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Oakley Airbrake XL Review
Cons: Mild fogging with heavy exertion
Bottom line: A go-to goggle for any rider.
Swooping in and snagging the Editors' Choice Award is the Oakley Airbrake XL despite tough competition from top-shelf models. This very comfortable pair of goggles is awesome for lots of reasons without suffering any significant drawbacks. It performs very well across the board, landing at or near the top in every test metric. The latest Airbrake XL endured our rigorous testing well, through all weather conditions both at the resort and in the Tahoe backcountry. The durability, functionality, superior optical quality, and ease of lens swapping are sure to please even the pickiest of users, especially given the number of lens choices. This competitor even performed well while shoveling and getting blasted with blowback from intentionally blowing snow into the wind! It fits equally well with or without a helmet, providing great optics and protection for all scenarios. The price is steep but worth the price, especially since Oakley includes two lenses with each pair, one for bright light and one for low light conditions.
If you prefer to save money while still riding away with a solid pair, the Smith Squad ChromaPop might be for you. Although not of the Airbrake quality, two lenses come with the ChromaPop, and its strong durability increases its value. For resort riders who live and die by style points, check out the bold Dragon NFX, which offers top-notch protection on top of trend-setting looks.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Ski Goggles of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Oakley Airbrake scored high marks in every category, edging out its closest competitors, the Smith I/OX and Smith I/O7. The fit and comfort pleased all of our testers, no matter their size or shape. The Airbrake is equally at home while skiing at the resort or touring in the backcountry with a solid and protective feel, along with the easiest to change lens system in our test. They not only feel good, our testers and other skiers thought they looked good too.
Like all of our test goggles, we wore the Airbrake while skinning uphill in varying conditions and were unable to steam up the dual-vented lenses. We decided to take this one step further and were finally able to fog the Airbrake's lenses during a wet, heavy snowfall while shoveling and snow blowing. We compared the POC Lobes at the same time and found the Airbrake fared better with minimal fogging, whereas the POC goggles had liquid dripping from the lens.
As they did with the Flight Deck, Oakley uses their F3 anti-fog coating on the Airbrake's lenses with superb results. Breathability was excellent, and the Dual-Vented lens provided ample airflow while skiing resort laps top to bottom, even on warmer sunny days.
As was the case with our other review criteria, the Airbrake held its own in the comfort category as well. The three-layer foam provides a great interface and cushion between the skier's face and the goggle frame. The outermost layer, like the Oakley Flight Deck, is a soft, brushed layer that wicks moisture well. While not as wide as the Oakley Flight Deck's strap, the Airbrake's strap is still quite comfortable, with or without a helmet.
The integrated silicone strips in the strap helped keep the goggles in place even on a smooth helmet. For skiers and snowboarders with smaller faces, Oakley also makes the Airbrake in their "Asia fit." The Airbrake was the only pair in our review that didn't receive any complaints regarding pressure points on the face and had the most compliments regarding comfort.
Oakley has earned a reputation for excellent optics and the Airbrake, like the Flight Deck, is no exception. We tested two different lenses, which are included with the goggle purchase, one for bright light conditions, the Prizm Snow Torch Iridium and a low light conditions lens, Rose.
Both lenses performed superbly in their intended conditions and do have some crossover into conditions the lenses aren't specifically intended for. Finding variable conditions like this is common while backcountry skiing in the Tahoe area and light conditions are constantly changing, especially after dropping down to treeline. Aside from the great all-around performance, one additional plus is the ease of swapping lenses with the frame's Switchlock technology.
Our testers all agreed the Airbrake's lenses are swapped more easily than any other goggle they had previously tried. With the flip of a simple lever on the left side of the goggle frame, one lens is removed and replacing it is as simple as pressing the new lens to the frame, which is flush-fit and flipping the small lever back into place. We replaced lenses several times, even able to do so on the chairlift with our ski gloves on! The P3 anti-fog coating did a stellar job at keeping the Airbrake's lenses clear, with only minimal fogging experienced while shoveling and sweating.
The optically correct, curved, Prizm lens provides a crisp, clear view with excellent contrast, even in varying light conditions while skiing at high speed through the trees. The Airbrake's lenses all utilize their HDO technology, which according to Oakley: "High Definition Optics® (HDO) is a collection of patented technologies that allow Oakley eyewear to meet or exceed the testing standards of the American National Standards Institute for optical clarity, visual fidelity, and impact resistance." Whatever those specific patented technologies are, we certainly enjoy the benefits of them!
Oakley's quality shows in the durability of the Airbrake. Since the Airbrake was immediately one of our favorites, it was used more than all of our other test goggles and didn't show any signs of wear. The goggles were crammed into several testers' ski packs and were none the worse for wear.
Unlike the Oakley Flight Deck, the Airbrake's Prizm lens didn't exhibit any mystery scratches on the inner lens and impressed throughout the entire testing process. At the completion of our review testing, none of the goggle components showed any signs of wear. This award winner seems like a good choice for the long haul and should provide years of use for even the most advanced skiers and boarders.
The Airbrake snow goggle shares a foundation with Oakley's Prizm MX goggles which are made for aggressive motocross and mountain bike riders. This aggressive lineage is apparent when you strap on the Airbrake. With its exoskeleton frame, rigid O Matter strap outriggers, and top quality lenses, the Airbrake kept our eyes safe and sound in both cold and wet snows, high winds, and bright sun. The three-layer foam cushioning performed an admirable job at keeping the wind out, even while skiing at speeds >50mph.
The Airbrake's frame is more rigid than most of our other test subjects, other than the Oakley Flight Deck and the Dragon NFX. We found the medium-sized goggle provided good protection with its solid fit to varying face sizes and shapes, with one tester saying "These just feel good, probably the best goggle I've worn!". Other goggles in our test provided more coverage, like the Dragon NFX and the Oakley Flight Deck, but like the Smith I/OX and Smith I/O7, the Airbrake is a happy medium for almost every user.
Our Editors' Choice award-winning series is a proven part of Oakley's goggle line, now in its fifth year, due in part to its distinctive style. The goggle has more of a modern look than other test goggles like the Smith Squad or Bolle Carve, but not quite as space-age in appearance as the Dragon NFX or the POC Lobes.
Oakley has also manufactured several Signature Models of the Airbrake based on pro riders' input.
The Airbrake XL is the ideal quiver-of-one goggle for front, back, and side-country skiing and riding. These goggles performed well everywhere we wore them. We also think they are great for any snowsport adventure you take them on.
There's no hiding the fact that these goggles have a premium price tag. Retailing at $250, they are the most expensive model reviewed. For the same price, you could get two Best Buy-winning Smith Squad ChromaPop pairs and still have $50 left over. Advanced skiers/riders will get the most value out of these goggles. Beginner skiers will find more value in going with a less expensive model.
Our Editors' Choice Oakley Airbrake XL is a stylish, solid goggle that appeals to both resort and backcountry skiers and riders, even the most advanced users.
— Jason Cronk
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