When I was a kid and on a hike with my family, my dad would let me be in charge of his binoculars.
I felt so important – and was excited at the possibilities of spotting something really cool before anybody else did.
I think the best I managed was a seagull.
At the time, I’m sure those binoculars weighed more than I did. They were probably bigger than me, too.
While compact field glasses have always been available, these days they’re a lot more stylish and practical than ever before.
So, I’m excited to bring you this review of the best binoculars for hiking – because I just happen to be in the market for a new pair myself.
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- TOP 14 Best Binoculars for Hiking 2020
- Aurosports 10×25 Folding High Powered Binocular
- Bushnell H2O Waterproof Binocular
- Levenhuk Rainbow 8×25 Binocular
- Nikon Trailblazer 8×25 ATB Waterproof Binocular
- Vortex Optics Diamondback Roof Prism Binocular
- Celestron 71332 Nature DX 8×42 Binocular
- Steiner Model Military-Marine 8×30 Binocular
- Nikon 7576 Monarch 5 8×42 Binocular
- Vortex Optics Viper HD Roof Prism Binocular
- Canon 12×36 Image Stabilization III Binocular
- Leica Ultravid BR 10×25 Compact Binocular
- Zeiss Victory Compact Binocular
- Ultravid Leica 10×32 HD Plus Binocular
- Swarovski 8.5×42 EL Binocular
- How to Choose the Best Binoculars for Hiking
As ever, a buyer’s guide and FAQ section will follow – which I’m hopefully going to find just as useful as you.
And maybe the next time I use them, I’ll spot something a little more exotic.
TOP 14 Best Binoculars for Hiking 2020
Aurosports 10×25 Folding High Powered Binocular
Review: We’ll start at the budget end of the binoculars market – because prices and quality can vary wildly.
These 10×25 field glasses from Aurosports are certainly friendly on the pocket, and they incorporate a low light level night vision (but you won’t be able to see anything when it’s actually dark).
They offer fully multi-coated lenses, water resistance (in a light shower), and a hyper-durable anti-slip grip.
Compact and lightweight, the binoculars are just 12 ounces and they include a portable bag and dust cover.
- Outstanding value.
- Excellent grip.
- Low light vision.
- Too small for some users – perhaps better for the kids.
Bushnell H2O Waterproof Binocular
Review: With an 8×25 magnification, these compact binoculars from Bushnell feature BaK 4 prisms for bright, clear, crisp viewing.
They are 100% waterproof, O-ring sealed and nitrogen purged for reliable, fog-free performance.
It features a large center focus knob for easy adjustments, and multi-coated optics for excellent light transmission. They also weigh in at 12 ounces, and come with a strap, soft case and lens cloth.
- Great price.
- Nice grip.
- Clarity not as good as more expensive models.
Levenhuk Rainbow 8×25 Binocular
Review: With roof prisms, 8 x magnification and 25 mm objective lenses, these compact Levenhuk binoculars are able to fit any face size and shape with their foldable body.
With high-quality optics, they also boast a waterproof body and includes a pouch and cleaning wipe with the product. Perhaps their most noteworthy feature, however, is the selection of popping colors that you can choose from.
You can really make a statement with these binns.
- Fully foldable body.
- Good price.
- Gorgeous colors.
- Style over substance?
Nikon Trailblazer 8×25 ATB Waterproof Binocular
Review: We all know how good Nikon are when it comes to making some of the best photographic cameras in the world, but how do they fare with binoculars?
Thankfully, really rather good.
This pair of waterproof lenses offers 8×25 magnification in a compact and simple design. Fully multi-coated optics maximize light transmission for brighter views and improved color fidelity and contrast, while the BAK4 roof prisms offer extra-high resolution images.
- Top quality brand.
- Solid, rubber-armor body.
- Super lightweight and compact.
- The strap could be better.
Vortex Optics Diamondback Roof Prism Binocular
Review: These Vortex Optics Diamondback binoculars are a really stylish and sleek model that offers 8x magnification and 28mm objective lenses, although they are available in other sizes too.
The multi-coated lenses transmit more light allowing you to view your intended target with clarity. Argon purging and rubber armor provides enhanced water and fogproof performance in extreme weather conditions.
- Solid construction.
- Multi-position eyecups.
- Comfortable grip.
- High-end optics company.
- Tripod adapter is fiddly.
Celestron 71332 Nature DX 8×42 Binocular
Review: Waterproof and rubber armored, the Celestron Nature binocular offers the optimal 8×42 magnification which is ideal for birding on your hike.
With phase-coated BaK 4 prisms for increased contrast and resolution, they offer a close focus of 6.5 feet for viewing nearby objects.
