If you want to succeed at hunting you need to use all your senses to their utmost. Hearing, smell, touch, even taste sometimes – but most of all your eyesight. Keen vision is what’s going to show you the signs of a good place to set your hide, or spot the first glimpse of approaching prey so you can use your walkie-talkie to radio in to your hunting partners. Sometimes your natural eyesight can use a helping hand, though.
It’s useful to be able to focus on details without having to move in and check them out, watch interesting areas from a discreet distance or extend your visibility when the light starts to fade. How can you quickly and easily improve your vision? It’s simple: Get a good pair of binoculars to accompany your laser rangefinder and other outdoor gear.
You won’t go wrong with any of the 10 we have in our comparison chart below. For a detailed breakdown of each model, use the quick jump menu after we compare our three favorites.
Our Three Top Picks
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Now that you’ve seen our top 3, feel free to dive in a little deeper to make sure you are picking the right set of binoculars for your particular situation and/or planned use. You’ll find that finding the right pair of binoculars is a highly personal choice, but there is some basic criteria you should consider before picking up your next pair.
- Hunting Binocular Basics
- What to Buy: A Buyer’s Guide
- The Impacts of Power Choice
- Nine 10×42 Hunting Binocular Favorites
- Three 8×42 Hunting Binocular Favorites
- Our Three Favorite Compact Models for Hunting
- Frequently Asked Questions:
- Wrapping Up and Final Thoughts
Hunting Binocular Basics
After your bow or rifle, binoculars are one of the most vital items in your hunting arsenal. They open up a whole range of possibilities. Want to examine sign on a trail without getting close enough to contaminate it with sign of your own?
Binoculars can let you focus in on something a few yards away and see it as if you were sitting beside it. A dim flicker of movement in the distance suddenly appears in sharp close-up when you aim the lenses at it.
Not sure if that was a deer, or just a branch moving in the wind? Binoculars let you check. If you choose the right pair you can even extend your hunting day, using their light gathering capability to let you see clearly at lower light levels.
Of course you do need to get the right pair, and with binoculars it’s easy to get it spectacularly wrong. There’s a huge range available with models designed for everything from astronomy to getting a better view at the theater, so not all of them are much use for hunting.
You also need to take into account what type of hunting you will be doing as someone who hunts in closer quarters with a crossbow will have different needs than someone hunting with a longer range recurve bow or rifle.
The smallest compacts will work well in a floodlit football stadium but won’t help you much in the woods at twilight, while large astronomy glasses will give stunning magnification and light gathering, but are far too heavy to hold steady without a tripod.
Luckily there are plenty of good models designed for hunting and other outdoor sports. These can be split into compact and full-size designs, and both have their advantages. Binoculars are described by two numbers – their magnification and the size of the objective (front) lenses, so an 8×35 pair will have 7-power magnification and objective lenses 35mm in diameter.
Generally anything with lenses smaller than 30mm can be called compact, and anything larger than that is full sized. While there are a few older designs around whose weight and bulk make them full size but have lenses around 28mm, but there’s no reason to buy these for hunting and we won’t be looking at them here.
What to Buy: A Buyer’s Guide
There are great binoculars in all three magnification categories, so the question is which type should you opt for? Answering this question will really depend on your intended use and what features you need.
To make things a little simpler, we’ve split this into two primary questions you should be asking yourself before buying a pair of hunting binoculars.
Do I buy full size or compact?
Let’s start off by covering whether a compact model is the right choice for you. Compact binoculars have several drawbacks compared to full size ones. They often have fewer features, simply because they’re smaller. Optically they tend to have a narrower field of view and the small lenses mean they collect less light.
That reduces the brightness of the image and makes them less useful either side of sunrise and sunset. They also usually have a longer minimum focus distance, so you can’t get a magnified view of something five or six yards away.
At the same time they have one major advantage – they’re compact. Unlike their larger relatives they slip easily into a pocket, and they don’t weigh much. If you’re looking to reduce your load, a pair of compacts give you a lot of the performance of larger binoculars at a fraction of the weight and bulk. These can serve as dual purpose binoculars since they weigh less, making them the perfect addition to your next kayak fishing or fly fishing trip.
It all depends on how much performance you’re willing to trade off in exchange for portability. If you mostly hunt in full daylight it could be a worthwhile compromise. Compacts are great for checking out a distant object or confirming you’ve got the right target.
What Magnification Power is Best?
The key difference between 8×42 and 10×42 binoculars is the amount they magnify by. Higher magnification power tells you how much the binoculars reduce apparent distance by. If you’re looking at something 400 yards away then through an 8×42 pair you’ll be able to see as much detail as if it were 50 yards away – the real distance divided by eight.
