The best binoculars

Gaze at the stars or spy on rare birds with a pair of the best binoculars

Whether you’re gazing at a rare bird or looking down at an opera singer from the third balcony, you want to be able to clearly see what you’re looking at. That’s why having a set of good binoculars comes in handy when viewing almost anything from a distance — and aren’t just something you randomly pick up at a garage sale. But what should you look for when buying a pair?

The specific style of binoculars you want largely depends on what you’re going to use them for. For example, if you’re hiking through the backcountry on a week-long birdwatching trip, you’ll want something lightweight and compact. On the other hand, if you’re watching the sky from your backyard, you might want something a bit bulkier to better spot stars. Whatever you plan to view, there’s a good set of field glasses for the job. Here is a list of the best binoculars for every type of activity.

Best for birdwatching: Wingspan Optics SkyView Ultra HD ($179)

wingspan optics skyview ultra hd

Built specifically with birdwatchers in mind, these crisp binoculars offer incredible color richness and precise optical clarity. With Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) glass, the technology reduces the color fringing caused by chromatic aberration, resulting in brighter, more vibrant colors that make every feather and bit of plumage pop.

You’ll see iridescent greens, shimmering magentas, marbled blues, among a bevy of remarkable hues. The nitrogen-purged binoculars are fully waterproof as well as fog-proof with razor-sharp focus and a rugged exterior made from heavy-duty DuraTech. 

Best for hiking: Maven Optics C.1 ($350)

maven optics c.1

If you plan on hiking rugged trails or trekking through miles of unexplored backcountry, you don’t want a heavy, cumbersome set of binoculars hanging around your neck — no matter how well they help you see. Enter the Maven Optics C.1, a stunning set of outdoor field glasses that offer superb optics in a lightweight, compact package. Available in both 8x and 10x magnifications, these top-grade binoculars showcase multi-coated lenses and a dielectric-coated Schmidt-Pechan prism system that work together to create sharp, high-contrast images.

Maven designed the Optics to be waterproof, fog-proof, and scratch-resistant so you can work them hard without fearing exposure to the elements. For serious outdoor enthusiasts interested in more elite optics, Maven offers a customizable version — the B.3 — with premium low-light performance and enhanced depth of field.

Best for hunting: Bushnell Trophy Extreme ($88-110)

bushnell trophy xtreme

With an extra-tough armor plate encasing crystal clear lenses, these hardy binoculars were intentionally designed for hunters and outdoor survivalists. Not only are the glasses waterproof and fog-proof but they’re also fully shock-proof, featuring textured, non-slip rubber that absorbs any bumps and small movements.

The large center-focus knob allows you to set your sight even if you’re wearing bulky hunter’s gloves and the diopter adjustment mechanism allows for meticulous adjustments. Most importantly, Bushnell’s BaK-4 Porro prisms create stunning optical clarity. 

Best for astronomy: Celestron Skymaster 25×100 ($399)

celestron skymaster 25x100

If you love nothing more than sitting outside on a starry night and watching the night sky, these astronomy-specific binoculars will bring the whole universe into focus for you. Equipped with 25x magnification Porro prism technology, the Skymaster’s are astonishingly crisp and full of range whether you’re contending with low light or long range. They have an integrated tripod adapter rod to mount camera gear to and a protective rubber covering which offers a secure, no-drop grip.

Best for sporting events: KabukiGlasses Opera Theater Binocular ($179)

kabukiglasses opera theater binoculars

You don’t have to be outside to want to see something up close. Sitting on an upper balcony during a final operatic aria or standing on stadium bleachers when your team hits a home run will surely make you want to feel closer to the action. These hands-free binoculars let you see the show or watch the game as if you were sitting in the front row. The KabukiGlasses feature ultra-bright optics, fast, automatic focus, and a wide field of view to ensure you don’t miss a thing. They even feel lightweight on your face and offer stable images that won’t shake or wobble when you move your head.

Best for whale watching: Athlon Optics Midas ($284)

athlon optics midas

Athlon’s crystal clear and color-affirming binoculars are the perfect option to take with you on a glass-bottomed dolphin boat or giant whale cruise. The all-weather, roof-prism glasses feature multi-coated lenses constructed with high-quality BaK-4 prisms that truly make colors pop. You’ll see the glassiness of the water, as well as the texture of marine animals as they splash and play.

The lightweight, magnesium chassis prevents them from feeling overly heavy and its rubber armor adds protection should you drop them on the deck when you see the first whale breach. On top of being waterproof, they’re also dust-proof and fully scratch-resistant.

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