They have sturdy, twist-up eyecups with multiple stops that are eyeglass friendly with 17.5 millimeters of eye relief. Another excellent mid-level option for hikers everywhere.
- Well made construction.
- Compact and durable.
- Good grip.
- Heavier than other models.
Steiner Model Military-Marine 8×30 Binocular
Review: Steiner are another German engineered optics brand that offers some of the best quality lenses on the market. This is a military-style binocular, with 8×30 magnification in a compact and practical casing.
Advertised as military optics for civilians, they have a sports focus which will give you unrivaled quality in one shot that stays sharp without the need to refocus.
These binocs are tough as nails, weighing just 17 ounces with all-weather reliability.
For hiking, hunting or any outdoor pursuit for that matter, you could do a lot worse than Steiner.
- Top-quality company.
- Probably the toughest binoculars available.
- Great price for the standard.
- Hikers might be put off by the military design.
Nikon 7576 Monarch 5 8×42 Binocular
Review: A second entry from Nikon sees their extremely popular Monarch 5 binoculars make the shortlist.
Built with the company’s premium ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) glass for a sharper, clearer and more brilliant field of view; the Monarch 5 is a beautifully designed and stylish lense, that is waterproof, fog-proof and has a rubber-armored body for strengthened durability.
These glasses offer excellent performance and outstandingly sharp colors in a lightweight and highly portable housing.
- Quality build and construction.
- Sleek, stylish design.
- Works well with eyeglasses.
- Some concerns over the lens caps.
Vortex Optics Viper HD Roof Prism Binocular
Review: Stepping up from their workhorse Diamondback model, Vortex are back with their Viper design.
They have all the hallmarks of the cheaper field glasses, sturdy design, water and fog proofing, rubber armor and 8 x magnification with 42 mm objective lenses.
They weigh just 24.2 ounces, making them up there with the lightest binoculars in their class on the market. They have exceptional clarity, with HD (High Density) extra-low dispersion glass for impressive resolution and color fidelity.
- Ultra-lightweight for the quality.
- Award-winning binoculars.
- Outstanding performance.
- Some confusion about where the product is manufactured.
Canon 12×36 Image Stabilization III Binocular
Review: We’ve had the Nikon, we might as well give Canon a chance now, also famed for their world-class photographic equipment.
They utilize optics technology equivalent to what is used for Canon EF lenses for superb image stabilization, with a powerful 12 x magnification and 36 mm aperture.
Porro II Prisms help provide outstanding image resolution and minimize the loss of light, while there’s a long eye relief which is ideal for people who wear eyeglasses.
For the IS, they take AA lithium batteries that will give up to 12 hours of continuous use.
- Name you can trust.
- Quality construction.
- IS is an excellent addition.
- Heavy and bulky
- IS needs batteries.
- Some might find problems with the exterior coating.
Leica Ultravid BR 10×25 Compact Binocular
Review: The famous German camera company finally has a say with these no-nonsense binoculars that are properly waterproof down to 16.5 feet.
The aluminum body ensures they are extremely lightweight, while the rubberized coating makes the binoculars very comfortable to hold.
They offer super-sharp performance with crystal clear colors, while being considerably smaller and lighter than other lenses in this class.
Carrying case is included.
- Outstanding quality.
- Name to trust.
- Eye cup cover set for eyeglasses.
- Expensive for compact binoculars.
Zeiss Victory Compact Binocular
Review: More from the Germans here as the famed Zeiss optics company enter the fray. You’re unlikely to find them located at the budget end of the spectrum, anyway.
The Victory model offers 10 x magnification with a 25 mm objective lense.
It gives 16.5 mm of eye relief, making it ideal for anyone who wears specs, while being a lightweight model that has outstanding performance in both clarity and color. Although suitable for a variety of uses,
Zeiss have created an excellent hiking binocular here.
- Durable yet lightweight.
- Quality name and construction.
- Optimum performance.
Ultravid Leica 10×32 HD Plus Binocular
Review: With SCHOTT HT glass phase-corrected roof prisms, HDC and Aqua Dura lens coatings and 67° wide-angle viewing, this Ultravid, top-of-the-range Leica certainly sounds impressive.
With center focussing, twist-up, click-stop eyecups, powerful 10×32 magnification and a magnesium-alloy chassis with rubber armor, you know you’re getting a product on another level here.
It delivers bright and clear images while offering excellent portability and comfortable use. Just try not to cry when you see the price.
- Outstanding quality throughout.
- Lightweight and portable.
- Durable construction.
- Eye-wateringly expensive.
Swarovski 8.5×42 EL Binocular
Review: As far as binoculars go, you’ll no doubt discover that Swarovski are top of the food chain – both for quality and price.
