LAST UPDATED: October 23, 2019
Best Night Vision Goggles: Take the Right Steps During the Dark Hours
Want to see better in the dark? Here are the top picks for night vision goggles
The Review Team
How We Decided
The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.
PUBLISHED ON October 23, 2019
Night vision technology can enhance your life in many ways both at home and outdoors. While it was initially introduced for the military, this innovative technology has made an impact in various fields, including hunting and wildlife observation. When used in goggles, night vision technology can amplify the available light to generate clear images. The ability to see in the dark also allows greater mobility during nighttime hours. Below are the best night vision goggles currently available.
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Night Vision Goggles
- Improved vision in the dark. One of the most obvious benefits for night vision goggles is being able to see clearly in the dark, where simply looking with the naked eye is insufficient. What you see through the night vision goggles is enhanced either through infrared or thermal imaging.
- Improved accuracy. Most people associate night vision goggles with tactical military missions. However, they’re also ideal for nighttime hunting trips where limited natural light would make safely targeting prey difficult to do.
- Enhanced safety. Night vision goggles can be a lifesaver if you’re thinking of engaging in outdoor activities after the sun goes down. A nighttime hike could turn dangerous if you can’t clearly see where you’re placing your feet. Night vision goggles will give you precision and peace of mind.
Types of Night Vision Goggles
Infrared Night Vision Goggles
Infrared-based night vision goggles rely on the light outside of the visible spectrum range to illuminate the images you’re seeing in low light conditions. A common option is green light waves, which is why many night vision goggles rely on green phosphor. However, these types of night vision goggles cannot work in complete darkness or when it is bright outside. Without any light—even if not on the visible spectrum—it’s impossible to create an image for you to see. And bright light will damage the technology and make the goggles inoperable.
Thermal Night Vision Goggles
As opposed to infrared technology, thermal technology relies on temperature and heat detection to create an image. While the image isn’t as clear as with infrared night vision goggles, these types of visual displays don’t rely on light and can work in complete darkness — even in the absence of light outside of the visible spectrum. If you’re considering a pair of night vision goggles for hunting in total darkness, thermal-based models are the best option.
Bestguarder is a popular outdoor gear brand that focuses almost exclusively on the hunting and camping niche. Much of their gear centers around night vision goggles similar to our Best Overall selection as well as other popular items like hunting alarms.
Nightfox is a subsidiary brand of Laserware, a Bristol, United Kingdom-based firm that focuses on creating innovative products at a modest price point to meet a variety of needs. The Nightfox division is exclusively centered around night vision technology and prides itself on their 18-month standard warranty that’s honored on every item they create. In addition to night vision goggles, Nightfox also creates essential gear like this IR illuminator flashlight.
Sightmark is a Texas-based outdoor optical gear brand that prioritizes the manufacture of tactical, hunting, and shooting vision gear. While they make some of the best night vision goggles, this brand also focuses on riflescopes and laser sights.
Night Vision Goggles Pricing
- Up to $500: In this range, you can find a quality pair of simplified night vision goggles with limited functionality that are designed for casual observing.
- $501 to $1,000. In this range, you’ll find goggles designed for activities such as hunting, driving, or shooting.
- $1,001 and up. On the higher spectrum, you’ll find high-quality and high-performance night vision goggles, including ones that would qualify as ideal for tactical activities.
Night vision goggle generations are divided into Gen 1, Gen 2, and Gen 3. Gen 1 night vision is the cheapest with low resolution and a 75-yard visual range. Gen 2 models are median-priced and ideal for hunting, shooting, and driving with enhanced optics, light amplification, longer battery life, and 200-yard visual range. Gen 3 models are the most expensive but are similar to tactical grades used by U.S. Military special forces with the best battery life and a 300-yard long-range view.
Most people wear night vision goggles for extended periods of time, so weight is an important feature. This is especially true if you opt for a pair of goggles designed with a helmet mount or to wear them on your head. Excessive weight can cause neck strain. Ideally, look for models that are no more than 20 pounds. More intensive, tactical night vision goggles will usually feature more lenses and weigh more by default.
