2018 Updated by Eric - As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through & make a purchase. Please read my disclosure for more info.
We all know the naked eye is limited and to be proficient and effective scouts, we need something to improve our vision. You would never go out in the dim light to look for sign without a flashlight so why head into the open country without some form of optical advantage?
There are a lot of optics used by hunters from rifle scopes to rangefinders but none are as effective as a small set of binoculars that are easily available when you need them. They have a greater field of view than any other optic and usually have more magnification. This makes them an indispensable tool for spotting and identifying game as well as spots in which we may want to take a closer look.
While I would never assert that they are a mandatory piece of gear, nothing will do the job they do as effectively. As you get used to having and using a set of binoculars, you will find your reaching for them more and more often. This is one tool that most of the older hunters of my childhood carried but many modern hunters ignore. Maybe its time to take a cue from those old timers and what they knew.
Types of Binoculars and their Use
Binoculars can be broken down into three major classifications, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The binoculars in each classification share some traits but are often more effective for different tasks in different environments.
These are the most powerful binoculars, often with a magnification of 20 times or more. They are also the largest binoculars and weigh several pounds. Most will have a fitting for a tripod mount so the user doesn’t have to support the weight of the binoculars or deal with shaky hands causing image issues.
Any use of these binoculars for a hunter is very limited. Their size and weight make them difficult to use at best and the very high magnification limits them to only very open terrain where there are few hunting opportunities.
The next step down are field binoculars much like those used in military applications. They have moderately high magnification usually ranging between 10x and 20x. While still somewhat large and weighing up to a couple of pounds, they are not unreasonable for handheld use. Before the advent of smaller binoculars, these were the tool of choice.
For the hunter, these are a solid option, especially in open terrain. Their size allows them to be easily carried and their power makes them extremely useful for spotting targets or areas you would like to scout up close.
The smallest binoculars on the market are perhaps the most useful for the hunter. With improvements to optical technology, even the smallest binoculars have sufficient power to make their use reasonable. They fit in the pocket and weigh very little making them very easy to carry and use.
Power on these smaller binoculars can still exceed 10x and with good quality, still be very usable. Of all the binoculars in manufacture, these are perhaps the best choice for most woodlands.
Binocular Shopping Guide
There are a number of factors to consider when looking at binoculars to ensure they meet your intended use. Understand all of these factors will make you a more informed buyer and help you choose the binoculars that are best for you and your situation.
What does 20x50 or 10x50 mean for binoculars?
Before we go any farther, let's discuss some very basic binocular terminology. There are two numbers assigned to all optics based on the size of the lens and the amount of magnification.
A normal designation would be written as 10x30 or 10x30mm depending on the brand. They mean the same.
The first number is the magnification or the number of times closer a target will appear than it actually is. In our 10x30 example, a target would appear 10 times closer. The more magnification a binocular has, the more light it will need to keep the image bright and clear.
The second number is the size of the objective lens in millimeters. A larger objective lens will, of course, mean a large set of binoculars but it will also mean more light to give a brighter image. A larger objective will also increase the field of view of a set of binoculars but the overall larger size needed may make them more difficult to use.
Are Zoom Binoculars Good?
Occasionally you will see binoculars that have their designation written as 5-10x30mm. These binoculars have an optical zoom that allows them to see any magnification between 5 and 10 times. For the most part, this is a sales gimmick but occasionally you may find the ability to see a wider range at less zoom with the ability to zoom in on an object of interest to see detail beneficial.
What Kind of Lenses are Best?
There are a variety of different lens makers and even glass types. Some are low-dispersion and will keep light focused for a brighter image. Clarity is a big issue with glass, especially at larger amounts of magnification. Anything that can make the glass perform better is a blessing and many technologies exist to serve that purpose.
The most common method is to use a lens coating. Some use a single chemical that improves light transmission while others use a variety of chemicals that improve brightness while also limiting factors like glare. These are referred to as coated or multi-coated respectively.
The highest level of lens technology is the multi-coat and while it may cost more, you will be much better served by high-quality multi-coated lenses.
What about Weather and Shock Protection?
There are a variety of measures used to keep your binoculars safe and free of weather-related issues. This is a very important factor in choosing a set of hunting binoculars that are likely to see the worst weather imaginable every time you take them out.
The first line of defense is a rubberized armor coating. This not only protects from water intrusion but offers some resistance to the dings and dents that can happen all too often with hunting gear.
The second defensive measure is to purge and seal the inside of the binoculars. This helps with water intrusion including fog and condensation.
While it is possible to get by without any protection, if you are demanding on your gear you should strongly consider this point before making a purchase.
What Binoculars are Best for Hunting
This is a somewhat loaded question because no two hunters, environments, or days are the same. Some days more magnification makes sense than other days. Some environments are too dense to make use of high powered optics. Each hunter has his own way of scouting and hunting and will use his binoculars differently.
In an attempt to generalize these needs and provide the best possible combination:
What Type of Binoculars are Best for Hunting
Size is the big factor when you travel light. Unless you hunt the wide-open ranges of the western plains, go with smaller binoculars like the pocket binoculars. Their size makes them convenient and an item that is convenient is more likely to be used.
What Magnification Binoculars are Best for Hunting
Magnification would be the second factor and I would recommend something between 10 and 15 power for most hunters. If you need more magnification than that, it’s time to consider a spotting scope or a more powerful rifle optic. The role of a set of binoculars is not to range a target or get so close you can count its hairs.
