Learn about the best compact binoculars for hiking and bird watching. Which binocular model is best? This guide (with videos) explains the 6 basic factors to consider. Plus I cover the nine best compact binoculars. Let’s get started!
9 Best Compact Binoculars for Hiking and Birding
In this post, you’ll learn how to identify the best compact binoculars, understand what you need from them, and make the right choice.
Also in this guide, our ‘Binoculars 101’ quick overview of binoculars will help you make an informed choice. We’ll also include our top picks, one for adults and one for kids.
I’ve been using binoculars since I was a kid. And I own a couple of pairs now. One always stays in the car so we can use them on our adventures
Our Top Picks: Best Overall
Nikon 7576 Monarch 5: Sleek and lightweight, these are perfect for those long days spent searching the treetops.
Spotting lifers is a breeze with their premium extra-low dispersion glass allowing for brighter, sharper images even in low light, maintaining superior contrast and resolution. The Eco-Glass lens allows high light transmittance through the entire visible light spectrum.
Waterproof and fog-proof, you can spot birds year-round and the turn-and-slide eyecups make for comfortable viewing all day long. The smooth central focus knob brings things into focus quicker than ever so you never miss a sighting.
Extremely durable, the rubber-armed coating is built to withstand the most rigorous use while the non-slip grip ensures viewing even in the wettest of conditions.
See more below. These are #1 on our list.
Best Binoculars for Kids: ThinkPeak Binoculars (8X21)
These kid-friendly binoculars by ThinkPeak come in 6 colors (green, pink, black, blue, purple, and red) and are made for kids 4+.
They come with rubber eyecups, non-slip grip, and are shock-resistant.
Also included are an operations manual, camping ebook, and breakaway neck strap.
Understanding Binoculars: 6 Things to Know
When choosing the perfect binoculars to take birding, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg.
Having said that, you do get what you pay for. You can’t expect to have the best bins if you only spend $20.
Quality components and cutting-edge technology do have a price tag but it doesn’t necessarily have to be super expensive.
We’ve taken into consideration 6 factors: magnification, field of view (FOV), stability, eye relief, aperture (objective lens size), and weight to find some nice balanced all-rounders that will fit the bill and tick every box, so you can focus on something besides the gear.
Handy Hint: The most popular size for birding is 8×42 which is a dynamic combination giving clear, crisp images at maximum magnification while still being light enough to lug around all day.
Magnification: the size of the binoculars has nothing to do with the magnification, what this means is how close you can zoom in to an object.
8x means it is eight times closer to you than what it looks like with the naked eye. If it is 10x, then it is ten times closer, and so on.
Represented by numbers, for example, 8×42. These are found on the center focus wheel. The 8 means 8x magnification and the 42 refers to the objective lens size.
This is the bigger lens at the front of the binoculars that collects the light. The lens at the back is the ocular lens which does all the magnification.
2. Field of View (FOV)
Field of View: this is one of the most important aspects for birders. To be able to zoom in on small, faster-moving objects like birds they need a wider field of view to be able to see the bird before it flies away.
If they only have a small field of view, then they stand a good chance of losing the birds.
Handy Hint: Greater magnification = Less Field of View
Greater magnification means you will lose some of the view around the object as the binoculars zoom in. This is called Field of View (FOV).
- At zero magnification (looking at something with the naked eye), you will see a wide field of view and a lot of things around the object you are looking at.
- When that zooms in to 8x the magnification, you will lose a lot of the surrounding detail and see the subject in greater detail.
3. Stability: as you increase magnification it will also increase any movement your upper body makes causing the image being viewed to become unstable.
It will be seen as a shake in the image, like when you look through a camera and once you’ve taken the picture it’s a little blurry because you weren’t 100% perfectly still as a tripod would have been.
With magnifications over 15x, it is recommended you mount them on a tripod to remove the ‘shake’ and get a clearer picture.
4. Eye Relief
Eye Relief: this is the distance your eye is from the ocular lens when you hold the binoculars up to look at something.
- Too close: you will see the crescent shape of your bottom eyelid as you look through the binoculars.
- Too far: you will see a slight blurring around the outer edge of the image you are looking at. The further away your binoculars are from your eyes, the more your field of view will be constricted. This is most commonly seen when users don’t twist the eye-cups out to suit their eyes which is done by taking hold of the eyepiece and twisting it slightly. The eyepiece will extend out so your eyes have more room allowing you to see properly. This is common with people who wear glasses. If you wish to wear your glasses then you will need to twist the eyepiece back into place bringing them closer to your glasses and eliminating this effect.
- Just right: you will see the entire object perfectly with no softening of the edges, shadowing, or obstruction.
Aperture: this is the objective lens (the big one at the front of the binoculars) diameter. The larger the lens, the brighter your image appears because your binoculars are gathering more light.
