If you’re a travel lover or outdoor enthusiast then you need a high-quality pair of binoculars. Whether you’re on gorilla trekking in Africa or hiking in Big Sur, there are a lot of beautiful things to see. Because you don’t want to be weighed down while traveling, it’s wise to choose one of the best compact binoculars so as not to add a lot of weight to your bag, but to still get high-quality views.
Unfortunately, there are countless different types of binoculars available and a lot of details to consider. This binoculars buying guide will tell you how to choose the best compact binoculars as well as which are the best options on the market today.
Quick Answer: Best Compact Binoculars
- Best for Hiking: Nikon Trailblazer ATB
- Best for Hunting: Carson 3D Series HD
- Best for Birding: Vortex Diamondback HD
- Best for Travel: Celestron Outland X
- Best for Safaris: Steiner Safari UltraSharp
- Best Budget: Occer Compact Binoculars
What to Look for in a Good Compact Binocular
Here are some important things to consider before buying your new compact binocular.
1. Type of Prism
There are two types of prisms when it comes to compact binoculars, and the difference is the design. Which binoculars are the best? For most people, the answer is a roof prism design.
- Roof Prism: These tend to be more high-end, and are popular because they offer great performance and a slim look. With this design the front lenses and eyepieces are aligned, which allows you to look straight through them.
- Porro Prism: If you get porro prism binoculars you’ll notice that the eyepieces are wider than the lenses. While this used to be a standard design for binoculars, many people are moving away from it because it’s bulkier than the roof prism design. However, if size isn’t a huge issue for you, there are definitely some porro prism binoculars that work very well.
2. Magnification Rating
Most small binoculars will have magnification ranges from 7x-10x. This means you’ll see things 7-10 times larger than they are. The higher the magnification, the farther away you’ll be able to see and the more details you’ll be able to make out. If you have binoculars with a magnification in this range, you can use them for countless activities; from bird-watching to concerts. There are magnifications higher than 10, but higher magnifications give you a smaller field of view and are harder to stabilize.
Often when you see descriptions for binoculars you’ll see something like 9×50. The first number tells you the magnification rating and the second number tells you the diameter size of the outer lens, and is measured in millimeters. A larger lens means more light is able to enter. When more light is able to enter, your shot will be brighter and sharper.
3. Field of View
Consider what you’ll be using the binoculars for. If the things you’re looking at will mainly be stationary, then consider binoculars with a narrow field of view. This will offer you a crisper shot. However, if you want to view wide shot panoramas or identify birds on the move, you’ll want binoculars with a wider field of view. You’ll lose a little bit of focus but you’ll appreciate that you’re able to see more through the binoculars.
Your field of view can also be impacted by eye relief. Eye relief is usually shown in millimeters and is the distance between your eye and the eyepiece. You won’t be able to see the outer edge of your shot if the distance between your eye and the eyepiece is greater than the eye relief. This is more often an issue for those who need to wear glasses while looking through their binoculars. If you do wear glasses, a greater eye relief will be beneficial for you. The eye relief for many compact binoculars is 10-16mm.
4. Lens Coatings
Light gets distorted when it passes through a lens. Lens coatings help reduce the distortion and provide a better quality image. There are several different types of coatings available, but these are the ones you’re most likely to see…
- Coated: Binoculars with coated lenses have at least one coating on at least one surface that helps reduce reflections.
- Multicoated: This means at least one of the lens surfaces has multiple coatings to improve light transmission and the quality of your view.
- Fully Coated: If the lens coating is described as fully coated then all of the glass surfaces have some type of coating. For example, you may see lenses described as fully multicoated. In this case, there are multiple coatings on all of the lens surfaces.
5. Lens Glasses
Some binoculars will highlight the type of glass they use in their lenses. Some companies will even create their own glass. For some this is a big deal and for others it’s not.
- Extra-Low Dispersion Glass: Also known as ED glass, this is used in premium binoculars to reduce the scattering effect. This type of glass offers super crisp views and doesn’t require phase correction.
