Binoculars for Birding & Hiking in the Mountains

Maven C.2 Binoculars - Ideal Hiking Binoculars
Maven Binoculars like the C.2 Binoculars are ideal for hiking


Thank you for all of the content that you put out. It has been very helpful to me in learning more about binoculars, how they work, and what I should be looking for.

With that being said, I don’t have access to the right stores or the time to test out various binoculars, and so I thought I’d turn to you for advice.

I’m looking to buy a pair of binos for my husband as a graduation gift.

He’s a novice when it comes to binos, and would use them while birding and hiking in the Appalachian mountains. We’re also not afraid to hike in the rain, so fog/waterproofing would be a good feature to have.

My budget is ~$500. I’m not sure if this is high for a novice binocular user, but I’m looking for a nice gift that will also last a long time as a memento of my husband’s hard work, and I’m willing to spend some cash above what might be strictly necessary. Thanks in advance, Elisa

My Initial Response:

Firstly many thanks for supporting me on Patreon, it is very much appreciated and certainly helps me continue on with the BBR site. 

As for your question, I am more than happy to help you. 

A budget of around $500 is great as it means you can get him a really good pair of binoculars, that will not only work well but if looked after, should last a lifetime – that is the nice thing about optics compared to electronic devices. 

So far the main points I have from you are for birding and hiking in the Appalachian mountains, which sounds perfect to me as it is what I really enjoy as well, but can I ask when you go birding and hiking are most of the views and birding over longer distances or is it mostly thickly forested and thus at closer ranges?

This will just help me decide what sort of binocular configurations we should be considering. 

Note that it is also quite fine to say you would use them in both situations as then I will make sure to consider more all-rounder types of instruments. I just want to be sure that you don’t have a very strong leaning either way as this will make quite a big difference as to the ideal configuration for his needs.

Reply 01

Elisa then replied to my initial email to say that the binoculars would be used both in the forest and at lookouts; probably a bit more so at the latter while they are resting and enjoying the views.


Size Matters?
Full-size binoculars (about 42mm) vs mid-size (about 32mm) vs Compact Binoculars (21mm – 26mm)

For me and the way I hike, especially in the hills or mountains here in Southern France, I like to keep the size and weight of the binocular to a minimum, but at the same time always keeping in mind the optical performance and in particular the low light performance that I would like to maintain.

So if you are hiking over long distances and with a lot of elevation as well, the size and weight of the binoculars you choose is really important and so here I would opt for a mid-size or even full compact instrument.

Whereas if your hikes are less stressful you could consider taking a full-size instrument with you to ensure a better performance.

Here, as the name suggests, the middle ground would be a mid-sized binocular:

Full-Size Binoculars

  • Brighter image & Better low-light performance
  • Sometimes a better image quality overall
  • Bigger and heavier than smaller options

Mid Size Binoculars

  • More lightweight & easier to carry than the full-size options
  • Better optical performance than a full compact

Compact Binoculars

  • Very small and lightweight
  • Reduced optical performance, especially in low light


Just how powerful a binocular you choose is also important:

If you spend most of yout time in forested areas, like you often find lower down on the slopes of the mountains, then I would suggest a lower power like a 8x or even 7x which not only makes it much easier to pick up and follow birds a closer ranges, but will also ensure that you get a better low light performance than a higher powered binocular of the same size and quality.

For more on this check out my guide to the exit pupil.

However if you are up above the treeline and often find yourself viewing out across valleys or even slopes on the other side of a valley and the birds you view are at longer distances and are often larger birds, perhaps eagles soaring above, then you will want a binocular with a more powerful magnification.

However, do keep in mind that a high magnification does bring with it a number of disadvantages. This includes a less bright image (especially in low light conditions), a narrower field of view and it becomes harder to keep the image still, which can be exhasperated in strong winds, which if you are high up in the hills/mountains is often a factor.

So my advice is to probably keep it to around 10x for a good general all-rounder and perhaps 12x a maximum, But if so you then really do want to take a larger binocular like a 12x42 or better a 12x50 to maintain light performance, but remember this will also make it larger and heavier which for hiking may not be suitable.

If you are still not sure on what objective size and magnification is right, take a look at this guide on How Different Configurations Affect a Binocular

My Recommendations:

So based on the information above and keeping in mind your budget, below are some binoculars that I can confidently recccomend to you as I have fully tested and reviewed them.

Also please note that whilst for example I may have tested the 8x42 version and that is the one I have listed below, all of these will also be available in other configurations like a 10x42 and many of which will also be available as a mid-size option as well.

