The Best Binoculars for Hiking in 2023
You might have any number of reasons why you love hiking. Maybe you enjoy the healthy exercise, or you like to explore, but the chances are you also enjoy being outside. There’s nothing like feeling the sun on your face and hearing the sounds of nature around you – and it’s definitely not an experience you can get by staying indoors.
Regardless of how often you hike, or how much time you invest in it, you’ll want to make the most of every second you spend outdoors. Can binoculars help? And what are the best binoculars for hiking?
Table of contents
- Why Use Binoculars For Hiking?
- How to Choose the Best Hiking Binoculars
- Our Top 3 Best Binoculars for Hikers
- In Conclusion
- Frequently Asked Questions
Why Use Binoculars For Hiking?
Depending on where you live, you may have some pretty exciting scenery nearby. Maybe there are mountains, or you have a great view of a lake or ocean. Maybe you like to hike in the woods, where you often catch a glimpse of wildlife in the distance. You’ve probably also seen a variety of birds flying overhead or resting in trees nearby.
Either way, there’s always something worth seeing, but the problem is not finding something inspiring, but rather wishing you could get a closer look. The scenery is off in the distance, the wildlife might run if you make a sound and the birds often fly too high or too far to truly appreciate.
That’s where binoculars come in. Nothing is better than being able to get a closer look at the landscape and the wonders of the wildlife around you. You can enjoy close-up views of the scenery from a safe distance. Woodland animals won’t be spooked and you’ll be able to follow the flight of birds as they soar through the sky.
How to Choose the Best Hiking Binoculars
When it comes to choosing the best binoculars for hiking, there are four main factors to take into consideration:
- Magnification & aperture;
- The field of view;
- The environment.
Magnification & Aperture
You may already know that all binoculars have two numbers associated with them. For example, you may have seen or heard of 10×50 binoculars. But what do these numbers mean?
The first number indicates the magnification. As you might expect, this is how much larger your target will appear, and while this is important, it’s not something that should be the deciding factor – and we’ll learn why in just a moment.
The second number is the aperture of its lenses, measured in millimeters. More specifically, these are the two large lenses that you point toward your target, rather than the eyepieces that you hold up to your eyes.
Larger aperture binoculars can capture more light, and while this might be important for hobbies such as astronomy, when it comes to hiking it’s less of a concern, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you’ll most likely be outside during the day, when light probably isn’t too much of a problem. The second reason is tied to the second factor you should consider: weight.
Larger aperture binoculars are heavier, and the last thing you need when you’re hiking is to be carrying a lot of weight. That said, since larger aperture binoculars gather more light, they can allow you to see a little more detail and a better quality image, but that’s also dependent upon the quality of the optics.
Besides aperture, there’s another factor that has an influence on weight: the configuration of the binoculars. When most people think of binoculars, they think of binoculars with the traditional porro prism configuration. These binoculars tend to be large and bulky, with the barrels offset from the eyepieces so they form a W shape.
However, more recently, manufacturers have started to produce roof prism binoculars. These have straight barrels, so the binoculars are shaped like an H. They’re also more compact and typically far more lightweight than their older siblings.
Roof prism binoculars were designed to be portable, making them the ideal choice for hikers, and with aperture not being such a necessity, the weight of the binoculars isn’t a huge concern either.
The field of view
Field of view is how much you can see when you look through the binoculars. This is usually specified as a measurement in feet, from a distance of a thousand yards away. For example, let’s say your binoculars have a field of view of 400 feet at 1000 yards. If you were to look at a wall from a distance of 1,000 yards, then you’d see a portion of the wall measuring 400 feet in diameter.
This sounds confusing, but suffice it to say that a wider field of view will allow you to enjoy more of the scenery. As a general rule, the higher the magnification, the smaller the field of view.
The last thing you should consider when choosing your binoculars is your environment – and not just your surroundings. Weather should also be taken into account, because although most folks prefer to hike when the weather is good, the situation can sometimes change quite rapidly.
The vast majority of binoculars today are water-resistant, which should be fine to protect the optics against the rain. However, you may also want to consider binoculars with lenses that have an anti-fogging coating, especially in a humid environment.
Lastly, waterproof (rather than simply water-resistant) binoculars are a good choice. No one intends to drop their binoculars in water, but accidents happen, and you’ll want to make sure no water gets inside. Even if you don’t hike near water, waterproof binoculars can be a good investment for the future.
When it comes to hiking, magnifications of 8x or 10x are both great choices, while an aperture between 20mm and 50mm should be more than enough to meet your needs.
Our Top 3 Best Binoculars for Hikers
Hiking binoculars come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s really a case of finding the binoculars that work best for you. It’s always a good idea to read the reviews from other customers, and, if possible, try different models for yourself before investing your money.
