Choosing Binoculars or Monocular for Backpacking, Bikepacking & Bike Touring

Opticron Mono 8x30 Monocular & Canon Digital Zoom Monocular on a Bikepacking trip in SW France
Testing the Canon Digital Zoom Monocular & Opticron Mono 8x30 Monocular on a Bikepacking trip in SW France

Any activity where I am out exploring new and often beautiful places and where I might want or need to scout out the terrain ahead and/or there is a high probably of coming across wildlife, birds and other things or points of interest means that for me it is a no-brainer to take a set of optics along with me to enhance the experience.

When this is in a vehicle (like on safari) or even on a bush walk that is not too long and where I don’t need to carry much other gear, I will usually take along the optics (usually a binocular or scope) that give me the best possible performance or views without making it too difficult to carry about or setup. Depending on specific requirements or locations, this usually means that I will have a full-sized or at least a mid-sized instrument with me. 

However, activities like hiking, backpacking, bikepacking and bike touring, where I am out for much longer (sometimes more than a few days) and thus also carrying a whole bunch of other equipment and even food with me, mean that every single ounce of weight and inch of space is important. 

Therefore even though there could and often is some sort of compromise in terms of image quality and especially low-light performance, I will usually pack very compact, lightweight optics.

Comparing sizes of compact binoculars and monoculars to the Canon PowerShot Zoom monocular

Compact Binocular or Monocular?

But before selecting a particular model, I first need to decide if I should take a very compact binocular or a monocular and which I ultimately choose depends on how my needs match up to their relative strengths and weaknesses: 

In the video below I go through in detail the main differences between them and thus I urge you to take a look at it before continuing if you are unsure which is best for you:

BBR Video Version on YouTube: Monocular vs Binoculars for Birding, Hunting, Hiking, Sports & Travel

To Summarize: Binoculars vs Monocular

  • Binoculars provide a more enjoyable, comfortable, natural and immersive viewing experience and usually offer a superior image quality compared to monoculars of the same or similar quality, lens size and magnification.
  • A monocular will be a little more compact and lighter than binoculars with the same or similar-sized objective lenses
  • Monoculars are simpler to manufacture and because they are essentially half a binocular, they are usually less expensive than the equivalent binoculars.

So as you can see, making the choice between a monocular and a compact binocular depends on your individual preferences and specific needs.

Binoculars for Backpacking, Bikepacking & Hiking:

Compact Pocket Binoculars - Perfect ultra compact designs for hiking, backpacking and bike backing / touring.

If you decide that a binocular is right for you, I have a bunch of advice and reccomendations for you to look at:

Monoculars for Backpacking, Bikepacking & Hiking:

Bikepacking with the Opticron Mono 8x30 Monocular & Canon Digital Zoom Monocular

When packing space and portability is my main concern, as is often the case when I am bike touring or hiking, then a monocular can be a better option and here I have a number of suggestions that are ideal:

Zoom-into & Record what you see:

Canon PowerShot Zoom monocular

Canon PowerShot Zoom

Canon PowerShot Zoom: Compact Monocular & Camera with Telephoto Capabilities
The Canon PowerShot Zoom bridges the gap between a video camera and a monocular. This pocket-sized device features a fixed-lens design with three zoom levels (optical and digital combined). While image quality won’t rival dedicated cameras, its portability and ease of use make it suitable for capturing spontaneous moments on the go.

Canon PowerShot Zoom monocular

Main Specifications & Highlights

  • Zoom: 1.2x / 4.8x / 9.6x (100/400/800mm)
  • Viewfinder: 0.39-inch OLED EVF, 2.36m dots, 100% coverage, 60Hz refresh rate
  • Sensor: 12.1MP 1/3-inch CMOS
  • Video: 1080p at 24, 25, 30p
  • Memory Card: 1x microSD / microSDHC / microSDXC
  • ISO Range: Auto (fixed 100-3200)
  • Maximum Aperture: W: f/5.6, T: f/6.3
  • Image Stabilization: Optical Image Stabilization (IS)
  • Connectivity: USB Type-C, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
  • Battery: Built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Battery Life: About 70 minutes of continuous shooting or recording
  • Dimensions: 33.4mm x 50.8mm x 103.2mm
  • Weight: Approx. 145g

A pocket monocular with a camera sensor, enabling you to take photographs and videos at 100mm, 400mm, or 800mm. This three-step zoom function is a great feature that certinly adds to its usefullness.

