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Published Sep 25, 2023 11:00 AM
This past turkey season, I decided to bring along my monocular for the first time, as the compact design fit perfectly in the box call pocket of my turkey vest. To my surprise, it became our most used item of the hunt. I doubt we would have been as successful as we were, hunting turkey across a 3000-acre ranch in western Oklahoma, without it. The right monocular can be your trusted companion, unveiling the beauty and wildlife of the natural world—and allowing you to stalk prey—with impeccable clarity and precision.
Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher, an outdoor enthusiast, a hunter (like me) or a tactical professional in need of a reliable optic, choosing the best monocular is paramount. In this review, we researched and tested monoculars from some of the biggest brands like Vortex, Bushnell, and Pulsar. From compact designs to high-powered thermal and night vision optics, we found the best monoculars to elevate your viewing experience and bring the world closer than ever before.
How We Picked the Best Monoculars
In selecting the best monoculars, I carefully evaluated various factors to ensure our recommendations cater to diverse needs and preferences. Our process began with an analysis of market available monoculars, considering factors such as optical quality, magnification power, durability, and versatility.
Additionally, we factored in considerations like price, ease of use, and any unique features that set the monoculars apart. I wanted to curate a list that encompasses various price points and intended uses, ensuring you can find the best monocular to meet your specific requirements.
- Optical Performance: We placed a strong emphasis on the optical quality of each monocular, assessing factors like image clarity, brightness, and color fidelity. We considered lens finishes, objective lens diameter, and magnification power to gauge optical quality. Questions to ask: Is this optic going to perform for my intended uses? Does it have adjustable eyecups for eye relief?
- Durability and Build Quality: Durability is paramount for outdoor and tactical applications. We examined the monocular’s construction materials, eye relief, and overall ruggedness to ensure long-term reliability.
Best Monoculars: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Bushnell Legend
- Magnification: 10x
- Objective Lens Diameter: 42mm
- Field of View: 340ft/1000yards
- Eye Relief: 15.2mm
- Weight: 13.2 ounces
- 100% waterproof
- Fully-multi coated optic
- ED Prime Glass, providing true-to-life image quality and exceptional color
- Slightly heavier compared to other monoculars tested
The Bushnell Legend 10×42 Ultra HD Monocular is a standout choice for outdoor enthusiasts seeking exceptional optical performance in a compact package. Its powerful 10x magnification and 42mm objective lens deliver bright and detailed images that are perfect for birdwatching, wildlife observation, and various outdoor activities. The inclusion of ED Prime Glass ensures exceptional color resolution, allowing you to enjoy true-to-life image quality.
With a wide field of view, you feel fully immersed in the scene, while the close 9.8-foot focus distance provides detailed views of nearby subjects. The fog- and waterproof design adds to its durability and reliability, even in challenging weather conditions. While the Bushnell Legend is slightly heavier than smaller monoculars, its optical effectiveness and portability make it an excellent choice for anyone who prioritizes image quality and versatility.
We picked it as the best overall monocular for its stand of magnification, robust specifications, and consistent quality.
Best Thermal: Pulsar Axion 2 Thermal
- Thermal Sensor: 320×240 pixels
- Magnification: 4.5-18x (with digital zoom)
- Objective Lens Diameter: 30mm
- Field of View: 6.2°
- Weight: 9.9 ounces
- User-friendly controls make for seamless operation
- IPX7-rated for water resistance
- Built-in photo and video recorder
- Long detection range of 1,750 yards
- Higher price point compared to traditional non-thermal monoculars
Pulsar is well-known for its quality thermal optics (including thermal scopes and thermal binoculars) and the Pulsar Axion 2 Thermal Monocular lives up to that reputation. Equipped with a state-of-the-art 320×240-pixel thermal sensor, it unlocks the nocturnal world of hidden heat signatures with exceptional clarity. Its versatile magnification range coupled with digital zoom capabilities allow you to explore every detail of the landscape.
You can even capture footage with the built-in photo and video recorder and connect to the Pulsar app via Wi-Fi so you can live stream or remote control the monocular from anywhere. With an impressive detection range of up to 1750 yards, it’s an excellent tool for hunters, wildlife enthusiasts, and security professionals.
We like the compact and lightweight design that makes the monocular easy to handle even during extended observation sessions. The water-resistant construction gives you the confidence to use it in various weather conditions without worry. While its price point is significantly higher than traditional monoculars, the Pulsar Axion 2’s exceptional thermal imaging capabilities and user-friendly interface make it a top-tier choice for those seeking the best in thermal technology.
