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 Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.
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
- 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.