Thermal scopes are a complicated and advanced piece of equipment, there is no doubt about that. There is no product that can do what they do. They aren’t night vision but something else entirely and, in many ways, better. Before we go too far, let's answer some common questions about thermal optics.
Our Picks for The Best Thermal Scope
- What does a thermal scope do?
- Can you use thermal scope during the day?
- How much is a thermal scope?
- Is Thermal better than night vision?
- What brands are considered the top tier optics for thermal?
- Should you buy a cheap thermal scope?
- Best Thermal Scope - Updated
- 1 ATN THOR HD 640 - BEST CHOICE
- 2 PULSAR TRAIL XQ - THERMAL SCOPE FOR COYOTE HUNTING
- 3 FLIR RS32
- 4 ARMASIGHT PREDATOR - THERMAL IMAGING SCOPE
- 5 ATN THOR 4 - BEST BUDGET THERMAL SCOPE
- 6 ATN THOR LT THERMAL RIFLE SCOPE
- 7 ATN THOR HD 384 SMART
- 8 PULSAR THERNION PULSAR
- 9 Armasight By Flir Predator 336 2-8X25 Thermal
- 10 Trijicon TEO Reap-IR - Thermal Night Vision Scope with Rangefinder
What does a thermal scope do?
Where night vision amplifies existing light, a thermal scope needs no light to see. Without some kind of booster on the sight, a night vision scope would be as blind as any other scope. Thermal would still see as well in that complete darkness.
This is because thermal relies on the heat that is radiated from a target. Most thermal scopes can pick this heat up at very long distances. No matter light levels, time of day, terrain, and even soft cover, thermal will still see its target.
They have far more range than night vision in general. Even the best night vision will be out-ranged by a budget thermal scope. This is not to say that night vision is pointless, just different. Both have their uses.
Can you use thermal scope during the day?
One of the primary advantages of a thermal scope overnight vision is that it works the same during the day as it does in complete darkness. Even if temperatures are hotter than the target you are shooting, they can still be effective. You are looking for differences in heat rather than the hottest thing out there.
How much is a thermal scope?
Thermal scopes aren’t cheap with such advanced technology behind them. You would be hard pressed to ever find a thermal scope that cost less than a thousand dollars. Some go much higher and can reach prices in the $8,000 range.
Most of your most popular weapon based thermal scopes are in the $2000-$3000 dollar range. This is still very costly but just 15 years ago, these were selling at new car prices. If you are willing and able to make this investment, you will have one of the coolest pieces of shooting gear imaginable.
Is Thermal better than night vision?
As briefly discussed above, there is no clear winner to this question. Both have some advantages but generally for hunting, thermal is more popular when it can be afforded. Here are some bonuses of each:
I like both technologies personally. If I had to choose just one for hunting it would be thermal. I am more familiar with it and find it easier to hunt with. This is a personal opinion but one that I will stand by.
As an aside, Night Vision scopes are far easier to sight in. No one ever tells you that you need special targets to sight in a thermal scope. It needs to have some method of generating thermal radiation to work with the scope. Night vision doesn’t use a standard target either but they are far easier to get targets for than thermal.
What brands are considered the top tier optics for thermal?
There are several brands of thermal optics on the market. Very few companies have made the full investment into being able to manufacture something so costly and in such a niche market. Hopefully, this will change soon and drive prices down.
FLIR is one of the most prominent companies making thermal scopes. Most of their products are used for industrial purposes but they have turned out several optics for hunters. I would consider this to be the premier brand of thermal optics if you can afford their higher prices.
ATN is another great company with a long reputation for producing night vision scopes. They have turned their hands to making thermal optics as well and made several scopes that are very nice. I would consider them to be the midrange and most popular models.
Both Pulsar and Armasight make good products. They are not as widely used or as popular but they are likely to become so. They are on par with the other two brands in most respects but have not been as proven. They need a few more years of fieldwork before they can be considered the equal of FLIR and ATN.
Should you buy a cheap thermal scope?
If you find someone selling a thermal new for less than two grand, you should be very suspicious. Sometimes older models can be marked down from the above four manufacturers. You may not find them under two grand but you can get close.
If it were me, I would stay far away from anyone offering a thermal for less than $2000.00. The money you spend on even a budget thermal would be a huge investment. I would want to wait till I knew I was getting a quality product worthy of that kind of investment before I shelled out the money.
Hopefully, in the next 10 years, prices will drop far more. They have dropped thousands in the last decade. Maybe by the end of the next, a thousand dollar thermal will be available that is really worth spending a thousand dollars on.
Best Thermal Scope - Updated
1 ATN THOR HD 640 - BEST CHOICE
The Thor HD 640 is probably the current number one scope on the market when everything is said and done. There isn’t a huge difference in the resolution, it is the standard 640 that almost all thermal use. It does come with a very large selection of reticles and color schemes. You can choose the classic rainbow or a two-tone that is becoming more preferred.