Zoom & Recording Capabilities: The Canon PowerShot Zoom is a monocular with a camera sensor that offers three zoom levels (100mm, 400mm, and 800mm equivalent). This versatility allows capturing distant subjects often missed by smartphone cameras.

Highly Portable: Extremely compact and lightweight, the PowerShot Zoom is smaller than most traditional monoculars. This exceptional portability makes it easy to carry anywhere.

Versatile Applications: The PowerShot Zoom functions as both a telephoto camera, capturing 12.1MP photos and Full HD videos, and a basic observation monocular with three zoom levels (1.2x, 4.8x, and 9.6x).

Trade-offs for Compactness: Due to its small size and sensor, the image recording quality is average, particularly in low-light conditions. Additionally, there are no manual controls, and autofocus can be inconsistent at close ranges.

Overall Impression: Whilst the video and images it captures are not at the same level as a dedicated camera, the PowerShot Zoom’s innovative design and portability make it a great option for capturing spontaneous moments, wildlife observation, travel, or sporting events where a bulky camera is undesirable and you can also just use it for viewing where the Zoom function is often very handy.

Example Footage
For an example of the video recording, take a look at the Zoom comparison video below that includes some footage I captured using the Canon PowerShot Zoom monocular:

Price:
At the time of writing the Canon PowerShot Zoom monocular was selling for around $270 / £240 / €270:

Check Current Price & Where to Buy

Cant Decide? – Get Both a Binocular & Two Monoculars in One Device!

Pentax VD 4x20 WP Binocular & Monoculars

Two For the Price of One!
The Pentax VD 4x20 WP offers a unique twist on traditional binoculars. This compact optic separates into two fully-functional 4x monoculars, ideal for sharing views or situations like backpacking or bikepacking where the smaller size and lower weight of a monocular is preferred.

Multi-Configuration Options: These monoculars can be reassembled into a standard 4x binocular for a more immersive view. Additionally, by connecting them end-to-end, they transform into a 16x spotting scope to get a more detailed view of very distant objects.

Highly Portable: The lightweight design (12.9oz – as a binocular) and compact size make the VD 4x20 WP ideal for carrying in a pocket, backpack or on your bike.

Quality True Pocket-Sized Optics: The Pentax VD 4x20 WP has an exceptional build quality, it tough, and a waterproof construction.

    Ideal For the Following Uses

  • Backpacking / Bike Packing Cycle Touring
  • Hiking
  • Backyard Birding
  • Forest Birding / Wildlife Observation
  • Watching Sporting Events – tennis, cricket, horse racing, motorsports, golf…
  • Concerts / Opera – Both outdoors & indoors
  • Art Gallery or Museum – small, close focus, sharable, good low light with an excellent quality view.
  • Kayaking & Canoeing – waterproof and low power for image stability on the water
  • A Binocular for older Children / Teenagers
  • People with unsteady/shaky hands
  • Butterfly, Dragonflies and other Insects flowers from very close range
  • Preppers – Survival binoculars that are easy to store in your Bug Out or Get Home Bag and you can use the spotting scope at longer distances if needed

Main Specs & Features:

  • Mid-High End: Approx: $249 / £244 / €245
  • Perfect for Couples or Sharing a View
  • True Pocket Sized Design
    • Detachable Single Hinge Body with Metal Bridge
    • Converts from two Monoculars into a Binocular or a Spotting Scope
    • Fully Waterproof (JIS Class 7)
  • Fully Multi-Coated Optics
    • Phase-Coated
    • Super-high-reflection Dielectric multi-layer coatings
  • Ultra Wide FOV: 1525ft @ 1,000 yards / 175m @ 1,000 meters
  • Ultra Close Minimum Focus: 0.5m /1.6ft
  • Eye Relief: 19mm
Buy & Compare Prices: Pentax VD Binocular

Conclusions

  • The size and weight advantage of monoculars makes them ideal for activities where portability is crucial, such as backpacking or carrying them in a bug-out bag.
  • Binoculars offer a more enjoyable viewing experience with both eyes and provide superior image quality, making them suitable for birding and wildlife observation.
  • Monoculars are simpler to manufacture and can be more affordable for the same quality binocular
  • Ultimately, the decision between a monocular and a binocular depends on the user’s priorities, with considerations such as size, weight, image quality, and viewing experience all playing a role.
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