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The 9 Best Binoculars for Outdoor Activities

Photo: Huckberry | Nocs Provisions

It’s amazing how many advancements are still being made with binoculars these days despite the technology existing for some 300-plus years. A common next step following the invention of the telescope in the 17th century, binoculars have essentially made teleportation possible (bear with our metaphor), allowing an observer to virtually move hundreds of feet in any direction to be in two places at once. Although our eyes are little miracles built into our heads, they can only do so much.

Today, binoculars are used mostly by hunters, bird watchers, stargazers, surveyors, and even mountain climbers to see things up close, especially if those things — like animals — won’t allow you to get within an optimal range. Newcomers may think that all specs are the same, but they couldn’t be more incorrect. There’s a reason why even the best brands are constantly improving and updating their highest-performing models. To show you what we mean, we’ve put together a guide to the best binoculars on the market right now.

Specs To Look For

Not All Made Equally

Model Number/Exit Pupil: Almost every binocular model is followed by numbers that might look something like this: “8×42” or “10×54.” The first digit refers to the magnification amount. So in the case of “8×42,” objects in the lenses will appear 8 times bigger than they would with the naked eye. As for the second number, it’s the diameter, in millimeters, of the front lenses. A lens that’s 54mm will produce brighter and clearer images than one that’s 42mm and is better for low-light conditions. Dividing the second number by the first gives you the exit pupil, which determines how much you’ll have to search with your eyes to see your image in its entirety (i.e., it’s how “big” your eye is compared to the image you see).

Just because the numbers are higher doesn’t mean the binoculars are better for you. If you’re a new user, a 10×42 will let you see farther away than an 8×42, but it will also be much more difficult to track objects that move, such as birds or deer. However, if you’re an expert stargazer, nighttime specs at that same number will be perfect, especially if your hand is steady. Additionally, smaller numbers will also yield lighter chassis.

Field of View: Field of view, measured in feet, represents the span of the distance you can see at 1,000 yards away. A pair of binoculars with lower magnification will have a larger field of view than one with a higher magnification. However, there are some other design aspects that come into play when comparing one brand/model to the next.

Eye Relief: Eye relief is simply the optimal distance in millimeters from your eye to the viewing end of the binoculars in order to maximize performance. While most pairs have eye cups, whether adjustable or otherwise, some have a smaller eye relief than others, which can make a difference in the field of view and clarity, especially for users who wear eyeglasses, who should look for something larger than 14mm.

Prism Type: The two main prism types are porro and roof. Porro binoculars actually use a pair of offset prisms to zig-zag light from the image to your eye. These specs are typically cheaper to produce, although can be more delicate and heavier for the user. Roof binoculars, on the other hand, house a sequence of prisms in more of a straight line, which also yields a more lightweight and waterproof design. Despite their straightforward look on the outside, they are actually more complicated on the inside. Porro prisms are also technically better for clarity, but roof prisms are not far behind in terms of optics.

Size and Weight: While lens diameter and prism type affect the size and weight, other components come to factor as well, such as the materials being used. Bulkier pairs may not bother some users, but for others who plan to carry a significant amount of cargo with them on their trip, a lighter option might be better.

Huckberry x Nocs Provisions 8×25

At just 4in long and 1lb in weight, these super low-profile specs from Huckberry and Nocs Provisions are the perfect budget binoculars for those who just want to keep something handy in case they spot the occasional buck or woodpecker. Capable of being submerged in water for up to 30min with IPX7 certification, this pair also comes built with a high-impact rubber grip that lets you whip it out in a hurry and stays durable against bangs and drops. The internal chamber is pumped with nitrogen to make these perfect for any weather and the GoodEye Glass system keeps the light from reflecting off the lenses.

Purchase: $95

Celestron SkyMaster 15×70

When staring at the night sky for a significant amount of time through a telescope, keeping one eye closed can be annoying. If you want to be comfortable when stargazing, pick up the SkyMaster from a brand that specializes in nighttime viewing, with 15x magnification power for extra-long ranges and a wide exit lens that’s perfect for low-light conditions. Celestron’s flagship model has a good 13mm eye relief for users who wear eyeglasses and the 231-foot field of view makes these good for plains spotting as well. The Skymaster also has a smartphone adapter available so you can save images through your binoculars.

