A selection of some models recommended for hiking:

Collection: The Best Binoculars for Hiking in 2023

You might have any number of reasons why you love hiking. Maybe you enjoy the healthy exercise, or you like to explore, but the chances are you also enjoy being outside. There’s nothing like feeling the sun on your face and hearing the sounds of nature around you - and it’s definitely not an experience you can get by staying indoors.

Regardless of how often you hike, or how much time you invest in it, you’ll want to make the most of every second you spend outdoors. Can binoculars help? And what are the best binoculars for hiking?

Why Use Binoculars For Hiking?

Depending on where you live, you may have some pretty exciting scenery nearby. Maybe there are mountains, or you have a great view of a lake or ocean. Maybe you like to hike in the woods, where you often catch a glimpse of wildlife in the distance. You’ve probably also seen a variety of birds flying overhead or resting in trees nearby.

Either way, there’s always something worth seeing, but the problem is not finding something inspiring, but rather wishing you could get a closer look. The scenery is off in the distance, the wildlife might run if you make a sound and the birds often fly too high or too far to truly appreciate.

That’s where binoculars come in. Nothing is better than being able to get a closer look at the landscape and the wonders of the wildlife around you. You can enjoy close-up views of the scenery from a safe distance. Woodland animals won’t be spooked and you’ll be able to follow the flight of birds as they soar through the sky. 

How to Choose the Best Hiking Binoculars

When it comes to choosing the best binoculars for hiking, there are four main factors to take into consideration:

  • Magnification & aperture;
  • Weight;
  • The field of view;
  • The environment.

Magnification & Aperture

You may already know that all binoculars have two numbers associated with them. For example, you may have seen or heard of 10x50 binoculars. But what do these numbers mean?

The first number indicates the magnification. As you might expect, this is how much larger your target will appear, and while this is important, it’s not something that should be the deciding factor - and we’ll learn why in just a moment.

The second number is the aperture of its lenses, measured in millimeters. More specifically, these are the two large lenses that you point toward your target, rather than the eyepieces that you hold up to your eyes.

Larger aperture binoculars can capture more light, and while this might be important for hobbies such as astronomy, when it comes to hiking it’s less of a concern, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you’ll most likely be outside during the day, when light probably isn’t too much of a problem. The second reason is tied to the second factor you should consider: weight.

Roof Prism


Larger aperture binoculars are heavier, and the last thing you need when you’re hiking is to be carrying a lot of weight. That said, since larger aperture binoculars gather more light, they can allow you to see a little more detail and a better quality image, but that’s also dependent upon the quality of the optics.

Besides aperture, there’s another factor that has an influence on weight: the configuration of the binoculars. When most people think of binoculars, they think of binoculars with the traditional porro prism configuration. These binoculars tend to be large and bulky, with the barrels offset from the eyepieces so they form a W shape.

However, more recently, manufacturers have started to produce roof prism binoculars. These have straight barrels, so the binoculars are shaped like an H. They’re also more compact and typically far more lightweight than their older siblings.

Roof prism binoculars were designed to be portable, making them the ideal choice for hikers, and with aperture not being such a necessity, the weight of the binoculars isn’t a huge concern either.

The field of view

Field of view is how much you can see when you look through the binoculars. This is usually specified as a measurement in feet, from a distance of a thousand yards away. For example, let’s say your binoculars have a field of view of 400 feet at 1000 yards. If you were to look at a wall from a distance of 1,000 yards, then you’d see a portion of the wall measuring 400 feet in diameter.

This sounds confusing, but suffice it to say that a wider field of view will allow you to enjoy more of the scenery. As a general rule, the higher the magnification, the smaller the field of view.

The environment 

The last thing you should consider when choosing your binoculars is your environment - and not just your surroundings. Weather should also be taken into account, because although most folks prefer to hike when the weather is good, the situation can sometimes change quite rapidly.

The vast majority of binoculars today are water-resistant, which should be fine to protect the optics against the rain. However, you may also want to consider binoculars with lenses that have an anti-fogging coating, especially in a humid environment.

Lastly, waterproof (rather than simply water-resistant) binoculars are a good choice. No one intends to drop their binoculars in water, but accidents happen, and you’ll want to make sure no water gets inside. Even if you don’t hike near water, waterproof binoculars can be a good investment for the future.

When it comes to hiking, magnifications of 8x or 10x are both great choices, while an aperture between 20mm and 50mm should be more than enough to meet your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are binoculars worth it for hiking and backpacking?

Absolutely! Besides comfortable footwear, binoculars are the must-have item for hikers and backpackers. While you can certainly enjoy the scenery, wildlife and birdlife with just your eyes, you’ll discover so much more by bringing your binoculars along!

What is the difference between 8x42 and 10x42 binoculars?

The first number indicates the magnification, so in the case of the 8x42, you’re getting a magnification of 8x. The 10x42 binoculars provide a magnification of 10x. The second number is the aperture, in millimeters, of the large lenses. The larger the aperture, the more light the binoculars can gather, but when it comes to daytime use, the larger aperture won’t make a lot of difference without greater magnification. In this case, the aperture is the same, but the greater magnification of the 10x42 binoculars might allow you to see more.

Which is the best binoculars for long-distance viewing?

If your target is in the far distance, you’ll need binoculars with a higher magnification to get the best view. Usually a magnification of 8x is perfectly fine for hiking, but for long-distance viewing it’s best to go with 10x. It might also be a good idea to consider an aperture in the 40-50mm range, as this can allow you to see more detail. (However, be aware that larger apertures will also weigh more.)

What should I look for when choosing the best compact binoculars for hiking?

It can depend on a lot of different factors, such as where you’ll be hiking and for how long. However, weight may be the deciding factor. Roof prism binoculars (shaped like an H) are designed to be more lightweight, and while a magnification of 8x is sufficient, if your target is far off in the distance, you might want to increase that to 10x. Also be aware of your environment and consider waterproof binoculars if you’ll be near streams, rivers or lakes.

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