Trying to balance the need for high quality optics when hiking or backpacking can be a real challenge. On the one hand, the best cameras and binoculars have very large, high quality lenses that can sometimes be delicate.
On the other hand, your equipment needs to be durable and lightweight to survive the challenges of the outdoors. These are the difficulties every hiker, bird watcher and hunter faces when choosing the best compact binoculars.
We’re going to discuss some of the benefits and features of many compact binoculars. Further, I’m going to help you decide on the best way to choose lightweight and compact binoculars packed with modern technology.
Quick Answer: The Best Compact Binoculars For 2017
- Zeiss 8×25 Terra ED Compact Binocular
- Leica 8×20 BCR/Black Ultravid Compact Binocular
- Vortex Optics Viper HD 10×42 Roof Prism Binocular
- Polaris Optics SkyView Ultra HD 8X42
- Nikon 7548 MONARCH 7 8×42
First lets take look a look at the compact binoculars, then we’ll get started working together to decide on the best binoculars for you in our guide.
Best Compact Binoculars
Compact Binocular Reviews
Fiberglass reinforced body, waterproof casing, and sturdy design means that Carl Zeiss is delivering nearly the perfect hiking binocular.
Fully multi-coated lenses are hydrophobic and repel fog and water for clarity and precision in any conditions.
With all these features, it’s hard to figure out how Zeiss managed to pack it all into a 10.9-ounce package – the lightest in its lineup.
For this model, Zeiss has focused specifically on an easy to use and smooth focus adjustment wheel which makes objects easy to find and focus on quickly.
Combine that with the 8x zoom and 25mm objective lens for a compact binocular that’s meant to handle anything you need.
These binoculars are centered around a lightweight, compact design meant to withstand nasty conditions and function with best-in class performance in any weather.
I think the Zeiss 8×25 Terra ED’s are best compact binoculars for hiking.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a compact binocular sporting as many high-end features as the Leica 8×20.
With adjustable eye cups, quick focus wheel, and right eye diopter you’ll be able to adjust for the perfect comfort and view, even if one eye is slightly different than the other.
Waterproof, sealed case and inert gas internal filling mean that you won’t have to worry about fogging from the inside.
AquaDura lens coating on the outside prevents water from impeding your view by repelling water droplets. If you’re looking for a compact binocular that has been engineered for the highest quality image from the ground up, this is your best choice.
While not what I would call inexpensive, they are the best compact binoculars for the money in my opinion. The Leica Ultravid binoculars are rugged, compact binoculars with superb optics and all the features you could need.
They’ve even gone out of the way to design the lenses for maximum crispness using an asymmetrical pattern. There’s no detail missing.
If your into birding, the Leica BCR Ultravid’s are the best compact binoculars for bird watching.
Vortex makes several great models of binoculars equipped to deal with the rigors of hiking and outdoor use. These 10x zoom binoculars are equipped with large objective lenses for low light viewing and a lifetime warranty.
Be cautious when choosing a high zoom binocular at 10x or above as the magnification can exacerbate any small movements in an unsteady hand. These are a good choice for someone with a rock-solid grip and stable hand.
With a padded neck strap, rain guard, and included lens covers, they’re ready to be used in rough field conditions right out of the box.
Fogproof inert gas and water repellant lens coatings make them robust enough to handle use in any weather. Vortex even made them waterproof so there’s nothing to worry about if you’re taking them along on a trip into rainy conditions.
With the superb quality, ability to take a beating and 10x magnification, I think the Vortex Optics Viper’s are the best compact binoculars for hunting.
While these binoculars may not be the smallest possible choice for hiking, they’ll be great for the day-hiker or birder out for a stroll.
With their large factor objective lens at 42mm they’ll be an excellent choice for the early birder (ha!). Low light dawn and dusk is no problem for a larger objective lens.
Polaris has created these binoculars with extra-low dispersion glass which is fogproof and crystal clear. These binoculars are waterproof, though Polaris doesn’t tell us what the IPX rating is.
You’ll be able to protect the lenses with included covers and the microfiber cleaning cloth. It’s a no-brainer to keep your lenses covered up when traveling with your binoculars in the car or in the pack.
For hiking you’ll be able to take advantage of the DuraTech manufacturing technology which Polaris uses to make their binoculars, “light as a feather and durable as a tank”. In my opinion the Polaris Optics SkyView’s are the best compact binoculars under $200.
