Best Binoculars For Hiking, Birding And Wildlife

If you’re hiking, bird watching, backpacking, hunting, or enjoying the many outdoor activities, there are often times a pair of binoculars will come in handy. With so much to see in the great outdoors, having a tool to give you a closer look at all the wildlife and other wonders of the world will ensure you make the most of your time outside.

best binoculars for hiking
best binoculars for hiking

As with so much outdoor equipment, the best binoculars for hiking will be specific to your needs. So whether you’re looking for long range binoculars, lightweight backpacking binoculars, or small compact hiking binoculars, we’ve got some good suggestions for you.

Binocular Basics

Binoculars are basically two small telescopes. Telescopes that are running parallel to each other. They are intended to be used with both eyes and held with two hands. Binocular size can vary greatly. From very small pairs that you can hold with one hand to much larger ones that need to a tripod or bipod for support.

The price range of binoculars varies greatly. For example, low-end binoculars can range anywhere from zero to a few hundred dollars. High-end pairs can run into thousands of dollars. But, for most people’s purposes, you can buy a decent pair for less than a thousand dollars. But, again, it will all depend on your budget and how much you’ll be using them.

Binocular Magnification

Two numbers like 8×42 or 10×32 typically reference binoculars. The first number represents the binocular magnification. The second number after the “x” represents the size of the objective lens diameter. This lens is the larger one on the side opposite the one you hold up to your face. 

The magnification number is the number of times a lens will magnify an object. So, a number ten means you’ll see the object or animal ten times closer than the naked eye will see it.

However, please note that a larger magnification is not necessarily better. It all depends on your situation and binocular application. The larger the magnification, the more difficult it is to hold the binoculars still. They need to be still long enough for your brain to process the image.

Binoculars with magnifications larger than ten may need mount support. People, like hunters, will use a bipod or tripod to mount their optics on for steady viewing. Additionally, the larger magnification, the heavier the binoculars will be.

The objective lens is measured in millimeters (mm), so a 42 represents 42 millimeters. This lens and number are critical. The wider the lens, the more light it lets in. This can be especially important during low-light times, like dawn and dusk. Consequently, this is also a time for prime animal viewing.

Binocular For Hiking Focus and Adjustment

There are two types of focus on binoculars: independent and central focus.

Independent Focus

Independent focus is most often used on binoculars designed for heavy field use, such as the military. Like it sounds, each “telescope” is focused independently by adjusting the eyepiece.

Central Focus

Central focusing is done by adjusting a wheel in the center of the two “telescopes”. This wheel simultaneously focus both lenses. You can further adjust some by turning a knob (diopter) on one eyepiece. This helps with the eye differentiation and fine tuning for the individual behind the lens.

Even for those who wear glasses. Most people can use binoculars without their eyeglasses by adjusting the focus.

Finally, most binoculars have hinge type construction that allows the user to adjust the width between lenses to accommodate the width of a user’s eyes.

Glass Quality and Lens Coating

The type of glass used in binoculars is essential for quality. Typically, really good glass with zero or minimal imperfections are in binoculars. Glass protective coatings are also in quality binoculars.

BaK4 Binocular Glass

The best type of binocular glass in our opinion is BaK4. This glass is found in mid-to-high-end binoculars, spotting scopes, and monoculars. Another glass used in binoculars but often of lesser quality is BK7 and K9.

There are many glass surfaces in binoculars that let light pass through. However, it can also reflect some light. The more light that glass reflects, the less light will reach your eye, making for lower clarity and darker viewing.

Often, at least in mid-to higher-end optics, the glass will be specially coated to help eliminate light reflection. Binoculars with “coated” lenses mean at least one lens has been treated. Treated with an anti-reflective coating. Fully-coated means all lenses have been coated at least once. Multi-coated means some glass has been treated multiple times. Fully multi-coated means all glass has been treated numerous times. Still with us?!

Binoculars For Hiking Roof Prism vs Porro Prism

Most binoculars on the market today are “roof prisms”. Meaning they have straight barrels. These typically cost more because they are more challenging to make. They are also typically more compact.

Porro binoculars are old-school binocs with a broader barrel. They tend to have a much wider objective lens. They cost less because they are easier to make. They’re also usually much larger and often less waterproof and fog proof.

Now that you know the basics let’s get into some of the best binoculars for your needs!

Best Binoculars for Wildlife Viewing

There are many reasons you may be viewing wildlife behind a set of binoculars or spotting scope. These could include research, hunting, or just curiosity and enjoyment. Whatever the reason, wildlife is often on the move in the mornings and evenings. Wildlife come out to feed or get ready to bed for the day. These are usually low-light situations that require a slightly higher-quality binocular to see them well. Solunar tables can help you predict wildlife movement.

For a great pair of low light binoculars, we love the Leupold BX-5 Santiam HD 10x42mm Binoculars for these reasons. Leupold is a reputable high-end brand. They use quality glass and makes excellent optics. Leupold are popular and used by some of the top hunters in the industry.

This model comes with Leupold’s Professional-Grade Optical System. Made for excellent light transmission. They outperform in challenging light conditions. Additionally, the glare reduction makes for a clear, crisp, clear image in harsh sunlight and also has unprecedented resolution and clarity for high image quality.

Further, these feature Leupold’s Twilight Light Max HD Management System. This system essentially means you’ll get an additional 30 minutes or so of glassing at dawn and dusk. These are also great low light binoculars for glasses wearers.

The ergonomics and grips on these are also excellent. At 23.4 ounces, they would also be a good option for backpacking, bird watching, or hiking. And, of course, they are waterproof and fog proof.

Best Backpacking Binoculars

Unless you’re a backpack hunter willing to sacrifice weight for magnification, as a backpacker, you’ll likely want to save ounces. While several other binoculars on our list would work just fine for backpacking, we wanted to give a solid lightweight option.

