ProView – Zeal Optics Magnolia
We have heard many stories about land being stolen from the indigenous peoples of North America, but what about water and other resources? I am spending my summer working for the Native Village of Eklutla in south central Alaska gathering data for their river restoration campaign. The Dena’ina (Eklutna peoples) lived off the land and survived the harsh Alaskan environment for many years with salmon being one of their main food sources. The river was plentiful and home to all five species of Pacific salmon. In the late 1920’s, a dam was built at the natural glacial moraine redirecting all river flow out of the lake to provide electricity for the city of Anchorage at the time. All fish passage is blocked and miles of riverbed are dry. In the early 2000’s, the campaign began to restore the river to once again allow fish passage.
Zeal Optics Magnolia
Product Name: Zeal Optics Magnolia
Product Description: We are drawn to the woods. The sweet scent of adventure beckons, and the waft of Magnolia leads us to go the extra mile on every run, hike or ride. And with our new Z-Lite thin injection process, this ultra lightweight sunglass frame lets you push on and focus on the view ahead through our plant-based ellume lenses, while our ProFlex rubber inlays keep your glasses in place no matter how strenuous the trail ahead is. Like its namesake, Magnolia is a thing of beauty, but rooted in strength and built to last. Z-Lite is made from our plant-based Z-Resin, designed to minimize our footprint and help protect the wild places you’ll enjoy through its polarized ellume lenses, which are designed to increase clarity and contrast, while our unique blend of color filters make every landscape explode in hues you’ve never seen before.
Offer price: MSRP: $159.00
To say I am impressed with the Zeal Magnolia sunglasses is an understatement. (This means a lot coming from someone who does not enjoy wearing sunglasses, but more on that later.) Since my glasses arrived a few weeks ago, not a day has gone by that I have not worn them. While I intended to use these simply for field work, the comfort and clarity these lenses provide is amazing and I have found them useful in every aspect of my outdoor life.
- Adaptable, polarized lenses
- Highly durable
- Available with prescription lenses
- Prone to fogging during stationary work
- Nose piece will slip slightly
- Few color variations
The last few miles of the river still has a small flow thanks to several tributaries. Despite unfavorable conditions, all five species of salmon still appear (in extremely low numbers) and attempt to reach their historic spawning grounds. My summer is being spent mapping out habitat that would again be suitable should the river be restored, trapping juvenile salmonoids for identification purposes, and conducting physical counts of any adults attempting the upstream swim for spawning. Having quality sunglasses for this work is of utmost importance not only for protection from UV rays, but also to provide better visibility beneath the surface.
Aside from work purposes, Alaska truly is the land of the midnight sun. We currently have over 20 hours of daylight. The sun here is never directly overhead and often at a 45-degree angle. This means the sun is always in your face and hats alone provide very little relief. I was never one to wear sunglasses living in the lower 48, but cannot survive a summer day without them here.
My first impression of these glasses was that they were too tight. The sides were much snugger on my head than any other glasses I have worn. Within a couple days, I adapted to this feeling and hardly notice they are on now. Ultimately, this has become one of my favorite features as the glasses never slip off my head. I purchased a band fearing that I would lose these nice glasses in the river with one wrong move, but never put the band on due to them being so secure. I also love the wide range of view these glasses provided with the large lenses. The lenses fit close to my face which prevent that awkward, unshielded space when looking down at the ground. The glasses are advertised to fit an average sized head. I am a true medium. I found that upon working up a sweat, they do shift down my nose slightly. They never shift enough that I feel they will fall off, but do not stay in the “sweet spot.” I feel the trouble with any product advertised to fit an average is that it will always be slightly big for the true medium person.
The Zeal Magnolias have a classic look. Sleek glasses might look fun, but you need this classic build with large lenses for them to be truly functional. There is nothing flashy about these glasses, but they should appeal to a wide range of tastes. As someone who loves fun colors, I do wish there were more color choices for the frames. Zeal also has a small logo in the upper left corner of the glasses which was occasionally distracting. (I also assist with bird and wildlife surveys at times. When searching the sky for birds, I often see the logo.) I feel the logo is best left off of the lenses for functionality purposes even if it does not detract from the look.
