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Q:

What are the best binoculars for the trail?

What’s the latest scoop on a very good pair of compact binoculars that can handle rough weather and hiking conditions? Jes Kailua, Hawaii

What’s the latest scoop on a very good pair of compact binoculars that can handle rough weather and hiking conditions? Jes Kailua, Hawaii

A:

There are lots of compact binoculars out there, so you are sure to find one you like.

Steiner Predator 8x22 Binoculars

Predator 8x22 Binoculars

I’ve had the same pair in my pack for some six years, and I still love them. Those would be the Steiner Predators ($160), a compact glass designed by the famous German glassmaker but, well, farmed out to a manufacturing subsidiary. Nonetheless, they are great small glasses at 8x22—eight-power magnification (quiet good!) with a 22mm opening, all of which is best for daylight. They have excellent resolution—perhaps a bit fuzzy on the edges, but not bad. And they’re tough and light.

Of course, you can spend far more, and up to a point you get what you pay for. Take Nikon’s estimable Premier LX L 8x32. These are fabulous glasses with the same magnification as the Steiners (eight power is about the max for reasonable hand-held performance) but with a wider element for more light transmission. They have environmentally safe glass, hair-on-a-gnat resolution, and a perfect hand-feel, not to mention they are waterproof. But hey, they also cost $950! They better be good. Brunton’s Echo 8x25 ($125) has the same basic specs, without quite the refinement or glass that was hand-crafted by highly paid Nikon elves. Compact, and very nice.

So get thee to a store and try a few pairs. A lot depends on how they “fit," i.e., how they meet up with your eyes, feel in the hand, etc. You’ll know the right pair when you find them.

The 2008-09 Winter Outside Buyer’s Guide is on newsstands now. Look for it online soon so you can get prepped for gift-giving season—even if everything you pick is for yourself!

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