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The 8 Best Binoculars for Hunting, Birding, and Other Outdoor Activities

From affordable to splurge, these high-quality optics bring the action right to you.

best hunting binoculars
Staff, Courtesy of Zeiss

Binoculars are likely the most popular optics in the world (aside from corrective lenses, aka eyeglasses) and with good reason. They’re intuitive to use and comfortable for longer viewing periods, and they’re popular aids for hunters, wildlife enthusiasts, birders, and boaters.

Because high-quality binoculars are not easy to manufacture, the price points are generally in the hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Given the amount of money on the line, purchase decisions require some homework first. Thankfully, most options outside of the budget class are at least really good, and paying more simply gets you something great.

What to Consider


The magnifications of most consumer binoculars are fixed (ie. not zoomable) and range between 8x and 18x. Much less than 8x isn’t enough of an effect to bother with for most applications, while much more than 18x becomes difficult to use without a tripod. In general, lower-power binoculars are a better fit if you’re mostly glassing shorter distances, such as in forests, and don’t need precise detail. Higher-power binoculars make sense if you’re looking to avoid also carrying a spotting scope and glassing longer distances up to a mile or in need of precise detail such as when you need to determine if an animal is a legal target.

Objective Lens Diameter

Objective lens diameter is the size of the lens farthest from your eyes and impacts the field of vision you get as well as how bright the image is since, generally, bigger lenses capture more light. Jeremy Bentham, Senior Manager of SRO Sales & Operations for Nikon, explains the trade-offs associated with objective lens size. “One of the key things that needs to be decided is brightness versus weight,” he explains. “Larger objective lenses allow more light into the optic but are also heavier to pack and carry with you.”

Objective lens sizes in binoculars range anywhere from 20mm to 100mm, but the common sizes are mostly in the 30mm to 60mm range. I find ultracompact binoculars of less than about 30mm annoying to use for more than a quick look at something relatively nearby since the field of view is small and it can be harder to keep in position on your eyes. On the other end of the spectrum, most binoculars larger than about 55mm become heavy and unwieldy if used without a tripod.

Binoculars are listed by size spec, where the first number is magnification and the second is objective lens diameter. Probably the most common size is 10x42, which permits a big enough field of view and magnification for viewing things as near as 15 feet but still allows you to spot larger objects such as wildlife as far as a mile away. Every selection here is 10x magnification, but we’ve included a few different objective lens sizes other than 42mm.

maven B1.2


For backcountry hunters and hikers, weight is one of the most important considerations in a binocular. You need to balance the desire for a larger, brighter optic with your ability and interest to carry it around your neck over long distances. For me, anything heavier than about 35 ounces is too much to carry in a chest harness when actively hunting and covering several miles a day. If you’re a hunter or hiker who doesn’t need ready access to your binoculars and can keep them in a pack until you need them at specific spots, you may be able to tolerate heavier options.

Even folks that mostly use binoculars at home or from a vehicle need to consider weight. Heavier binoculars are harder to use for longer periods of time, since your arms and shoulders do eventually fatigue and become shaky. If you’re mostly using binoculars on a tripod (a must for higher-magnification binos), you may want to prize optical quality over weight savings.

Tech Features

Aside from range-finding binoculars, most have surprisingly little tech as we usually think of it in terms of electronics and connectivity. What makes great binoculars hasn’t changed much over the years and still boils down to quality glass and craftsmanship.

Where tech does show up is in the glass quality and the coatings used. High-tech coatings are used to make colors true, enhance brightness, and protect your expensive lenses. Coatings and glass often use nonstandardized terms such as ED, HD, and UHD glass or proprietary branding such as LotuTec or SWAROBRIGHT, making it hard to compare apples to apples when talking about something as subjective as optical quality. What you can look for is if lenses are “fully multi-coated,” meaning that all glass surfaces have multiple coatings for durability and performance, whatever the branding.

How We Selected

Most people willing to spend hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on binoculars are obsessed with spotting wildlife, whether big-game hunting, birding, or just observing nature. I’m one of those people. I’ve used the best and the worst binoculars on the market, and I spent time hands-on testing several models during fall big-game hunting seasons in Colorado. I also spoke with optics dealers and shop owners, fellow hunters, and brand representatives to get a full sense of all the different binoculars available. My picks—all 10x magnification with objective lens sizes ranging from 32mm to 54mm—are meant to give options for each type of end user, from brands old and new.

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Best Overall
Maven B1.2 10x42 Binoculars

Key Specs

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 42mm
  • Magnification: 10x
  • Weight: 26.8 oz.

Hunting optics newcomer Maven recently updated its flagship B1, and the lighter, brighter B1.2 is one of the best all-around binoculars I’ve ever used. I tested the B1.2s through a Colorado archery elk season and found their balance of optical clarity and light weight ideal for the distances and physical demands of Western big-game hunting. Japanese glass with high-end coatings yields a bright, clear image edge-to-edge when compared to middle-of-the-road options. Maven’s customization program offers different color and pattern options for almost every external component. The result is a distinctive binocular that doesn’t look like it came off an assembly line. The magnesium body feels sturdy, but at just under 27 ounces, the B1.2 didn’t pull on my neck when carried in a chest harness, even when hiking five miles or more each day.

  • High light transmission
  • High-end performance at mid-tier price

  • Still expensive for most
Best Overall Runner-Up
Vortex Razor UHD 10x50 Binoculars

Key Specs

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 50mm
  • Magnification Range: 10x
  • Weight: 36.5 oz.

