The best binoculars can enhance any adventure in the great outdoors. The obvious application that springs to mind immediately is nature watching; for birdwatching enthusiasts and safari rangers, having a pair of the best binoculars is as essential as a map and compass for hikers and mountaineers. Being able to magnify the wonders of the natural world from the comfort of a nature hide or your safari vehicle is magical.
However, we think binoculars are also an essential item on any hiking or camping trip. With lightweight and compact models that slip easily into your hiking backpack, the best binoculars give you the opportunity to treasure wildlife encounters, such as when you spot an eagle gracefully soaring above the summits or a distant herd of deer scampering along the ridge lines. We’ve even got a couple of the best monoculars featured here: an even lighter, more compact and affordable alternative.
But it’s not all about wildlife. The best binoculars feature large enough lenses and enough magnification to be able to cope with stargazing. If you’ve never experienced the full moon through a pair of bins from the comfort of your tent at night, you’ve really got to try it! It's time to add binoculars to your camping checklist.
Spotting distant tankers or leaping dolphins from the coastal trails, watching climbers inching their way up distant buttresses, or watching paragliders riding the thermals; you’ll quickly be surprised just how often you reach for your binoculars once you take them along for the ride. Here, we feature the very finest on offer, from lightweight models fit for the trail to the very best for birdwatching and stargazing.
The best binoculars for all-round use
NOCS Standard Issue Collection Binoculars
Budget, user-friendly binoculars that provide above-average image quality
MSRP: $95.00 | Dimensions: 4.53” x 4.25” / 115mm x 108mm | Weight: 11.85 oz. / 335g | Magnification: 8 x 25 | Eye Relief: 7mm/6mm-13mm / 0.027”-0.50” | Weather Resistance: IPx7
The quirky looking NOCS Standard Issue Collection Binoculars are a great choice for buyers looking for a pair of adventure-ready, high-performing binoculars without breaking the bank.
The NOCS use high-grade Bak4 prisms and fully multi-coated lenses that together provide a wide field of view and outstanding image quality in all light conditions. They’re also fully waterproof, have fog-proof lenses, feature a non-slip ergonomic grip, and are as ruggedly built as any other model in our review.
The NOCS weigh in at a highly portable 11.85oz (336 g) and are small enough to fit inside a large pocket or the hood of a daypack. Their manufacturers also protect your purchase with a highly reassuring “no matter what” lifetime warranty and throw in a smartphone adapter that lets you capture photos and video clips through the lenses. The binoculars come in a variety of wild and vibrant colors: marigold yellow, cobalt blue, poppy orange, granite gray, seafoam green, cypress, flat earth and squid ink.
Redesigned binoculars that will meet the needs of any aspiring bird watcher
RRP: $189.95 (US)/£209 (UK) | Size: 167mm length; 129mm width/6.6inch length; 5.1inch width | Weight: 650g/23oz | Magnification: 8 | Objective diameter: 42mm | Field of view at 1000m: 119m | Close focusing distance: 4m/13.2ft
There’s a high-end feel to Nikon’s redesigned Prostaff range: excellent balance and the slightly tapered barrels are an ergonomic delight. The focus wheel moves smoothly, so it’s easy to fine tune the image and move quickly from long range to something that catches your eye in the foreground. The image it delivers is sharp and clear, with minimal distortion or chromatic aberration.
As a general pair of do-anything, adventure binoculars these are an excellent option. If you plan on getting more serious about birding, then you might want to invest a little more, but most people would be hard pressed to notice the difference. These represent an excellent mix of value and performance at this price point and they were a joy to use.
High-end feel to these binoculars that represent exceptional value for money
RRP: $269 (USA)/£229 (UK) | Size: 148mm length; 127mm width/ 5.8in length; 5in width | Weight: 705g/24.86oz | Magnification: 8 | Objective diameter: 42mm | Field of view at 1000m: 133m | Close focusing distance: 2m/6.6ft
Testing these binoculars was a joy. I spent one morning watching a juvenile kestrel on my local patch. It’s a rocky scramble up onto the viewing point, so I slung these over my shoulder in their robust carry case, leaving my hands free to clamber to the top. Wide-angle views made it easy to track the bird as it practiced hunting in the scree. When it came to rest in a tree opposite, I could pick out the subtle shift in faun and chestnut browns and its blue-grey head and tail feathers, thanks to its crisp image and the natural colours that these binoculars produce.
