Best binoculars for travel (and home!)

I’m a birder and a nature enthusiast and always travel with binoculars. Unfortunately I also enjoy photography and dislike checking luggage. So I’m left with the dilemma of what to bring – gear or clothing? Well I did the research and found the best binoculars for travelling – lightweight binoculars that combine great optics in a pack-able size! If you’re looking for the best binoculars for safari, or just a compact binoculars for birding, I hope this will help!

Our best binoculars for travelI began birding with a pair of binoculars from my mother, ca. 1940. They were a bit scratched and very heavy. So, despite the sentimental value, I put these aside for a reasonably priced Leupold model – the Leupold Yosemite. When the kids were out of college and we’d freed up money for travel, I invested in a Vortex Talon. Love these binoculars! The Vortex is always by our window where we can quickly catch a view of an interesting bird.

But one afternoon I was wandering in a sporting goods store when I heard two people talking about the Swarovski optics. I asked to try them and one man said to me (I thought jokingly…) “don’t try them if you’re not ready to buy them”. He was not joking. The quality of the Swarovski was amazing! But so was the price tag…

Fast forward two years to a Christmas morning when I was surprised with the Swarovski CL companion binoculars. These are now my go-to travel binoculars. Compact but with Swarovski optics.

But let’s backtrack  a bit… You are looking for the best binoculars for travel

How to Choose the Best Binoculars for Travel

There are three things to consider –

Best binoculars for travel based on budget, use, and travel style

  1. Budget – unfortunately this is probably the biggest factor in buying binoculars. The high-end optics are ridiculously expensive. And not necessary for most people.
  2. Use – are you a birder, a sports person, or just like to get a close view of vistas while traveling?
    • Birders – choose magnification between 7x and 12x and a wide field of view
    • Sports enthusiasts – similar, wide range of view and 7x to 10x magnification
    • Theater buffs – no need for the high magnification, 4x to 8x is sufficient. Look for a compact model so as not to annoy your neighbors.
    • Hiking or general outdoor use – you might want to focus on durability and waterproofing.
  3. Travel style – where are you planning on taking your binoculars and how do you pack?
    • If you visit big cities primarily, you likely don’t need high magnification in your binoculars. Visiting the National Parks? You might want those long lenses.
    • If you pack carry-on, then space is a premium, look for compact binoculars.. This is especially important when choosing the best binoculars for safari; weight is very limited in your safari duffel.  Going on a world cruise with a steamer trunk? Get full-sized binoculars to be the first to see land!

Beginners Guide to Understanding Binoculars

There are many factors in categorizing binoculars, but for the general population, these – Magnification and Lens Diameter, and Field of View are probably the easiest to understand and use in choosing a set. For more detailed information see the REI guide.

Magnification and Lens Diameter – each set of binoculars has two identifying number (8 x 25, 10 x 30, etc.) The first number is the magnification number – how much closer you can see than with the naked eye. The second is the aperture, or the size of the objective lens diameter. This number is important, as the diameter of the lens determines how much light gets to your eyes and thus makes a brighter view. This is important if you expect to using the binoculars in low light conditions. You will want as much light as possible getting to your eyes.

Field of View – FOV – width of what you can see from a distance of 1000 yards. If you’re examining the ceiling of Pantheon, you won’t need as wide a Field of View as if you are trying to find a bird in the bush or follow a soccer ball down field.

Size and Weight – keep these in mind when you’re shopping for a travel set of binoculars. We carried our day-to-day favorites to Egypt and, though they performed well, we wished we’d had a lighter and smaller pair. This is especially true if you’re choosing binoculars for an African safari as you’ll be likely carrying some serious cameras, etc. Getting great optics in lightweight and compact binoculars can be expensive, but we’ve done well with some of the budget priced ones below.

Best Binoculars for Safari and Wildlife Viewing

$ – Budget Priced

Description Weight FOV
Leupold Yosemite 8×30 – these are rugged, easy to use binoculars. They are smaller than some and fit well into smaller hands. I keep these in my car and use these with my grandchildren.* These are a fantastic option for basic binoculars, good optics at a reasonable price. 1.7 lb. 389 ft

Kowa YF Porro Prism 8×30 – lightweight, completely waterproof and fog proof and with a wide field of view, these are great in low light conditions. Great compact travel binoculars!

1 lb. 396 ft.

$$ – Midrange Price

Description Weight FOV

Athlon Optics Midas 8×42 – super durable, bright view and easy to focus. These binoculars are rated high by experts and users alike!

1.56 lb. 426 ft.
Vortex Talon 10×42 (newer model – Vortex Viper 10×50) – great optics for birding. Waterproof, durable and with Vortex’ great customer service, these lenses are my at home basics – always ready for an interesting bird. These are heavy at almost 3 lbs, so not best for lightweight travel. 2.95 lb. 341 ft

$$$ – High End Binoculars

Description Weight FOV
Nikon Monarch Wide Field of View 10×30 – rugged, lightweight, water and fog resistant, these are terrific optics for bird watching and wildlife viewing. 1 lb. 362 ft.
Swarovski CL Companion 8×30 – Exceptional quality in a compact size. These binoculars are a joy to use – focus is fast and easy, and the image is amazing. Only caveat is that these binoculars do not come with lens caps. Be sure to keep them protected from damage. 17 oz. 396 ft.

 


* Recommended for kids

Binoculars for kids – shockproof and compact

These are the binoculars used by the Beach Ambassadors, our local family nature program.


Are you a birder, or a wildlife enthusiast? Do you travel with binoculars? Let us know your go-to favorite in the comments.

Related Posts: Packing for Safari: cameras, gear and gadgets


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Best binoculars for travelling and home!

Best lightweight binoculars for traveling on safari

Best binoculars for park visits and wildlife travel

 

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