How to Choose the Right Lightweight Binoculars

Lightweight BinocularsOne item that is most of the time left out of your backpack is a set of binoculars.  But, what if you are going hiking in an area known for bird watching or other wildlife?  I am here to tell you that a good pair of lightweight binoculars will improve the experience.  The binoculars can bring the animals closer to you.

Here are some things to look for when selecting your set of binoculars:

Reviewing the Numbers: When looking at a pair of binoculars there is always that confusing number like 7×50 or 20×32.  So, what do these numbers mean?

  • Magnification: (I Need More Power!)

The first number and the X represent the power of magnification:  If it is 7x, that means that if you looked at an object without the aid of the binoculars and then brought the binoculars to your face, the object would appear 7 times closer to you.

Lightweight Binoculars come in a large variety of magnifications, from 4 to 30.  Just because a set of binoculars can magnify something 30 times, does that mean that you want to purchase these?   The short answer is no, at least not for backpacking or hiking.  Because the image is magnified with a pair of binoculars, so are your shakes.  So, if you are looking at an Elk with 30x magnification binoculars, the image is going to be very shaky unless you put the binoculars on a rock, tripod or monopod.

Most people select a 6x, 7x or 8x set.  Even the military opts for a 7x level of magnification.

Two other items with magnification:  Higher magnification lets in less light.  Similarly, higher magnification also has a smaller field of view.   The field of view is the area that can be viewed when looking through the binoculars.  For birding or watching fast moving objects, a larger field of view is desired.

  • Objective Lens: (walk into the light, children)

The last number in our equation (7×50) is the objective or lens size.  The 50 would make the lens 50mm in diameter.  I don’t think you would ever want to carry a 50mm set of binoculars.  Most of your lightweight binoculars will be a lot smaller, say in the 20mm range.

The larger the diameter of lens, the more light they let in.  A 50mm lens binocular is nicknamed “night vision” because of their ability to let in so much light even in darker situations.

Lens Anti-Glare Coatings:

  • Coated: A few, normally just the air-to-glass surfaces, maybe one or two surfaces have a single anti-glare coating
  • Fully Coated: Normally the first and last, air-to-glass lenses have single coatings.
  • Multi-Coated Lens: Again, some of the lens are coated, but this time there are multiple anti-reflection coatings.
  • Full Multi-Coated: All air-to-glass surfaces have multiple layers of anti-reflection coatings.

Some newer models have red or ruby colored coatings in order to reduce glare in bright light conditions.

Lenses and Binocular Quality:

Just like any other item you buy, the better the quality of equipment, the higher the price.  When purchasing a set of lightweight binoculars, think about how often and what you are going to use them for.  If you a serious birder.  Do you want a set to just assist viewing wildlife occasionally?  If you are the former, then a good set of optics would be paramount.  This is especially true if you are using them for long periods of time.  If you are looking through a pair of binoculars for an hour or more, it can strain your eyes and cause fatigue.  The better the pair, the less eyestrain.

When selecting a set of lightweight binoculars, take all of these options into consideration.  For the occasional wildlife encounter, it may be best to get an inexpensive compact set.  But, for the serious enthusiast, opt for one with better optics.

I will say there have been many times on the trail when I would have loved to view an animal closer, but I didn’t have any binoculars with me.  Take my advice and pack a set on your next backpacking or hiking adventure.

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