Hunting is a game of being able to sense your surroundings better than the animal you are hunting. Whether you are tracking deer, elk, or even larger game, being able to see clearly is paramount to success. Beyond your weapon of choice, having the best binoculars for hunting is perhaps the most important aspect of your arsenal.
The best compact binoculars for hunting need to have great optics, strong magnification, and strong weatherproof design. When shopping for hunting binoculars, it can be easy to get bogged down in technical jargon. Luckily, with a proper guide, the process of finding the right set for you is quite simple.
Here are some of the top rated binoculars on the market and what you need to know about them.
Last update on 2020-11-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
- 1 Best Binoculars for Hunting Reviews
- 2 Vortex Optics Crossfire HD Binoculars
- 3 Bushnell 334211 Trophy Binocular, Realtree Xtra, 10 x 42mm
- 4 Bushnell Trophy Roof Binoculars
- 5 Occer 12×25 Compact Binoculars with Low Light Night Vision
- 6 Leupold BX-1 Rogue Binocular
- 7 Vortex Optics Diamondback HD Binoculars
- 8 What You Need to Know When Shopping for The Best Hunting Binoculars
- 9 Conclusion
Best Binoculars for Hunting Reviews
Compared to some of the other offerings we reviewed for this roundup, Vortex is a relatively unknown brand. However, their well thought out and high-quality models suggest they will be a leader in the industry soon. Starting with the construction of the Crossfire, Vortex knows how to make a rugged set of binoculars. The casing feels sturdy, and all of the hardware is extremely well done. Quality can often be hard to quantify but is apparent when holding a well-designed product in your hands.
Many manufacturers cut corners in terms of waterproofing. For bird watchers, this may be fine, but a proper set of hunting binoculars is likely to see its fair share of abuse and moisture. Every fitting on the Vortex Optics Crossfire is equipped with a double-layer compression style O-ring. While they do not have a formal waterproofing certification, I have little doubt that these would survive a dunk or two without any harm.
Beyond the seals, Vortex took the added step of nitrogen purging the body of these binoculars. This has two effects. First, it creates positive pressure on the interior of the optics, preventing the ingress of moisture or dust. Second, any moisture leftover from manufacturing is purged due to the influx of a noble gas. This means that the interior lenses of the Vortex are significantly less likely to fog.
The controls are another highlight. Generally, a set of binoculars will have two control sets: a focus wheel and a diopter adjustment. In normal use, the focus wheel will be used frequently, whereas the diopter adjustment should only occur when switching between users. Despite these disparate priorities, many companies make the mistake of making both wheels the same size. Vortex did not fall for this fallacy. While the focus wheel is easy to access and centrally located, the diopter wheel is subtly integrated into the right eyepiece. This is a much more logical design.
Finally, the strength of the optics is a nice consideration. Many shoppers have the belief that stronger magnification is always an advantage. While this may be true, it is not absolute. Depending on the hunting environments your frequent, weaker magnification may be preferable. For example, deer hunting in dense woods requires weaker magnification due to the shorter ranges involved. To account for this, Vortex offers four distinct magnification levels for this model, allowing you to tailor it to your specific hunting circumstances.
- Elegant design
- Great waterproofing
- Nitrogen purged
- Multiple magnification levels
- Comparatively expensive
- Coating can lead to sweaty hands
In the world of gear reviews, some products get an absolute recommendation, while others are only right for a certain context. The Bushnell 334211, while a great set of binoculars, falls into the latter category. Bushnell is arguably the most well-known brand in the binocular space, and there is no question that they make a quality product. The 334311 is, quite simply, a beast. And therein lies both the advantage and the disadvantage.
In terms of durability, it is hard to imagine a more rugged pair of hunting binoculars. Between the metal housing, rubber coatings, and ruggedized skin, you are not going to have to worry about tossing these in the corner of your deer stand. Further, the waterproof credentials are seriously impressive. Using double-gasket threaded assemblies for all components and a nitrogen-purged interior, these Bushnells received an IPX7 rating. Even submersion won’t pose a threat. I’ve even heard stories of these being inadvertently being run over by a car without damage.