When it comes to this end of the scale, you’re paying for lens quality that is out of this world.
They’re no more or less stylish than any other model on here, but it’s the internal workings of the 8×42 Optik EL that blow the competition out of the water.
With an excellent field of view even for eyeglass wearers, they offer unrivaled sharpness, clarity and color no matter what your target is – right up to the very edge. Mind-blowing binoculars for a mind-blowing price.
- Unrivaled optical quality.
- Will last a lifetime.
- Beautiful contours.
- Have a guess…?
How to Choose the Best Binoculars for Hiking
The world of optics is a complicated one.
There’s a lot of math and science that figures in creating these precision instruments, and I’m going to preface this section by saying it’s mostly way over my head and I’m in no way an expert.
Having said that, I will try to offer you a decent buyer’s guide and FAQ section, with some outside help from informative and well-chosen videos where required.
This is what you should be looking for when choosing the best binoculars for hiking.
Perhaps the most important thing to look for when buying binoculars is their magnification. It is represented by two numbers separated by an ‘X’. But what do they mean?
The first number is the magnification. How many times an object is going to be magnified compared to viewing it with the naked eye.
The higher this number, the more powerful the magnification will be.
The second number is the objective lens which is sometimes referred to as the aperture. This is the size in millimeters of the lens at the other end of the binoculars.
The higher the number, the larger the lens, the more light will be let in.
The objective lens size is 42 millimeters – which lets in a good amount of light without being too large and bulky.
The higher the objective lens size, the larger the actual binoculars will be.
For a more detailed and clear explanation, refer to the excellent video below.
Field of View
Sometimes, having the highest magnification possible isn’t always a good idea. There is a trade-off.
With higher magnification, your field of view is going to be limited and you won’t be able to see as much in the frame.
High magnification is ideal if you’re looking at a specific target and you need to see it as close and in as much detail as possible. This is good for stationary objects.
Lower magnification is more suitable for getting an overall view of an area, or if you’re following something on the move. This is good for birdwatching or sporting events.
For more on field of view, check out the video below.
Good binoculars will have multiple lens coatings. Some manufacturers will claim more than others but what is it and why do you need it?
It’s all to do with the light that is allowed into the lens. Without a special coating applied, you’ll get a lot of glare and reflection.
Imagine looking at a body of water with the sun’s glare striking it. That’s what would happen if a lens wasn’t coated.
There are four types of lens coatings available.
- Coated: A single layer on at least one lens.
- Fully-coated: A single layer on all air-to-glass surfaces.
- Multi-coated: Multiple layers on at least one lens.
- Fully multi-coated: Multiple layers on all air-to-glass surfaces.
As you can imagine, fully multi-coated lenses will offer you the clearest view possible.
There are two types of prisms used in binoculars, each with their advantages and disadvantages.
Porro prisms are usually found in larger, bulkier binoculars. The objective lens is offset from the eye-piece. They offer a wider field of vision as well as improved depth perception.
Roof prisms overlap and line up so you can see straight through from the eye-piece to the objective lens. Found in more compact and expensive models, they are a significant improvement on their porro counterparts.
However, that’s not to say porro prisms are obsolete. Take a look at the video below for a more detailed explanation.
Look out for binoculars that have a BAK-4 or ED glass prisms. They’re going to be more expensive, but they will offer a much clearer and more vibrant view with a good edge to edge sharpness.
They will also reduce something called “chromatic aberration,” which is the failure of a lens to see all the colors at a certain point.
I told you optics is a complicated subject.
Eye relief is the term given to the distance the binoculars can be held away from the eye while still offering a clear field of view.
Binoculars with a high eye relief length are ideal for eye-glass wearers and can help reduce eye strain on the user.
The video below has a clear and concise explanation, but consider binoculars with over 16 mm eye relief if you wear spectacles.
Another complex piece of terminology when it comes to binoculars is the exit pupil.
When you hold a pair of binoculars away from your eyes, you will see two small dots of light in each eyepiece. This is the exit pupil.
The only light that exits through this virtual aperture system will enter your eyes. The larger the exit pupil size, the more light that will be let in.
The video below explains it a lot better than I ever could.
For hiking binoculars, you’re obviously going to want a modicum of waterproofing should the heavens open.
Field glasses should all be rated on the International Protection scale – which is the letters IPx followed by a number.
The higher that number, the more waterproof an item is regarded to be.
For example, IPx0 is not at all resistant to water and will get soaked inside and out.
IPx8 can be submerged in up to three feet of water.
Anything above IPx7 is considered fully waterproof.
Obviously, you should be looking for a high number on the IP scale for peace of mind that your binoculars are protected in a downpour – or if you happen to drop them in a river.
