Maui Jim Mala Sunglasses Review
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When it comes to selecting sunglasses, I usually have quite a few factors in mind. I would like to be able to use them for active sports including running and cycling if necessary, so they have to be lightweight and durable. I would also like to be able to rock them after the hike or workout is over, so they need to look decent and can’t be too ‘buggy’. Truth be told, I haven’t ever really given much thought to Maui Jim sunglasses until they sent me a pair of their Mala rimless and hinge-less sunglasses to review. Consider me a convert.
My first impression of the Mala was amazement at the quality construction and light weight of these shades. The unique feature of the Mala are the flexible titanium bows, which attach to the lenses with a nylon piece, but have no traditional hinge. The bows are finished with high-quality nylon earpieces complete with silicone pads on the inside. The natural shape of the Mala at rest is ‘semi-closed’, so when not in the case (read on for more on the case) the Mala isn’t the most compact pair of sunglasses. However, this concept reveals its magic when the Mala is put on. The bows flex quite a bit, so even though I have a largish-sized head (hat size 7 1/8) they feel very comfortable. An added and unexpected benefit to this flex-fit was that the bows bend in a bit on the sides before rounding back out over the ears, so they fit much closer to the head than most pairs. I found this to be very convenient for cycling, where some shades’ bows interfere with helmet straps. The bows of the mala were so thin and fit so close to my head that they stay under the helmet straps and didn’t move when the helmet did. The combination of the flex-fit design, silicone pads on the bridge and earpieces, with the almost weightless design make these the most comfortable sunglasses I’ve ever worn. They feel so natural I almost forget I have them on.
The benefits of the Mala don’t stop with the genius design and construction. Maui Jim prides themselves on creating some of the best optics in the business. These model I tested came equipped with a “rootbeer” color HCL® Bronze Lens complete with Maui Jim’s PolarizedPlus2® glare protection. Maui Jim says that this HCL lens is best “…for everyday variable conditions, from full sun to overcast.” This definitely proves true, as I was very impressed at the clarity and lack of glare while wearing the Mala. In extreme brightness conditions like skiing or snowboarding, the HCL lens probably won’t provide you with enough light reduction, but for all-around wear, the Mala’s HCL lens is excellent – not too dark for finding your phone in the car when it slips under the seat, but dark enough to keep you comfortable trekking around that alpine lake at the end of your day hike.
I tested the Mala while on a multi-week trip to Fiji, and as you might imagine, I spent a good bit of time on the water. Walking along the beach, I found that the Mala’s lenses cut the glare so well that water almost disappeared and I was able to to spot many exotic fish and even small sharks in the shallows. When out sea kayaking and looking for coral heads to snorkel, I found that I could see more clearly into the water and deeper than my travel companions, so they too were thankful for the Mala’s optics and my resulting super-vision! On speedboat trips to the reefs or sailing day-cruises, the Mala’s close-fitting design did a great job of blocking wind and cuts glare and brightness to prevent eye fatigue. The only frustrations I had with the Mala were some problems with what seemed like more than average smudging on the lens and the fact that the hinge-less design makes it nearly impossible to hang these from a shit collar – my preferred method when not wearing sunglasses. However, because the Mala is so flexible, there doesn’t seem to be a danger to over-flexing the bows, so I felt comfortable putting them on top of my hat or head, which I don’t do with other hinged shades for fear of flexing-out or breakage. While on vacation, I also appreciated the high-quality hard clamshell case that comes with the Mala. Figuring out how to get the sunglasses safely inside the case takes a bit of experimentation, but the hard case provided welcome confidence that they wouldn’t be damaged no matter the conditions. Maui Jim also provides a typical microfiber bag and cleaning cloth.
I wasn’t expecting to, but because the Mala were so lightweight, I have even worn them for road and trail runs up to 10 miles and found that they don’t slip or move at all, and the high-contrast lens did a great job of making trail hazards visible in lower light when I normally might have to remove sunglasses to see well. The lens shape is a rounded rectangle and wraps around the face well, but the Malas look good enough for casual use in addition to active wear.
Overall, I was highly impressed with the Maui Jim Mala’s incredible design and highly-functional optics. I would recommend them to anyone looking for a versatile pair of sunglasses that sport second-to-none comfort and can excel in most conditions outside of extreme brightness.