Switch to 10×42 and it will look like it’s 40 yards away. On the face of it higher magnification seems to be better, but it’s not quite that simple. The extra performance comes with several trade-offs, and these could easily affect your decision.
The Impacts of Power Choice
Brightness: The brightness of the image you see through your binoculars is mostly determined by what’s called the exit pupil.
This is the diameter of the beam of light that comes out of the eyepiece, and you can find that by dividing the lens diameter by the magnification.
So 8×42 binoculars have an exit pupil 5.25mm wide, 10×42 drops to 4.2mm and a set of 10×25 compacts only manage 2.5mm.
A narrower exit pupil means the image that reaches your eyes is falling on a smaller area of your retinas, and that makes the picture seem dimmer.
If the objective lenses stay the same size then increasing magnification will make the image less bright.
If you’re under 25 then your eyes can expand their pupils to around 7 or 8mm (it slowly decreases with age) so there’s no point having an exit pupil larger than that, but within that limit larger is better.
Of course unless you’re willing to drop to 4x or 5x magnification that means large lenses and heavy binoculars, and 42mm is a good compromise between bulk and light gathering.
Field of view: Higher power with the same lens size means a narrower field of view. There are other design factors that can affect it as well but, other things being equal, this is a rule you can’t get away from.
At 8x magnification the cone you can see into will usually be about 20% wider than you’d get at 10x, and that translates to about a 50% wider field of view.
High magnification is perfect for getting a close look at something you saw with the naked eye, but if you’re scanning the landscape you’ll find it’s a much slower process.
High magnification also increases tunnel vision – your awareness will be cut down to a narrower area.
Stability: Image shake is always a problem with magnified optics; unless you mount your binoculars on a tripod – which isn’t always practical when hunting – every slight vibration of your hands will be magnified in the image.
With astronomical telescopes it’s not rare for a tiny shake while you’re adjusting the focus to move the telescope far enough that the object you’re looking at has jumped right out the field of view.
The difference between 8x and 10x isn’t enough to do that, but you’ll find it harder to study something when it’s jittering around in front of your eyes.
So if you do a lot of hunting in low light transmission conditions 8×42 is a clear winner. The brighter image will let you start observing earlier in the morning and maintain a visible image for longer after dusk.
Good 8x42s will give a brighter picture than the naked eye when the light is poor, and 10×42 just can’t do that.
On the other hand, if you prefer to hunt in full daylight, the 10×42 is the most popular and definitely has advantages. This is probably where most hunters, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts fall into. Whether you are hunting in the woods or hanging out at the Grand Canyon, most of us are out in the open during the day, so that’s when the 10×42 makes more sense.
The extra power cuts apparent distance by 20%, which can make the difference between seeing a vital detail and missing it.
As outlined above, the most popular options for hunters are full size binoculars in the 8×42 and 10×42 formats, and compacts. Your choices will come down to personal use and preference.
Check out this video resource below for more information on choosing the right binocular. While the video wasn’t created by us, there’s some true value points in the video that are worth watching.
Nine 10×42 Hunting Binocular Favorites
10×42 is one of the most widely used binocular magnification & objective lens diameter combinations. The 10x magnification is an excellent choice for any hunter that needs to see further into the distance than an 8x magnification will allow.
As mentioned previously, 10x magnification may make it harder to use in dusk conditions, but most hunters aren’t out hunting into the evening hours on their first few hunting trips. If you are an avid hunter, than an 8x magnification may make more sense if you go on prolonged hunts and need to sacrifice extra power for additional visibility.
Here are 9 of our favorites.
1. Bushnell Legend Ultra HD
These roof prism binoculars from Bushnell are completely up to date and ideal for hunting.
They’re built on a magnesium alloy chassis coated with soft-touch rubber armor, and are pretty compact for the 42mm lens format. They’re also fogproof and water resistant, and the lenses are low-dispersion ED glass.
Optically these are great binoculars. The lens coatings are ultra-wide spectrum, so the image is clear and bright right out to the edge. Field of view is wide – 340 feet at 1,000 yards.
The eyecups can be adjusted for eye relief and there’s a diopter ring on the right eyepiece. Overall a good, solid piece of equipment with great performance.
2. Leupold Mojave
The Mojave is another roof prism design, with an open bridge design that gives them a distinctive appearance and reasonably light weight for their size – just over 2.5 pounds.
They have a light rubber armor coating that also gives excellent grip, and all the features you’d expect – twist adjustable eyecups, a diopter ring and folding lens covers.