As a fan of the Vortex brand in general, we like the Vortex Optics Diamondback HD 8×28 or 10×28 Binoculars. Will you be able to see a big buck on top of a mountain several miles away? No. But will you be able to get a better look at the mountain goat across the alpine lake you’re sitting on or that mystery bird high up in a tree? Absolutely.

The Diamondbacks are the budget-friendly line of Vortex optics yet maintain many of the same quality features as the others. These roof-prism binoculars weigh in at a mere 13.5 and 14 ounces (depending on if you go with the 10×28 or 8×28). This makes them optimal for backpacking where weight is an issue.

These have fully multi-coated lenses for increased clarity and light transmission and are, of course, waterproof and fog proof.

With easily adjustable eyecups, a center focus wheel, and a diopter on the right eyepiece (to adjust for eye differences), these small but mighty binocs will be comfortable and practical on your next backpacking trip.

Best Hiking Binoculars 

We recognize most binoculars in this category will work for essential backpacking gear and hiking gear and vice versa. Therefore, we wanted to give you a second option for both. If you’re looking for a good set of compact binoculars for hiking then look no further. The Leica Ultravid BR 10×25 Robust Waterproof Compact Binocular is another popular option.

As with backpacking, we recommend something on the lighter end of the spectrum. We assume that you’ll likely be putting on lots of miles while carrying them. Therefore, you’ll want to choose an optic with smaller objective lenses. Of course, if you are okay with a bit more weight, then reference our wildlife, birding, and long-distance viewing options!

Lightweight Binoculars for Hiking

The smaller objective lens will result in a smaller viewing window; however, the magnification will allow you to better view objects and animals around you. With coated lenses, they allow for sharp, crisp viewing.

These are impressively lightweight at 9.4 ounces, so definitely consider them for backpacking as well. The small size also makes them great for those with small hands. These may be challenging to use for those with larger hands.

They are roof prism binocs on the same hinge system as the others. Which allows you to adjust them to fit your face and eyes. They are also waterproof and fog proof.

Best Compact Birding Binoculars

There are many small-sized binoculars on the market for birding. Usually, they have a much smaller magnification and objective lens. Because you’ll be looking at birds from a wide range of distances, you’ll probably want an 8×42 or 10×42. This will give you good magnification while remaining reasonably lightweight.

We like the Vanguard Endeavor ED II 8×42 as solid lightweight binoculars for bird watchers. There are many good binocular options. They may have a much higher price range. We chose this pair because they are affordable while maintaining quality features.

Weighing in at 27.16 ounces, this 8×42 bino is lightweight enough to carry around all day. They have twist-out eyecups so you can adjust them to fit your face and eyes. This feature makes them more comfortable for long days of viewing.

These have multi-lens coatings and extra-low dispersion (ED) glass that allows fast focus, a bright image, and good coloration. They also feature phase-coated BAK4 roof prisms and are waterproof and fog proof.

Another reason this is our favorite compact binocular for birding is the balance and feel in the hands. It has a hinged construction to adjust the width, and the prism tubes fit well in small hands.

Finally, Vanguard optics come with a Premium Lifetime Warranty. If they are ever take on damage or break, they will repair or replace them for free.

Best Binoculars for Long Distance Viewing

If you’re not explicitly looking for a high-end binocular for hunting or professional use, you probably don’t want to break the bank. Vortex optics are a great compromise. Vortex have several “levels” of optics, from the budget-friendly Diamondback series to the more expensive Razors.

The Vortex Vipers fall in the middle with an outstanding balance of quality and price. Perhaps you are looking for binoculars for elk hunting where viewing clearly and crisply at a long distance is key.

What are a good pair of long range binoculars at a reasonable price? We love the Vortex Optics Viper HD Roof Prism Binoculars 12×50. Just remember you will want to find a good bipod or tripod for optimal viewing with magnification over 10. These binoculars will also be heavier than smaller magnifications, weighing 28.8 ounces. However, it is still lightweight for its class. These are issues you will run into with any binoculars of this size.

The Vortex brand is heavily in use by hunters worldwide. While it’s not the highest end of hunting optics, their quality to price ratio is stellar. They also come with a no-hassle Lifetime Warranty. They will fix or replace damaged or broken optics with no questions asked.

The Viper is a roof prism bino, covered in heavy rubber with well-placed thumb indents for excellent ergonomics. The smooth center wheel allows easy adjustment, especially if you’re set up on a tripod.

Anti-reflective lens coatings provide bright, full views even in low-light situations. This is another reason these optics are so popular with hunters. Reviewers often mention the crisp, clear, bright images produced by these binoculars. They are also waterproof and fog proof.

Finally, this particular pair comes with lens caps and a carrier harness.

Final Binoculars For Hiking, Birding, Hunting, Thoughts

There are many great binocular options on the market. The best binoculars for hikers will overlap with many other binoculars. You can reasonably use the same pair for backpacking, hiking, hunting, wildlife viewing, and birdwatching.

It comes down to your personal preferences, how far you’ll need to see, and how far you’ll be carrying your binoculars.

If you’re just out for pleasure, bring a pair of binoculars along. To see a little further in the event you spot some wildlife, a smaller pair may suit you just fine. If you need to see further and more clearly, you may want to consider a larger pair with higher quality lenses.

Again, it’s all about your uses.

However, the most important thing to remember is that higher-end binoculars have better glass. Better glass results in a clearer, crisper image. If you’re using them all day, they can also reduce eye strain. Further, a pair that is built well ergonomically can minimize arm and hand fatigue. Especially for those that are using them for long periods.

Finally, if you’re still uncertain, visit your local sporting goods store and ask to try out several pairs. They’ll be happy to assist you and let you try all these excellent options!