This scope is capable of powers up to 50x which is insane! Most of the magnification is digital which can be a problem but you will find this on most thermal scopes. Optically it is otherwise very clear and stable. The image has no flicker and is crisp and clean.
For a high tech device, the ThOR HD is very rugged and can stand up to normal abuse and most weather. It can handle up to 30 caliber rounds and everything is sealed up and dust proof. When it comes to a scope meant for use, there are none better.
Most thermal scopes have some extras and this one is no exception. It has a built-in rangefinder, GPS, and ballistic calculator. It can even record footage directly through the scope and transmit it via Wi-Fi. It’s the extras that really pull this scope ahead of the competition.
2 PULSAR TRAIL XQ - THERMAL SCOPE FOR COYOTE HUNTING
While a somewhat newer brand on the market, Pulsar is making some very good products. Their 12 model is a standard 640 AMOLED display that is very clear even at zoom. The outstanding feature of this scope is the 2000 yard detection range. At over a mile, you can still pick up heat signatures!
You can select between a large number of reticle patterns and heat displays for any hunting situation. It features a one-shot zero mode and up to three different profiles for different loads or even different rifles.
Runtime is always an issue on any night vision or thermal optic but the Pulsar Trail gives you a solid 8 hours. All the while it is fully IPX 7 Waterproof and unaffected by dust, fog, or pretty much anything else. This is a scope you can confidently take into the field without fear of breaking. If it does, Pulsar is known for their warranty.
The magnification on the pulsar is only 10x on the max end but it is a clear magnification. Like the ATN above, this scope is feature loaded with it can stream video for recording wirelessly and even has a remote control. Top that off with software to help you detect targets and you have one amazing scope.
3 FLIR RS32
It may be strange to see what I consider the best company this far down but FLIR lacks the extras that most of these scopes revel in. They instead provide only the best in detection and overall image quality. If the extras aren’t for you, this is the best scope on the list hands down.
The RS series by FLIR are standard 640 resolution scope with a 5x optical magnification. This makes the images far clearer than you will ever get with a digital zoom scope. When you look through this scope, it's almost like looking through just a glass optic but with heat signatures.
The FLIR does have multiple pallets and several reticle options so it isn’t without features at all. It also has target recognition software which can be very handy when shooting at range. Most importantly, the FLIR scope has the highest res detector in an optic in its price range. This is very nice when hunting smaller game.
You will also get a 4-hour charge on a lithium battery with an optional external pack for more power. Everything in this scope is sealed so it's watertight, shockproof, and very rugged. This is all packed into a scope that weighs about 2 pounds which makes it perfect for smaller platform rifles.
4 ARMASIGHT PREDATOR - THERMAL IMAGING SCOPE
That magic number with thermal scopes is 2000 dollars. It's very hard to find one that falls below that point. The Armasight is one of the few and it is an all-around decent scope with good quality a decent selection of features. On a budget, this is as cheap as you are likely to find quality.
The Predator has a combination of 2x optical zoom and 4x digital which will get you a total of 8x. It is reasonably clear and operates on a 640 OLED display and a thermal core made by FLIR which is great quality and high res.
You will get the reticle options and different pallets that are standard on most thermal scopes. The view is very clear through the 8x magnification and you can expect to get decent shots off out to 400 to 500 yards. Hits at that range are actually fairly easy thanks to a repeatable zero system.
The overall outstanding features of this scope are in durability. It is waterproof, sealed, and handles recoil well. It comes with a three-year warranty on the scope but the thermal element has a ten-year warranty that offers a free replacement. As far as durability goes, this is top notch. With the warranties, it is a solid bet!
5 ATN THOR 4 - BEST BUDGET THERMAL SCOPE
This is an optic I truly love for one reason. Most thermal optics are bulky and overly large. They look like a camera and not a scope. ATN has remedied that with one of the best lightweight optics available and for a rather reasonable price.
This scope mounts with standard rings and costs under that 2 grand mark. You get a lot for that money but you will lose a little for the more budget model scope you are getting. The notable loss is in resolution. This scope has a 384-bit resolution which is the lowest I think you could go.
Beyond that everything is quite good. It has a very sensitive sensor that picks up heat well and can display it in multiple pallets just like the other ATN. It has selectable reticles and really excels at shots more in the 200-300 yard range with its 1-5x magnification.
It does do video and can connect on Wi-Fi but that isn’t the shining star. The one thing to truly love about this scope is its ballistic computer. It has modes to account for different loads and can factor in temperature, altitude, range, wind, and angle to get a perfect shot. Not to mention it is quite durable and has an astounding 18 hour run time!
