The best binoculars 2024: for birdwatching and astronomy

We've all been there, that instance where we wished we had a pair of the best binoculars to hand. There are few moments more magical than an unexpected and spectacular encounter with wildlife. Whether it's a golden eagle diving into the void between mountain ridges or a scampering herd of deer, the ability to see such phenomena up close and into focus is priceless.

It's not all about brushes with wildlife though, Mother Nature has more to offer than that. The best binoculars that we feature here are also ideal for surveying the terrain on a backpacking adventure, watching climbers inch up a crag or enjoying paragliders soaring on the thermals, while some even boast enough magnification to cope with stargazing.

So, we think a quality pair are an essential item for any hiking backpack, or camping trip. Whether you're after a small pair to slip into your jacket pocket on a hike or a heftier pair for some serious birding, we've got you covered.

In this guide are eight of the best binoculars for birdwatching, lightweight missions and stargazing, as well as two of the finest monoculars. We've taken all of them to the backcountry, putting them to the test in a range of conditions and settings to find the ones you can rely on in the field. For us, the best binoculars of 2024 are the Kowa BD32-8XD, which deliver a crystal-clear image and exceptionally close focus. If you're on a budget, we recommend checking out the Nocs Standard Issue, which strike a great balance of image quality, weight, and value.

The quick list

Here's our quick list – a brief rundown of our top recommended binoculars. For more on each pair, click through to the detailed reviews further down this guide.

The best binoculars we recommend in 2024

You can trust Advnture Our expert reviewers spend days testing and comparing gear so you know how it will perform out in the real world. Find out more about how we test and compare products.

The best binoculars overall

Kowa BD32-8XD binoculars in person's hand

Serious binoculars that deliver bright, crisp image and our best in test (Image credit: Matt Swaine)
Japanese optical excellence with unbeatable brightness and clarity


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

Reasons to buy

Exceptionally close focus: ideal for butterflies
The brightest image on offer in this test

Reasons to avoid

Not ideal for general adventure use
Casual users may not notice a big difference in general conditions

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. On test, the smooth glide of the focus wheel let us know we had stepped up a price point, and the design put us 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, making them our top recommendation. 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.

Read our full Kowa BD32-8XD binoculars review

The best binoculars for value

Woman's hands holding Nocs Standard Issue Binoculars

Budget, user-friendly binoculars that provide above-average image quality (Image credit: Nocs Provisions)

2. Nocs Standard Issue

Striking the ideal balance of image quality, weight, and value


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

Reasons to buy

Outstanding image quality
Smartphone compatible

Reasons to avoid

Minimalist strap

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 binoculars 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 we found that they are as ruggedly built as any other model in this guide. 

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.

The best binoculars for general wildlife

Hawke Endurance 8x42 binoculars on a rock

There's a high-end feel to the Hawke Endurance 8x42 binoculars, despite them being exceptional value for money (Image credit: Matt Swaine)
Well constructed and a joy to use, with natural colors


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

Reasons to buy

Exceptional performance at this price point
High-end carry case and accessories

Reasons to avoid

Very slightly softening at edge of image
Heavier than some so might not be ideal for adventure use

Testing these binoculars was a joy. Our tester spent one morning watching a juvenile kestrel on his local patch. 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, he could pick out the subtle shift in faun and chestnut browns and its blue-gray head and tail feathers, thanks to its crisp image and the natural colors 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.

Read our full Hawke Endurance 8x42 binoculars review

The best binoculars for serious birders

Zeiss Terra ED 8x32 binoculars in person's hand

Excellent performance designed to meet aspirations of serious nature enthusiasts (Image credit: Matt Swaine)
Exceptional image quality and easy focusing for following birds


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

Reasons to buy

Exceptional image quality for serious birders
Superb design and easy to use and focus

Reasons to avoid

Image not quite as bright as expected at this price point
Objective lens protectors were easily lost

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 colors 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.

Read our full Zeiss Terra ED 8x32 review

The best binoculars for stargazing

Celestron Skymaster 15x70 binoculars on grass

Affordable binoculars that promise to unlock the wonders of our solar system (Image credit: Matt Swaine)
Enhance your enjoyment of the night sky


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

Reasons to buy

A great way to explore and marvel at the universe
At this price every home should have a pair

Reasons to avoid

Heavy and bulky, so not made for hiking trips
Not ideal for nature watching, but good for big views

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. When we pointed them into a seemingly clear section of sky, stars started to appear that weren't visible with to naked eye.