If your aspirations tend towards serious bird and nature watching, then I would highly recommend you try these for yourself. They look and feel exceptionally good and the focus wheel, while a little firmer than others, adds to the feel of a well-constructed pair of binoculars that promise a lifetime of use.
Bushnell Prime 8x42
A very capable pair of binoculars that deliver good value and impressive image
RRP: $140 (USA)/£162 (UK) | Size: 132mm length; 130mm width/5.2in length; 5.4in width | Weight: 660g/23.3oz | Magnification: 8 | Objective diameter: 42mm | Field of view at 1000m: 117m | Close focusing distance: 3m/10ft
Every pair of binoculars in this test represent great value and performance and these are no exception. The image quality is good and they would meet the needs of most users, so if you are looking for a pair of binoculars at this price point then these are an excellent investment. What’s more, they are designed to be impressively robust. Bushnell is a US brand that specialises in sports optics for hunting, fishing and wildlife watching.
These come with a hydrophobic coating to deal with dust, oil and water and a lifetime ‘ironclad’ guarantee. You can apparently immerse them in three foot of water for up to 30 minutes. They are tough, but didn’t have the quality feel of other binoculars and the eyecups didn’t twist as easily as we would have liked. But if you’re looking for the guarantee of bomb-proof performance and great value for money then these should be on your shortlist.
The best binoculars for birdwatching
Great image quality, easy to use and ideal for nature watching
RRP: $179 (US)/£200 (UK) | Size: 142mm length; 128mm width/5.6inch length; 5inch width | Weight: 705g/24.9oz | Magnification: 8 | Objective diameter: 42mm | Field of view at 1000m: 129m | Close focusing distance: 2m/6.6ft
The 8x42 range is a sweet spot for birdwatching: the magnification isn’t so large that you need a tripod to stabilise the image and the 42mm objective lens allows plenty of light in. This gets a boost thanks to the ED glass lenses that, Celestron say, delivers brighter, sharper images and ‘eliminates chromatic aberration’. That means you get natural clear colours that all appear in focus across the spectrum. The field of view is impressive, and you’ll appreciate this pair’s ability to focus at a close range of 2m, especially if you are interested in bees, butterflies and other invertebrates.
They are slightly heavier than other on test, though, so you might be less inclined to pop them in a rucksack on a multi-day trip. They are however a serious pair of nature-watching binoculars at a very competitive price.
Superb entry-level binoculars that are ideal for young birders
RRP: $149 (US)/£100 (UK) | Size: 160mm length; 114mm width/ 6.3in length; 4.5in width | Weight: 470g/16.6oz | Magnification: 6 | Objective diameter: 30mm | Field of view at 1000m: 119m | Close focusing distance: 2m/6.6ft
These are porro prism binoculars (see ‘how to buy section’ below) and while they might look slightly old fashioned, there are some distinct advantages. Because light takes a simpler route from the objective lens to your eyeball, there is less technology required inside to deliver the same image quality. That means you potentially get the same performance as a pair that cost far more.
These Kowa YFs are really impressive. They deliver a bright, sharp image with good colour and very little sense of fuzziness at the edge. The field of view is wide enough for them to work as a primary pair of bird-watching binoculars and they offer excellent close focus. They are great for smaller hands, and perfect for young birders who want their first pair of bins. If you’re buying on a budget, these are robust, light, easy to pack, sit neatly in a waterproof jacket pocket and are ready for action when you need them. So not just for kids and beginners, these are among the best binoculars for anyone at this price point.
Zeiss Terra ED 8x32
Excellent performance designed to meet aspirations of serious nature enthusiasts
RRP: $400 (USA)/£375 (UK) | Size: 125mm length; 117mm width 4.9in length; 4.6in width | Weight: 510g/17.9oz | Magnification: 8 | Objective diameter: 32mm | Field of view at 1000m: 135m | Close focusing distance: 1.6m/5.3ft
Of all the pairs in this test, these binoculars are mostly likely to get appreciative nods from other birders. They represent a significant step up in outlay, and casual users may not notice a great deal of difference from pairs like the Nikon or Hawke, but if your aspirations match this price point, then these (and the Kowa BDs) are where you should be looking. Small differences in performance will represent a good return on your investment over many years of use.
These felt really good to hold and the large focus wheel made it easy to adjust as we followed birds zipping across the sky. There’s very little sense of distortion at the edge of the image and you get bright, natural colours that allow you to really appreciate the action. We tested these in a range of conditions and while they are undoubtedly impressive, they did not quite deliver the brightness of image that we expected in lower light conditions.
