LAST UPDATED: December 6, 2019
Best Binoculars for Hunting: Sit Back and Watch From Afar
Line up your target with these high-quality binoculars for hunting
The Review Team
How We Decided
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PUBLISHED ON December 6, 2019
For avid hunters, being able to see a target well before it can see them is a great benefit. And one of the best ways to do so is by choosing a high quality pair of hunting binoculars—preferably with a wide field of view and crystal clear image reproduction (and a waterproof carrying case!) so you spot your prey no matter the weather conditions. We've rounded up our top picks and pre-empted some of the most Frequently Asked Questions below to help you make the right decision.
Waterproof and fogproof binoculars with phase-corrected roof prism design and multi-coated lenses. Close focus is measured at five feet and maximum field of view at 345 feet (6.6 degrees). Package includes rain guard, molded carrying case, and neck strap.
Subject to VIP Unconditional Lifetime Warranty from manufacturer. Rubber armor casing for extra durability. Lens covers are conveniently tethered for ease of use.
Tripod adapter not included. Noticeable chromatic aberration, in particular when reproducing whites.
The fast-close-focus knob allows rapid focusing with fewer rotations required to get from close focus to infinity. ClicLoc mechanism enables easy to attach and release from neck strap with the push of a button.
Weighing 2.6 pounds, these are the heaviest of our three picks. The included neoprene neck strap is also uncomfortable.
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Benefits of Hunting Binoculars
- Spotting prey. The whole point of using binoculars for hunting is that you can see prey from far enough away so that it doesn’t see or hear you and, therefore, isn’t inclined to run away.
- Identifying prey. If you’ve got reasonable long-distance eyesight, you’ll probably be able to see the general outline of your prey in the distance but can you identify it? Probably not. That’s where your binoculars come in.
- Terrain assessment. Being able to track your prey is a vital part of hunting and binoculars let you evaluate the terrain and plan the best route to avoid any obstacles before you reach them.
Types of Hunting Binoculars
This is how binoculars were originally structured: with the light bouncing off two right-angled prisms that are facing each other. The simple design allows the light to follow an uncomplicated route, and this results in sharp, bright images with superb depth perception.
The Porro prism results in a wider field of view and, in general, slightly better image quality than you’ll get with some roof prisms. However, to get everything lined up correctly inside, the eyepiece has to be offset against the objective lens. This usually results in bulkier, heavier binoculars that are difficult to make waterproof.
Roof prisms are usually arranged in two different ways. The Schmidt-Pecan design involves two prisms separated by a small gap, while the Abbe-Koenig design aligns two prisms into a V shape. Both structures require the light to bounce through many angles before leaving the prism, which extends the overall light path. This allows for better light transmission, resulting in a brighter image.
Because the eyepiece and lens do not have to be offset when using roof prisms, they're much better for compact binoculars. While these are more durable, a narrow body means a narrow field of view. Roof prism binoculars will often provide better magnification but at the expense of a little clarity.
Responsible for the very first pair of foldable pocket binos and the first manufacturer in the world to utilize mechanical image stabilization, Zeiss has been making optics, lenses, and binoculars for more than 100 years. The company was founded in 1846 by Optician Carl Zeiss and is based in Germany. We recommend the Terra 10x42 Binoculars.
Another German company, founded by Karl Steiner in 1947, Steiner has been part of the Beretta Group since 2008 and is based in Northern Bavaria, Germany. Credited with a number of firsts, including the first nitrogen-filled binoculars and the first binoculars to include a bearing compass, Steiner also makes the binoculars used by the U.S. Army. Our honorable mention pick is part of the Steiner range, and they also make the (much!) more expensive Commander Global 7x50s.
The original, but now one of four distinct businesses operating under the Leica brand, Leica Camera AG was founded in 1869 by Ernst Leitz, Sr., and they are headquartered in Wetzlar, Germany. Further supporting the idea that Germany holds the top spot when it comes to quality optics, Leica is consistently featured in the top 10 lists when it comes to high-ticket, premium binoculars. Check out the Ultravid BR 8x20s.