At this price point a pair of binoculars are probably a better bet than a telescope. We found that they gathered more light and, because we were using both our peepers, we got a more 3D view. Hand-held, it's a struggle to prevent image wobble, so we had to either balance our 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.

Read our full Celestron Skymaster 15x70 binoculars review

The best binoculars for kids

Kowa YF binoculars on grass

The Kowa YF are superb entry-level binoculars that are ideal for young birders (Image credit: Mark Swaine)
Well designed for smaller hands, and a great introduction to birding


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

Reasons to buy

Great value for money
Excellent image quality and performance

Reasons to avoid

Slightly narrower field of vision
Carry bag and extras don’t have high-end feel

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. 

We found that these Kowa YFs are really impressive. They deliver a bright, sharp image with good color 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. 

Read our full Kowa YF 8x30 binoculars review

The best binoculars for campers

Zeiss Terra ED Pocket binoculars with coiled rope on ground

The Zeiss Terra ED Pocket deliver state-of-the-art pocket-sized optics (Image credit: Zeiss)

7. Zeiss Terra ED Pocket

Tough, dependable binoculars that won't weigh down your pack


Size: 5.6” x 4.7” / 14 x 11.9 cm
Weight: 10.9 oz / 310g
Magnification: 8
Field of View at 1000m: 125m / 375 ft
Close focusing distance: 5.3 ft / 1.6m

Reasons to buy

Rugged construction
Optical precision

Reasons to avoid

Adjustment dial placement

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 format. 

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 hikers

Opticron Explorer WA ED-R + 8x32 binoculars on rock

Lightweight binoculars that deliver impressive wide-angle viewing (Image credit: Matt Swaine)
So light and clear, you'll never want to leave home without them


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

Reasons to buy

Impressive wide-angle viewing and great image
Small, light and easy to pack on any adventure

Reasons to avoid

Smaller objective lens won’t gather as much light
Not sufficiently close focusing for butterflies etc

We found that these binoculars are perfect for long bike rides, walks or multi-day trips. They're 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 color 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 we kept coming back to during the test.

Read our full Opticron Explorer WA ED-R + 8x32 binoculars review

The best binoculars for durability

Person's hands holding Bushnell Prime 8x42 binoculars

A very capable pair of binoculars that deliver good value and impressive image (Image credit: Mark Swaine)
Built for outdoor sports, but also great for general nature watching


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

Reasons to buy

Very robust and good for general nature watching
Image is impressive at this price point

Reasons to avoid

Eye adjusters felt very stiff
Lack of real close focus may be a problem for some

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. We found that they are indeed 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.

Read our full Bushnell Prime 8x42 binoculars review

The best monocular

Brunton Echo Zoom Monocular

A compact, inexpensive way to take a closer look at what’s ahead of you on the trail (Image credit: Brunton)

10. Brunton Echo Zoom Monocular

The perfect solution when space is at a premium


Dimensions: 1.3 x 3.3-4.2” / 3.3 x 8.4-10.7 cm
Weight: 3.2 oz / 90g
Magnification: 10-30
Close focusing distance: 10 feet / 3 meters
Eye relief: 12mm/2.4mm-1.8mm /.47”/.09-.07”
Construction: Aluminum body

Reasons to buy

Ergonomic grip
Multi-coated optics

Reasons to avoid

Small viewing area
Limited zoom

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, on test we found the Echo Zoom Monocular 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 let us attach it to our belt or wrist for quick access, while the included lens cloth keeps the monocular clean and clear.

The best for video

Bushnell Equinox Z2

Make your first nocturnal wildlife film with these this high-tech monocular (Image credit: Bushnell)

11. Bushnell Equinox Z2 3x30

Don't just watch willdife, record it too – even at night


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)

Reasons to buy

Night vision allows you to capture nocturnal wildlife
Able to send stills and video to a device

Reasons to avoid

Pricey and probably too restricted in use for most
Needs batteries and no rechargeable option provided

This is 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. It doesn't have the magnification of others in this test, but this monocular uses 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 color images on the screen, which switches to black and white at night for sharper clarity and contrast. We found it to be a fun option that could have serious applications for those with an interest in nocturnal wildlife.