If you’re planning to use night vision goggles for hunting or need a clear line of sight, the size will be a key feature. Goggles that are too large will impede your ability to clearly use the sight on a rifle. But in this scenario, you should also consider night vision goggles that can be retracted when not in use so that you can safely and easily use other objects without any issues.
For those planning to use night vision goggles for use in very dark areas, the gain is an essential feature. Gain refers to a goggles’ ability to optically compensate for different light levels at night. Better gain means a better viewing experience with a clearer, more detailed picture even in minimal light. But this feature is especially useful as a manual control if you’re in an area where the light levels constantly fluctuate.
Night vision goggles are typically designed for outdoor or active use. But in this category, cheaper models tend to perform poorly. Look for models constructed of durable aluminum bodies as opposed to plastic if you’re looking for a pair of night vision goggles that will last for the long haul. Likewise, choose glass lenses over cheaper lens alternatives.
- Autogating. If there’s a chance that you might be working in variable light or exposed to sudden bursts of bright light, autogated night vision goggles should be prioritized. While pricier, these models offer automatic brightness control when exposed to bright light—helping to preserve your device.
- Integral Illuminator. If you’re concerned about the overall weight of your night vision goggles, opt for a model with an integral illuminator. This will help you even when the goggles aren’t in use so you can read the text in dark areas because it’s a separate light source.
- Weather Resistance. Whether you’re camping in wet areas or plan on hunting in marshland, a waterproof rating is a critical consideration. If you plan to work in wet areas or places with consistently bad weather, upgrading to a pricier water-resistant model is a good idea.
- Avoid Magnification. While magnification sounds great in theory, it can impair your ability to safely walk or operate other equipment. Skip this feature when shopping for night vision goggles.
- Monocular vs. Binocular. Monocular models can be ideal for hunting or scouting, whereas a binocular model is best for casual observing.
Best Night Vision Goggles Reviews & Recommendations 2020
The Bestguarder NV-900 Digital Night Vision Binocular is our top pick because it features a superior grade CMOS sensor that is not only infrared sensitive but also features a convex lens and 640 x 480 screen resolution. You get premium image clarity from the four-inch viewing screen, and the 4.5x optical zoom provides a maximum viewing distance of 1400 feet. What sets this model apart from its rivals is that this pair of night vision goggles is designed to not just let you view what’s in front of you, but to also record videos with sound. You’ll like the easy-to-use user interface, comfortable textured grips, and built-in side straps. But another great feature is that these goggles are dual-purpose and can be used like traditional binoculars during the daytime. A major issue we found with this model is that the unit isn’t ideal for very close distance viewing because of the built-in zoom feature. Also, it requires a substantial number of batteries. With eight AA batteries, this device becomes extremely heavy. And while the rubber grip is ideal for initial use, for prolonged periods of time it can be uncomfortable.
For beginners, it’s always advisable to select an affordable yet functional gadget before you advance to complicated military-grade glasses. This is why we believe that our Best Value pick can provide you with the visibility you need in low light conditions as you improve on your nature watching skills. It comes with a large LCD screen that gives clear and sharp images, and comfortable eye caps that are large enough to accommodate eyeglasses. You can switch from normal viewing to magnifying or zooming in on the image with the help of the 2x digital magnification and digital zoom control, respectively. When it comes to nighttime viewing, the goggles are equipped with an infrared sensor with seven adjustable brightness levels. You can adjust the brightness for clearer viewing depending on the ambient lighting on the scenery. Three switches on the goggles help you switch effortlessly between magnification, adjusting the infrared brightness, and focus. However, we did note a few drawbacks with this budget-friendly model. Its nighttime viewing distance is less than 200 feet, which is short in comparison to professional-grade night vision goggles. The same goes for its field of view since it only has a single viewing lens at the front. The lens also tends to fog up easily.
