When traveling, it’s always a good idea to pack as lightly as possible. Whether you’re trying to save some money on luggage on your flights or trying to make it through the day without a sore back, lightweight equipment can go a long way towards making your trip better.
Of course, you don’t want to cut corners on your most important equipment. The good news is that you can get lightweight binoculars that also work well. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell which are best when shopping online, but we’ve done the hard work for you, picking out the best ones and explaining why they’re the right choices.
Our reviews show you the best and worst of each pair of binoculars so you can pick the right set for your next trip.
|Celestron 71380 Granite Series 9x33 Roof Prism Binocular|
|Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Folding Binoculars 10x25mm||1 lb||4.70/5|
|Nikon Travelite Binoculars 8x25|
(Best for the Money)
|Pentax AD 9x32 WP Binoculars||1 lb||4.40/5|
|Wingspan Optics Spectator 8x32 Compact Binoculars||1 lb||4.30/5|
The Celestron 71380 Granite Series 9×33 Roof Prism Binocular is a winner for any kind of traveler. It’s compact, which makes it suitable for a trip in a suitcase or carry-on baggage, and you won’t feel burdened if you need to carry it around all day. 10x is usually praised for its magnification, and 8x is usually preferred by those who want a wider field of view. These 9x binoculars strike a nice balance between those two characteristics, making them good general-purpose binoculars. They also have ED glass, which stands for “extra-low dispersion.” This glass reduces chromatic aberration for a very high-quality final image.
This set is waterproof and fogproof, so it’s suitable for all kinds of trips. The one thing that could be improved on this model is eye relief. Most eyeglasses or sunglasses wearers will need to take their glasses off to use these. Still, most people will love these binoculars, and they’re some of the best you can get for any kind of traveling.
The Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Folding Binoculars 10x25mm have arguably the best shell of any binoculars for traveling. Magnesium is lighter than both steel and aluminum, but in many cases is just as strong. This model’s shell is made from magnesium, which means it’s about the strongest shell on the market. It’s also lighter than expected, which makes it great for all-day excursions. The double-hinged bridge lets you fold it down very small when not in use. These binoculars feature ED glass, so you’ll get bright images free of chromatic aberration.
This set is also waterproof and fogproof, so it’s good for any excursion, in wet or dry weather. Given how strong its case is, it will stand up to most drops, even when it falls on hard surfaces. The one thing we don’t like is that it comes with an uncomfortable neck strap, though that’s a part you can upgrade on your own. Overall, these will make you the happiest if you’re looking for binoculars that can survive almost anything, but are lightweight for easy transportation.
The Nikon Travelite Binoculars 8×25 are designed with travel in mind. Because of that, this set has a variety of features meant to make travel easier. It’s extremely compact, and very lightweight, weighing about 56 percent of what the Bushnell model weighs. It also has aspherical lenses, which allow it to provide good clarity despite its compact frame. In other models of this size without that feature, you get significant distortion. It has a rubber-coated exterior, which isn’t as durable as magnesium models but does a good job protecting it from water and from falls. Rubber is also easier to get a grip on than many metal covers.
The very best thing about these binoculars is that you can get them at a great price. Since it’s available for about half of what you’d spend on the second model here, this set earns the title of best value on our list. Unfortunately, it’s small, which means problems for people with a large interocular distance, and it has poor eye relief, which means problems for glasses wearers. For most people, however, the experience will be very good.
The Pentax AD 9×32 WP Binoculars are the choice for those who value visual fidelity above all other features. These compact binoculars offer the crispest views of any sets on our list. Many users rave about their lack of chromatic aberration, and their ability to reproduce color faithfully, even at large distances. If you’re looking for binoculars that put others to shame when it comes to clarity and detail, you won’t be disappointed with these. These binoculars aren’t just waterproof, they’re certified to be submersible in up to one meter of water without any issues, which makes them a great choice for outdoor use.
However, they aren’t without shortcomings. Despite the fact that the shell isn’t made from anything special, this pair is incredibly expensive. While it has superior optics, it doesn’t have overly impressive magnification or lens sizes. It’s also one of the heaviest options on our list, and that’s something you’ll notice if you’re carrying it around all day. Get these if you truly value optical clarity, but don’t expect them to be the most convenient or most portable choice for traveling.
The Wingspan Optics Spectator 8×32 Compact Binoculars are another model that many people like for traveling. However, we have some significant concerns about the experience these binoculars provide while you’re on the go, leaving this pair with an overall mixed review. It’s fairly compact, which adds some points in its favor. It also has a non-slip grip, which is a feature we love to see on sets meant for traveling. The manufacturer also claims that this model is waterproof and fogproof, though we have reports that submerging it will lead to water getting inside.
Unfortunately, these succumb to many of the problems that plague compact binoculars. They don’t provide the sharpest image. Binocular novices may not notice this, but those who have used good binoculars will be disappointed with the view. They’re also difficult to focus quickly, which means they’re not good for viewing wildlife. If you have a limited window for viewing something, you’ll want faster-focusing binoculars. These aren’t the worst binoculars on the market, but their optical quality and speed of focusing are big enough negatives that most people will wish they’d bought different ones.
The most important thing to understand when shopping for binoculars is optics. The quality and type of view they produce changes dramatically from model to model, so to get the variety you’ll be happiest with, you need to understand how manufacturers talk about optics.
With all binoculars, there’s a pair of numbers that looks like this: “9×33.” In this example, the “9x” refers to the magnification. The higher this number is, the greater the magnification will be. As magnification goes up, binoculars become harder to use, as small shakes in your hand can cause the image to shake. Because of this, most people find that 12x magnification is the highest magnification they can use comfortably without a tripod.
The “33” refers to the size of the binoculars’ lenses in millimeters. Bigger lenses let in more light and provide a wider field of view, so they generally have better image quality.
However, bigger lenses are more prone to a problem called “chromatic aberration,” where different colors are split like they’re going through a prism. Manufacturers have solved this problem by using “ED” (extra-low diffraction) glass, which uses a special chemical treatment to reduce or eliminate chromatic aberration.
For travel, you’ll probably want binoculars with smaller lenses and between 8x and 10x magnification. Binoculars with those levels of magnification will be good for most viewing purposes, and the smaller lenses will result in a lighter and more compact frame.
The Celestron 71380 Granite Series 9×33 Roof Prism Binocular is our top overall model for travel due to its compact frame, good magnification, and field of view, and its ED glass. The Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Folding Binoculars 10x25mm come with a great magnesium shell, a double-hinged bridge, and ED glass. The uncomfortable neck strap drops them out of the top spot. The Nikon Travelite Binoculars 8×25 feature an aspherical lens design and rubber-coated exterior and are very lightweight. Their very low price makes them the best overall value for the money on our list. Fourth place is taken by the Pentax AD 9×32 WP Binoculars. They’re very compact and provide excellent views, but the high price and weight make them worse for travel than other models. The Wingspan Optics Spectator 8×32 Compact Binoculars are small and have a non-slip grip, but their underwhelming sharpness and slow focusing put them in last place on our list.
We hope that our reviews and guide have helped you learn about lightweight binoculars and have helped you find the right ones for your next expedition.
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