Updated December 2021
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Buying guide for best hunting binoculars

A good pair of binoculars is an invaluable part of any hunter's gear, allowing you to identify and track game that would be difficult to see with the naked eye.

There is an enormous selection to choose from, which is great because there's something for just about any budget. The challenge comes in separating those that deliver performance and value from those that are inexpensive but poor quality, or those that are simply overpriced.

BestReviews was created to answer those kind of questions – to research the market, look at the options available, and provide accurate information that helps you make the right choice when it's time to buy.

In the matrix above, we offer a few suggestions that meet the needs of a wide range of rifle and bow hunters. For those who would like more details, we've compiled the following guide.

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The first commercially available binoculars, called “hunting glasses,” were introduced by Zeiss in 1894.

How binoculars work

Light enters the front of the binoculars through the large objective lenses. At this point, the image is upside down. The light then passes through two prisms, which turn it right side up. Finally, the light passes through one or more ocular lenses (including the eyepieces), which magnify it.

Many people buying binoculars for the first time assume that the objective lenses do the magnifying, but that isn’t the case. What they do is capture light.

If you want to look at the stars on a dark night, huge objective lenses are a major benefit. When you're hunting, they're just part of the equation. They are important because the more light, the brighter the image, but overall size is also a consideration. You don't want binoculars so big that they get in the way. Hunting binoculars strike a good balance between light capture and portability.

Hunting binoculars by the numbers

Binoculars are specified using two numbers: magnification and lens diameter, written as 10x50, 15x42, or 25x70, for example.

Magnification: The first number is the magnification or power. For example, 15x binoculars make the thing you're looking at 15 times bigger than real life; 25x make it 25 times bigger, and so on.

You might think that finding the right hunting binoculars is simply a question of having the most power possible. However, extreme magnification causes two problems. First, any movement is exaggerated. If you're not absolutely steady, you'll find it hard to spot your target – and focus. Second, as magnification increases, field of view (see below) decreases. You might be able to see every hair on a buck's head, but if it moves a foot, it disappears! For hunters, the generally accepted “best” compromise is 8x or 10x magnification. It's enough to identify your target as well as track it reasonably easily if it takes off.

Objective lens diameter: The second number is the objective lens diameter in millimeters (mm). This is also called the aperture, though the term isn't often used. The bigger this diameter, the more light gets into the binoculars, and the clearer the image. The trade-off is physical size. For hunting binoculars, you don't want any less than 25 mm. A practical maximum is 50 mm, though 42 mm is far and away the most popular.

The all-important optics

Manufacturers use far too many variables for us to get into a  discussion of the different properties of the glass used in binocular lenses. However, there are a few elements we can quantify: HD/ED glass, prisms, and lens coatings.

HD/ED glass: As light (in this case, the image) passes through glass, it has a tendency to split into its different color components. You'll sometimes see this as “fringing” or “haloing,” where you can see red, green, and blue bands at the edge of an object. Clarity also suffers. High-definition glass (HD) and extra-low dispersion glass (ED) aim to combat this to provide a sharper image.

Unfortunately, there's no common standard, so one manufacturer can claim its ED glass is better than another’s, but there's no way to check. HD glass in cheap binoculars may not be as good as ordinary glass from a high-end manufacturer. As is often the case with optics, it's likely a case of the more you spend, the better you get.

Prisms: There are two grades of prism in common use: BK-7 and BaK-4. The latter costs more but invariably gives a sharper image.

Lens coatings: These reduce reflection and help sharpen the image. Even cheap binoculars have some type of lens coating. While exact specifications vary from one pair to another, the following is a general guide:

  • Coated: A single layer on one surface of at least one lens

  • Multi-coated: More than one layer of coating on one or more lenses

  • Fully coated: A single layer on all external lenses

  • Fully multi-coated: Multiple layers on all lens surfaces

  • Other: High-end hunting binoculars might also have moisture-repellant exterior lens coatings.