The optics are impressive as well. At a 10x strength, the magnification can best be classified as “mid-pack.” This is not a problem, as the moderate strength makes for more versatile user experience. All lenses are lead-free, multi-coated, and feature BAK-4 prisms. Top-quality is featured throughout.
The price you must pay for this quality and durability is the weight. At over 25 ounces, this is an extremely heavy pair of binoculars. You’re never going to forget that these are strapped around your neck. They are large, too. I have moderately small hands and holding these becomes a chore for any more than a short period. However, if you can overlook this aspect, this is a fantastic option.
- Incredibly durable
- IPX7 rated
- Great optics
Bushnell continues to produce some of the best hunting binoculars on the market, and their products are always a safe bet. Functionally, these binoculars are very similar to the 334211 Trophy set above. Thus, it is most efficient to focus on the differences. Both sets have 10x 42mm optics. However, this set is technically a slightly lower grade of lense compared to the 334211.
Despite Bushnell ranking this set slightly below the 334211, I was unable to tell any significant difference. Both use BAK-4 optics, and both produce very clear images with little distortion across the field of vision. If I noticed any difference, it would be in the coating. This series uses a single-stage coating compared to the multi-layer affair used in the higher-end set. In direct sunlight, there was slightly more glare, but I would not consider either set to be below par.
The form factor is slightly different as well. The Trophy Roof has a slightly thinner contour, with less aggressive grip surfaces on the body. This has the impact of making this set feel more slender in the hand, making them easier to hold. Unfortunately, weight is still inescapable. Much like the 334211, the Trophy Roof weighs almost two pounds. To cope with this heft, Bushnell included a harness that helps to distribute the weight to reduce neck strain. It’s a nice touch, but an indirect solution to the problem.
The key advantage of this model over the 334211 is the price. Despite being substantially similar, the Trophy Roof is around 35% less expensive at the time I reviewed each model. Thus, if you can live without the camouflaged exterior, this set represents a great value.
- Good value
- Great optics
As we’ve discussed on this site before, there is rarely a one-size-fits-all product. Each model will have its advantages and situations where it shines. Although the Occer 12×25 has a few performance deficits compared to the larger competition, its compact size and admirable performance make it a fantastic option for a lot of users.
At 7.2 ounces, it is difficult to find a more compact set of hunting binoculars. Unlike the larger competition, you can easily wear these around your neck for an entire hunt without fear of neck strain. They are physically quite small as well. At 4x4x2, these binoculars are no more intrusive than a well-dressed ham sandwich. Despite their small size, the Occer 12×25 feels sturdy in your hands. The grips are well designed, the thumbwheels are smooth, and the overall fit and finish are superb given the price point.
The only complaint regarding durability is water resistance. Unsurprisingly, this model does not have a formal IPX rating. Although the manufacturer took measures to protect them from moisture, including gaskets on all openings, they are ultimately not designed for use in heavy rain or underwater. These are not nitrogen-purged, so any submersion will represent somewhat of a risk. That said, given the affordable price point, this aspect can be forgiven relatively easily.
The other foible here is low-light usage. For a compact set of binoculars, these perform well in low light conditions. But you can only adjust so much for smaller optical surfaces. Simply by nature of having smaller lenses, these binoculars will naturally let in less light. For most circumstances, this will not pose a problem. But frequent night-hunters may want to opt for a set of hunting binoculars with larger optical surfaces.
In terms of usability, I enjoyed my time with the Occer 12×25. It is comfortable, compact, and provides excellent optical clarity. Despite using my test set in fairly humid conditions, I never experienced any fogging or issues. The eyepieces are somewhat un-padded and can become uncomfortable after long periods, but this never became a significant impediment. Overall, if you want a compact and affordable set of hunting binoculars, these will be a great option for the majority of users.
