Can You See? Disaster Preparedness & Corrective Lenses

moonrise sea of cortez

Moonrise in the Sea of Cortez – Photo by: Capt. William E. Simpson

Without actual experience in long-term off-the-grid survival it’s really tough to figure out what you’ll really need, and what is not so important after all. And there is no substitute for actual experience.

From my chair, when it comes to the discussions of survival and disaster preparedness, there is far too much emphasis on guns and ammo, and not enough emphasis on some of the many other things that after a few months of actually living completely off the grid you’ll realize are far more important; like extra corrective lenses if you wear glasses.

We live in a society of instant gratification, so most people have no idea what it’s like when the ability to get almost anything you want is no longer an option.


First off, for those of you who wear contacts:

1. Contact Lenses: Contacts are great for some people under most circumstances. However, there are many environmental conditions during many short term emergencies and disasters as well as during long-term events that can make wearing contacts very uncomfortable. During times when the air is filled with pollutants, smoke, soot or dust, wearing contacts can be downright painful! And in addition to being highly distracting, having watery eyes and blurred vision can pose problems in emergency situations. It’s also hard to maintain (clean) soft contact lenses without all the various solutions and cleaning apparatus, which may be hard to find under some circumstances short term, and nearly impossible under long-term scenarios.

When we put to sea for long-term expeditions (really ‘off the grid’) I make certain that my wife has at least a year supply of disposable contacts (to complement her numerous pairs of glasses) along with all of the cleaning supplies and accessories (based upon manufacturers recommendations for use).

free emergency food samples

However, she has learned that with care, the life of soft contacts can be greatly extended beyond the factory recommendations. We have worked together on extending use-rates for various disposable contact lenses in trying to determine how long you can actually wear daily and weekly-wear lenses in a pinch. On our last 3-year expedition, using daily-wear soft contact lenses, my wife was able to regularly extend the life of daily-wear lenses to a week and sometimes two with care. And with regard to weekly-wear lenses, she was able to get a month and sometimes as much as two months wear out of a pair. In each case, she was very careful during the insertion, extraction and with the cleaning of her contact lenses.

Clean hands are very important when handling contact lenses and how they are being worn is also critical. In other words, if we knew we would be hiking on a windy day in the desert, where there would be a lot of dust in the air, she would instead wear her glasses as opposed to her soft contacts so they wouldn’t become contaminated with dust (largely microscopic silica, which is abrasive). At the end of the day, we have learned that she can take what are deemed by the manufacturer as a year’s supply of soft contacts, and greatly extend the useful life of the those contacts to as much as two years. Naturally, we did this at our own risk, and we would expect that others would be doing the same, should they choose such an option in any emergency or disaster. So between the shared use of glasses and contacts, a person could get by for a very long time.


2. Glasses: In my opinion, glasses are the easiest to use and care-for during adverse situations. They can be cleaned quickly and are very durable compared to contacts. When you wear glasses, it’s also easy to quickly wash your eyes should they become irritated by smoke or some other environmental contaminants.

I started wearing glasses in 2007, so on our last multi-year sailing expedition I brought two extra sets of glasses, for a total of three. I was careful and lucky and my primary pair were still useable (had some wear) through 4-years of heavy use. I did start using one of my backup pair during that same period. My wife wasn’t so lucky, and she went through three pair of glasses (reading, distance and sunglasses) in the same period.

I particularly liked the Flexeron® brand frames since they can take a beating without breaking. I have accidently sat on mine without any harm to them. The other thing about glasses that I like is that they provide considerable eye-protection during various conditions. For instance; when I am using power tools, my glasses keep metal and wood particles for entering my eyes. The same holds true when there is wind carrying sand or dust. I prefer larger lens sizes as opposed to smaller (designer) shaped lens, since the larger lens provides a larger field of corrected vision as well as covering more area around my eyes, thus providing greater protection.

There are several choices for lens materials available; acrylic, polycarbonate and glass. Each material has advantages and disadvantages, which must be carefully considered when it comes to prepping and long term use, possibly under austere conditions.

Glass Lenses: I personally prefer tempered glass lenses because they resist scratching much more than either the acrylic or polycarbonate plastic lenses (both have Mohs hardness ranging between 3 and 4), which are treated with scratch resistant coatings to help make up for that. The ‘Mohs Scale’ of hardness rangers from a ‘1’ for Talc, up to a ‘10’ for Diamond.