Other important features

Field of view: FoV is the width of the image you can see through your binoculars at 1,000 yards. It can be as little as 50 feet, but the FoV of hunting binoculars is usually around 200 to 300 feet.

Eyecups: “Eye relief” is how far away from the eyepiece your eye can be and still see the full FoV. Usually, the eyecups serve as a guide. If you wear glasses, you'll want binoculars with adjustable or fold-down eyecups to compensate. If the eye relief is too short, it will be like having the edges of the image cut off, so if you wear glasses, it's important to check.

Seal: Fogging is a major problem with cheap binoculars. Any dramatic change in temperature causes condensation on the inside, and there's no way to clear it. Good hunting binoculars are sealed with O-rings to keep moisture out (thus making them waterproof). The best are filled with nitrogen (nitrogen purged), which eliminates fogging completely (unless the binoculars are damaged).

Coating: Hunting binoculars are likely to be knocked around and dropped, so good models have thick, rubberized coatings that make them easy to grip (particularly with wet hands), provide impact protection, and deaden sounds (so you’re less likely to spook your quarry if you bang the binoculars on your rifle or a tree).

Hunting binoculars prices

You can find cheap hunting binoculars for around $20, but don't waste your money. They have neither the optical precision nor the rugged build you need.
For between $55 and $90 you'll find a selection of perfectly adequate models ideal for the hunter who needs to keep an eye on the budget.

Full-featured, premium-quality hunting binoculars start at around $200, with a “sweet spot” at around $300. You can pay more, but there's no real need. Higher magnification will add to the cost, but as we've discussed, it's not a feature that benefits the hunter.


  • Focus on your target. There are normally two controls for focusing. The central ring or knob is the main focus. The other, usually in front of the right eyepiece, is the diopter. It's used to compensate for the difference in strength we all have between the right and left eyes. First set the main focus. Using only your left eye, pick a stationary object about 30 feet away. Once the image is sharp, use only your right eye using the diopter. Get the image sharp again. You should now have a nice, clear image with both eyes open. Now you should only need to use the main focus knob. If the diopter gets knocked, you'll need to go through the process again, but good-quality binoculars allow you to lock the diopter.

  • Consider using a binocular harness. A neck strap is usually provided, but you might want to consider using a binocular harness. It’s more comfortable, less likely to tangle your other gear, and it can protect the lenses and even help muffle sounds as you move around.

  • Try different ways to hold the binoculars steady. A tripod can give great stability, but carrying one isn't practical for hunters. You can get some support by leaning against a tree. Alternatively, hold your free arm tight against your chest, with your open hand as a support for the elbow of the arm holding the binoculars.
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There's little point dressing in full camo gear and then carrying shiny binoculars. Most hunting-specific models have a camouflage option, though any non-reflective finish works.

Hunting binocular FAQ

Q. What does “nitrogen purged” mean?

A. Nitrogen is an inert gas – it doesn't react with other substances. On high-quality binoculars, it’s used to drive out (purge) hydrogen and oxygen, which are the cause of fogging inside the lenses. O-ring seals are used to prevent these elements getting back in and ensure the nitrogen doesn't leak out.

Q. How can I tell if binoculars are really waterproof?

A. It can be difficult, especially when makers use terms like “water-resistant” or “splash-proof.” O-rings certainly offer some degree of protection. The only way to be sure is to look for an independent ingress protection rating – from IPX-0, meaning no protection at all, to IPX-7, which means the device could be submerged in a meter of water for 30 minutes. There's also IPX-8, which covers anything that exceeds IPX-7. It’s defined by the manufacturer but independently verified.

Q. What's the difference between porro prism and roof prism binoculars?

A. Porro prisms are what you might think of as "classic" binoculars in which the eyepiece and objective lens don't line up. This is because porro prisms are offset. Roof prisms overlap, so the eyepiece and objective lens are in line. The porro prism setup can provide greater depth perception, so it's often favored for long-range binoculars above 15x. However, power for power, they can be considerably larger, so most hunting binoculars are of the roof prism type.

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