Serious binoculars that deliver bright, crisp image and our “best in test”
RRP: $399 (US)/£369 (UK) | Size: 122mm length; 118.5mm width 4.8in length; 4.6in width | Weight: 560g/19.75oz | Magnification: 8 | Objective diameter: 32mm | Field of view at 1000m: 131m | Close focusing distance: 1.5m/4.9ft
There are two brands that sit at the upper price limit we have set for this test and they are both worth serious consideration, if your budget and wildlife aspirations allow. While Zeiss represents the best of German manufacturing, Kowa delivers Japanese optical excellence. The smooth glide of the focus wheel lets you know you have stepped up a price point and the design puts you in the aesthetic territory of more expensive brands. But far more important is the quality of image, and neither pair will disappoint.
Both models are a step up from others in this test that serious birder will value. But these just edged it in terms of clarity and brightness of image in a range of conditions. We tested the 8x32 pair to give a direct comparison to the Zeiss Terra ED 8x32. You might prefer to opt for the larger objective lens of the Kowa BD8x42 or greater magnification of the BD10x42. All perform exceptionally well and represent our best in test.
Zeiss Terra ED Pocket
State-of-the-art pocket-sized optics
MSRP: $349 | Size: 5.6” x 4.7” / 14 x 11.9 cm | Weight: 25.6 oz / 725g | Magnification: 8 x 42 | Field of View at 1000m: 125m / 375 ft | Close focusing distance: 5.3 ft / 1.6m
Across a broad product range, Zeiss offers models of binoculars for every application and budget. For hikers and campers, the Terra ED Pocket 8x25 is our pick of the bunch. These binoculars offer 8x magnification and use high-quality hydrophobic, anti-reflective coated lenses that provide clear, crisp, and colorful images in all light conditions. The large viewing fields and close minimum focus distance make these just about the closest thing you’ll get to a full-sized binoculars in a trail-ready and pocket-sized varietal.
The lightweight, compact, folding design makes these binoculars easy to bring along on any outdoor adventures and to sports events, while the quality of the optics means they are also a great choice for dedicated bird-watching trips. Overall, they have very user-friendly ergonomics, with grippy covering armor and an intuitively located diopter knob making handling and focusing a cinch.
The best binoculars for lightweight adventures
Nikon Travelite 8 x 25
A long-term favorite of campers, hikers, and wildlife enthusiasts everywhere
MSRP: $99.95 | Size: 4.6” x 4.6 “ | Weight: 9.3 oz / 263g | Magnification: 8x | Objective diameter: 25mm / .98” | Eye relief: 14mm / .55 | Close focusing distance: 9.8 ft / 2.98 m
The Travelite binoculars have been among Nikon’s most popular for 30 years. The current iteration represents six generations of evolution and includes a brand-spanking-new, seriously upgraded feature set.
The Travelite use a reverse Porro prism that creates a small, compact frame design, multi-coated optics to reduce glare and improve light transmission, and aspherical eyepiece lenses that minimize image distortion. The lenses are bright edge to edge and use anti-reflective compounds to deliver crisp, clear images. The Travelite are built with a durable, protective, rubber-armored non-slip coating that creates a non-slip grip in rainy, wet conditions and the fog-resistant, durable construction makes them ideal for backcountry adventurers. Nikon’s ECO-Glass is also sourced responsibly and is lead and arsenic-free. Thanks to their compact size and light weight, the Travelite can easily be stowed away in a daypack or even your jacket pocket.
Lightweight binoculars that deliver impressive wide-angle viewing
RRP: $329 (USA)/£219 (UK) | Size: 120mm length; 116mm width/ 4.7inch length; 4.6inch width | Weight: 440g/15.5oz | Magnification: 8 | Objective diameter: 32mm | Field of view at 1000m: 136m | Close focusing distance: 2.5m/8.2ft
Most of my nature watching comes in the middle of long bike rides, walks or multi-day trips, and these binoculars are perfect for that kind of use. They are light, compact and easy to justify throwing in a rucksack or bike pannier just in case.
Smaller objective lenses should mean they don’t perform as well in lower light conditions, but we were very impressed when we tested these alongside three larger lens binoculars. As the sun was going down, watching a climber tackle routes in the Avon Gorge, the Opticrons produced clear, bright images good focus across the colour range.