6 ATN THOR LT THERMAL RIFLE SCOPE
The ATN Thor LT Thermal is a budget priced system. This sight is part of the ATN line of night optics of which I use a starlight system dsigned and built by them. As for the heat immageing thermal system in ost case several thousand dollars can be spent with ease on such a sighting unit. The LT however is a system that has great features and priced right for the advanced hunter, or serious tactical shooter.
The scope retains advanced heat detection sensors that allow sighting through fog or total darkness, The main frame tube is a 30 mm unit that says strength and the ability to be filled with larger scale internals. The main tube housing is high grade aluminum alloy material, and recoil resistant when heavy caliber weapons are employed.
The scope has a high level of performance while using a low level of power. That means long battery life in the field. ( 10 hours of continuous use ) I observed some Cajun night hunters taking on nutria swamp rats in the Louisiana delta last year, and they killed several hundred animals in three nights of shooting. We day hunted and did well at ¼ ton of fur harvested, but nothing like those two shooters by way of the heat seeking night sights.
This scope is lighter weight ( LT ) then most night vision systems, and that makes for less stress on the shooter, and easier field use in general. The sight retains a one shot zero function. Shoot for a print ( bullet ) and move the sighting systems cross hairs to that bullet impact point ( hole ) . The scope zero is a done deal at that point.
7 ATN THOR HD 384 SMART
This thermal sight is advanced in that it carries several different features not found on some other sight within the market place. Image performance or pickup in total darkness is a 384X288 sensor. The scope picks up even very small amounts of heat given off by the target subject, Using a built in ballistics calculator the scope system allows factor the exact drop and range regarding a target down range. This saves ammunition and can produce one shot stops when the system is used correctly.
I will indicate that be advised your going to have to do some ready when bringing this scope up to full operation levels. I have programed the system built by ATN, and these scopes are not just stick it on the rifle point and shoot. Far from it.
The basic angle of viewing in this optical system is 12X9.5, with a smooth zoom system. High resolution HD video recording and also photos can be produced being hands off recoil operated.
The scope allows you to see your phone as a viewer. and also has a Firmware upgrade. This is a box up electrical wonder in sighting.
8 PULSAR THERNION PULSAR
When searching for better grade thermal night shooting systems at times some of the same name brands surface. That is because this is a narrow range of sighting optics and only a few companies have specialized in the designing and manufacturing of these types of sights.
Pulsar is another brand name previously mentioned in this review and again the company has addd still another offering to their product line. This time the sight is the Thermion XM and the system comes standard with a built in recording system, digital zoom with a stream vision app that connects the scope to your smart device. The MX50 can night scan to a range of 2,500 yards with 320X240 resolution with a picture core at 12 um pixels.
Now for the hard part. Because the scope is very advanced and directed toward professional use.
9 Armasight By Flir Predator 336 2-8X25 Thermal
His scope is based as military quality and within that set of requirements re a night shooting sighting system. The scope makes use of the latest tau 2 micron uncooled flir core technology. The scope carries six onboard digitally controlled reticle patterns available as dot 4 MOA, line dot, cross center dot, cross, crosshair, and no reticle viewed at all.
The base system retains an attached 1913 rail for the addition of additional opticle accessories.
No price of date re available through Amazon. Other outlets possible. Be advised some of these sighting systems are not marketable outside the USA.
10 Trijicon TEO Reap-IR - Thermal Night Vision Scope with Rangefinder
Right off I can say that in terms of military grade night vision system theTherma Teo IRMS -35 is among some of the very best compact night sighting systems offered today for both military operations and police units as well. The bad guys have no place to hide when a rifleman or sniper scans an area in total blackness with this thermal sight.
I can say that I have based several of my sighting systems both in self generating power scopes and ACOG combat sighting system on Trijicon products. These are American made, used by the US Army and other services, and are very upper level products. In effect, the best sights available anyplace on the planet
This scope regarded by the manufacture as “ Trijicon Electro-Optics “, reap-ir mimi thermal riflescope in a 35mm compact housing is light weight with a 640X480 thermal sensor digital contrast enhancement, and digital focus controls. Stadiametric ranging edge detection mode. The scope retains reticle position readouts using a multiple reticle save system regarding locations. The unit retains five different reticle patterns with a thumb stick system controller.
The scope runs 4 hours in a CR 123 power source. The scope has a start up time of five seconds, and the scope is mounted on a mini Picatinny rail. Additional details can be provided by the manufacture. This is a professional sighting system , and is now offered through Amazon.
The scopes above are easily on the top of the food chain when it comes to thermal optics. Whether you want a thermal scope for AR15 rifles or something a little larger, one of those is likely to do what you need it to do. Be cautious of cheaper scope and those that are unproven. This will give you an idea of what’s on the market and what you can expect to pay to get a decent thermal scope.