To be clear on what strength binoculars you need, you can get by with 8x with no problem and rarely need anything more than 20x.
Magnification and Stability - Video source: Eagle Optics Channel
Top 5 Hunting Binoculars Online
There is only so much you can say about Vortex Optics without getting redundant so let’s sumi it up as this is the VERY best optical quality that you can get for the price. For the last few years, Vortex has been slaying their competition with amazing quality and a budget-friendly price.
The Vanquish Binoculars uphold this tradition with low dispersion, multi-coated glass that is some of the best on the planet. Couple that with 10x magnification and a form factor small enough to fit in a pocket and you have a winning combination for most any need. Sure the objective is only 32mm but when combined with all of the other optical technology, you won’t have an issue with brightness.
Weighing under a pound, these are some of the lightest binoculars you can get without sacrificing ruggedness. Nitrogen purged with a rubber armor coating, these are meant to last and will endure even the harshest weather.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out a Vortex Optic, I highly recommend you do so. You won’t find glass so clear and bright anywhere else, especially in such a small set of binoculars. These are the product to beat right now.
Starting with Bushnell’s own low dispersion glass and building from there has allowed the Legend series of optics to overcome most of their competition. When it comes to optical quality, there is no doubt that Bushnell is a contender and a company to check out if you are in the market.
Not content to stick with just quality glass, Bushnell has added a multi-coat to improve brightness and clarity while also improving the water resistance of these binoculars. For a 10x binocular these are amazingly clear and bright, especially with a sizable 42mm objective. They may not be the smallest binoculars but don’t let that deter you.
Bushnell has always made quality products that were known to last with just the minimum level of care. With its own brand of rain guard and coupled with internal fog-resistant coatings, no matter the weather, these will excel. They aren’t shock proof but the magnesium tubes provide a great balance between toughness and low weight.
If you can handle a larger binocular this provide an unparallel field of view with sufficient brightness and magnification to suit any hunter’s needs. And with Bushnell’s guarantee, if you don’t like them they will buy them back no questions asked.
Not to be outdone, even by themselves, Bushnell defined the market of hard wearing, rugged and weatherproof binoculars with the aptly named H2O series. If you are looking for something for the wet spring turkey season or those days on the boat, having a set of binoculars that are fully water and fog proof just makes sense.
Being waterproof isn’t the only thing the H2O does. These are fine optics in their own right with all of the bells and whistles that Bushnell is known for. You get a solid 10x magnification with a sizeable 42mm objective lens for solid brightness that is only added to by the amazing multi-coated, low-dispersion glass. Waterproof may be their selling point but optical quality sure isn’t lacking.
In addition to the water resistance of the rubberized coating, it also provides a good deal of resistance against bumps and bangs. These are a solid binocular for most any hunting even if you aren’t in wet or humid environments.
Nitrogen purged and completely sealed with an outstanding field of view and bright, crisp image, most hunters will be happy with these binoculars. Even if they are a little larger, they stick to the low weight of a pound and a half. Not bad for something this rugged and durable.
For those concerned with size, it's going to be hard to beat the Wingspan Spectators. Weigh less than a pound and being a mere 4 and a half inches long, these are go-anywhere binoculars that have managed to preserve their optical quality despite their diminutive size. Stick them in a pocket and you are ready to hunt.
Being a lower powered option than most on this list at only 8x may make some people skittish but when considering all of the bonuses these binoculars have for them, you may change your mind. Firstly, a 32mm objective is plenty enough to provide adequate light out of an 8 power optic. Secondly, the optical quality is very high, even if they aren’t multi-coated.
With a non-slip rubberized grip and full water and fog proofing, these are lifetime binoculars and rugged enough for most any weather you are likely to want to hunt in. The wide field of view allows you to cover a lot of area fast but the reasonably powered optics give you the detail you need.
Bird watching or sports may be their angle but never fear that they can handle the worst you are likely to encounter. And should something happen, they have a lifetime guarantee so you are covered no matter what. I would hardly say these are the best binoculars on the planet but for the size and price they are an amazing choice.
It just so happens that the smallest and lightest weight binoculars on this list happen to be the most powerful. They also happen to be the most affordable pair of quality binoculars that we could find. But don’t shy away yet, these are far better quality than you would think.
Having a pair of 12x binoculars is a real boon in open country or on the water but matching them to a diminutive 25mm objective lens seems like a recipe for disaster. It would be if it weren’t for the low-dispersion glass and quality multi-coated optics. Finding those on a product so affordable is a real surprise but not as surprising as the quality of APEMAN optics.
These binoculars are waterproof and have an anti-slip grip and rubberized coating for extra durability. They probably aren’t the pinnacle of ruggedness but they do have a money back guarantee and are willing to stand behind their product. That lends its self well as a show of quality in their optics.
If you are on a budget and still want a solid pair of binoculars, you could do a whole lot worse than these. They are great to stick in a pack or in the truck should you need them and will take up almost no room. Quite a good investment, even if you have a better pair of binoculars.
My grandfather never left for the woods without his binoculars and used them constantly while hunting. So did all of his friends and siblings. I never understood the point until I started carrying a quality set myself. The number of times they come in handy will surprise you.
This is a hunting tradition that should be brought back for the good of the hunters. Join me in creating this resurgence. Pick up a quality set of binoculars and see if you agree that they improve your hunting and scouting trips. Start with something more affordable if need be but consider investing in a quality product that will last a lifetime.