on par with any of the competing products, both in substrate materials and in coatings. None of this technology is “state-of-the-art” in any product and all of the physics and engineering was complete in the 1980’s. So do not let any manufacturer fool you in to thinking that they have some “superior” coating or substrate material, at least not as of this writing.
When I first began wearing the “Tracker” I felt that they were “huge” and this was partly due to the fact that I have small face. But with continued use, I became enamored with the size mostly because I had very good coverage and the sunglasses were not right on top of my face. A far as looks- well that is a very individual thing and I will not comment on that here as my “taste” likely differs from most. But I will not be scared off from large-size sunglasses in the future, even with a small face.
Finally, I do like the fact that one can change-up the looks of the sunglasses by interchanging the “jawbones” to produce anything from a very mellow look to something with “attitude”. I think that Bliz would do well to offer a bunch of different “jawbone” pieces for sale separately as we know how much people like to customize their look- much as is the case with iPhone covers.
$130. This is $40-$100 cheaper than what competitors offer as similar products, technology-wise and fit. A good deal and one that should encourage a buyer to take a close look at the “Tracker” as well as Bliz’ other models.
A versatile, flexible, and high performance technical eyewear choice at a price point that is hard to beat.