Hunting Binoculars Pricing
- Budget (around $50): It’s possible to pick up serviceable hunting binoculars at this price (if you don’t mind some fogging), but we wouldn’t recommend going any lower. Cheap optics generally make for poor image reproduction.
- Mid-range (between $100 and $500): Hunting binoculars peak noticeably in quality at around the $300 mark, but most pairs in this range will suit most users. You’ll get quality optics with multi-coated lenses more-or-less as standard as well as waterproof and fog proof options and other nice features like HD and ED glass.
- Premium Range ($500 and up): This is where overall image quality starts to even out, and any extra cost can be attributed to features. Super serious hunters can spend thousands on extras like night vision, range finders, laser sighting, and built-in bearing compasses.
Particularly when it comes to hunting, high magnification is not necessarily better. Sure, you want to be able to see prey clearly from a reasonable distance away, but it’s not Jupiter. The higher the magnification, the more difficult it is to stabilize the image. This makes tracking a moving target almost impossible. Levels of 10x or 8x magnification are generally considered the best for hunting.
Binoculars are categorized by magnification and objective lens size. A pair of 10x42 binoculars has a magnification factor of 10 and an objective lens diameter of 42mm. The wider the objective lens, the more light it’s possible to capture, and the more light, the brighter the image. With hunting often taking place at dawn or dusk (i.e with low light conditions), you’ll need all the help you can get. The most common lens sizes are 42mm and 50mm, and we certainly wouldn’t recommend going any lower than that.
Field of View
The combination of magnification and objective lens size dictates the field of view. This is how wide the image ends up in your binoculars, and it’s measured in feet over 1,000 yards. The wider the field of view, the more you’ll be able to see. Because hunting involves scanning the horizon, tracking moving objects, and assessing the landscape, a wide field of view is a must-have.
It’s possible to weigh all the features above and still end up with a disappointing pair of binoculars that are no good for hunting, because the most important feature when it comes to binoculars is the optics quality. Choose Bak-7 or Bak-4 prisms (the latter being marginally better) and fully- and multi-coated lenses. If you can afford additional upgrades like High Definition (HD) and extra-low dispersion glass, then that’s even better.
- Weight. Whether they're going to be hanging on your neck strap or safely inside their carrying case, the overall weight of your binoculars is definitely something to take into account. Compact binoculars are lighter than full-size binoculars and may be a good idea if you typically hunt with a lot of gear.
- Durability. Aside from decent waterproofing (which we thoroughly recommend), you want binoculars that will withstand the great outdoors. Some brands are so confident of their ruggedness that they offer lifetime, no-questions-asked guarantees!
- Eye Relief. Here’s another factor to consider if you’re going to spend hours behind your binos scoping out your prey: do they have soft, ergonomic eyecups with long enough eye relief that you can comfortably use them with your regular eyeglasses?
- Tripod Adaptability. If you’re a slow and steady hunter who likes a good stakeout, it might be worth investing in a tripod. In this case, you’ll need a pair of hunting binoculars with a suitable tripod adapter.
- Stealth. Is it important that you’re neither seen nor heard when you’re hunting? Consider paying extra for noise reduced binoculars or those with a camouflaged outer case.
Best Hunting Binoculars Reviews & Recommendations 2020
The Vortex Optics Diamondback is a full-size pair of 10x42 binoculars. They sit squarely in the middle range when it comes to price point and, as you’d expect from our top pick, they don’t disappoint. Phase-corrected prisms and fully multi-coated optics provide 10x magnification through a 42mm objective lens, which (as you’ll see from the rest of our list) is a great size for hunting. This provides an admirable 345 feet (6.6 degrees) field of view and a close focus range of five feet, so you’ll have no problem tracking or planning your next move.