The lenses are where these glasses really shine. To start, they are polarized. Polarized lenses greatly diminish the glare naturally present on the water surface and allow the user to see fish and other underwater structures. These glasses cut the glare so well that I can easily see both juvenile and adult fish from a considerable distance away. This allows me to start counting before I am in danger of spooking the fish and also to identify features to provide a positive ID on specific species. Viewing fish is also important during my leisure time as well. I enjoy having access to such a nutrient rich source of food and spend my summers attempting to catch fish to fill my freezer for year round eating. Having a better view of the fish helps me know where to cast my line and also to confirm the fish on my line is indeed my targeted species.
In addition to being polarized, these sunglasses are part of Zeal’s Auto Sun collection featuring photochromatic technology. The Auto Sun’s yellow base tint changes with UV exposure meaning you can wear them in a variety of light conditions making them ideal for long days in the field. I put these glasses on as soon as we head out in the morning and they do not come off until I am back inside or it gets dark. There is no need to take the glasses off and on if the clouds move in or if I am hiking through a shaded spot. The change is not dramatic (as in you do not see the lenses go from nearly clear to very dark), but you constantly have good vision throughout changing conditions.
While the lenses perform perfectly in terms of light adaptation and the fit is good, I do run into one problem. Field days often require bushwhacking through rugged terrain to stay along the river. It is grueling work at a slow pace. I do find that these glasses fog up if I leave them in place on my face once I really started to sweat. This is further accentuated on the days when wearing a mosquito net is necessary. If I let the glasses slide down my nose or am moving at a more reasonable pace, there is adequate airflow to prevent fogging. This is a pretty extreme test for sunglasses and I did not encounter the fogging during any other time wearing the glasses, so this will not necessarily be a normal phenomenon. Because they are so adaptable and comfortable, I wear them for all of my other outdoor activities as well including hiking, personal fishing trips, and horseback riding.
I am also beyond impressed with the durability of these glasses. In the past, I have shied away from higher end sunglasses. I know how rough I am on my equipment and could not bear the thought of scratching a high dollar pair of glasses. The Zeal Magnolias have a polycarbonate lens with an extra hard coat added on top which they claim offers maximum protection for even the most rigorous lifestyle. One of the first days wearing these glasses was spent on an ATV headed out to a distant part of the river system. The trail was overgrown and I was hit in the face with a countless number of branches. Not realizing how overgrown the trail had become, I did not pack alternative eyewear. After nearly 9 miles of endless assault by vegetation, these glasses did not have a scratch on them. They have also kept me from being hit in the eye by many alders during bushwhacks. The lenses look as good as the day I took them out of the package.
This is yet another area where Zeal really shines. In addition to creating a durable, multi-functional product that will not end up in the landfill at the end of the season, the Ellume bioplastic lenses are created from plant based materials to reduce environmental impact. They also feature the Z-Resin bioplastic frames, which is derived from the castor plant, replacing the use of traditional plastics and significantly reduces the amount of CO2 produced during manufacturing.
The Final Word
If you are looking for quality sunglasses to keep up with a vigorous lifestyle, do not hesitate to purchase the Zeal Magnolias. Despite the fit not being 100% perfect for me, I have never experienced eyewear that performed so well. I used to only wear sunglasses when needed for work or protection and struggle with squinting as long as possible the rest of the day, but now throw on my Zeals as soon as I head out the door. The combination of clarity provided, durability, and eco-friendliness is second to none!
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About the Gear Tester
Michelle currently resides in South Central Alaska and works as an environmental technician for the Native Village of Eklutna performing fish, wildlife, and habitat surveys in an effort to restore their historic lands to their traditional bounty. When not at work, you can fine her hiking, skiing, climbing, horseback riding, running, biking, hunting, fishing, or trying out new ways to explore the outdoors. She can be found on Instagram under michelle_ventures. To learn more about the river restoration project, visit eklutnariver.org.