Best Night Vision: Bushnell Equinox X650
Best Night Vision
- Magnification: 5x(optical), 9x(digital)
- Objective Lens Diameter: 32mm
- Field of View: 23.2ft x 17.4 yards
- Eye Relief: 22 mm
- Weight: 11.6 ounces
- Advanced digital night vision technology for clear and bright images
- Powerful 9x digital magnification
- Built-in adjustable infrared illuminator enhances visibility in total darkness.
- Relatively heavier than some other monoculars tested
The Bushnell Equinox X650 Night Vision Monocular is a solid choice if you’re looking for seeking night vision capabilities without breaking the bank. Its digital night vision technology delivers clear and bright images in low-light and dark environments, making it suitable for various applications, from wildlife observation to surveillance. The built-in adjustable infrared illuminator extends its usability into total darkness—a handy feature for nighttime hunts and explorations.
It has an IPX4 water-resistant rating so you can use it rain or shine. However, the added battery weight makes it a bit heavier than more compact monoculars we tested. Keep in mind, too, that the effective range and battery life can vary based on usage and conditions. Such is the case for all night vision monoculars and optics, of course.
Best for Hunting: Vortex Solo
Best for Hunting
- Magnification: 10x
- Objective Lens Diameter: 25mm
- Field of View: 315 feet/1000 yards
- Eye Relief: 16mm
- Weight: 5.6 ounces
- Exceptional optical clarity and brightness
- Compact non-slip grip, and durable external protection
- Impressive field of view with adjustable eyecup
The Vortex Solo Monocular delivers the exceptional quality you expect from Vortex. We found it consistently provides outstanding optical clarity, making distant objects appear bright and sharp. The impressive 10x magnification proved ideal for various outdoor activities, from birdwatching to hiking, allowing us to observe wildlife and landscapes up close.
The monocular’s compact and lightweight design makes it very portable—you can easily tuck it in your hunting backpack or even your pocket. It feels very rugged and durable, like it could take a beating out in the field. Plus, the waterproofing and fogproofing give me confidence it can perform well in various conditions, like rain or sleet. That’s huge when I’m hunting in areas with unpredictable weather.
However, it’s worth noting that its smaller objective lens may not excel in low-light scenarios compared to the Vortex Diamondback binoculars. Nonetheless, this Vortex monocular remains our top choice for those seeking unmatched optical quality and versatility in a single-handed on-the-go package. Bonus: The olive green color will blend seamlessly with your other hunting gear and most camo patterns.
Best for Bird Watching: Nocs Provision Zoom Tube
Best for Bird Watching
- Magnification: 8x
- Objective Lens Diameter: 32mm
- Field of View: 393ft/1000 yards
- Eye Relief: 17mm
- Weight: 8.5 ounces
- Ideal 8x magnification for birdwatching, delivering detailed and steady views
- Comfortable 17mm eye relief for extended viewing sessions
- Compact and lightweight design for hassle-free field use
- Very affordable price under $100
- Sustainable brand
- Lower magnification than others tested
Right out of the package, I was highly impressed with the overall quality, especially for the budget price. The Nocs Provision Zoom Tube Monocular is any outdoor enthusiast’s dream come true with quality and low price. Its 8x magnification strikes the perfect balance between detail and stability, providing steady and crisp views. The fully multi-coated optics capture every color with impressive clarity and brightness. Its generous field of view is an advantage for tracking birds in motion, and the comfortable 17mm eye relief ensured that my extended birdwatching sessions remained enjoyable.
The outer housing—which comes in a variety of colors, from bright yellow to forest green—is made up of high-impact rubber designed with a rigid texture and maximizes the hand grip. I like how comfortable it was to hold and grip when I was looking through it. The monocular’s fog- and waterproof design guarantees dependable performance even in less-than-ideal weather conditions. I really liked the extras, too. It’s equipped with a built-in tripod adapter featuring a 1/4-inch 20-thread, so I could securely mount it on a tripod for more stable viewing.
If sustainability is important to you, Nocs Provisions is a member of 1% for the Planet and also a Climate Neutral Certified brand. They have proactively committed to reducing emissions through various initiatives, including opting for more sustainable freight alternatives, establishing warehouses closer to customers, transitioning to plastic-free packaging, and selecting eco-friendly product materials.
