Leupold Hawthorne 7x42 Binoculars
Sporting a roof-prism design to cut size and weight, the 23-ounce Hawthornes are sleek under a jacket. And while we liked the idea of having the built-in diopter adjuster on the center focus dial—intended to make it easier to use all the controls with one hand—it sometimes led us to accidentally move the focus ring. It’s a minor complaint, because once it’s dialed in the glasses are exceptionally crisp, and they’ll fit nicely in any amateur birder’s bag.
Carson VP 8x42 Binoculars
Substantial but not bulky, the VPs are perfect for the backwoods hunter or birder who wants bright, full-size binoculars for accurate viewing at dawn or dusk, in a package light enough for an all-day hike. The lenses were clear and vivid, with accurate color representation, and the textured focus ring worked buttery smooth, even with sweaty fingers. Bonus: the close focal distance (6.6 feet) made for big-screen-like viewing of nearby objects.
Bushnell Legend Ultra-HD Binoculars
Generally, the smaller the binocs, the worse the optics. Not so the Legend Ultra-HD’s, which are impressively bright and sharp—especially in low light—for such a compact set (8.1 ounces). The center focus ring is smooth, and the twist-up eyecups are simple to remove for on-the-fly viewing. They’re a bit finicky to master, but at four inches long the Ultras stash perfectly in a jacket pocket—a great trade-off.
Binoculars with quality, fully multicoated lenses, which assist light transmission and help reduce glare, are finally becoming more affordable—and common. All four models here, including the compact Bushnell, have them.
Nikon Monarch 3 10x42 Binoculars
With a rugged rubberized body for solid gripping even in wet weather and waterproof and fogproof construction (that actually works), the Monarch is the most durable pair here. The optics are just as superb, with phase-corrected silver-alloy prisms and antireflective lenses that noticeably cut down snow glare on a high-alpine New Mexico hike. At last: high-quality binoculars you can throw in your pack without worrying about trashing them.