The newly redesigned Razor UHD in 10x50 provides a wider field of view and more light via the larger objective-lens size. Razor is Vortex’s top-tier series of binos, but the brightness and clarity are worth the price, especially for more stationary scouting and hunting. Lenses in this updated version are made from Japanese Ultra High-Definition glass, and the internal prism is enlarged for better light transmission.

The 36.5 ounces aren’t unbearable for hiking, but these are at their best traveling shorter distances to a glassing spot or from a vehicle. The 10x magnification and wide lens are great for scanning lots of country, though the weight may eventually make your image shaky if you’re viewing freehand. More budget-conscious hunters may want to look at some of Vortex’s lower-tier options, which offer much of the performance at sub-$1,000 prices.

  • Wide field of view
  • Good low-light performance

  • Heavy for long hikes
  • Pricey
Best Budget
Bushnell All-Purpose 10x42 Binoculars

Key Specs

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 42mm
  • Magnification: 10x
  • Weight: 25.6 oz.

Bushnell has been making a version of these affordable, entry-level binoculars for years. I bought this model’s predecessor over a decade ago and they’re still holding up today. They don’t provide the clarity or low-light performance of binoculars that cost 10 to 60 times what these do, but they are more than adequate for hunting and wildlife spotting.

I’ve found cheap compact binoculars (i.e. 8x25) almost completely useless, but since these Bushnells have the standard large lens diameter of 42mm, they let in plenty of light and give you a wide field of view—288 feet at 1,000 yards. While not as distortion-free as pricier options, they have similar features as high-end optics, like external lens coatings, anti-fog nitrogen fill, and weight-saving roof prism design. If your budget is tight or you just don’t need high-end binoculars, these Bushnells offer tremendous bang for your buck.

  • Affordable
  • Limited lifetime warranty

  • Lower-clarity glass
Best Mid-Tier
Nikon Monarch M7 10x42 Binoculars

Key Specs

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 42mm
  • Magnification: 10x
  • Weight: 24 oz.

While Nikon makes some of the most expensive binoculars in the world, it has always offered a range of optics options at all but the lowest price tiers. I demo’d these newly redesigned M7 binoculars for a week and was surprised when I finally realized they come with a mid-range price. Optically, they’re not as sharp and bright as the top-tier binos, but with full multi-coated lenses and high-quality Japanese glass, they perform great in low light and offer a clear, true-to-life image. I also appreciated the locking diopter that prevents you from accidentally moving the individual eyepiece adjustments out of place after getting them dialed in perfectly for your eyes.

Like the Vortex Viper HD 10x42s, the Monarch M7s are one of the few binos to hit a somewhat neglected sweet spot in the binocular market. At around $500, the M7s provide most of the features and experience of high-end glass for those who aren’t willing to fork over a mortgage payment to get it.

  • Affordable
  • Limited lifetime warranty

  • Lower-clarity glass
Best High-End
Zeiss Victory 10x54 Binoculars

Key Specs

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 54mm
  • Magnification Range: 10x
  • Weight: 37 oz.

Zeiss has been in the optics game since the 19th Century, and its European pedigree still draws a lot of water—and with good reason. Through a combination of glass quality and prism design, these Victory 10x54 binoculars achieve some of the highest light transmission possible in a bino, allowing you to see better at dawn and dusk.

There are some tech features worth noting, including the brand’s LotuTec coatings on the exterior glass to make the binos more usable even when wet. But even in the age of high-tech, you’re not paying for Bluetooth connectivity or camo colorways with the Victory binos, just the same things that have made Zeiss great for over a century: top-quality glass and precision manufacturing.

  • Brightest image available
  • Wide field of view

  • Expensive
Best Rangefinding Binoculars
German Precision Optics Rangeguide 10x50 Binoculars
German Precision Optics

Key Specs

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 50mm
  • Magnification Range: 10x
  • Weight: 35.2 oz.

I never really was annoyed by having to carry both a range finder and binoculars until I got to test the Rangeguides from GPO, and I then quickly realized how convenient it is for hunting to have ranging capability inside your binos. I featured these binoculars in my Best Range Finders article and touted the beauty of binos that do double-duty, but they’re great binos even if you took away the range finding.

While that dual-function might be their defining feature, they’re also an incredibly easy binocular to use with a just-right 10-power magnification and large 50mm objective lens. They’re a tad heavy for covering big miles day after day with them strapped to your chest, but you’ll probably be willing to lug the extra ounces for the quality image and extra functionality.

  • Brightest image available
  • Wide field of view

  • Expensive
Best Compact
Leupold BX-4 Pro Guide HD 10x32 Binoculars

Key Specs

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 32mm
  • Magnification Range: 10x
  • Weight: 17 oz.

Early in my Western hunting career, I was obsessed with shaving weight from my pack and carried ultralight compact binoculars that were borderline useless for spotting game. I still don’t like lugging heavy optics in the backcountry, but knowing how important effective glassing is to a successful hunt, I no longer sacrifice function for weight-savings. If you’re trying to go ultralight, I wouldn’t go any smaller than these featherweight but still-functional binos from Leupold.

With their medium magnification, these could be great for Eastern whitetail hunters who don’t need to cover huge expanses. They’re also a great option for active birders who don’t need massive magnification and will appreciate the quick-focusing center knob. They’re nowhere near the visual experience of quality glass in a larger-diameter bino, but if you’re counting grams and aren’t spending hours behind them, the BX-4 Pro Guides will give you just enough at half the weight of most other hunting binoculars.

  • Ultralight
  • Japanese glass

  • Hard to use for long periods of time
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