- Clear optics
- Not wholly waterproof
- Mediocre low-light performance
In terms of compact hunting binoculars, price is always a consideration. There are many excellent models available for budget-minded shoppers like the Occer reviewed above. As with so many other pieces of gear, you can spend as much as you are willing to. Anyone looking for an excellent mid-tier set of compact hunting binoculars should give the Leupold BX-1 Rogue a serious look.
Leupold has a long history of making hunting sights and binoculars. A family-owned company, started in 1907 in Beaverton, Oregon where they still operate today. There’s something about holding an item made by a company that’s been making similar products for over a hundred years. It’s almost as if you can feel the experience that went into the design. The Leupold BX-1 has some of the best ergonomics of any set of binoculars I’ve ever used. Although they look somewhat chunky in photos, the ridges align perfectly with your hands. It’s confidence-inspiring and a great tactile experience.
The comfort is backed by quality as well. The body of the Leupold BX-1 is made from aircraft-grade aluminum, giving it an excellent combination of low weight and strength. It may dent or scratch slightly, but your chances of actually hurting this pair of binoculars are almost none. Water resistance was not overlooked. While the BX-1 Rogue lacks a formal IPX rating, Leupold certifies them as completely waterproof for depths under two feet. Having briefly tested this claim, I have no reason to doubt its merits.
Optically, the BX-1 Rogue punches well above its weight. It uses BAK-4 prisms, a rarity among moderately priced units. These optics lend this set a wide field of view with almost no notable distortion. Compared to other compact sets, the optical surface area is quite large, lending this set surprisingly good low-light performance. You won’t confuse it with a full-size pair, but you won’t feel left in the dark either.
Overall, I struggled to find many downsides to the Leupold. They aren’t the least expensive pair of binoculars I have ever reviewed, but they represent an impressive value given the quality of the optics and casing. In all but the darkest conditions, this is a beautiful set.
- Great build quality
- Impressive optics for the price
- Historical brand
- Eyepiece cover feels cheap
For low-light hunting conditions, the key priority is gathering as much light as possible. There isn’t much way around this: the more surface area of the lense, the more light that will make it to your eyes. Historically, this has meant that night hunters had to resort to bulky full-size units simply because manufacturers were unable to package enough optical area in a compact unit. Finally, Vortex has cracked the code. Although they represent a significant investment, the Vortex Diamondback is a stunningly competent set of binoculars for all situations, despite its compact size.
The packaging is nothing short of impressive. Visually, this set almost looks the double toilet paper roll binoculars children make, simply because so much of the surface area is occupied by optics. With 42mm lenses, the optics are extremely similar to those seen in full-size units weighing four times as much. Magnification is 10x, which is an extremely useful mid-way point for an all-purpose set of hunting binoculars.
Overall, the build quality felt extremely high. The body of the unit is aluminum and felt incredibly solid. The ridges were nicely designed for gripping in wet conditions, which is convenient given the unit’s waterproof rating. Uniquely, Vortex uses argon-purging instead of the more common nitrogen-purging. Although this costs a little more, it is more effective. Argon is a heavier (and larger) molecule, so the purging gas is less likely to escape over time. This means that the dust and fogging resistance will be just as good in ten years as it is today. This detail is literally invisible, but an impressive touch nonetheless.
The only negative aspect of the build quality is the plastics around the eyepieces. It was sufficient but felt slightly cheap. I do not foresee it posing a problem, but it was a surprising oversight given the otherwise stellar quality.
To be clear, this is far from the least expensive set of hunting binoculars on the market. However, it’s very likely the best binoculars for the job. They combine the performance of a full-size set with the compactness of a pocket unit and integrate world-class quality in doing so.
- Compact size
- Great low light performance
- Argon purging
- Plastics are slightly sub-par
What You Need to Know When Shopping for The Best Hunting Binoculars
The best binoculars for deer hunting can’t be boiled down to one single factor. Binocular reviews often make the mistake of honing in on a single aspect, like magnification strength, and fail to consider the totality of the situation. Yet, if you want a set of binoculars that works well for you, you need to consider all of the options.
Here’s what you need to know.
