The Best Binoculars for Every Type of Traveler

The Athlon Optics Midas G2 UHD Binocular 8x42 tops our list of best binoculars.

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Courtesy of Amazon

Binoculars are a handy tool for many different types of travelers, whether you're heading into the bush on safari, out to a Dark Sky Place for some stargazing, or to your local park for some casual birdwatching.

Though all binoculars have the same general function — they magnify the scene in front of you — there are certain characteristics to consider for specific uses, ranging from the magnification power to the weight of the device. We asked the experts to share their best tips for shopping for binoculars to help you narrow down the wide selection out there.

We love the Athlon Optics Midas G2 UHD 8x42 for general use. Its 8x42 magnification and object lens diameter is an ideal starting point for a range of purposes, whether you're looking at wildlife or trying to get a better view of a concert. It also comes at a mid-range price point.

For more options to suit your style, we've rounded up the best binoculars for all types of adventures, budgets, and unique needs.

Best Overall: Athlon Optics Midas G2 8x42 UHD Binocular

Athlon Optics Midas G2 8x42 UHD Binocular for Adult and Kids

Amazon

Why We Love It: They're versatile, durable, and lightweight — and come at a mid-range price.

What to Consider: They don't perform well in low light.

If you're looking for a pair of binoculars that will serve you well in a variety of scenarios and destinations, this is the model for you. Its 8x magnification and 42-millimeter objective lens diameter are what most experts recommend for general use, including wildlife viewing, and it has an especially wide field of view that lets you take in an entire scene (great for concerts or sporting events). What's more, the deep eye relief of 17.2 millimeters makes these binoculars work well for users who wear glasses.

But what really makes this pair of binoculars stand out is the construction. This is a durable, waterproof, and fogproof device — and a lightweight one at that. It'll perform just fine on a rainy safari day or a splashy Zodiac excursion in Antarctica, and you needn't worry about dusty days in the desert mucking up the delicate inner workers of the lenses. Plus, the rubber armor coating makes these binoculars pretty shockproof, too, so you don't need to be afraid of accidental bumps as you tote them around the world.

Magnification: 8x | Objective lens diameter: 42 millimeters | Field of view: 8.1 degrees | Eye relief: 17.2 millimeters | Weight: 23.3 ounces

Best Budget: Nikon Aculon A211 8×42

athlon-optics-midas-g2-uhd-8x42

Amazon

Why We Love It: They hit all the important qualities for a general-use pair of binoculars: optics, durability, and weight.

What to Consider: They're not waterproof.

It's true that most good binoculars are pretty expensive, but it's possible to find models that don't sacrifice quality for price. Nikon's ACULON A211 8x42 hits the mark, offering solid optics — it notably has a wide field of view — that work well in a range of settings, whether you're birding or on a safari. And they're lightweight enough for easy transportation, though they do come with a tripod mount if you'd prefer to keep your device a little more stable. (Note that a Nikon adapter is necessary to use these binoculars with most tripods.)

What this pair of binoculars does sacrifice, however, is weatherproofing. This model is not waterproof or fogproof, so you'll want to take extra good care of them while traveling. And if you wear glasses, you might want to choose another pair, as these binoculars have shallow eye relief that isn't the most compatible with wearing glasses.

Magnification: 8x | Objective lens diameter: 42 millimeters | Field of view: 8 degrees | Eye relief: 12 millimeters | Weight: 26.3 ounces

Best Splurge: Swarovski 8.5x42 EL Binoculars

Swarovski 8.5x42 EL Binoculars

Bhphotovideo

Why We Love It: The clarity of the lens is the best on the market.

What to Consider: They're on the heavier side compared to similar models.

Leave it to crystal company Swarovski to develop binoculars with a lens so precise, it feels as if they crispen and brighten the scene in front of you. That's what makes these incredibly powerful binoculars worth the splurge: overall, they have pretty standard specs for general-use binoculars, but it's really the clarity and brightness that take them to the next level. They're even great to use in low light at dusk and dawn, which is ideal for safaris (that's when animals are typically the most active). These binoculars also go above and beyond with the deep eye relief of 19 millimeters, so they're easy to use with glasses. They're also waterproof to a depth of 13 feet.