Have no worries about their durability, either. Fully waterproof and fogproof, the Diamondback model also features rubber armor, a rainguard, and a molded carrying case for extra protection in wet conditions. In fact, Vortex is so confident about how rugged they are that the company offers a VIP Unconditional Lifetime Warranty, which means they’ll repair or replace any pair at any time, no questions asked. The lens covers are tethered for convenience, but if you do lose one, it’s nice to know it's guaranteed.
The only downsides we found were that the Diamondback does not include a tripod adapter and suffers from chromatic aberration: whites tend to be a little on the brown side.
The rugged yet compact Outland X from California-based company Celestron are great budget binoculars that perform better than expected for the price point. They come with a neck strap, soft carrying case, and limited lifetime warranty, combined with unlimited technical support. This model is available in a range of sizes, but we recommend the 8x42 binoculars for hunting because they include adapter threads for fitting a tripod and a 6.8-degree, 357 feet field of view.
Lightweight but durable with waterproofing and a non-slip, easy-grip rubber coating, they have also been filled and sealed with dry nitrogen gas for effective protection against fogging. They’re easy to use, with large focus knobs and adjustable diopter ring, although this has a tendency to swing loose and needs recalibrating before every use.
The BAK-4 prisms and optics are multi-coated and deliver crisp, high-resolution viewing. But they’re not fully coated, and this does have an impact on image brightness and color.
The Predator Series from Steiner features a Color Adjusted Transmission (CAT) lens coating that filters out blues and greens (i.e. the forest) and boosts reds and browns (i.e wildlife) to make it easier to spot, track, and hunt game, even in low light conditions. When you combine this with the fact that the polycarbonate and rubber armor is lightweight, waterproof down to a depth of three feet, and resistant to impact of up to 11Gs, you have a pair of binoculars for hunting that are worthy of the honorable mention spot.
These binoculars are (relatively) expensive and won’t suit everybody. But you get high-end German ED glass optics with superb light transmission and image quality for that money. The field of view is measured at an impressive 381 feet, and ergonomic eyecups provide long eye relief so you can track in comfort.
They also include other common Steiner features, like the Fast-Close-Focus wheel, which gets you from super close to super far away with only minimal rotations, and the convenient Clip-Loc system, which allows easy, one-button attaching and releasing of your binoculars from the neck strap. The neck strap—uncomfortable and cheaply made—and how heavy the binoculars feel when attached to it are the only things we don't like.
- To determine the exit pupil of your binoculars or the overall brightness of the lenses, divide the magnification factor by the objective lens size.
- If you wear glasses, you may want to get binoculars with larger eyecups. This will offer eye relief to make viewing more comfortable.
- Determine how far you have to travel in order to hunt or set up base camp. Binoculars can be heavy and uncomfortable to carry via a neck strap. Store them in a bag or their carrying case until you get to where you are going.
Q: Do all hunting binoculars work with tripods?
A: Check with the manufacturer to make sure the binoculars have a tripod connection on them. You may be able to purchase a specific attachment if they do not have one. However, the majority should allow you to connect them with a tripod for a sturdier image.
Q: What is a good objective lens size for hunting binoculars?
A: The number after the x describes the lens diameter of a pair of binoculars in millimeters. The bigger the lens size, the better the light transmission for bright images. Keep in mind that wider objective lenses will also increase the weight of the binoculars.
Q: What does multi-coating mean?
A: Lenses and the internal optics in a pair of binoculars are usually coated to prevent the scattering of light, improve light transmission and reduce chromatic aberration, amongst other things. The more lens coatings, the better the overall image reproduction will be.
The rugged Vortex Optics Diamondback 10x42 Binoculars have a mid-range price point and are our overall top pick for the best hunting binoculars.
The compact and popular Celestron Outland X 8x42 Binoculars are, in our opinion, the best hunting binoculars for the money.