Best binoculars comparison table

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Best binoculars and monoculars comparison table
ModelList priceWeightMagnificationStyle
Kowa BD32-8XD$400 (US)560g / 19.75oz8Premium binoculars
NOCS Standard Issue Collection Binoculars$95 (US)335g / 11.85 oz8 x 25Good value binoculars
Hawke Endurance 8x42$339 (US) / £289 (UK)705g / 24.86oz8Premium binoculars
Zeiss Terra ED 8x32£400 (UK)660g / 23.3oz8Standard binoculars
Celestron SkyMaster 15x70$120 (US)1361g / 48oz15Stargazing binoculars
Kowa YF 8x30£160 (UK)470g / 16.6oz6Entry-level binoculars
Zeiss Terra ED Pocket£330 (UK)10.9 oz / 310g8Premium binoculars
Opticron Explorer WA ED-R + 8x32$329 (US) / £229 (UK)440g / 15.5oz8Premium, lightweight binoculars
Bushnell Prime 8x42$140 (US) / £140 (UK)510g / 17.9oz8Premium binoculars
Brunton Echo Zoom Monocular$87 (US) / £75 (UK)90g / 3.2 oz10-30Monocular
Bushnell Equinox Z2, 3x30$300 (US)420g / 14.8oz3Monocular with film capability

How we test the best binoculars

At Advnture, we test binoculars in the backcountry and in the conditons they were designed to be used in. We assess their performance against their specifications, paying close attention to qualities like clarity, ease of use, portability, grip and weight. When arriving at the final rating, we consider the user experience against the value of the product.

How to choose the best binoculars

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.

What are the best binocular brands?

When it comes to the price points featured in this guide, we think Kowa, Zeiss, Nikon and Celestron make the best binoculars for hiking and wildlife watching trips. Kowa are a Japanese brand that boast supreme optical excellent, while Zeiss have all the hallmarks of quality German manufacturing. Meanwhile, we love Celestron's SkyMaster 15x70s for a spot of stargazing. Nikon are a popular brand and a very good shout if you're looking for exceptional value.

Should I go for roof or porro prism binoculars?

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.

Woman wearing beanie hat using binoculars

The amount of magnification you require will depend on your intended use (Image credit: Matt Swaine)

What is an objective lens?

Objective lenses are the front lenses in a pair of binoculars. The diameter of a pair's objective lenses and its magnification are the numbers you often see in the name. So, a 8x42 binocular has a magnification factor of 8 and an objective lens diameter of  42mm.

While the magnification determines how large objects will appear, the diameter of the objective lens determines how much light the instrument can gather and the difference is exponential. For example, if you double the size of the lens, you get four times the light gathering capability. So, for low light applications, the larger the objective lens, the better. It makes sense when you start to think about astronomical telescopes, which have huge objective lenses for looking into the night sky. However, if you're on a sunny safari, too much light may not be such a good thing...

What is the best magnification for binoculars?

The best magnification for binoculars will depend on what you intend to watch, how far away it is and whether or not it will be moving.

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. 

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.

When it comes to which is better, 10x42 or 20x50, the latter are excellent for longer ranges, making distant objects look much closer than they are and great for looking at far away objects that aren't moving. However, the greater magnification equals a narrower field of vision, which makes finding and keeping your focus on moving objects more difficult.

With this in mind, a binocular with an 8 or 10 factor magnification is useful to catch the action in flocks of birds or to find and then track fast moving species. Binoculars that deliver natural colors 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.

8x magnification is the most popular binocular size, as it allows you to get a close look at what you're studying but gives you enough of a wide view to track moving objects. As mentioned, we think the sweet spot for most nature watching is a pair of 8x42 binoculars. The vast majority of the binoculars in this guide feature 8x magnification.

What is a good price for binoculars?

You can expect to pay anything from $100 to $400 for a pair of quality binoculars, with the lower end representing good budget options and the upper end being the more premium pairs. Of course, you can spend less than this, though the quality is likely to suffer. Likewise, you can also spend more but the difference in performance starts to become negligible compared to the increase in price.

What else should I look for in a pair of the best binoculars?

From brightness issues to guidance for glasses wearers, we consider other factors to consider when buying binoculars.


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'll need a large objective lens and high magnification.

Woman wearing beanie hat using binoculars

Wildlife watching is greatly enhanced by a pair of the best binoculars (Image credit: Matt Swaine)

Glasses wearers

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.

Adventure-ready binoculars

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.

Woman using binoculars

Binoculars can strap around your neck and enhance any hike (Image credit: Matt Swaine)

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.

Person using monocular

A monocular is a great alternative to traditional binoculars (Image credit: Getty)

Binoculars or monoculars?

Of course, your 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.