We chose to include the Solomark Night Vision Binoculars on our list for a number of reasons. First, it has a wide LCD screen that allows for comfortable viewing. The lens is coated with multilayers of MultiGuard FMC coating with anti-reflective compounds, which reduce glare while ensuring high light transmission to get the truest colors from the images you capture. As with all Solomark binoculars, it's powered with a 3W infrared LED sensor that allows you to see up to 820 feet in full darkness. You will appreciate the versatility offered by the built-in camcorder featuring a 640-pixel video and a 5-megapixel camera. It has an SD card slot too so you can save the images and videos you take, and transfer them to your computer with the USB cable provided. For better viewing, the unit has a 2x digital zoom feature and provides up to seven times magnification. While it may be a solid device, there are a few issues that have plagued some of its users. One is that you have to buy the four AA batteries separately from the gadget. Additionally, the lens tends to fog up in humid conditions, which can affect the image quality if left unsupervised on video mode. The focusing knob is also a bit flimsy.
Take clear photos and videos of objects at night with this Nightfox camera that comes equipped with a 1.5-watt infrared LED. It provides 7x magnification and 2x digital zoom, so you can capture images that are up to 495 feet away. It records both photos and videos on a microSD card (maximum 32GB), and you can transfer them to your computer via the USB provided. Six large buttons at the top panel help you adjust the viewing settings, and you can set it to show the time stamp on photos and videos. The comfortable wide-screen lets you use the binoculars even with glasses on. Extra features include a filter cover for the infrared lens and a carrying case. What’s more, the product is backed with an 18-month warranty, which serves as a guarantee of their quality. It also has a GoPro-compatible mounting system on the top. You can attach it on a tactical helmet with the helmet mount provided though it may be a bit wobbly. Also, it requires four AA batteries, but they don’t come with the package. Another drawback is the multiple buttons may need some getting used to.
Identify your target easily at night with these night vision binoculars that are designed with built-in infrared illuminators that produce clear and bright images. You can use them to see objects within a range of 200 feet. By adjusting the focusing wheel, you can get up to 5x magnification on the image. They are built to provide a comfortable viewing experience with a smooth rubberized finish that provides a firm grip even in humid or wet conditions and a padded neck strap. They are also fitted with an impact-resistant thermoplastic lens so they can survive accidental drops. At 2.2 pounds, these binoculars are a bit on the heavy side, so you have to bear the weight on your hands or neck since they can’t be mounted on a tripod. Also, the focusing wheel is inconveniently positioned at the center of the binoculars, which makes it a bit challenging to adjust for people with small hands. Lastly, it requires three lithium batteries, but they aren’t included in the package.
- Each pair of night vision goggles has a specific device gain that refers to the light levels that reach the viewer’s eyes. A device with a higher gain will be a good choice.
- If you are looking for higher image resolution, choose a Generation 2 night vision device. These offer better light amplification and image clarity.
- Bright light sources can act adversely against night vision goggles. To prolong the life of your equipment and prevent any damage, do not expose it to such light sources.
Q: What are the categories of night vision goggles?
A: Night vision goggles are categorized into three generations: 1, 2, and 3. The overall technical features, image quality, and the ability to perform in lower light conditions increase with each generation. However, generation 3 devices are too expensive for general use.
Q: How far will a night vision device allow me to see?
A: The range of a night vision device depends on its design and technical parameters. It also depends on the type of object being viewed, as each object has its own detection and recognition range. The clarity and the brightness of the night sky will also affect the performance of the device.
Q: Do night vision goggles come with thermal imaging?
A: Some do. Night vision goggles with thermal imaging use specialized optics to detect infrared light emitted by an object. However, low- and medium-range thermal devices do not offer good image clarity or resolution. Most image-enhancing devices offer better performance than units with thermal imaging, at the same price range.
With good optical clarity and smart design, the Bestguarder NV-900 Digital Night Vision Binocular is our top choice for night vision goggles.
The Hike Crew Digital Infrared Night Goggles is a pocket-friendly option that has the right range of features to suit a first-time buyer.