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9 Best Compact Binoculars for Hikers and Birders (Buyers Guide)

Posted in: Product Reviews, Resources & Gear

Looking for the best binoculars for your trip? Here are the 9 best compact binoculars for hikers, birders, and adventurers. Our buying guide covers 10 factors to consider before you buy compact binoculars for your adventure.

Best compact binoculars

Choose the Best Binoculars for the Money

Whether you are Amazon trekking or hiking the Galapagos, a pair of binoculars are pretty important. The bird and animal life is abundant – but it isn’t always super close.

In addition to binoculars, it’s good to travel with some great camera gear. Here’s how to choose the best camera for travelWhile traveling Ecuador and the rest of South America, it’s exciting to see the amazing wildlife and visit the majestic waterfalls, beaches, and beautiful cityscapes. You won’t regret having quality binoculars and camera gear along the way.

What to expect in this post: In this guide, we share some great choices and talk about which binoculars are the best for hiking, birding, wildlife spotting and taking on a cruise with you.

We’ll also discuss which ones are capable of handling everything from hiking the Galapagos Islands (under that fierce equatorial sun), through to the dense Amazon jungle and the cloud forests in the highlands.

Our Buyers Guide will cover the 10 factors to consider before you buy your binoculars. They include the different features, the best lenses and what all those dials, numbers and unfamiliar terms mean.

Best compact binoculars for hiking

To save you some time, here’s our top pick – the best pair of compact binoculars (they even come in under $100).


Top Pick: Best Compact Binoculars (Under $100)

Top Pick: Bushnell H2O Waterproof/Fogproof Roof Prism Binocular8×42: These compact binoculars have 8x magnification and 42mm objective diameter. They have a 12-foot focus distance with large center-focus knob for adjustments.

  • 100% waterproof and fogproof (Nitrogen purged and O-ring sealed)
  • Bak-4 prisms and multi coated optics (lenses)
  • Shock absorbing rubber armor
  • Come in at roughly USD$100.

Check current price on Amazon.

These binoculars are our top pick for three reasons:

  1. Features: These are waterproof and fogproof and they’ll fit in your pocket. They weight just 1.5 lbs. And they are made by Bushnell. Enough said.
  2. Reviews: These are among the best reviewed binoculars – a combination of high ratings and more than 1000 reviews.
  3. Price: They come in around $100 – which makes these a standout for this feature set.

Looking for a second option? Readers of Uganda365 – an African safari resource, overwhelmingly favor Eyeskey binoculars (10×42). They are waterproof and also come in under $100. And these come with a bag, lens and eyepiece covers, strap, and cleaning cloth.

Binocular buying guide

Binocular Buyers Guide: 10 Factors

Light transmittance, field of view, magnification, eye relief and aperture may sound complicated. And when you add that to all the numbers and dials it’s easy to feel a little confused when shopping for binoculars.

But don’t worry, it’s all explained here and you’ll feel like a pro within the next five minutes.

Binoculars are made up of these main components which you’ll want to consider before buying:

  1. Weight
  2. Field of View (FOV)
  3. Aperture
  4. Magnification
  5. Stability
  6. Lenses and Prisms
  7. Eye Relief
  8. Heat
  9. Dust
  10. Moisture

Here’s a quick rundown of each and why you should consider them.


1. Weight

Unless you’re on an African safari and can prop your binoculars against the side of a truck, you don’t need huge, bulky binoculars.

Handy Hint: Bigger isn’t always better. The bigger they are, the heavier they are. They’re bigger because they have a larger objective lens and will be more prone to image instability and shake unless on a tripod or other solid surface (like the side of a truck).

For hiking, birding, wildlife spotting and travel, something powerful but compact is what you want so you don’t get a crick in the neck carrying them all day. So, leave the giants at home, and pack those petite powerhouses listed below.

We recommend finding a pair of binoculars that are 2 pounds (or less). Every pair on this page is significantly less than that.

You’ll see everything you want to see and if you pick up a cell phone mount, even get clear pictures. If you are hiking all day, then check out getting a binocular harness which will make your days hike a lot more comfortable as it disperses the weight and saves your neck (see the Other Great Gear section below for phone mount, harness and more).

Best binoculars for travel

Sure, larger binoculars can give a better image. But who wants to carry around these huge binoculars? Quality compact binoculars are a good alternative to these massive ones.


2. Field of View (FOV)

How does field of view work with binoculars? FOV (field of view) refers to everything (the total area) you can see when you look through your binoculars.

Magnification reduces that area – so the higher the magnification the more narrow (reduced) your field of view will be.

As you zoom in on any particular subject, the landscape surrounding it is reduced. If your binoculars have a wider field of view then you stand a better chance of locating and seeing what you are looking for. If your binoculars have a narrow FOV then when you spot something and lift them to get a closer look you’ll have a hard time locating your subject and it may move on before you can get a good look at it.