Long Hard Hikes

For very lightweight hiking and camping in the mountains where you have to carry all your gear over long distances and hard terrain, I would instead go with a full compact.

Note that I have not included many compacts below as I have a couple of articles that I feel cover most of the recommendations that I have tested that are suitable:

Maven C.2 Compact Binoculars

I am currently waiting for a sample to arrive for testing, but from what I have seen, I think they would be ideal and whilst like most compacts, these don’t quite match the optical level of the larger instruments below, I am confident that they will still perform very well.

For more details on these follow the link above.

Also with a current retail price of around $250 (for the 10x28) version, you could get two pairs for both you and your husband! 🙂

Related Information


As always, there is no single best choice, you need to take into account your own needs and preferences, but for good all-round hiking and birding in the mountains binoculars for use in a wide range of conditions and at different distances and at your budget, I would probably opt for a mid-sized instrument.

At this level, the Hawke Frontier ED X (see below) is in my experience as good as it gets, but if you want to save a little, the Bresser Pirsch ED is also very good and I like the open bridge for hiking, especially in the hills as it makes holding the binocular in one hand more secure, good for clambering over rough terrain and as I don’t use a neck strap, it makes it very easy to attach to your backpack by threading one of the straps through it.

Hawke Frontier ED X 8x32 Binoculars

  • Mid-to-High Level Binos – approx $380 / £380
  • Body
    • Single Bridge Design
    • Magnesium Chassis
    • Twist-up Eye-cups with click stops
    • Centrally Located Metal Focus Wheel
    • Waterproof & Nitrogen Purged
    • Dimensions: 4.7in (11.9cm) x 4.6in (11.7cm) x 1.85in (4.7cm)
    • Weight: 19ozs (539g)
  • Optics
    • Fully Multi-Coated Optics
    • 32mm Lenses with ED glass elements
    • Roof Prisms with Dielectric Mirror Coatings
    • Phase Corrected
    • Water Repellent Exterior Lens Coatings
  • Optical Stats
    • Field of View: 405ft at 1,000 yards
    • Min Focus Distance: 8.2ft
    • Eye Relief: 16mm

Lower Cost Options

Bresser Pirsch ED 8x34 Binoculars

  • Mid-High End Binoculars – approx $280 / £250 / €230
  • Body:
    • Open Bridge Body Design
    • Waterproof & Fogproof Chassis
    • Metal Focus Wheel & Eyepieces
    • Dimensions: 5.2in (13.3cm) x 4.9in (12.4cm) x 1.7in (4.3cm)
    • Weight: 15.52ozs (440g)
  • Optics:
    • ED (Extra Low Dispersion) Glass
    • BAK-4 Roof Prisms
    • Dielectric & Phase Corrected
    • Fully Multi-Coated
  • Optical Stats
    • Field of View: 122 @ 1,000m (366ft at 1,000 yards)
    • Minimum Focal Distance: 11.5ft
    • Eye Relief: 17.15mm

Opticron Explorer WA ED-R 8x32

  • Mid Level – approx $280 / £200
  • Body
    • Single Bridge Design
    • Rubber Armored Aluminum Alloy & Polycarbonate Chassis
    • Multi-Position, Twist-up Eye-cups
    • Central Focus Wheel
    • Water & Fog Proof (Nitrogen Filled)
    • Tripod Adapter Socket
    • Dimensions: 4.7x4.6x1.8 inches / 12x11.6x4.6 cm
    • Weight: 15.5ozs (440g)
  • Optics
    • Fully Multi-Coated Optics
    • 32mm ED Glass Objective Lenses
    • Phase Corrected BaK-4 Roof Prisms
    • Phase Correction Coatings
    • Opticron’s Oasis-C+ Dielectric Mirror Coatings
  • Optical Stats
    • Wide Field of View: 136m @ 1000m / 408ft @ 1,000 yards
    • Min Focus Distance: 2.5m / 8.2ft
    • Long Eye Relief: 18mm

More Mid-Size Options

Birding with Easy Hiking

If your hiking is not too stressful and you don’t carry much or any other gear, go with a full-size, 42mm binocular. Here all the options I have listed below make excellent choices, with the Alpen holding the slight advantage as it uses what is considered by many to be a more desirable type of prism.