Size Does Matter
Shopping for binoculars, it is easy to tell yourself that “a few extra ounces won’t matter.” Yet, the weight of binoculars can vary significantly. The smallest sets are typically under six ounces. Meanwhile, a stout full-size set may weigh close to two pounds. After a long day tracking, that additional weight around your neck can take its toll.
Admittedly, there are reasons that some binoculars have to be larger, and a full-size set may be preferable for some users. However, do not overlook the impact that the size of a set may have.
Waterproof Doesn’t Always Mean Waterproof
The phrase “waterproof” can have a lot of different meanings. For some companies, this means that their binoculars can survive a light mist and little more. For some, it means they can be dunked without worry. Simply put, simply seeing “waterproof” does not tell you the whole story.
If you need a set of binoculars to perform in wet conditions, look for a proper IPX rating. This guarantees that the binoculars meet and independent set of standards for various performance benchmarks. If your set will only see rain or occasional moisture, IPX5 is sufficient. However, more aquatic users should look for IPX7 or above.
What Magnification is Right for You?
In terms of magnification, more isn’t always better. The proper magnification level depends on what, and where, you hunt. If you hunt game from relatively close distances in dense forests, having too much magnification can actually be a disorienting hindrance. For these circumstances, 8x is normally the ideal level.
However, longer-range tasks favor high magnification. For example, the best binoculars for elk hunting are typically 12x. If you need a set to perform in multiple contexts, 10x is a common compromise that works well in most situations.
When Do You Hunt?
In addition to “where”, considering when you hunt can impact the proper binocular choice. If you often hunt in low light conditions, you need to find a set of binoculars that performs well without an abundance of illumination. While some tricks and gimmicks can boost light ratings, the only true solution is ultimately a larger surface area.
The larger the lense area, the more light they will be able to focus. For very dim conditions, look for at least a 38mm lens. For more moderate dusk conditions, 34mm will suffice.
Coatings Can Make A Big Difference
Although they were once little more than a gimmick, technology for lens coatings has progressed significantly. Coatings typically serve one of two purposes: they either prevent glare or prevent fogging. Unfortunately, each company has proprietary names and formulations for their lens coatings, so it is almost impossible to speak about the topic generally.
However, in my testing, the coatings offered by mainstream manufacturers such as Bushnell or Leupold have been more than worth the additional expense.
Even if you have 20/20 eyesight, there is no avoiding the necessity of a good set of binoculars. The ability to enhance your vision by a factor of ten or twelve can allow you to pull off shots that would otherwise be impossible. But not every set of binoculars is equal. Perhaps more than any other piece of gear, every detail within a set of hunting binoculars can make a significant difference in their function and usability. Hunting binocular reviews often overlook this nuance and provide recommendations based on limited data, but don’t be misled.
While each of the models I reviewed in this roundup has its merit and niche, one set stood above the rest as the best binoculars for hunting. By combining incredible quality and full-size optics in the form factor of a compact set, the Vortex Optics Diamondback HD stood out beyond the rest. They are not the least expensive, but they proved their worth time and time again.
- 10x magnification & 42mm objective lenses, these Diamondback HD binos are optimized with select glass elements to deliver exceptional resolution, cut chromatic aberration and provide outstanding color fidelity, sharpness and light transmission
- Fully multi-coated lenses increase light transmission with anti-reflective coatings on all air-to-glass surfaces. Dielectric coating provides bright, clear, color-accurate images. Armortek coating protects exterior lenses from scratches, oil and dirt
- Adjustable eyecups twist up and down for comfortable viewing with or without eyeglasses. Center focus wheel adjusts the focus of both binocular barrels at the same time. Diopter (located on right Eyepiece) adjusts for differences in a user's eyes.
- Rubber armor provides a secure, non-slip grip, and durable external protection. Binoculars are tripod adaptable allowing use on a tripod or car window mount.
- Argon purging and O-ring seals provide water and Fog proof performance in all environments. Rugged construction withstands recoil and impact. Includes glass Pak harness.
Last update on 2020-11-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API