Nobody likes their lenses to steam or fog up. Thankfully, there are ways and means to prevent this from happening.
These days, high-end binoculars with contain an inert gas (nitrogen) which prevents the lenses from fogging up.
Cheaper models will have special lens coatings to help achieve the same goal – however, they’re not nearly as effective.
Either way, ensure that your chosen model has some form of fog proofing tech.
Many hiking binoculars will come housed in a tough “rubber armor” casing.
This protective construction is highly durable while at the same time offer a comfortable non-slip grip.
But some casings are better than others, so make sure you check to see if it’s going to be tough enough for your needs, as well as being comfortable to use in your hands.
For the most part, at the lower end of the price scale, binoculars aren’t going to vary that much in quality.
It’s when you start getting into silly figures that you’ll really notice a difference.
The magnification power might be the same, but there is a massive gulf between a $50 optic and a $2000 one. You would hope, anyway!
The higher the price, the higher the quality of all the internal workings of the binocular. That’s what you’re really paying for.
When making your selection, think about your needs and your budget.
You can purchase perfectly adequate hiking binoculars without spending a fortune. The same can be said for these amazing GPS systems – so check those out to really up your backcountry hiking game.
What Size of Binoculars Should I Use for Hiking?
When you’re hiking you’re obviously going to be on the move, so you want something that is lightweight and portable, yet powerful enough for your needs.
I would certainly recommend nothing larger than 42-millimeter objective lenses. Anything larger than this and you’re getting a bigger, bulkier and heavier pair of binoculars.
Having practical stuff while hiking is always a good idea, and that includes carrying a knife. So check out these backpacking knives that are useful for multiple situations.
What is the Best Magnification for Binoculars?
For magnification and when it comes to hiking, you won’t need anything more than an 8.
You’ll get a wider field of view, as well as less shake. With higher magnification it becomes difficult to hold the lenses steady unless you’re using a tripod.
I would, therefore, advise a 8×42 binocular for hiking as an all-round option that isn’t too bulky but with a good field of vision.
What’s the Best Binocular Brand?
This really comes down to personal preference – much like the never-ending debate of who makes the best photography equipment in the world.
Top-quality binocular brands include (but are not limited to) Swarovski, Leica, Nikon, Zeiss, Steiner Celestron, and Vortex.
They’ll also vary significantly in price.
Which company you end up choosing is entirely up to you, but personally, I have always been a fan of Nikon. They offer excellent quality optics without breaking the bank.
I find both their cameras and binoculars to be stylishly designed, too.
Should I Spend $2000 + on a Pair of Binoculars? Is it Worth it?
I’ll admit this is a question that has me scratching my head.
Would I ever spend that amount of money on binoculars?
Even if I had it the cash just lying around – I think the answer is no.
But it depends on what you need it for. If you’re a hunter, for example, having that unrivaled clarity and color in the field will seriously make a big difference to your success.
A pair of binoculars at that price becomes a serious investment that will last you a lifetime. It’s something you pass down as an heirloom, too.
And the quality of the optics are second to none.
Having said that, there’s no reason you can’t pick up an excellent pair for a fraction of the cost that will do the job just as well.
How do I Improve Stability?
With any pair of binoculars regardless of the lens quality, you’re going to get a bit of shake when you’re using them.
And the higher the magnification, the more noticeable this will be. So, what can you do about it?
The most obvious solution is to use a tripod. However, when you’re out hiking, this isn’t a practical option.
When you’re on the go, try using something stable or fixed to lay your binoculars on – so long as you’re not holding them in your hands, they should be really quite steady.
But that’s more for if you’re in a fixed position with limited movement, perhaps looking at one specific target.
There is a bracing technique you can use to minimize shudder when using your hands alone.
Bring your elbows in close to your body and brace them against your sides. This will create a more firm position and is especially useful if you don’t have steady hands.
If you can sit, propping your elbows on your knees will also have the same effect.
Some models, like the Canon in my review, come with a battery-operated image stabilizer – which can make a real difference to the clarity of your view.
How do I Focus My Binoculars?
For some people, focusing binoculars can be a little tricky, particularly if you don’t really know what you’re doing and what the dials mean.
The diopter dial can be very confusing – which is the dial that compensates for the difference between your right and left eyes.
Rather than bore you to death with text, check out this really informative video below for some tips on how to get super-clear results from your binocular use.
Optics is a complex but fascinating subject which isn’t easy to get your head around. Hopefully, I’ve managed to shed a little light on it to help you discover the best binoculars for hiking.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section, or if I’ve missed any important points in my review.
Good luck and happy hiking!
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