The 13 Best Compact Binoculars in 2020

We’ve talked before about the best compact binoculars in regards to safari, but we find ourselves grabbing them for a plethora of reasons these days. Whether we’re hiking, looking for wildlife, out on the boat, birding or just spending time outdoors a pair of binoculars is a great tool to have ready.

I love having a pair in my backpack while we’re hiking in the mountains as it allows me to assess distances, check trail conditions, and spot wildlife, like bears. 

The one real drawback is finding a balance between great optics and something that fits inside a backpack. It’s very easy to get a large unwieldy pair of binoculars. The other tough factor to consider is that many of the best binoculars can hold delicate optics that are easily damaged. 

We’ve spent time researching and testing out a handful of binoculars with the goal of finding the perfect pair of compact binoculars. The key elements we’re seeking are durability, weight, and optics to find the perfect pair of binoculars. 


The Best Compact Binoculars


Nikon Monarch 5 8 x 42

Nikon Monarch - Best Compact Binoculars

A phenomenal mid-range option for your wildlife and landscape viewing is the Nikon Monarch. Nikon has long been a reputable name in the field of binocular manufacturing, and the Monarch is an excellent example.

The 42mm lens diameter allows for excellent low-light viewing, while the body itself is built for extreme use sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Rubber armored body and entirely waterproof, this pair will hold up to the elements as you dive into the wilderness. What’s more, the Monarch offers a very long eye-relief (the distance from the viewing lens to your eye), which maximizes eye comfort for extended viewing and is perfect if you wear glasses.

The Monarch series comes with a number of options to choose from. The 5 series offers an 8×42, 12×42, and 20×56. While an updated 7 series is offered in an 8×42 that has an updated body that is more durable, streamlined body, and a wider field of view. However, I don’t really see any need to upgrade to series 7 as it is a higher price with negligible performance improvement. 


Bushnell 10×42 H20 Waterproof Binoculars

These are a great budget option for compact binoculars. Bushnell has long been making great binoculars and for all price ranges. The Bushnell 10×42 H20 Waterproof Binoculars have amazing HD clarity and quality optics for less than $100. Like all Bushnell products they are durable and have an O ring that is sealed for fog-free viewing.

The nonslip rubber provides a firm grip and the center focus knob is large enough to give you easy and seamless adjustments. It’s the perfect pair of binoculars for those who are unsure if they want to invest in a pricier pair of binoculars.


Celestron 71336 Nature DX

When you’re determined not to let any type of darkness, nook, or cranny stand between you and viewing wildlife, then the Celestron 71336 is your tool of choice. With a whopping 56mm objective lens diameter option, this pair of binoculars capture more light than its smaller counterparts to give a very bright and clear image.

The massive objective lens size does come with a couple of drawbacks, however, that come in the form of size and weight. These are very large and bulky binoculars. Yes, you’ll get a phenomenal image while using them, but trying to tote them around your neck and hold them up to your eyes all day will get very tiring very fast. We recommend you utilize a tripod if you’re planning on extended viewing times.


Steiner AZ830

For a blend of Porro-prism image quality and compactness at an affordable price, the Steiner AZ830 is the ideal port of call. The compact design allows the binoculars to be stored almost anywhere and the rugged design will keep them in good condition for the duration of your trip.

These binoculars are slightly heavier for their small size, however. So, if you’re planning on viewing through them for hours at a time, it may be wise to look into lighter options. Weight aside, these are a solid choice for a pair of compact binoculars without the steep cost of high-grade binoculars.


Steiner Optics Predator Series Binoculars

For a blend of porro-prism image quality and compactness at an affordable price, the Steiner Predator Series is the ideal port of call. The compact design allows the binoculars to be stored almost anywhere and the rugged design will keep them in good condition for the duration of your trip.

These binoculars are slightly heavier for their small size, however. So, if you’re planning on viewing through them for hours at a time, it may be wise to look into lighter options. Weight aside, these are a solid choice for a pair of travel/safari binoculars without the steep cost of high-grade binoculars.


Leupold Bx-1 McKenzie 12×50

Compact Binoculars

As we slowly creep upwards in price and quality, we have the Leupold Bx-1. These binoculars are built with extreme magnification in low-light situations in mind and are at the very cusp of what we would recommend for compact binoculars.

With a 12x magnification value, this pair can bring even the farthest animals into sharp focus. This holds true even when they’re in shade or darkness, thanks to the 50mm objective lens diameter. Remember, however, that 12x is right around the point where any handshaking will be highlighted greatly, and can potentially interfere with your viewing.

If you’ve had trouble with wobbly images before, or are planning on extended viewing, we recommend considering a tripod for optimal use.

As with any pair of compact binoculars worth their salt, this model is fully waterproof and built with a rugged casing for full adventure mode.


Snypex Knight D-ED 8×32

The Snypex Knight does an excellent job of blending the high-quality images of a full-sized pair of binoculars with a compact and rugged design that is easiest for traveling. The travel aspect of the binoculars is also accentuated by the fully waterproof design and water-repellent coatings on the exterior lenses.

The exceptional craftsmanship and addition of dielectric mirror coatings make these roof-prism binoculars a force to be reckoned with. While a little pricey, you’re putting yourself on the right track for phenomenal optics. These are among the best compact binoculars for birders especially.


ZEISS 8×32 Conquest HD Binocular


Continuing our trend of powerfully compact safari binoculars, we have the Zeiss 8×32. This pair is small enough to fit into a jacket pocket or a small daypack, but will still deliver powerful images for your enjoyment.

