Facebook Pixel Code
 

Best Hunting Binoculars

Updated December 2018
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 7 Models Considered
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 158 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best hunting binoculars

    Last Updated December 2018

    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.

    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.

    Virtually indestructible

    You've got to have extraordinary confidence to guarantee to replace damaged binoculars – regardless of cause – but that's how tough Carson makes these. Add superb optical characteristics throughout, great ergonomics, plus unrivaled attention to detail, and it's easy to see why these feature-packed 10x42 hunting binoculars are so highly rated. A shoulder harness and armored case underline the exceptional quality.

    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.
    EXPERT TIP

    Optically, there might be little difference between top-quality porro and roof prism binoculars – and the former are usually cheaper. However, they are also larger, an important consideration for hunting.


    Staff  | BestReviews
    EXPERT TIP

    If you wear glasses, you'll want binoculars with adjustable or fold-down eyecups to compensate for the greater distance from your eyes to the eyepieces.


    Staff  | BestReviews
    EXPERT TIP

    As magnification increases, field of view decreases. What's important for hunting is being able to identify and follow a target. You don't need to see fine detail of skin or fur.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    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.

    Big name on a budget

    PowerView is Bushnell's entry-level range. Price has been kept to a modest level, but not by cutting corners where it matters. It uses BK-7 prisms, for example, but optics are still multi-coated. Owners are delighted with the ease of focusing, clarity, and wide FoV. Occasional fogging is a minor frustration, forgivable for the money.

    Tips

    • 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.

    Other products we considered

    There's always a temptation to go big, and the Celestron 71008 Skymaster 25x70 Binoculars certainly fall into that category. They're extremely powerful and tremendous at gathering available light, but, unfortunately, their sheer bulk makes them impractical for hunting. For those on a modest budget, the Simmons 899431 Prosport Series 10x42 Binoculars offer good optics, are nitrogen purged to prevent fogging, and have a reasonable degree of protection. In the bargain basement you'll find the Luxun SGODDE 10x25 Compact Waterproof Binoculars. They deliver surprisingly good clarity in a lightweight package that's easy to carry. Not the most robust, perhaps, and the 10x magnification is suspect, but great for a young member of your party to learn with – and not the end of the world if they get dropped.

    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.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Alvina
      Alvina
      Photographer
    • Amos
      Amos
      Director of Photography
    • Bob
      Bob
      Writer
    • Branson
      Branson
      Videographer
    • Bronwyn
      Bronwyn
      Editor
    • Ciera
      Ciera
      Production Assistant
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Katie
      Katie
      Editorial Director
    • Samantha
      Samantha
      Writer
    • Vukan
      Vukan
      Post Production Editor

    BestReviews wants to be better. Please take our 3-minute survey,
    and give us feedback about your visit today.

    Take Survey