While we think 8x magnification is the best measurement for general use, Swarovski also makes a version of these binoculars with 10x magnification. While that does give you even more "zoom" power, that model comes with a narrower field of view, making it more difficult to find what you're looking for.

Magnification: 8x | Objective lens diameter: 42 millimeters | Field of view: 8 degrees | Eye relief: 19 millimeters | Weight: 32.8 ounces

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Best for Safaris: Vortex Viper HD 10x42 Binoculars

Vortex Viper HD 10x42 Binoculars

Amazon

Why We Love It: High-powered magnification and crystal-clear optics allow you to see animals with great clarity from a distance.

What to Consider: With 10x magnification, the field of view is greatly diminished to just 6.5 degrees.

Binoculars are an essential tool for a safari, as animals don't always approach you out in the bush. That's why we've opted for a higher-magnification pair of binoculars to bring the locals (or at least a view of them) closer to you. This model has high-quality optics that allow you to watch wildlife in HD, as well as a durable body that's lightweight, waterproof, fogproof, and scratch resistant — all things you want during a safari, as conditions can get challenging at times.

The one tricky thing about the 10x magnification is that it's easier to use with still targets. That means if lions are on a hunt, it'll be tougher to track them with these binoculars. However, once they've made their kill, you can get up close and personal with the scene (from a safe distance, of course). Vortex also makes the same binoculars with 8x magnification if you'd prefer a wider field of view, which could be helpful for scenes like river crossings during the Great Migration.

Magnification: 10x | Objective lens diameter: 42 millimeters | Field of view: 6.5 degrees | Eye relief: 17 millimeters | Weight: 24.9 ounces

Best for Birding: Nikon Monarch M7 8x42 Binoculars

NIKON Monarch M7 8x42

Amazon

Why We Love It: They have the widest field of view of any binoculars on this list.

What to Consider: They're on the more expensive side of the mid-range spectrum.

"Binoculars for birding have unique considerations because the subject is tiny and moves quickly," says veteran birder Tammy Poppie, who runs backyard birding advice site On the Feeder. Because the birds are small, you might think you'd want extra magnification, but Poppie warns that mentality could be a trap. Birds are fast moving, so having a wider field of view helps you spot your subjects.

That's why we love the Nikon Monarch M7 8x42 for birding. They have one of the widest fields of view of binoculars in this optical range and price range. And, of course, they still have powerful magnification that provides extremely crisp images with accurate coloration (something that's very important to birders). The binoculars are fairly lightweight, which means your arms won't get as tired from holding them up while birding. We also love that these binoculars have a locking mechanism on their diopter, preventing you from accidentally messing with your settings while using them.

Magnification: 8x | Objective lens diameter: 42 millimeters | Field of view: 8.3 degrees | Eye relief: 17.1 millimeters | Weight: 23.6 ounces

Best for Stargazing: Celestron SkyMaster 25x100 Binocular

Celestron SkyMaster 25x100 Binocular

Amazon

Why We Love It: They are basically as powerful as small telescopes.

What to Consider: They are massive and heavy, so they require a tripod.

Telescopes are the go-to observation tool for stargazing, but binoculars are also an option, as some people find it more comfortable to use both eyes rather than just one. For looking at the cosmos, we recommend a pair of binoculars specifically designed for that job, particularly since what you're looking at is much farther away than wildlife or landscapes are. That's why we've selected this model, which has a whopping 25x magnification power with a 100-millimeter objective lens.

These are very, very large and heavy binoculars. But because they're so big, they're extremely powerful, and they'll give you great views of objects in the night sky. (And if you really wanted to zoom in on a faraway point on the Earth's surface, you can do that, too.) "Most people who use binoculars for stargazing also mount them on a tripod, so you can opt for higher-powered, heavier, and sturdier binoculars within your budget to help you gaze deeper into the solar system and even at some deep space objects," says Valerie Stimac, founder of Space Tourism Guide. And that's crucial with these behemoths.

Magnification: 25x | Objective lens diameter: 100 millimeters | Field of view: 3 degrees | Eye relief: 15 millimeters | Weight: 9.75 pounds

Best for Hiking: Leica Trinovid BCA 8x20 Binocular with Case

Leica Trinovid BCA 8x20 Binocular with Case Binocular, Black

Amazon

Why We Love It: They're extremely compact and lightweight.