With the widest field of view in this test they make it easier to track a bird in flight or to spot interesting behaviour in a larger flock. They compare favourably with the most expensive models in this test and these were the pair I kept coming back to during the test.
High quality optics in an affordable, compact package
MSRP: $200 | Size: 4.5 x 6 x 1.4” / 11.4 x 15.2 x 3.5 cm | Weight: 12.6 oz / 357g | Magnification: 10x 28 | Eye relief: 15mm / 5.9”
Built on a durable polymer frame to save weight and cost, Maven shifts those savings to high quality optics. The C2 uses low-dispersion (ED) glass and a dielectric coated Schmidt-Pechan prism system. The lenses are multi-coated low dispersion glass, waterproof, fog proof and scratch resistant and deliver sharp edge-to-edge focus.
The C2 offers compact, lightweight binoculars that function admirably well in outdoor environments and sporting events. A mid-range model in Maven’s product line, the C2 is a fine option for bringing Mother Nature’s beauty just a little bit closer for all kinds of users – hikers, hunters, backpackers, birdwatchers, or any other outdoors-goers. Images are clear, bright, high contrast, and with excellent color representation. A neoprene neck strap, lens caps and microfiber storage bag are included with the purchase, and Maven offers a lifetime warranty.
The best binoculars for gazing at the night sky
Celestron Skymaster 15x70
Affordable binoculars that promise to unlock the wonders of our solar system
RRP: $95 (US)/£89.99 (UK) | Size: 280mm length; 220mm width 11in length; 8.7in width | Weight: 1361g/48oz | Magnification: 15 | Objective diameter: 70mm | Field of view at 1000m: 77m | Close focusing distance: 13m/43ft
These binoculars wouldn’t look out of place on the set of a WW2 naval epic, being used by a lookout scanning the ocean for U-Boats. The whopping 70mm objective lens is designed to gather light, while the 15 times magnification promises impressive views of the lunar surface, Jupiter, cloud nebula and even a hint of the rings of Saturn. Point them into a seemingly clear section of the sky and stars start to appear that aren’t visible with the naked eye.
At this price point a pair of binoculars are probably a better bet than a telescope. They gather more light and because you’re using two eyes, you get a more 3D view. Hand-held you will struggle to prevent image wobble, so you need to either balance your elbows on a wall or use the tripod adaptor to get the stability required. But at this price, we think everyone should have a pair of these: they are guaranteed to enhance your enjoyment and understanding of the night sky.
The best monoculars
Bushnell Equinox Z2, 3x30
Make your first nocturnal wildlife film with these high tech monoculars
RRP: $310 (US)/£394 (UK) | Size: 164mm length; 82mm width/6.54in length; 3.2in width | Weight: 420g/14.8oz | Magnification: 3 | Objective diameter: 30mm | Field view at 1000m: 138m | Close focusing distance: 2.5m/8.2ft (estimated)
These are relatively expensive and are clearly designed for a very different purpose to others in this test. Whether your adventures take you out on wild camping trips or you want to know what’s roaming around at night in your back garden or local patch, these are worth consideration. They don’t have the magnification of others in this test, but these monoculars use infrared sensors to deliver an effective night vision range of up to 200 yards (182 meters). What’s more, you can capture the action as the Z2 allows you to record video at 1080p HD and then upload images and videos using Wi-Fi or leads.
Film during the day to deliver colour images on the screen, which switches to black and white at night for sharper clarity and contrast. A fun option that could have serious application for those with an interest in nocturnal wildlife.
Brunton Echo Zoom Monocular
A compact, inexpensive way to take a closer look at what’s ahead of you on the trail
MSRP: $49.99 | Dimensions: 1.3 x 3.3-4.2” / 3.3 x 8.4-10.7 cm | Weight: 3.2 oz / 90g | Magnification: 10x-30x zoom | Close focusing distance: 10 feet / 3 meters | Eye relief: 12mm/2.4mm-1.8mm /.47”/.09-.07” | Construction: Aluminum body
The curious hiker always wonders what’s ahead of them on the trail. Is that an eagle? Is that the canoe portage? Is that notch in the skyline the saddle I need to reach to continue my route? Many pairs of binoculars can help answer those questions, but few do so at so little a cost in weight as the Echo Zoom Monocular.