Purchase: $120

Pentax 4×20 3-in-1

The Pentax 3-in-1 consists of two 4×20 lenses that you can either use together as binoculars or split into 2 monoculars to share with whomever you’re with. However, if you want to do a bit of stargazing, the two individual monoculars can be combined as a telescope with 16x magnification (multiplying both 4x lenses). When used as binoculars, the 4×20 specs provide a generous exit pupil for clarity that many 8×42 lenses can’t hit while also having a close-focus range of just 5ft. With an improved roof prism system that uses anti-reflection multicoated optics, the contrast on these binoculars is evidence of the advancements to roof prisms in recent years.

Purchase: $179

Celestron Trailseeker 8×42

Celestron has proved to be one of the most versatile binoculars brands in the game. Its Trailseeker is toward the top of the line as far as porros are concerned thanks to its BaK-4 prisms, which use superior glass material for incredible quality, enhanced even further with an anti-reflective and dielectric coating. The frame is made from magnesium alloy for incredible durability, lightness, and waterproofness, and is capped with metal eyecups that last much longer than plastic or rubber ones. With a 17mm eye relief, the Trailseeker is also perfect for users with eyeglasses but can be adjusted easily regardless.

Purchase: $300

Vortex Optics Viper HD 10×42

Vortex Optics has a lot of amazing high-def binoculars, but the Viper 10×42 is a great budget roof prism pick for intermediate or experienced users. Three focus wheels — one on each barrel and a granular adjuster in the middle for fine-tuning — let you hone in on your target with precision. Fog-proof and waterproof, the case is made from a scratch-resistant Armortek material, equipped with rubber grips and thumb locks on either side for ultimate control and handling. The lenses are also coated with XR anti-reflection for better low-light views.

Purchase: $475

Nikon Monarch M7 10×42

Simply one of the best overall binoculars you can buy, the Nikon Monarch M7 has earned its ubiquity. Not only are they easy to handle with their firm and shock-resistant grip, but these specs are companion-based for a personal experience thanks to the locking diopter control that saves your tailored settings each time you go to use them in order to lessen the time you’ll have to spend calibrating the barrels. Nikon’s proprietary extra-low dispersion glass is equipped on the objective lenses and eyepieces, which are also oil- and water-repellant.

Purchase: $500

Swarovski Optik 10×42 EL

When the price tag gets into the thousands, it’s difficult to justify a purchase unless you’re an experienced user, which is why there are only a select few brands that continuously stand out. Swarovski Optik is one of the best high-end binoculars for a reason. Other than an impressive 336-foot field of view with a 4.2 exit pupil, the close-up range is equally outstanding at under 11ft. The wrap-around grip showcases the brand’s commitment to ergonomics as well as quality, and the non-slip diopter control gives you hassle-free precision finding, enhanced even further by the in-house Swarovision technology to provide one of the clearest contrasts on the market.

Purchase: $2,199

ZEISS Victory HT 10×54

Where most binoculars go out of commission as the sun begins to set, the excellent exit pupil and objective lens diameter on the ZEISS Victory make it one of the best models for twilight time, but these specs are superb any way you slice them. Dustproof and waterproof to last you a long time, the binoculars are also equipped with the enhanced ZEISS T* coating for superior color and contrast, with a field of view of 361ft. While the 8×54 version has one of the highest fields of views we’ve seen (427ft) for an ultimate widescreen depiction, this 10×54 companion is much more effective in low light.

Purchase: $2,700

Leica Noctivid 8×42

It’s no secret that Leica makes some of the best cameras in the world, but few are privy to its binocular expertise. While both the company’s Ultravid and the Trinovid models are fantastic models, the Noctivid is our favorite due to the whopping 406-foot field of view and the unbelievably comfortable frame. Available in both 8×42 and 10×42 versions, with the former minimizing the weight of these already-heftier specs, the lenses are made from 100% Schott high-transmission glass and constructed with 12 different elements for extremely accurate color depiction and clarity.

Purchase: $2,849

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If you’re planning on using your binoculars outdoors and need some solid shoes to get you off the grid, then check out our guide to the best hiking boots for men.