As a general rule, the larger the aperture, the larger and heavier your binoculars will be. It also means a brighter image at closer magnification.
Biggest isn’t always best: A 50x aperture is good enough to do some light astrology and would have to be mounted for a crystal-clear image so this may be a bit of overkill to see your average warbler 100ft away.
Weight: this is a big one. After all, you have to carry them around for hours and hours and they can be a real pain in the neck… literally!
Generally speaking, the larger the objective lens size, the heavier the binoculars. A binocular harness is the perfect way to prevent any neck pain if going for day trips or extended periods.
9 Best Compact Binoculars for Birders and Hikers
1. Nikon 7576 Monarch 5
This is my favorite model and is my Top Pick Overall (top of post). These binoculars feature ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) glass to give better contrast and resolution without problematic chromatic aberration.
Waterproof and fogproof thanks to nitrogen filling and o-ring sealing, water and humidity won’t bother you with these bins. These are our top pick for best compact binoculars for birding.
2. Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Roof Prism Binocular
Excellent in low light, their ultra-wide band anti-reflective lens coating provides ultimate high-definition viewing which produces sharp, crisp images no matter what time of day it is.
With an ultra-wide field of view at maximum magnification means no matter how far away those feathered beauties are, you won’t have any problem seeing them.
Waterproof and fogproof the 10x magnification and sturdy design means there isn’t too much these binoculars can’t handle out in the field. Includes a lifetime warranty.
3. Eyeskey Binoculars for Adults
Dielectric coatings increase light transmission so you are guaranteed lighter, brighter, color-accurate images which helps you with the identification of the birds.
Extremely durable magnesium alloy body means they are light but tough so they’ll withstand anything you want to throw at them.
Not only are they waterproof and fog-proof, but they are also nitrogen-purged and O-ring sealed preventing dust, grit, and moisture from ever entering.
Accessories include: Carry case, neck strap, lens and eyepiece covers, cleaning cloth and user manual.
4. Celestron 71332 Nature DX 8×42 Binoculars-
These compact and lightweight binoculars are built for comfort while providing clear, crisp images and also have the close focus feature allowing you to get a macro view of our feathered friends.
Waterproof and a great field of view, they well and truly handle all of your birding needs.
5. Gosky 10×42 Binoculars
Give you a little more bang for your buck with all the usual features plus a 10x magnification.
Sharp, clear focus and good field of view, they are designed for the outdoors with a durable framework and rubber armor adding shock proof to its list of admirable qualities.
6. Wingspan Optics Spectator 8×32 Compact Binoculars
A great compact package with wide FOV at maximum magnification, their bright and clear images will please every bird lover.
Their small size fits comfortably into any hand so they’re great for kids too, and their lightweight means less neck strain.
Non-slip grip, waterproof and fog-proof they will accompany you any birding expedition during any season and stand up to any type of weather no worries.
Accessories include: Lifetime warranty, neck strap, carry case, lens covers and cleaning cloth.
Smaller Pocket-sized Binoculars
And to round out our list, here are three pocket sized binoculars.
7. Occer 12×25 Compact Binoculars
Talk about pack a punch, these may be pocket sized but they stand toe to toe with their bigger brothers and have a stronger magnification at 12x.
Because they are small, fitting more comfortably in your hand this helps reduce the ‘shake’ which is found in larger binoculars.
Large rotatable eyepieces add comfort as you spend hours watching the treetops through quality lenses that provide a clear, crisp image so you can see every feather.
Should they happen to slip it’s not a problem as they are shock proof and water proof so no matter where they land it’s not an issue… unless you drop them off a cliff of course.
Accessories include: Carry case, cleaning cloth and skid-proof rope.
8. ThinkPeak Binoculars for Kids (8X21)
These kid-friendly binoculars come in 6 colors (green, pink, black, blue, purple, and red) and are made for kids 4+.
They come with rubber eyecups, non-slip grip, and are shock resistant.
Also included are an operations manual, camping ebook, and breakaway neck strap.
9. Vanstarry Compact Binoculars (5×30)
These are the perfect little binoculars for the kids to get out and enjoy nature with you.
Having a good field of view with 5X magnification means they’ll see that bird they are looking for rather than chasing it around with their binoculars.
Small and lightweight, it will fit comfortably into smaller hands and are easily focused.
The anti-slip armoring and durable construction is perfect for kids. These are entry-level binoculars.
Stay safe on your trip – here’s how long to boil drinking water.
More reading: Trail Guide to Dry and Healthy Feet (14 Recommendations)
Best Compact Binoculars for Hiking and Birding
Now you can have the confidence of a pro to grab your next pair of bin’s and get out there to tick off some lifers!
Have a recommendation or question? Join me in the comments!