What to Consider: They have a narrow field of view.

When you're hiking, you want to carry as little as possible, which is why these ultra-compact, ultra-lightweight binoculars are the best device to take with you on the trail. They weigh just 3.8 ounces and can fold into roughly the length and width of a business card.

Despite being so small, they still have 8x magnification, but with a 20-millimeter objective lens, they offer a relatively narrow field of view. So while they might not be the best to use for long-duration wildlife spotting sessions — in fact, they can be a little tricky to hold steady due to their small size — they're perfect for casual use on the go, and they still provide perfectly crisp images, in both bright and low light.

Magnification: 8x | Objective lens diameter: 20 millimeters | Field of view: 6.5 degrees | Eye relief: 14 millimeters | Weight: 3.8 ounces

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Best Image-Stabilized: Canon 10x42 L Image Stabilization Waterproof Binoculars

Canon 10x42 L Image Stabilization Waterproof Binoculars

B&H

Why We Love It: They're impressively powerful for their small size.

What to Consider: They require batteries, and they use them up quickly.

One of the trickiest things about strong magnification in binoculars is that it becomes difficult to keep the image stabilized given how zoomed in it is. Fortunately, you can eliminate that problem with a pair of image-stabilizing binoculars, which have a gyroscope and actuators that compensate for any shakiness.

For this type, we like Canon's 10x42 L IS WP binoculars. They're powerful enough to use for stargazing, but not so overwhelming in size and magnification as many stargazing pairs. They're great for wildlife spotting, too, whether you're backyard bird-watching or going on a safari. Plus, they're waterproof for extra durability. The one tradeoff for the image-stabilizing capability is that the binoculars require batteries, and they do consume energy rapidly. This also makes them a bit heavier than traditional binoculars.

Magnification: 10x | Objective lens diameter: 42 millimeters | Field of view: 6.5 degrees | Eye relief: 16 millimeters | Weight: 39.2 ounces

Best Compact: Zeiss Terra ED 8x25 Binoculars

Zeiss Terra ED Binoculars

Amazon

Why We Love It: They offer high-quality optics as well as waterproofing.

What to Consider: They are not designed for low light conditions.

Compact binoculars are ideal for people who are frequently on the go — or people whose arms get tired after holding up a full-size pair for too long. This model might be tiny, weighing just 10.9 ounces, but its optics are strong, providing exceptionally clear and bright images. They have durable waterproof casing, making them great for traveling as well.

They also have an impressively wide field of view for compact binoculars: 6.8 degrees. That makes them work for both safaris and birdwatching. "They meet all the requirements for an excellent pair of compact birding binoculars, plus they won't break the bank," says Poppie, who uses them as her main pair of birding binoculars.

Magnification: 8x | Objective lens diameter: 25 millimeters | Field of view: 6.8 degrees | Eye relief: 16 millimeters | Weight: 10.9 ounces

Best for Kids: THINKPEAK Toys Binoculars for Kids

Binoculars for Kids - Small, Shock-Resistant Real Toy Binoculars

Amazon

Why We Love It: They come in a variety of fun colors and in the perfect size.

What to Consider: They're not the most durable.

Binoculars are difficult instruments to master, even for adults. So when shopping for younger children, you'll want to buy a model designed for their little faces and hands. ThinkPeak Kids Binoculars are relatively realistic children's binoculars compared to most toy models, with 8x magnification and an objective lens diameter of 21 millimeters, but they're designed with colorful grips to help small hands hold tight. The manufacturer recommends this toy for kids ages 4 and up, though we think it might be difficult for younger children to focus the lens. (Because everyone's vision is different, it's hard to adjust binoculars for other people, especially when the binoculars may be too narrow for your face.)