We tend to recommend these binoculars for those of you who value a compact, rugged, great design above all else. The roof-prism design keeps them nice and slim, while the waterproofing allows you to use them in all conditions on your travels.

In this case, that means that you won’t get the incredibly crisp images delivered by the bulkier designs with increased magnification and lens diameters. Nevertheless, this is an exceptional pair of binoculars.


Meopta MeoPro 10×42 HD Binocular

If you’re looking for a pair of safari binoculars that are a step up from the lower grade, compact versions but still won’t break the bank, these Meopta MeoPro HD binoculars are an excellent midway compromise.

The PRO HD improves upon its compact cousin, the mini HD, by bumping the magnification from 8x to 10x and increasing the objective lens diameter from 32mm to 42mm. These improvements allow for much better wildlife viewing at greater distances and in lower light conditions.

Coupled with excellent rubber armoring, a fully waterproof design, and fog-proofing, these safari binoculars are an excellent purchase for those looking for a solid pair of binoculars for a trip but don’t want the serious investment of a professional pair.


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Things to Consider Before you Buy Compact Binoculars

To find the right binoculars you need to understand the basics of binoculars. There are a large variety of binoculars available, but what you need from a compact binocular should have some weight on your purchase decision. A lot of what we expect is similar to much of our hiking gear such as build quality, durability, weatherproofing, and weight. From there let’s break down basic criteria you’ll look for when choosing a pair of compact binoculars. 

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Binocular Type

Unless you’ve taken a close look at binoculars in the past, you may not even be aware that there are two distinct variations on the market for you to consider – the porro-prism and roof-prism.

The porro-prism type is the classic design where the larger objective lenses (those that face what you’re looking at) are offset significantly from the eyepiece lenses.

The roof-prism type is the more modern style, where the objective lenses are directly in line with the eyepiece lenses, resulting in a much slimmer and compact design.

These two designs feature different methods of reflecting light from the objective lens all the way to your eyeball, the specifics of which we won’t get into here, but there are significant differences in image quality that you should be aware of.

The roof-prism concept requires significant precision and craftsmanship in order to produce high-quality imagines while keeping the primary lenses in line. The porro-prism, on the other hand, have an easier time producing a more robust image for the same price.

Bottom line. Lower priced porro-prism designs tend to offer better image quality for roof-prism designs of the same price. Therefore, if you are on a budget, the porro-prism is well worth a look.

However, be aware that technology and processes are constantly improving, and producing exceptional roof-prism designs. This is especially true as your price range increases. This, combined with their sleek, ergonomic, design, make them your best bet when you’re willing to pay for the best binoculars on the market.

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Magnification

One of the first specifications you’ll see for a pair of binoculars is a pair of numbers, such as 10×25. The first of these numbers represents the magnification for the binoculars. In this case, the 10 means that the pair of binoculars will make an object appear 10 times closer than it is.

It’s easy to immediately leap to the conclusion that the higher the magnification, the better the binoculars will be for wildlife viewing, but this is not necessarily true. If you’re planning on using just your hands to hold the binoculars and not a tripod, then look for binoculars with a magnification rating of around 10.

Magnifications higher than 12 tend to highlight hand-shake when trying to focus, reduce the overall brightness of the image, and reduce the depth of field (meaning more of the object will be out of focus).

Conversely, magnifications less than 8 tend to reduce all these problems, but also have a shorter range and decreased image quality. Just for clarification magnification of 8x or 10x is ideal, anything under 8x or greater than 10x should be avoided.

Objective Lens Diameter

The second number in the specification refers to the objective lens diameter in millimeters. Returning to the 10×25 that we used above, the 25 indicates a 25mm objective lens diameter.

Remember, the objective lens is the large lens on the end of the binoculars that you point towards what you want to view. The size of this particular lens correlates directly to how much light your binoculars can gather; larger lens produces brighter images in dark conditions than their smaller counterparts.

Naturally, larger lenses spawn larger and more cumbersome binoculars. The trick is to find the right size for your purposes and consider what conditions you’ll be using your binoculars in. If you’re planning on only using your binoculars in bright conditions during the day, then a 32mm will likely suit your needs.

Planning for some early morning or late evening viewing? Then consider 42mm binoculars to make sure you get a brighter image.

General Considerations

Any binocular that’s intended for serious outdoor use is likely to meet rough conditions – not to mention rain – along the way. It’s prudent to consider the binocular casing when researching. Keep an eye out for an all-encompassing rubber armor. This provides improved grip during use and will help protect the sensitive materials inside from any accidental falls.

Additionally, we highly recommend that you invest in waterproofing. This will help to protect the delicate optics inside from fogging with quick temperature changes, as well as defend against dust and/or sand intrusion which can significantly affect your viewing quality.

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Weight

This is a key element in determining. Smaller binoculars are actually easier to hold and grip too. I would suggest staying under 3 pounds for your binoculars.

Eye Relief

This metric refers to the distance that you need to keep your eyes from the eyepiece. Generally the more the eye relief the less eye strain, I get a headache from bad binoculars. If you’re looking for a good metric try 12mm and 16mm is you wear glasses as you need a little more space.


Advice on Compact Binoculars

There you go, folks! We’ve covered the basic points to consider when purchasing binoculars for your next adventure, and introduced you to our list of the top compact binoculars on the market. You’re now all set to pick the pair that will complement your adventures perfectly! If you are passionate about wildlife, I would highly, highly suggest bringing at least one pair for your travel group when out in the wild.

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