The real strength of the Mojave is in the optics. Leupold have a proprietary nitrogen purging process, and along with the mirror coated lenses the result is image quality that’s very hard to match.
This is a huge advantage around dusk and dawn; when other 10×42 binos struggle the Leupolds still deliver a bright, sharp picture with optimal eye relief.
3. Vortex Optics Viper HD
The Vortex Viper binoculars are large but exceptionally lightweight, and also seem very robust.
They’re well sealed against moisture and come with a decent selection of accessories – a rainguard, padded case and strap are all included. There’s also a very nice lifetime repair or replace warranty.
Optically these binoculars are incredible. Vortex use the same lenses as some of the top Japanese manufacturers, and it shows. T
he Viper is easily the equal of the Leupold Mojave, in a lighter (but slightly less rugged) package. The ED low-dispersion glass has an excellent multi-coated lens that does wonders for brightness and clarity at any distance with optimal eye relief.
4. Carson 3D Series HD
This is a fairly compact set by the standards of full-size binoculars, and combined with light weight they’re easy to carry and use all day.
They do lack a couple of features, like adjustable eyecups, but as compensation you get optics that not many other budget friendly binoculars can match.
The 3D series use BAK 4 roof prisms in a sealed, waterproof alloy chassis.
All lenses are ED glass and feature multiple coatings, so light transmission is above average and the image is crisp and bright. Field of view is good, 314 feet at 1,000 yards.
5. Bushnell PermaFocus
These are one of Bushnell’s budget lines, but don’t write them off – if you want a decent, affordable set of binoculars these will serve very well, especially if you are on a budget.
They’re compact, lightweight and ruggedly built, and feature twist-up eyecups and a diopter ring. One thing they don’t have is a tripod adapter.
The only disadvantage of these is their fixed focus system. It allows rapid use at longer distances, but you won’t be able to use them to view small objects a few yards away.
Field of view is relatively narrow at 293 feet. They’re also not water or fog proof. The optics are clear and reasonably bright though, so if you’re after budget binoculars these are definitely worth a look.
6. Bushnell Fusion 1-Mile ARC Rangefinding Binoculars
This pair is at the other end of the range from Bushnell’s PermaFocus. A dedicated hunting system, they combine binoculars and a laser rangefinder with a range bracket running from 10 to 1,760 yards.
It offers bow and rifle modes, with an integrated bullet drop calculator, so should suit any hunter. Range data is displayed in the optical path via a small 96×48 pixel screen.
The 1-Mile’s optics have a narrow field of view at just 252 feet, but within those limits the image quality is excellent – it’s bright and clear right out to the edges.
Combine them with the advanced rangefinder and this is a real winner.
7. Carson Caribou MO-042
For the price they feel very solid, but while they’re nitrogen purged we noticed some slight fogging a couple of times. We don’t think they’d stand up to hard use as well as a more expensive pair, which isn’t really a surprise.
On the bright side the optics are a pleasant surprise. Field of view is a respectable 315 feet and the image is clear and bright.
Dawn and dusk challenge them more than the Carson 3Ds, but overall they’re pretty good.
8. Bushnell Trophy XLT
A mid-range Bushnell model, these are specifically designed for hunting and include some very nice features. The lightweight body has thick rubber armor with chunky ribs, giving an excellent grip.
There are thumb grips just in front of the eyepieces for a more secure hold.
The multicoated optics are o-ring sealed and nitrogen purged, too, so the XLT is thoroughly proof against water and fogging. The fast focus system knob is bug and heavily ribbed for good grip and there’s an easy diopter adjustment.
The picture through the XLT is extremely good, with a crystal clear image that stays bright well into dusk and becomes usable again before dawn. Any hunter will get good results with these binoculars.
9. Vortex Optics Diamondback 10×42
Like all Vortex products these give you an affordable and pretty robust set of binoculars with glass that belongs in a much more expensive pair. With all the quality features the Diamondback has to offer, it’s an absolutely outstanding value for money.
These are among the most solid Vortex binoculars and optically you won’t get better for other options in the same quality bracket. Focus is smooth and precise, and once you’ve set the diopter ring it won’t budge until you want to adjust it again.
The roof prisms in the Diamondback are phase-corrected to give you an extremely clear picture with almost no aberrations, and the lens coating is exceptional in low light.
You also get the fantastic Vortex lifetime guarantee.
Three 8×42 Hunting Binocular Favorites
8×42 is extremely popular with hunters that hunt in the early morning and into dusk. The sacrifice in power allows more light to enter the lens, giving greater visibility at a closer distance. Basically, you sacrifice a little on distance for something that allows you more freedom and flexibility into the time of day you choose to hunt.