Magnification: 8x | Objective lens diameter: 21 millimeters | Field of view: 7.3 degrees | Eye relief: 10.5 millimeters | Weight: 8.1 ounces

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Tips for Buying Binoculars

Understand the specs

There's lots of jargon involved when it comes to binoculars because the complex devices are all about their specs. These details make all the difference in the viewing experience, from the image you see to the fit to your face. If you're a binoculars novice, here are the specs you should consider and what you need to know about each of them:

  • Magnification: This is the ratio between the actual size of an object and the size it appears to be when viewed through the binoculars. For instance, when an object 1,000 feet away is viewed through binoculars with 10x magnification, it'll appear as if they were only 100 feet away. For general use, 8x to 10x magnification is standard. Keep in mind that the higher the magnification, the more movement will affect your image. You'll want to have very steady hands with high-magnification binoculars.
  • Objective lens diameter: This is the size of the lens at the very front of binoculars, represented in millimeters. Objective lens diameter can indicate the general size of the binoculars. Standard ones are usually around 40 to 42 millimeters, while compact ones are usually around 20 to 25 millimeters.
  • Field of view: This is the width of the image you see when looking into your binoculars. It's either measured in degrees out of a possible 360 (angular field of view) or in feet per 1,000 yards (linear field of view). For the latter measurement, that means when you look out at a point 1,000 yards away, the width of the image will be a certain number of feet.
  • Eye relief: This is the ideal distance between the optical lens (the lens closest to your eyes) and the surface of your eyes, represented in millimeters. If your eyes are closer or farther than this distance, the image you see might be vignetted with shadows, or it may be cut off so that you don't see the full image. If you wear glasses, you'll want at least 16 millimeters of eye relief to make room for them. Most binoculars have eye reliefs between 10 to 20 millimeters.
  • Weight: Weight is the easiest binoculars spec of them all. This is simply how heavy the device is. Most people prefer lighter binoculars because they're easier to hold. If you have heavier binoculars, you might want to consider using a tripod to support and stabilize them during viewing.

Choose a packable pair

If you're traveling with your binoculars — and let's face it, most people are! — you'll want to purchase a pair that's easy to transport. Just remember that while compact binoculars are ideal in terms of size and weight, they're usually not as powerful as ones at a more traditional size.

Consider the conditions, from weather to light

What will the conditions be like when you use your binoculars? If there's a chance you'll be using your binoculars in the rain, it's important to purchase a waterproof model. If you'll be traveling to places with extreme temperatures or high humidity, you'll want a fogproof model — moisture can collect in the interior of binoculars, making your image fog up and potentially causing damage to the sensitive instruments inside the casing. Also consider the light conditions you'll be viewing in. Some binoculars only perform well in bright light, while others keep images relatively bright in low light. This is largely dependent on optical design, and there's no easy way to tell how a pair of binoculars will do in low light conditions based on specs alone.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do the numbers in a product name mean?

All binoculars are named with a two-number combination, represented with an X in the middle — such as 8x42. "With binoculars, the first number is your magnification power and the second is the size of your objective lens in millimeters, aka the lens closest to what you're looking at," says Micato Safaris advisor Liz Wheeler, a member of Travel + Leisure's A-List. "In general, the larger your objective lens, the larger your binoculars will be, which naturally is good to keep in mind for your packing as well as your tolerance for how large a pair you want to carry. The more important number is the magnification power, for which 8 or 10 is a solid place to start."

How much should I spend on binoculars?

Binoculars come in a very wide range of prices, from around $20 to over $2,000. There are great models at every price range, so there's no rule for how much you need to spend in order to get a solid pair.

What other features should I look for in a pair of binoculars?

"The durability and material of the outside of the binoculars is a big one depending on how you will use the binoculars. Do you anticipate them getting wet? Getting roughed up? Being in a lot of sunlight?" says conservation scientist and nature guide Charles van Rees, who runs the blog Gulo in Nature. "Will you have dirty hands when you're handling them, and so you want a harder material that is easier to clean? Will they be bumping around in your backpack so you want something softer, ideally not metallic?"

Why Trust Travel + Leisure

Stefanie Waldek is an adventure traveler who has tested many pairs of binoculars while viewing wildlife around the world, from penguins in Antarctica to leopards in Kenya to polar bears in Svalbard. She also uses binoculars for stargazing. For this article, she used her own expertise, read hundreds of reviews, and spoke with experts who use binoculars regularly to determine the best options for a variety of needs.

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