Compact, light, and constructed of durable aluminum, the Monocular is as trail-worthy as they come. It also has a flexible eyecup that is comfortable all day long, can focus as close as 10 ft/3m, boasts a 10x-30x zoom, and provides sharp enough images to distinguish fine details on birds, flora and fauna at great distances. The Echo Zoom comes with a handy case and wrist strap that lets you attach it to your belt or wrist for quick access, while the included lens cloth keeps the monocular clean and clear.
Choosing the best binoculars for you
Binoculars are an exceptionally personal purchase. What feels right for one person may not work for another. What delivers a good image for one person may not work quite as well for you. So there is no substitute for getting your hands on a pair of binoculars before you buy.
To help you narrow down your choice there are two questions to ask yourself when looking for the best binoculars: what is your budget and what do you want to use your binoculars for?
If you're off on a once-in-a-lifetime safari trip, you might want to splash the cash on an all singing, all dancing model that provides great magnification and crystal clear vision. However, if you're looking for an additional boon to your hiking essentials, you'll want something light and compact, a model that you don't mind stuff into your daypack. Often overlooked for this kind of application are monoculars, which are smaller, cheaper and lighter than their dual optic counterparts.
Here’s what you need to know to help you make that decision.
Roof or porro prism?
There are two types of binoculars in this test: the traditional porro prism binoculars that have an ‘M’ shape to them, and the more modern roof prism binoculars that seem to be just a tube where the light travels directly from one end to the other.
The truth is very different: roof prism binoculars require high quality prisms and lenses to send the light on a much more complicated path from the objective lens to the eye.
So while these more fashionable binoculars are often more compact and sleeker in design, the porro prism alternatives should not be overlooked. Less technology inside and a less complicated path for the light to follow, means they offer better image quality and brightness for your money.
Magnification and brightness
The two numbers that come with your binoculars give you the magnification and size of the objective lens (the one at the opposite end to your eye). We think that the sweet spot for most nature watching is a pair of 8x42 binoculars. Larger magnification can make it harder to deliver a stable image with a pair of handheld binoculars. A x10 magnification is probably fine for most people, but don’t go over this unless you intend to use them with a tripod.
The larger the objective lens the more light can get in. So all things being equal, a 42mm lens will deliver a brighter image in lower light conditions than a 32mm lens.
BUT… not all things are equal, which is why manufacturers will shout about the technology inside their binoculars that allow them to bounce light around to deliver a brighter, sharper image. Many manufacturers offer a number for ‘relative brightness’ but this is really just based on the size of the objective lens. In reality, the quality of glass and manufacturing as well as the technology used will deliver very different results. If you're looking to take in the wonders of the Northern Hemisphere night sky, you will need a large objective lens and high magnification.
The birds or the bees?
For bird watching, we think that a pair of binoculars around the 8x32, 8x42 mark are ideal, although a pair of 10x32 or 10x42 are also worth considering. A wide angle (larger objective lens) is useful to catch the action in flocks of birds or to find and then track fast moving species. Binoculars that deliver natural colours will help if you need to ID tricky species. If you have an interest in butterflies, bees and dragonflies, then look for a pair that offer a close focus of 2m or less.
Some people will need to wear glasses while they use their binoculars. If you’re near-sighted and require glasses for reading this will be less of a problem.
Eye relief is the distance a binocular can be held away from the eye while still giving you the full field of view. If you use glasses then you need to look for a pair that have an eye relief of 16mm or more. Test them out with your glasses on if possible.
Smaller binoculars are easier to slip into a jacket pocket and carry on longer multi-day trips. If you are doing something more adventurous than carrying your binoculars from a car to a bird hide, then they need to be robust and durable. A lifetime or long guarantee is a good indication of the manufacturer’s faith in their product. We have had binoculars replaced in the past, so it’s worth looking for this extra security.
Waterproof and rain resistant
Even general bird watchers need to know that their binoculars can cope with rain and wet weather. A solid construction and anti-fogging is important. If you’re planning long walks in rainy conditions, then a quality carry case and lens protectors are helpful. Even better, stash your bins in a decent dry bag for peace of mind.
Binoculars or monoculars?
Of course, you optimum optic of choice doesn't have to come as a pair. Monoculars are great alternatives to binoculars. With only one set of optics and comprising less material, monoculars are obviously lighter and more compact. This makes them ideal for fast packing, when you might have limited space in your daypack or hydration pack. Other advantages include the fact you can focus with just one hand and that they are easier to hold. Finally, it should come as no surprise that monoculars are generally cheaper than binoculars.
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