UKC

Julbo Sunglasses: Monterosa 2, Montebianco 2 and Shield M Review

Last year, after reviewing the Julbo Shield sunglasses, we received a pertinent question, which was "what makes these any different from a cheaper pair of sunglasses you could buy elsewhere?" In light of this, we thought we'd structure this sunglasses review a little differently, so that we run through differences within their two key components - the frames and the lenses - and how each has an effect on the price. This should hopefully go some way towards answering the big question of whether the extra expense is worth it.

They cost a lot more than a cheapo pair, but from previous experience of using budget sunglasses vs. Julbo sunglasses, the latter have lasted a lot longer. In these environmentally conscious times, it's worth asking yourself if you'd be better buying multiple cheap pairs of shades, or one decent pair that could potentially last a lifetime. Think of the cumulative spend of buying cheap every few years, too, versus a single quality purchase. Of course it's only worth spending for quality that will last if you don't lose them, so try not to lose them…

Running wearing the Montebianco 2  © UKC Gear
Running wearing the Montebianco 2
© UKC Gear

Frames

Arguably the most important aspect of a set of frames is the fit. Some are big, some are small; some are narrow, whilst others are wide. The key is to find a pair that fit the shape of your face. It's no good having a set of Category 4 sunglasses which help to keep all the light out, only for the light to be able to get in through the top, bottom and sides. If you can, go into a shop, try a load on, and find a pair that work for you.

Fit is paramount...  © UKC Gear
Fit is paramount...
© UKC Gear

In terms of durability, each of the frames reviewed are built to withstand a lot of abuse: Flexing, twisting and bending, or - more commonly - being sat on when you forget they're lying somewhere in the bottom of your pack. These are the sorts of things they can endure, but if you do find a way of breaking them, then the fact that Julbo stock various spares to make repairs should help prolong their lifespan. That probably isn't something that can be said for a more disposable set of sunglasses.

Each of the three pairs we've looked at here have grip around the nose and the sides, which helps keep them in place and prevents them from slipping. They also come with side shields, which make a massive difference not just to the amount of light they let in, but also to their usability, as it helps to reduce any glare on the inside of the sunglasses - particularly welcome when you're standing sideways to the sun. Each comes with a silicone cord which connects to the arms, reducing the risk of them falling off, although thus far this hasn't proved necessary.

Accessories, accessories, accessories: a bag, a case, silicone retainers and side shields

Finally, each come with both a soft case and a hard case. The former also acts as a clean wipe, but is useful for when you want something lightweight to pack them away in. The hard case isn't that hard, but it's hard where you need it to be, providing protection on both front and back. In between it has an elasticated fabric which allows you to squash it down whilst not in use. This is more practical than a traditional hard case, whilst still doing exactly what you need it to do in terms of functionality.

Monterosa 2 (left), Shield M (center) and Montebiano 2 (right)  © UKC Gear
Monterosa 2 (left), Shield M (center) and Montebiano 2 (right)
© UKC Gear

Monterosa 2

The Monterosa are the smallest of the three frames on review, both in terms of their width and lens size. That said, they're not that small, so even if you've got a medium/large sized head, don't write them off until you've tried them. 

For me, the Monterosa 2 have the best seal of the three frames on review, as they fit extremely close to my head, and have a slight curve at the base of the frame which stops the sunlight from bouncing back up (if you've ever been on a glacier, you'll know this is particularly important).

Some may also prefer their slightly lower profile size, simply because you don't always want to wear a massive set of sunglasses. More doesn't always mean better. Just to repeat it one last time - it all comes down to fit.

When it comes to usage, the Monterosa 2 is designed with mountaineering in mind, but because of its more slender shape it's actually more versatile than that. Just how versatile it is depends on the lenses you've got, which we'll come onto later.

Monterosa 2 are the smaller of the three frames on review, but not by much  © UKC Gear
Monterosa 2 are the smaller of the three frames on review, but not by much
© UKC Gear

Shield M

The Shield (which I reviewed last year) is an undeniably massive set of sunglasses, both in terms of the size of the lenses and the level of protection they provide. This is fine for some, but not for others - particularly as their large size will inevitably mean that they don't fit some people. The Shield M (M = Medium) has been made with those people in mind.

Whilst there is a difference in size, it's actually quite subtle, because though they are smaller, they're still far from small. The lenses are still big, which ensures the same level of protection, and the vents on both the top and bottom keep the air flowing through, which prevents them from fogging up.

They arguably belong up big snowy mountains, but this was the closest we got to that over lockdown   © UKC Gear
They arguably belong up big snowy mountains, but this was the closest we got to that over lockdown
© UKC Gear

In terms of usage, the Shield M is a mountaineering thoroughbred. It is unashamedly specialist and doesn't try to be anything else. Sure, you could use it for whatever you want, but realistically it belongs in the alpine environment.