Here are our top 3 choices for hiking binoculars:
- Best Overall: Vortex Optics Diamondback HD 10×50
- Best Lightweight: Steiner Safari UltraSharp 8×22
- Best Field of View: Vortex Optics Diamondback HD 8×32
Best Overall: Vortex Optics Diamondback HD 10x50
Vortex specializes in producing a range of optical products for the outdoors – and not just binoculars. If your interests go beyond hiking, you’ll find they’ve also got you covered for riflescopes, finderscopes, range finders, spotter scopes and monoculars.
Their Diamondback range of binoculars has been designed to provide the best possible quality at an affordable price, and customers everywhere agree that they’ve succeeded.
Their Diamondback HD 10×50 binoculars have the aperture you need to see the finer details, while the 10x magnification makes it easy to enjoy more distant targets. The optics are fully multi-coated, which means you’ll get a better quality image with less color distortion around high contrast objects (eg, hills or mountains against a bright sky.)
If there’s a downside, it’s the weight. Of all the binoculars we reviewed, at 851g (1.9 pounds) these were the heaviest of the roof prisms. However, this is still nearly half the average weight of comparable porro prism binoculars. There’s also a decent case that’s better than the standard canvas cases most other manufacturers provide, which should make carrying them over your shoulder a little more comfortable.
Best Lightweight Option: Steiner Safari UltraSharp 8x22
If weight is a concern, check out the Steiner’s Safari UltraSharp 8×22 binoculars. Steiner is a reputable manufacturer from Germany that’s been in business since 1947, and their UltraSharp range comes in a variety of aperture sizes and magnifications.
The 8×22 model weighs just 284g (0.63 pounds), or only a third of the Diamondback HD 10×50’s. The trade-off, of course, is a smaller aperture and lower magnification, but this lack of weight means you can keep them around your neck for longer periods of time, without worrying about straining any muscles. This is especially important if you want to make frequent use of them during your hike, as you won’t have to keep removing from their case.
If you do need to stow them as you hike, you’ll find these roof prism binoculars are pretty compact. Measuring 4.3 x 4.1 inches, they’re probably the best backpacking binoculars too.
They’re also waterproof and shockproof, so if you accidentally drop them in a river or stream, you won’t have to worry about them surviving the fall. Lastly, as an additional bonus, at the time of writing, they were also the most inexpensive of the binoculars we reviewed.
Best for Scenic Views: Vortex Optics Diamondback HD 8x32
If you hike in stunning scenery, you’ll want to make the most of the views, and that’s where the Vortex Optics Diamondback HD 8×32 binoculars come in. They might not have the same magnification and aperture of the 10×50 model, but that also means they have a wider field of view.
To compare the two, the Diamondback HD 10×50 binoculars have a field of view of 315 feet at 1,000 yards (roughly 6.0 degrees) which is pretty standard for binoculars of that size. Since the 8×32 binoculars have a smaller magnification, the field of view is larger – 426 feet at 1,000 yards (roughly 8.1 degrees). This gives them a wide field of view, making them the perfect choice for enjoying the scenery around you.
In terms of weight, at 451g (1.0 pound) these are lighter than most binoculars of a similar size, so you won’t have to worry about arm fatigue as you savor the view. Lenses are fully multi-coated for the best quality images, and you won’t need to worry about water damage as they’re also waterproof.
The downside here is the cost – they’re not the cheapest on the market, but the quality is hard to beat.
The gear you take when you hike is as important as where you hike, and having the right binoculars will allow you to make the most of your time outdoors. Whether you’re looking for the most power to get the best close-up views, a lightweight option that will save both your back and your bank, or a wide-angle field of view to enjoy the scenery, there’s an option that will suit you – and your backpack.
Frequently Asked Questions
Absolutely! Besides comfortable footwear, binoculars are the must-have item for hikers and backpackers. While you can certainly enjoy the scenery, wildlife and birdlife with just your eyes, you’ll discover so much more by bringing your binoculars along!
The first number indicates the magnification, so in the case of the 8×42, you’re getting a magnification of 8x. The 10×42 binoculars provide a magnification of 10x. The second number is the aperture, in millimeters, of the large lenses. The larger the aperture, the more light the binoculars can gather, but when it comes to daytime use, the larger aperture won’t make a lot of difference without greater magnification. In this case, the aperture is the same, but the greater magnification of the 10×42 binoculars might allow you to see more.
If your target is in the far distance, you’ll need binoculars with a higher magnification to get the best view. Usually a magnification of 8x is perfectly fine for hiking, but for long-distance viewing it’s best to go with 10x. It might also be a good idea to consider an aperture in the 40-50mm range, as this can allow you to see more detail. (However, be aware that larger apertures will also weigh more.)
It can depend on a lot of different factors, such as where you’ll be hiking and for how long. However, weight may be the deciding factor. Roof prism binoculars (shaped like an H) are designed to be more lightweight, and while a magnification of 8x is sufficient, if your target is far off in the distance, you might want to increase that to 10x. Also be aware of your environment and consider waterproof binoculars if you’ll be near streams, rivers or lakes.
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