Best Budget: Cabela’s Intensity
- Magnification: 10x
- Objective Lens Diameter: 25mm
- Field of View: 304ft/1000 yards
- Eye Relief: 14mm
- Weight: 10.7 ounces
- Affordable price point without compromising on quality
- Clear image quality with fully multi-coated optics
- Compact and lightweight design for portability
- Smaller objective lens diameter than some monoculars reviewed
At under $100, the Cabela’s Intensity Monocular is proof you don’t need to spend hundreds for a quality optic. We were able to view distant landscape and objects in impressive detail thanks to the 10x magnification and fully multi-coated optics. The nitrogen-purged construction offers fog resistance while the compact and lightweight design makes the monocular a convenient companion. You can add it to your pack without adding a lot of weight or bulk.
The quick and precise focus adjustment is a notable feature, allowing you to smoothly transition between subjects. While it features a slightly smaller objective lens diameter than some competing budget monoculars, the trade-off is minimal given the overall affordability and reliable performance. Nevertheless, the Cabela’s monocular is the best budget-friendly choice for those seeking a quality optic at a more affordable price.
What to Consider When Choosing a Monocular
When selecting the ideal monocular for your needs, several crucial factors should guide your decision. Here are the key considerations to keep in mind:
Determine the primary purpose of your monocular. Are you a birder, hiker, hunter, or wildlife enthusiast? Do you need night vision or thermal capabilities for specific tasks? Your intended use will dictate the features you require. Prioritize the specifications and features based on their level of importance to you.
The magnification power determines how close objects will appear. Consider a balance between magnification and field of view, as higher magnification may result in a narrower field of vision. Magnification enlarges the image of distant objects, making them more visible and discernible. This is particularly valuable in various applications such as birdwatching, wildlife observation, hunting, and stargazing, where the ability to see fine details is essential and improves target identification. High magnification levels reveal finer details that the naked eye or lower-powered optics may miss.
Optical Quality and Objective Lens Diameter
Look for monoculars with fully multi-coated optics and high-quality glass. Fully coated means the glass surfaces have a coating layer. For optic lenses like monoculars, we recommend multiple coatings and anti-reflective compounds. These features ensure optimal light transmission and image clarity. A larger objective lens (measured in millimeters) allows more light to enter, resulting in brighter and clearer images, especially in low-light conditions.
Q: What is the difference between binoculars and monoculars?
The most obvious difference between binoculars and monoculars is the number of optical barrels. Binoculars use two optical barrels—one for each eye—for a fuller three-dimensional view with enhanced depth perception. They typically offer a wider field of view.
In contrast, monoculars have a single optical barrel, making them more compact and lightweight. We like them for their portability and quick discreet observations of distant objects. Many companies manufacture binoculars and monoculars with the same magnification.
Q: Are binoculars better than monoculars?
Whether binoculars or monoculars are “better” depends on your specific needs and preferences. Binoculars offer a more immersive viewing experience with both eyes, providing a wider field of view and better depth perception. On the other hand, monoculars are more compact, lightweight, and convenient for on-the-go adventures. Ultimately, the choice between binoculars and monoculars comes down to the activity, comfort, and ease of use that suits your needs best.
Q: What do the numbers mean on monoculars?
The numbers on monoculars provide information about their specifications. Take 8×42, for instance. The first number (8) is the magnification, meaning objects will appear eight times closer than they do to the naked eye. The second number (42) is the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters. A larger objective lens diameter gathers more light, resulting in a brighter image.
Best Monoculars: Final Thoughts
A monocular is an appreciated piece of gear whether hunting, observing wildlife, or admiring beautiful landscape. From the compact and budget-friendly choices to the advanced thermal and night vision models, the world of monoculars offers something for everyone. Selecting one of the best monoculars can be a bit overwhelming with all the options available. I suggest prioritizing your specific wants, needs, and budget to narrow the range.
If you’re interested in adding one to your pack, we especially recommend the Bushnell Legend for its powerful magnification and clear crisp images.
Why Trust Us
For more than 125 years, Field & Stream has been providing readers with honest and authentic coverage of outdoor gear. Our writers and editors eat, sleep, and breathe the outdoors, and that passion comes through in our product reviews. You can count on F&S to keep you up to date on the best new gear. And when we write about a product—whether it’s a bass lure or a backpack—we cover the good and the bad, so you know exactly what to expect before you decide to make a purchase.
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