For example: A bird sitting on a fence in between two trees. When looking at it normally you can see the trees on either side, but when you zoom in you lose the trees and only see the bird in great detail filling your view. Without the trees as a point of reference it may be hard to locate the bird.

Your FOV will be the most comfortable with binoculars that have an 8x or 10x magnification. More on magnification in the next point.


3. Magnification

This is probably the most important feature most people want to know. How much will it zoom in? And how much bigger will the thing I’m looking at be? The answer is easy.

It can be found on the focus dial at the back of the binoculars and is followed by an ‘x’ representing ‘times’ magnification.

Magnification: The magnification in our recommended binoculars is 10. This means that objects will appear 10x larger / closer when using these binoculars.

Magnification is always shown as the first number in this set of numbers: 10×42. The second number is the objective lens diameter (see next point for more information).

It means how many times closer an object appears than when seen with your naked eye. For example: 8x magnification means that what you are looking at will appear 8 times closer than you can see it normally without binoculars.

Watch on YouTube

Common magnifications are 8x, 10x and 12x. Anything larger than that and you will start losing FOV and image stability. This means that because you are zoomed in so much, even the slight movement of your breathing will be more pronounced and move the image.

Magnification, FOV and stability (see point #5) go hand in hand. As a general rule 8x or 10x magnification is more user friendly showing you exactly what you want with more stability.


4. Objective Lens Diameter: Aperture

The aperture is represented by the objective lens (the lens measurement on the front of the binoculars). You’ll find it written as the larger (second) number next to the magnification on the focus dial of your binoculars.

Objective lens diameter: The objective lens diameter in our recommended binoculars is 42. This is the measurement in millimeters of the lens. The larger the lens, the more light enters.

Objective lens diameter is always shown as the second number in this set of numbers: 10×42. The first number is the magnification (see previous point for more information).

The larger that number is, the more light your binoculars gather giving you a brighter image. As the aperture size goes up, so does the size of your binoculars making them larger, heavier to carry and more vulnerable to shake.

Helpful tip: For travel, 8×42 or 10×42 give great clarity while being light and compact enough to carry around adventuring all day. They’re light, bright, produce crisp clear images with a good zoom and lightweight enough to carry all day.

5. Stability

Image-stabilization is a recommended feature for your binoculars to have. It reduces hand-held shake from the natural movements of your body, like breathing.

Image stability is what is referred to when you are zoomed in looking at something and how much any movement you make affects the image quality. Changing weight from one foot to the other, adjusting balance on a slight slope, breathing, these can all affect the image you are looking at and are so natural you don’t even realize you are doing them.

The more zoomed in you are, the more pronounced any movement is. At a binoculars 100% zoom, any movement, even breathing can cause you to lose sight of what you are looking at through instability and shake. For this reason, image stabilization is a feature you want.


6. Lenses and Prisms

UV treated multi coated lenses, extra low dispersion glass, and zigzag prisms will get you the best binoculars for the money.

These enhance the central image you see by cutting out the harmful UV rays while the zigzag prism (called a porro-prism) captures more light providing a crisper, clearer more detailed image. A roof prism is also good but the straight prism doesn’t collect quite as much light as the zigzag prisms and can provide a duller image.

Good lenses produced in higher end optics prevent curving at the edges of your image, distortion of the image, blurriness at higher magnification and also give better color brightness without adding that purple tinge that some of the lower quality lenses do.

They give a true to life depiction of what you are seeing as close to the natural state as possible.

Here’s a good intro to binocular optical quality.

Watch on YouTube

Good quality lenses also perform under lower light situations by gathering more light to produce clearer brighter images at say, dawn or dusk.


7. Eye Relief

Simply put, the eye relief is the distance of your eye from the ocular lens (the small one at the back of your binoculars) when you are looking through the binoculars. The ocular lens is the one that produces magnification.

If your eye is too close (or too far away) to the ocular lens, you will know quickly. Blurring around the outer edges, being able to see your own eyelid in a crescent shape, causing shadowing or cutting into the image are all common when your eyepiece is not adjusted correctly.

Referred to as the eye cup, each set of binoculars usually has rotatable eye pieces which can be adjusted depending on if you wear eye glasses or not. This also allows a better view as it cuts out peripheral vision and additional light so your eyes can focus on a clearer image.

Watch on YouTube

Let’s talk about environmental factors now, things you need to consider (like heat, dust, temperature variations and moisture) when choosing the best binoculars for your trip.