Both 10x and 8x magnifications are extremely popular with both rifle and archery hunters alike. As with all binoculars, when you buy a premium pair – you get what you pay for.
Here are our three favorite picks.
1. Vortex Optics Diamondback 8×42
The 8×42 Diamondback comes with the same features as their more powerful cousin, so the main difference is in optical performance.
If you spend a lot of time scanning you’re going to notice a big speed increase with these; field of view at 1,000 yards is 420 feet, compared to the 10×42’s 345 feet, which makes a difference when you’re going for the first sight of your quarry.
In full daylight you won’t see much more brightness from the lower power model but around dawn and dusk they have a definite performance edge, as you’d expect.
As usual a generous set of accessories is in the box, including rainguard and molded carry case.
2. Nikon 16002 PROSTAFF 7S
The quality of Nikon optics is legendary and even though the PROSTAFF 7S is towards the budget end of their range you’ll still get fantastic performance without crushing your wallet.
Low profile rubber armor gives a good grip on the solid body and the optics are well sealed. For the price they feel incredibly tough.
You won’t be disappointed with the image quality either. Field of view is a respectable if not outstanding 390 feet, and the picture is very bright.
You won’t have any trouble picking out prey at dawn or dusk. At this sort of money the PROSTAFF is a very good deal.
3. Bushnell H2O
The H2O uses the older-style Porro prism, so they have a more classic and less streamlined shape, but they’re still very good performers at a budget price.
The body is rubbed and coated in heavily textured rubber armor, which makes them feel very secure in your hands. You get twist-up eyecups, and the focus knob is in the center of the bridge and easily operated from below with a thumb.
The Porro design makes these very short without compromising the optics – in fact it’s a technically superior design compared to the less efficient, but more compact, roof prism – so for this price they give a great image.
Field of view is 410 feet, excellent for a budget 8×42.
Our Three Favorite Compact Models for Hunting
Compact binoculars are an entirely different beast. You’ll still get the same power ratios as full sized binoculars (8x or 10x), but you’ll get a smaller objective lens diameter, making these truly only viable for daytime hunting.
Remember that a bigger objective lens diameter usually means more light inside the binoculars, which yields a brighter picture. Compact binoculars are great if you are day hunting and need to pack light. Some compact versions are also much more budget friendly, making them a great pick for someone just starting out and not looking to break the bank.
Here are three of our favorites.
1. Nikon 8218 Trailblazer 10×25
The Trailblazer 10×25 is a truly tiny item, just over four inches long and not much wider. Despite that they have impressive performance and a good selection of features.
You get a solid rubber-armored body with Eco-Glass optics, a diopter ring on the right eyepiece and smooth bridge-mounted focus wheel. They’re lightweight, waterproof and fogproof.
They also give a startlingly good image in decent light. The combination of high power and small lenses means they don’t cope well at dawn or dusk, but in full daylight the picture is vivid and clear.
Field of view is a very impressive 342 feet at 1,000 yards. The Trailblazer packs a lot of power into your pocket.
2. Bushnell H2O Compact 10×25
Like the rest of Bushnell’s H2O range these compacts put a lot of emphasis on waterproofing and ruggedness; they’re heavily rubber armored, with excellent gripping surfaces, and the optics are O-ring sealed and nitrogen purged for fog resistance.
They can focus down to 15 feet with an easy to use ribbed knob, and also have diopter adjustment and twist-up eyecups.
Optically these are good for budget binos, while not up to the standards of a more expensive model. That shows up most in field of view which is just 341 feet – fractionally less than the 10x Nikons.
There’s also some chromatic aberration around the edges, which isn’t intrusive but is there. On the other hand the image is generally sharp, and for compacts their dusk and dawn performance is very acceptable.
3. Bushnell Powerview 10×25
This is a budget compact model, with a wallet friendly price tag, so as you’d expect some compromises have been made. The objective lenses are the small 21mm size and that makes a big difference – they have 40% less surface area, and light gathering power, than 25mm lenses.
You’re not going to get much use out of these around dawn and dusk. They also lack diopter adjustment, but do have twist-up eyecups. The body is solid and rubber armored, but we wouldn’t rely on them to be water or fogproof.
The good news is that the optics are reasonable. Field of view is 378 feet, not great but better than the more expensive H2O, and image quality is surprisingly good as long as you have enough light to work with. If you’re on a tight budget these are a lot better than nothing and definitely worth considering.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: How do you adjust binoculars?