There is no right choice and which you go for will largely come down to personal preferences and price

Hawke Frontier 8x42 ED X Binoculars

  • RRP: $389.99, £389.99 retail price approx: $349 / £389
  • Single Hinge Body Design
    • Magnesium Chassis
    • Waterproof & Fogproof
    • Twist-up Eye-cups with click stops
  • Fully Multi-Coated Optics
  • BaK-4 Roof Prisms
    • Dielectric Mirror Coatings
    • Phase Corrected
  • Field of View: 426ft at 1000 yards
  • Close Focus: 6.6ft
  • 18mm of Eye Relief
  • IPD: 5.6-7.4cm / 2.2-2.9ins
  • Weight: 24.4oz / 692g
  • Dimensions 14cm (5.5ins) x 12.3cm (4.8ins)

GPO Passion ED 8x42 Binoculars

  • Mid to High-End Binoculars: Approx: $350 / £400 / €400
  • Body
    • Single Top-Hinge Body Design
    • Magnesium Chassis & Bridge
    • Water & Fogproof (Nitrogen purged)
    • Large centrally located focus wheel
    • Right-eye diopter
    • Twist-up eyecups
    • Tripod Adaptable
  • Optics
    • Fully Multi-Coated Optics
    • ED Glass Elements
    • Schmidt Pechan roof prisms
    • Dielectric Coatings
    • Phase Correction Coatings
  • Optical Stats
    • 18mm of Eye Relief
    • Very Wide FOV: 426ft @ 1000 yards (142 @ 1000m)
    • Minimum Focal Distance: 2m (6.6ft)

Alpen 10x42 Teton

  • High-End Binoculars: RRP $669.99, Current Retail approx: $500 / £600
  • Body
    • Single Bridge Body Design
    • Magnesium Chassis
    • Fog & Waterproof
    • Metal focus wheel
    • Twist-up metal eyecups
    • Tripod Adaptable
  • Optics
    • Fully Multi-Coated Optical System
    • ED Glass Lens Elements
    • Abbe-Koenig Prisms
    • Phase Corrected
  • Optical Stats
    • 15mm of Eye Relief
    • Wide FOV: 340ft @ 1000 yards
    • Excellent Close Focal Distance: approx 3ft – 4.3ft (0.9m – 1.3m)

BinoWiard’s Thoughts

Still new to the job, I thought it would be interesting to ask your same question to the BinoWizard (BBR’s new AI expert) :

BinoWizard BBR's AI-Binocular Expert
BinoWizard: That's a thoughtful gift idea! With a budget of $500, you have a good range of options for high-quality binoculars that would be suitable for birding and hiking in the Appalachian mountains. Here are a few suggestions to consider:

1. Vortex Optics Viper HD 8x42 Binoculars: These binoculars are known for their excellent optical performance and durability, and are waterproof and fog-proof. The 8x magnification and 42mm objective lens size offer a good balance of magnification and field of view for birding and hiking. They are priced around $500 and come with a lifetime warranty.

2. Nikon Monarch 5 10x42 Binoculars: These binoculars offer a higher magnification of 10x and are also waterproof and fog-proof. They feature high-quality optics and a durable construction, and are priced around $300-400.

3. Zeiss Terra ED 8x42 Binoculars: These binoculars offer high-quality optics and are also waterproof and fog-proof. The 8x magnification and 42mm objective lens size are well-suited for birding and hiking. They are priced around $400-500 and come with a limited lifetime warranty.

All three of these options are highly regarded in the optics community and would make great gifts for a novice binocular user who enjoys birding and hiking. It's important to consider your husband's specific needs and preferences, so I would recommend reading reviews and doing some research to find the best option for your situation.

Personally, I think he should have asked you for a little more information as I did before replying, but having said that, the BinoWizard has given you a few other popular binocular options that you may wish to consider.

The downside is none of his suggestions are binoculars that I have tested and reviewed and so other than going over the specifications for you and giving you my thoughts on how I think they will perform based on that, I can’t really comment further.

Response & Feedback from Elisa


Thank you so much for the thorough advice in your article. I decided to go with a full-size binocular since we stick to day hikes and don’t carry much gear. I considered the Hawke Frontiers as well as the GPO Passions, and since they are similar in many aspects I went with the latter because they seemed more readily available online. I look forward to gifting them to my husband and know that he’ll enjoy them for many years to come!



After 4 Months:

Hi Jason,

I purchased the GPO Passion ED 8x42 binoculars, and after a few weeks of use, my husband exchanged them for the 10x42 model.

Both were great, the change was just a personal preference for him. He’s loved using them and in fact, we plan to drive up to the Blue Ridge Parkway this Friday and use the binoculars to enjoy the emerging fall foliage.

Thanks again,

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