There is irony in the title of this article with the use of the word “overlooked” since this deals with protecting, arguably, your most vital ally while engaging in outdoor activities…your eyes.
Throughout history, humans have discovered ways to protect their eyes against threats in the world around them. Small slits cut into leather, or cloth, to help prevent snow blindness. Knights wore helmets with horizontal cuts to maximize safety without compromising vision, and in areas prone to dust/sand storms cloth would be used to protect against particles without rendering us blind.
We don’t question the need for eye protection to be used in high impact sports, while using power tools, while welding, or even situations where chemicals/fluids can be sprayed into our eyes. However, when it comes to everyday activities, the thought of eye protection is taboo or uncool.
It seems outside of wearing eyepro for military, police or sporting related matters we just don’t seem to wear glasses. It’s my opinion that eyepro while hiking is just as important as footwear while hiking.
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When I first started getting more serious about hiking, I started researching gear and seeking out experienced hikers for their advice. All combined, the top 3 are footwear, hydration, and pack. Naturally, there were lesser items mentioned like first aid and clothing. Never once was eye protection mentioned. When I began asking what would be ideal to wear on the trail, the majority of responses ranged from mockery to baffled. I received this exact statement, “You are in the woods, how much sun do you think you will get?” I was also told, “What is the point, you will lose them anyway?”
There are a few stories in the news about hikers getting stabbed in the eye by a tree branch while they hiked at night. A soldier from Fort Bragg lost his eye during night navigation because he walked straight into a slender tree branch.
As a rookie, I took their “wise” advice and didn’t bother with eyewear. With hundreds of experienced hikers on various forums never talking about eyewear, they must know what they are talking about right? Allow me to share a very real story that could have ended worse than it did.
I was on one of my very early hikes. It was only 12 miles long and I was carrying 3 liters of water in a hydration pack; extra water for additional exercise. It was around 7.5 miles in when the wind blew particles into my left eye. Instantly, my eye burned and both filled with tears as a natural reaction to the foreign body. Visibility became near useless and I ended up using everything in my hydration pack to flush my eye.
I was now approximately 5.5 miles from my vehicle, I was out of water, I made the mistake of believing I had more than enough water to complete the hike so I did not bring any method of purification, and my (at the time) 375 pound body was sweating profusely. I was now in a very real situation that one small particle set into motion. A particle that most likely would have been stopped if I were wearing eye protection. I was very fortunate to cross paths with a young couple who shared water with me and walked with me to my car. I learned many valuable lessons that day. I now always carry my emergency equipment and always wear eye protection. If you were to see my hiking glasses today, you would see many scratches caused by twigs and blown sand.
Without realizing it, I became a poster child for Spotter Up that day. I was not fully equipped, not fully prepared, and I allowed others to influence negatively something I knew I needed to protect. Today, I constantly try to learn what works best for me. I recommend that you find if eyepro works best for you.
I am also aware of someone who was stabbed in the eye with a tree branch as he was navigating through a woodline at nighttime. His headlamp went out but he needed to get back to his camp promptly. He permanently lost vision in that eye. Again, lesson learned.
I try to plan for every situation I can imagine. Will these situations happen to you? Maybe not, by why take the chance? I will close with this thought. No matter how much planning you do for emergency situations, what good are your plans if the environment takes your vision and you are alone?