A: Rather than reinvent the wheel, OutdoorLife has an excellent article on how you should adjust your binoculars right here. There are many different ways to adjust them and get the best fit for your needs, and this article does a great job of laying that out.
Q: What do the numbers mean when buying binoculars?
A: While we cover this in our buying guide, here’s a good summary. Binoculars are measured in magnification power (the multiple you will see in closeness) and Objective Lens Diameter (how much light the lens can gather). Exit pupil is also important as a higher exit pupil will mean brighter images. Higher exit pupils also mean that it’s easier to track moving objects as well.
Q: What should I look for when buying binoculars?
A: Cost is obviously important and may dictate what type of binocular pair you can purchase. If budget isn’t an issue for you, then you should look for the proper magnification power, proper objective lens diameter, track record of each manufacturer and other user reviews before making a purchase.
Q: What are the Best Hunting Binoculars for the Money?
A: While this answer is somewhat subjective, the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD gets great reviews, and is a reasonable price point for binoculars made by a manufacturer with a long standing track record in hunting optics.
Q: What are the best binocular brands for archery hunting?
A: Again, this can be somewhat subjective based on budget or other factors, but the Vortex Optics HD is a popular choice with many bowhunters. They are an upper tier product, so the higher end price tag follows.
Q: What strength binoculars do I need?
A: This is a loaded question and will depend largely upon how you intend to use them. Binoculars with a magnification of 10x are a popular choice among many hunters due the fact that they can cover a wide field of view and many different hunting styles/game types.
Q: What are the best value compact hunting binoculars?
A: The Bushnell Powerview are an excellent choice if you are looking for both cost effectiveness and value. They come in many different magnifications while remaining compact, and are extremely budget friendly.
Q: What are the best hunting binoculars for buck hunting, elk hunting or for other big game?
A: The Bushnell Green Roof Trophy Binoculars are a great 10x magnification option, especially for hunters on a budget.
Q: What are the best hunting binoculars on a budget?
A: Another vote for the Bushnell Green Roof Trophy binoculars due to cost. 10x magnification power with a strong performance track record and fully multicoated optics is hard to beat.
Q: What are the best high end hunting binoculars?
A: If you are looking to spend an obscene amount of money on binoculars, anything by Swarovski is considered the cream of the crop when it comes to hunting binoculars. They have a strong track record of excellent hunting performance and their price tag reflects it.
Q: What are the best binoculars for deer hunting?
A: Apart from varmints deer are the most popular quarry for American hunters, so that’s probably the biggest market for hunting binoculars. All the same factors apply here but there are a few things about deer hunting to take into consideration.
Deer are woodland animals, so you’re usually going to be bow hunting or rifle hunting in and around cover. That makes magnification less important because the ranges you’ll be working at aren’t that great, so a steadier image is likely to beat a slightly more magnified one.
Deer hunters spend a lot of time scanning the undergrowth for the slightest hint of a moving antler or twitching ear, and an unstable image makes those details easier to miss. Brightness and excellent color reproduction are important too.
A lot of deer hunting goes on around sunrise and sunset, and that also has a big influence. When you’re looking for signs of an elusive animal in dim light every advantage is vital. A brighter image will let you look a little deeper into shadows, and break out slightly smaller details from their surroundings.
In these conditions it’s well worth trading off a bit of magnification for some more exit pupil. Compacts are pretty much out of the running here; they’re handy to carry in the woods, but just don’t have the low-light performance most deer hunters need.
Looking at all those points, the best choice for deer hunters is a good pair of 8×42 binoculars unless you are planning on hunting in larger open/expansive regions. The magnification is plenty for what you need, and their superior light gathering power tips the balance in their favor, especially if you hunt from dawn to dusk.
Wrapping Up and Final Thoughts
Finding the right pair of binoculars is no different than choosing the right pocket knife or fixed blade survival knife for your outdoor excursions. You need to understand what it is that will best fit your needs and pick the model that you will get the most use from.
While we can provide you with all the guidance in the world, only you can narrow down the Binoculars that are best for your unique hunting situation.
Our parting thoughts are that if you are spending most of your time hunting in the daylight and not at dawn or dusk, go with the 10×42 magnification and spend a little more than you had originally planned on. The quality will be worth the investment.
If you intend on hunting at a wide variety of times, and need something that’s easier on the wallet, the 8×42 options are great.
Compact Binoculars should only really be purchased if you are needing something very portable or are really tight on cash. These will work in a pinch but not as good as the other models that were made for a better field of view.
Overall, you can’t go wrong with any of them in our list and we welcome comments below if you feel like we need to add your favorite set that may not have made the cut.