Montebianco 2

The Montebianco 2 has a more wraparound feel, with a wider set of lenses than both the Monterosa 2 and the Shield M. In terms of frame size it sits somewhere between the two as well, meaning that between these three frames there's a high chance that if one doesn't fit you, one of the others will.

Due to this athletic fit, the Montebianco 2 are the first that I tend to reach for whilst running, although much like the others - they'd be perfectly at home on a glacier, on a hill, or for more casual use.

Whilst I love the orange 'go faster' colour, the more conservative out there will be glad to hear that more subtle colours are also available.

Climbing wearing the Montebianco 2  © UKC Gear
Climbing wearing the Montebianco 2
© UKC Gear

Running wearing the Montebianco 2  © UKC Gear
Running wearing the Montebianco 2
© UKC Gear

Lenses

Whilst the frames are a contributing factor to the cost, the main expense by far are the lenses - so much so that it could lead to the price more than doubling, depending what option you take. As a result it's worth being aware of what the differences are and whether or not you need them, want them, or could do without.

Cheaper lenses, perhaps unsuprisingly, tend to be made of cheaper materials such as acrylic or low grade polycarbonate. Whilst any sunglasses with a CE mark will provide protection, the problem is how long that protection will last once the lenses are scratched and/or broken, which brings me back to the age old adage of 'buy cheap, buy twice'. Looking towards a different industry altogether, the photographic industry, it would suffice to say that cheaper lenses never, ever equate to a better quality image, and the same could be said for sunglasses.

Each of the frames is available with different lens options  © UKC Gear
Each of the frames is available with different lens options
© UKC Gear

Spectron 3 and 4

When you're reviewing top end kit it's easy to get carried away. I am inherently biased towards the Reactiv lenses because, having used them, that's the clear winner in terms of performance; however, this undersells the fixed lenses and potentially forgets that for a great many people, price and affordability is a massive issue.

In light of this, it's worth noting that the price of the Spectron lenses are less than half that of the Reactiv High Mountain lenses, which is - it's fair to say - a substantial saving. However, this isn't to say that they're cheap, being constructed of the highest quality polycarbonate. This means that they're going to be much more resistant to scratches and scrapes than a cheaper set of lenses, which - in turn - means they'll provide a more lasting level of protection.

In terms of Category 3 vs. Category 4, the latter has historically been the go-to for those operating in the high mountains, as it provides a massive amount of protection from the sun's rays, the glare, and the reflection that you get off glaciers. Were there to be a drawback it is that they are, as a result of this, incredibly dark - so much so that you're not actually meant to drive wearing them. As such, they can be quite specialist in terms of their usage. A well fitting set of Category 3 sunglasses, when used with side shields, can provide plentiful protection, but be a little more versatile, and these are well worth considering if you're looking for more of an all-rounder.


Spectron 3 - Cat. 3

  • Monterosa II and Montebianco II - £70.00
  • Shield and Shield M - £80.00

Spectron 4 - Cat. 4

  • Monterosa II and Montebianco II - £70.00 
  • Shield and Shield M - £80.00

Reactiv - Performance and High Mountain

The first of the two Reactiv lenses - Reactiv Performance - has the ability to adjust from Category 2 to Category 4 depending on the level of light. If you're out for a walk on a day when it's intermittent sunshine and cloud, then they'll let in more light; if you're on a glacier, with the sun beating down upon you, they'll let in less; alternatively, if you find yourself running into shady woods after being in the bright sunlight, they'll adapt (and do so quickly too). You can just leave them on and do your thing, rather than faffing around taking them on and off as the light conditions change.

The wrinkles are a clear illustration as to why they're best left on  © UKC Gear
The wrinkles are a clear illustration as to why they're best left on
© UKC Gear

Reactiv lenses differ to the Spectron lens in terms of what they're made of too, as the application of the Reactiv/photochromatic technology onto polycarbonate would only last a limited amount of time. NXT, the material used in all Reactiv lenses, allows the photochromatic dye to be injected directly into the lens. This means it doens't rub off or wear out over time.

Julbo's Reactiv Performance differs from Reactiv High Mountain insofar as the lenses aren't polarised. Polarised lenses are great if you're doing anything near water, or on snow, as it effectively takes off the glare, meaning you can see the surface in far greater detail. Whilst I can't comment from the watersports perspective, I have used them climbing, mountaineering and running in snowy environments and the difference they make is massive; however, for those of us that don't need this, just using them in a sub-alpine environment, there's the opportunity to save some money, whilst still getting the benefits that the Reactiv technology brings.

The other major difference between Reactiv Performance and Reactiv High Mountain is price. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the polarised upgrade comes at a premium. Given the great many other options available, which we've tried to outline here, there'll hopefully be something that fits your budget and criteria. 


Reactiv Performance

  • Monterosa II and Montebianco II - £110.00 
  • Shield and Shield M - £125.00

Reactiv High Mountain

  • Monterosa II and Montebianco II - £150.00 
  • Shield and Shield M - £155.00


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