With a beefy 42mm objective lens these binoculars aren’t exactly the smallest option on the market. Why consider them for hiking, then?
Because sometimes you’ll need a pair of binoculars with a little more horsepower than compact formats can provide.
For day hiking at the local park or nature preserve, these nitrogen filled inert gas binoculars will deliver great images in bright or low light.
Phase correcting prisms, multi-layer coated prisms and lenses, and rubberized armor coating make these an awesome choice for an uncompromising image in a durable package.
Nikon has a great name in performance optics and they’ve held up the deal by using premium materials such as extra low dispersion glass for the lenses on these binoculars.
That means a more crisp image as a final result for your eyes to feast upon as you’re hiking and enjoying the beautiful scenery nature has to offer.
How to Choose Compact Binoculars
- Binocular Sizing
- Magnification Power Rating
- Field of View
- Lens Coatings
- Fogproof Inert Gas
Understand the basics of binocular lens definitions, what types of binoculars are available, and how this impacts your hiking gear is critical to making the best decision. Let’s take a look at the brief criteria you’ll be choosing from to make your choice of compact binoculars:
In general, there are three main sizes for binoculars:
• Full size (Ex. 8×42)
• Mid-size (Ex. 7×35)
• Compact (Ex. 8×25)
We want to avoid full and mid-sized binoculars for most hiking and situations where you will be carrying them for hours on end because they’re bulky, heavy, and often delicate.
Magnification Power Rating
All binoculars will be rated by two numbers separated by an “X”. For example, you might see, “8×25”. Luckily, these numbers are easier to decipher than you might think.
The first number represents overall magnification power. The above example, then, would feature an 8-times magnification power.
The second number represents the diameter of the objective (outer) lens in millimeters. The above example, in this case, would have an objective lens measuring 25mm in diameter.
Lens diameter is much more critical than you might initially think, however. Larger objective lenses are able to gather larger amounts of light more easily. This means a brighter, crisper, and more true view of your target, especially in low light conditions such as dawn and dusk.
Here is a good guide to magnification and optics size.
Field of View
Most binoculars will specify a field of view, rated at 1,000 yards. This can sometimes be rated differently but usually manufacturers follow this standard.
Wider field of view is great for birding when looking for birds on the move. Narrow field of view is usually better for viewing stationary objects with high detail.
Many lens makers these days are “fully multi coating” lenses. What does this mean? In order to maximize the amount of lens that passes through each lens, a special coating is applied to reduce reflection. By reducing the amount of light that reflects off each lens in the binocular, a clearer and brighter image is left for the viewer.
For hiking and backpacking, there’s no way to keep binoculars perfectly dry. Everything gets wet on a hiking trip, eventually. Because of this, you’ll definitely want to ensure that your binoculars feature a waterproof rated construction.
This is referred to as an IPX standard and is rated as such:
IPX0 means that your equipment is not at all waterproof. IPX8 means that you can submerge your equipment in up to 3-feet of water. There are ratings in between those numbers but, for our purpose, a rating of IPX4+ will suffice to keep your binoculars dry in hiking conditions.
Fogproof Inert Gas
Some extremely high-end binoculars will be fogproof. How to manufacturers achieve this? They usually use two methods:
First, manufacturers may apply fog resistant coatings to lens exteriors or interiors. This is an inexpensive way for them to create fog resistant binocular lenses.
Second, and pricier, is the inert gas option. Some manufacturers will fill the inside of the binocular with a special gas.
Instead of atmospheric gas which may contain moisture, binocular makers can choose to fill the binocular with inert gas and seal the binocular to outside air. This means the binoculars can’t fog up unless air leaks in.
There’s a lot to consider when making the decision to purchase a binocular for hiking. While large binoculars often offer higher quality image, or a higher zoom power, they’re also heavier and bulkier. Many hikers prefer something with small size and low weight. These are the tradeoffs we need to balance to choose the best binocular.
If you’re looking to carry along the lightest and most compact binocular while still taking advantage of great high quality construction and design, then the Zeiss 8×25 Terra ED Compact Binocular is the best choice for you.
For the absolute best in class features and design, you’ll want to splurge on the larger Leica 8×20 BCR/Black Ultravid Compact Binocular. Regardless of your preference, be sure to assess each binoculars unique features, size and weight plus what you will be primarily using them for, before making a decision.