- BaK-4 Glass: This type of glass is pretty common and is known for quality views and for being very reflective. It’s also quite durable.
- BK7 Glass: This is usually found in lower quality binoculars. Your views are more likely to be blurry if you have this type of glass in your binoculars.
No matter where you live, if you go hiking or birding frequently enough you’re bound to get rained on at some point. It’s wise to make sure your binoculars are not only waterproof but fogproof as well.
Your binoculars should have a waterproof rating of at least IPX-4. This will keep them protected against sprays and splashes of water. If you think there’s a risk of them being dropped in water, then consider ones with an IPX-7 or IPX-8 rating that will protect them if they’re immersed in water.
Temperature differentials can cause your binoculars to fog up fast. Fogproof binoculars will prevent fog from ruining your views. Sometimes binoculars are filled with nitrogen gas to prevent them from fogging up and other models simply have fog-resistant coatings on the lenses.
Best Compact Binocular Reviews
With so many options on the market, we’ve narrowed it down so you can choose from the best of the best.
Best Compact Binoculars for Hiking
The Nikon Trailblazer ATB Waterproof Binoculars were created to be all-purpose. They’re great for all outdoor adventures like traveling, bird watching, or hiking. These binoculars have multi-coated lenses and are waterproof and fogproof thanks to the O-rings that seal in nitrogen. The rubber coating helps you get a good grip on them even if it’s raining. The 10 x 25 binoculars have 10x magnification and a field of view of 342 feet. Measuring 4.5” x 4.1” x 1.7” and weighing only 9.9 ounces, the Nikon Trailblazer ATB Waterproof Binoculars offer you high performance in a small package.
Best Compact Binoculars for Hunting
The ED glass in the Carson 3D Series HD Waterproof Binoculars provides you with brighter, sharper images. The body is nitrogen-purged and the lenses are O-ring sealed making them fog- and waterproof. You’re able to easily mount these to a tripod, so they’re some of the best compact hunting binoculars on the market. Depending on what you’ll be using them for, they have different combinations of magnification and lens sizes. You can choose from 8 x 32, 8 x 42, 10 x 42, and 10 x 50. The style versatility allows you to guarantee you’ll get the shots you need for whatever you’ll be doing. All of the models have fields of view from 262-392 feet, weigh 1.2-1.6 pounds, and have an eye relief of 16-20mm. The Carson 3D Series HD Waterproof Binoculars are an ideal option for all of your hunting and birding trips.
Best Compact Binoculars for Birding
If you’re looking for the best binoculars for bird watching, definitely check these out. The Vortex Diamondback HD Roof Prism Binoculars are praised for their impressive clarity, even in low light, thanks to their dielectric, fully multi-coated lenses. The hard, scratch-resistant ArmorTek® coating helps protect exterior lenses from scratches, oil, and dirt. Adjustable eyecups promote comfortable viewing and the diopter allows you to adjust for differences in your eyes. They also feature a rainguard eyepiece cover, tethered objective lens covers, a custom-molded carrying case, and a neck strap. Measuring 4.6” x 4.5” and weighing 13.5 ounces, the Vortex Diamondback HD Roof Prism Binoculars are the best compact birding binoculars on the market.
Best Compact Binoculars for Travel
The best compact travel binoculars are the Celestron Outland Binoculars. These are an ideal choice to enhance your views on travel trips. The 10 x 25 binoculars offer you a 330-foot field of view through fully multi-coated lenses that help with brightness, contrast, and clarity. The lenses are made of BaK-4 glass prisms which give you impressive color fidelity. These binoculars weigh 11 ounces and measure 4.45” x 4.6” x 1.69”. Twist-up eyecups allow for quick adjustment if you’re trying to track a bird or something on the move. These binoculars are waterproof, fogproof, and purged with nitrogen to keep moisture and dust out. For high-quality views on the trail, check out the Celestron Outland X Binoculars.