8. Heat

If you’re going on an African safari or travelling through any equatorial zone where the sun is at its pinnacle, heat is a factor you need to think about before you buy. Most quality binoculars are able to withstand normal temperature ranges but in very hot arid places you’ll want a set of binoculars that are hermetically sealed to protect the inner parts of your binoculars from the powerful sun. It is also best if you don’t leave them on a car seat in the full sun, the UV rays can damage the casing.

A lot of people experience huge temperature variations when visiting South America’s most popular destinations. For example: island hopping in the Galapagos for a few days then continuing further south to trek to the top of Machu Picchu, and it’s the middle of winter.

Take a moment to think about altitude, the season you will be visiting and the temperature variations your binoculars will be enduring as they accompany you on your adventure. Anti-fog and waterproofing go a long way to making sure they make it back in one piece.


9. Dust

On most good adventures there will be some form of dust. Whether it be kicked up from vehicles or changing weather. Dust proof binoculars are the ones you want. You will read in the description ‘nitrogen gas purged, hermetically sealed or O-ring sealed’.

This means they have been sealed tightly to prevent dust getting inside and slowly eroding your binoculars.

A good cleaning kit is also a must if you are going to be headed to a hot, dusty location. Grit, debris and dust will grind and erode which is something you definitely don’t want.


10. Moisture

Dew, frost, mist or fog, any moisture whether it comes from a light sun shower to a torrential downpour through to vapor in the air, is disastrous if it can penetrate your binoculars. It will cause fogging, you won’t be able to see anything and the binoculars will be useless.

We’d recommend getting waterproof binoculars for your trip as they will withstand any moisture that comes your way, or an accidental drop in a creek as you cross. That way you’ll have clear vision the whole time and won’t miss anything.

Best binoculars for birders

9 Best Compact Binoculars for Hiking

Smaller hand-held binoculars are great for travel and spotting wildlife, whether you’re hiking, birding, or going on a cruise. With monoculars growing in popularity we’ve also included the best monocular for your money as well.

This list of great binoculars has all of the bells and whistles while being lightweight, durable and small enough to take on your trip. With these you are bound to see that amazing South American animal or find that rare feathered friend when scanning the treetops.


1. Nikon 7577 Monarch 5

Nitrogen filled and O-ring sealed, these fog proof, waterproof reliable and durable binoculars are lightweight with great magnification. Plus, the new Monarch 5’s are almost an ounce lighter making them great for travel.

Check current price on Amazon.

High quality eco-glass multicoated lenses provide sharp, clear and detailed images across the entire light spectrum even in lower light. With silky smooth adjustment and focusing, they fit easily into your hand making all day use comfortable. A wide FOV at full zoom ensures you can find what you are looking for while the easy to use turn and slide eye cups makes viewing comfortable for both eyeglass wearers or non-glass wearers.


2. Vortex Optics Diamondback

Waterproof, fogproof plus a non-slip grip with thumb imprints mean these are easy to use and comfortable all day. Multi-coated dielectric lenses provide clear, bright images while the excellent FOV is one of the largest you’ll find.

Check current price on Amazon.

Rubber armored, it will handle a bump or two while travelling in your boat, bus, bike or 4WD. Adjustable eyepieces are comfortable for every person while the eye diopter adjusts to give that additional level of comfort to any differences in your eyes.


3. Bushnell H2O Waterproof/Fogproof

Nitrogen purged and O-ring sealed these are 100% waterproof and fog proof guaranteeing reliable, clear images. Bak-4 prisms in conjunction with multi coated optics (lenses) combine to give maximum performance providing clear, sharp high definition images.

Check current price on Amazon.

This one might look familiar. It is our top pick (featured in the top of the post). Shock absorbing rubber armor makes them able to handle a knock or two without harm and also provides non-slip grip for every weather condition.


4. Aurosports 10×25 Binoculars

Compact, lightweight and able to comfortably fit into the palm of your hand, these little beauties pack a punch in their weight class. They are waterproof with an anti–slip grip making them durable and perfect for travel.

Check current price on Amazon.

Multi-coated lenses not only provide excellent images during the day, but also at dusk when light conditions are low, their low-level night vision kicks in so you’ll be able to see better. They also have a large FOV perfect for bird watching or wildlife spotting. Because of their compact size, they are great for kids as well.


5. Apeman 12×25 Binoculars

Waterproof, shock proof and rubber armored provides maximum protection making these extremely durable and able to handle going anywhere with you. High powered, their 12x zoom through multi-coated lenses with low night vision capability will get you a closer look day or night.

Check current price on Amazon.

Excellent, wide FOV helps you see your subject clearly and so close you feel like you could touch it. Because they are so lightweight they are easily hung around your neck without any crinks at the end of the day, easily folded up and put in your pocket when not in use or slipped into an outer pocket of your day pack. Great for kids, they’ll condense down and are easily packed.