On the Mohs scale of hardness, tempered glass ranges between a 6 and 7 based upon how it’s made. The silica in common sand and dust also has a Mohs hardness in the same range so tempered glass tends to resist the abrasive action of dust much more than any plastics.

There are drawbacks to glass lenses; glass is far more dense (higher specific gravity) than plastic, so practically speaking, the same unit/volume of glass of about twice as heavy as that of plastic. And this makes a pair glasses with glass lenses heavier than the same frames with plastic lenses. Another consideration is that glass lenses will break easier than plastic lenses when dropped, or impacted, which reduces the safety factor of glass versus a plastic lens like polycarbonate. Normal glass an acrylic plastic will allow ultraviolet rays to pass; however glass and regular plastic lenses can be can be treated and made UV resistant.

The final drawback to glass lenses is that fulfilling orders for glass lenses will take longer  plastic.

Plastic Lenses: A lens made with polycarbonate plastic will be thinner and lighter than even an acrylic plastic lens. The added benefit to polycarbonate lenses is that they are highly impact resistant (about 10 times greater than acrylic plastic). Additionally, polycarbonate will inhibit ultraviolet transmission through the lens.

The drawback to any plastic as mentioned is that they tend to get scratched much faster over time as compared to tempered glass lenses. This is a consideration that must be weighed by each person.

Regardless of whether you choose glass or plastic lenses, I have found that the benefits of anti-fogging and anti-glare coating are well worth the added cost for the lenses.

Personally I prefer Transitions® brand lenses because they automatically darken in the bright sun, negating the need for a separate pair of sunglasses. If you prefer not to use the Transitions® brand of glasses, then you will need to also have several sets of prescription sunglasses as well. This gets expensive, and cumbersome, especially if you need correction for both long distance vision and reading. The Transitions® brand lenses are available in auto-shading bi-focal lenses, which handles the whole enchilada; sunglasses, reading glasses and long-range correction. I highly recommend the combination of Flexeron® frames with the Transitions® lenses. I bought mine at Costco for about $250 a pair.

One thing that occurs to me in regard to the plastic lens versus glass lens debate is this; have you ever seen a pair of quality binoculars with plastic lenses? Obviously, with the price point for quality binoculars being in the hundreds of dollars, they have to last a long time. I suspect this is why the very best binoculars still use glass lenses versus plastic.

More on lenses here:

eye surgery

3. Corrective Eye Surgery: Lasik® brand corrective laser eye surgery is purportedly safe and effective for normalizing vision and eliminating the need for any corrective lenses in the best cases. I am told by some people that have had corrective eye surgery that in some cases, reading glasses are still required, which means that redundant sets of glasses would still be warranted in an every-day carry, bug-out bag or bug-out location/shelter. I am not totally sold on this surgical solution as of this writing, so for the time being I will be keeping several pair of glasses in reserve.


4. Diving and snorkeling masks: If you wear corrective lenses and your survival plan incorporates the use of diving or snorkeling for food (spear fishing, etc.) or other reasons (maintaining underwater parts of your boat), then you will want to have a corrective lens for your mask. You can get a decent long-lasting silicone mask with a prescription corrective lens (tempered glass) though numerous online suppliers. All you need to do is to have your prescription (the corrective numbers) when you go online so you can enter that data into the order. On our last sailing expedition I bought 4 masks, 2 for my wife and 2 for me, for less than $150.00 total. Our backup masks are still new in the boxes 6 years later.

Bill and Wife

Capt Bill & Laura – 2009-2011 Sea of Cortez Sailing Expedition

Being able to ‘see’ well during and after an emergency or disaster is critical for maximizing your survival and the survival of those around you. Given the complexities and lead-time of having your eyes checked and being fitted with proper contacts and/or glasses demands that you have these issues sorted-out well in advance of any unexpected situation. And always retain your old prescription glasses as a fourth level of backup; I do.

Cheers! Capt. Bill

Capt. William E. Simpson – USMM
Semper Veritas / Semper Paratus
Twitter:  @NauticalPrepper

About the Author:


Capt. William E. Simpson II is a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, having logged more than 150,000 miles at sea. Capt. Simpson has successfully survived long-term ‘off the grid’ at sea and at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family ...


Emergency Preparedness, Guest Contributor, Most Popular, Recent Articles, Self Reliance, Survival Skills


prepper, Nautical Prepper, disaster preparedness and corrective lenses

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