Best Binoculars for Safaris
Steiner is world-famous for their binoculars. When you buy these binoculars you’ll get impressive image clarity, low-light capability, durability, and accurate color. They have a waterproof construction and the armor absorbs shock from drops and bumps. The 10 x 26 Steiner Safari UltraSharp Compact Binoculars offer a 302-foot field of view with folding, ergonomic eyecups so you can use them while wearing glasses. They weigh 10.6 ounces, measure 4.7” x 1.8” x 4.6”, and pack well in your bag. For compact, premium, high-performance binoculars, the Steiner Safari UltraSharp Compact Binoculars are the way to go.
Best Budget Binoculars
If you’re on the hunt for the best budget binoculars, consider the Occer Compact Binoculars. These 12 x 25 binoculars have a 273-foot field of view and can be adjusted for if you wear glasses. The BaK-4 prism glass has a FMC Broadband coating and the multicoated lenses prevent color distortion. They have low-light night vision and can be used outdoors for activities like bird watching or indoors for things like operas. These 7.2-ounce binoculars measure 4” x 4.4” x 1.9” and can be stored in the included carrying bag when you’re traveling. The Occer Compact Binoculars are high-quality binoculars that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Best of the Rest
The 8 x 25 Bushnell H2O Waterproof Compact Roof Prism Binoculars give you a solid value for the price. They have a 15-foot close focus distance and an eye relief of 12 millimeters. BaK-4 prisms promote clarity and brightness and the multi-coated lenses promote light transmission. Not only are they 100% waterproof, but they’re nitrogen-purged and O-ring sealed to make them fogproof as well. They’re surrounded by a non-slip rubber armor that gives you a firm grip and absorbs shock. The binoculars weigh 12 ounces and the dimensions are 5” x 4” x 2.8”. The Bushnell H2O Waterproof Compact Roof Prism Binoculars are relatively inexpensive, but still offer great views.
The Zeiss Terra ED Compact Pocket Binoculars are a reliable companion even in extreme conditions. These 8 x 25 binoculars can operate between -4°F to 145°F and have a waterproof body. They measure 9.5” x 6.7” x 4” and weigh 10.9 ounces making it super easy to put them in the pocket of your backpack. Using the SCHOTT ED glass featuring a hydrophobic multi-coating provides consistent optical precision. Your index finger will automatically be set on the focusing wheel so you’ll easily be able to focus on your targets. To capture every detail whether you’re in a new city or out on a trail, go with the Zeiss Terra ED Compact Pocket Binocular.
When it comes to the best lightweight binoculars, the Leica Ultravid BR Compact Binocular always makes the list. The 8 x 20 binoculars only weigh 8.5 ounces and measure 4.4” x 3.7” x 1.5” so they’ll barely take up any space in your bag. The roof prism binoculars have HDC multi coating and AquaDura coating on the outer lenses. They provide brighter and sharper views compared to other models with comparable lens sizes. If your ultimate goal is portability without sacrificing quality, you’ll appreciate the Leica Ultravid BR Compact Binocular.
The Wingspan Optics FieldView Compact Binoculars offer a ton of value at a great price. These waterproof 8 x 32 binoculars are perfect for concerts, sporting events, bird watching, star gazing, or other fun outdoor activities. You can carry them easily thanks to their no-slip grip and you’ll get amazing views because of their roof prism design and BaK-4 glass lenses. They’re waterproof and fogproof, and have a 362-foot field of view. At 15.2 ounces and 4.5” x 4.5” x 1.75” they’re compact, lightweight, and can fit in your pocket when you’re on the go. Included is also a carrying case, neck strap, eyepiece, lens covers, and a lens cleaning cloth. It’s hard to argue against the Wingspan Optics FieldView Compact Binoculars being one of the best binoculars for the money.
Whether you use them for hunting, birding, sightseeing, or any other adventures, high quality compact binoculars offer a ton of convenience and value without weighing you down. Whether you go for a budget or premium model, you’ll definitely appreciate having them with you.