6. Shockproof Binoculars for Kids

Available in a fun range of colors, these compact and virtually indestructible binoculars are designed for kids. With the built-in safety of thicker soft rubber eyepiece surrounds they protect children’s faces, while the outer rubber skin also makes them shockproof and capable of withstanding falls, drops and general wear and tear brilliantly.

Check current price on Amazon.

Ergonomically designed for children’s hands, the non-slip grips are comfortable and easy to hold all day. 8x zoom and a wide field of view suit just about any activity as kids can easily focus on anything bringing it into sharp focus. They also adjust to any eye distance to suit children as they keep growing so they’ll have them for years to come.

Best binoculars for kids

7. Wingspan Optics 12×50 Monocular

If you prefer a monocular, this one is perfect for birding, wildlife spotting on safari or wildlife tours. The 50mm objective lens provides amazing clear and detailed subjects perfect for photography with your cell phone mounted onto the lens.

Check current price on Amazon.

Easy to use, its single hand focus and non-slip grip plus the durable external armor make it very hardy and perfect for travel. Waterproof and fog proof, the barrel enhances light to give you incredibly bright, clear images in any light conditions as well as being able to handle any weather condition. Perfectly sealed, it prohibits dust and debris getting in so you have complete confidence that no matter where you go it will stand up to the conditions.


8. Skygenius 8X21

Tiny for travel and weighing only 0.38lb these are great to take on any trip. With a whopping 369ft at 1.000m field of view you can see everything while the 8x magnification gives you a sharp clear image and reduces shake or any instability.

Check current price on Amazon.

Multi Coated optics reduce blur and provide a clearer image. Foldable and easily fitting into your pocket or daypack sleeve, they are great for kids and adults alike.

Best compact binoculars for birding

Best Full Size Binoculars for Travel

While these don’t fall into the “compact” category, they are still lightweight and provide very clear and bright images.

Nikon 8245 8×42

Perfect for travel, these high-quality binoculars are lightweight and definitely fit into the best binoculars for the money category. Bak-4 porro-prism barrels gather the maximum light through the lead and arsenic free specially designed eco-glass to provide you with the clearest and brightest images.

Check current price on Amazon.

Ergonomically designed for maximum comfort with all day use they are perfect for hiking, wildlife spotting or to take on a cruise. Smooth joints and focus dial make them easy to use and focus with a fingertip. Even under the wettest conditions their rubber-armor coating makes them non-slip, easy to handle and durable if they should happen to take a knock.

Best binoculars for the money

Related Binocular Gear

1. Think Ergo Binocular Harness

Relax and take the weight off your neck with this binocular harness. Spreading the weight evenly across your shoulders you won’t get sore even after all day out bird or wildlife spotting. Plus, the strap helps keep them from swinging around as you walk.

Check current price on Amazon.

The harness will free up your hands for photography, keeping your balance and eating or drinking. Your binoculars will be out of the way against your chest for ease of use when needed, just slide up for viewing. Adjustable straps mean they fit every body shape and height with a quick easy adjustment.

2. Universal Cell Phone Mount

Compatible with most major brands of cell phones, grab close-up clear photos on your cell phone every time with this mount attached to your viewing platform. Compatible with binoculars and monoculars, it means you’ll never miss the shot.

Check current price on Amazon.

Sometimes by the time you raise your camera and zoom in you’ve already lost that rare bird or the animal has moved from view. Now, there is no fear of that as it’s ready to snap the shot as soon as you see it.

3. Altura Photo Cleaning Kit

Complete with cleaning pen, air blower cleaner, cleaning cloths, high quality lens brush, lens tissue paper and a spray bottle for cleaning fluids, this kit is designed especially for quality optical gear like your binoculars.

Check current price on Amazon.

Able to clean binoculars with a single wipe, you’ll never have to spend time scratching your head as to why that bird is a little blurry only to realize it’s a greasy fingerprint on the lens. It’s lightweight, portable and easy to slip into your binoculars bag to take with you on your trip.

4. Vortex Optics Binocular Rain Guards

Keep your binoculars eyepieces free of dust, moisture and debris with these rain guards that fit snugly on to keep rain out and your eyes dry when the storm has passed.

Check current price on Amazon.

They attach to your binocular straps for ease of use and so you don’t lose them. They also come with a lifetime unlimited warranty.

Best compact binoculars for travel

Now with your new binoculars, you’ll never miss a thing and have memories that last a lifetime.

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Meet the Author

Dena Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. She is a travel blogger and content marketer. She is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with GringosAbroad.

1 comment… add one
  • Meghla Jun 27, 2019, 3:24 am

    Hello, I read your full details resources that you have included here about compact binoculars for hikers, awesome and very helpful, thanks

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