Best Travel Binoculars for Safari 2019: A Buyer's Guide
the Best Travel Binoculars for Safari 2019
After reserving our first South African safari a few years ago, I decided to surprise my husband with high quality binoculars.
I knew my eyes would be glued to my camera and it’s large zoom lens, but he’d need a pair of excellent travel binoculars to see the wildlife up close. I didn’t know anything about binoculars and was surprisingly confused on how to pick the best pair.
What I expected to be a 5 minute shopping experience resulted in a week of research on what are the qualities of the best travel binoculars?
What’s a prism, what do those numbers mean and are low-light situations a problem? If you find yourself scratching your head in response to these questions, then this is the post for you.
Do you need to bring binoculars on safari?
YES! (I am screaming this yes)! While you’ll be shocked by how close the animals get to the vehicles, there are just as many that keep their distance.
Big cats are rarely close to the road in high trafficked times or areas. Mother Nature has also done her job well in regards to camouflage, they can be very hard to spot.
We got lucky with some sightings only because we were scanning the horizon with binoculars right when a lion happened to move.
We also used the binoculars on animals up close. It allowed us to see them in great detail, down to the coarse texture of their leathery skin.
Bottom line: YES YOU NEED TO BRING THE BEST BINOCULARS FOR SAFARI. Get them, pack them, and take good care of them.
TLDR: THe Best Binoculars for Travel
This post is about to get detailed and at the end there’s a list of the 6 best travel binoculars. But if you’re in a hurry and just want to get straight to the best binoculars for the money, here they are.
These are the most powerful binoculars on this list. Bushnell is the Rolls-Royce of binoculars, so you can trust these are excellent. Here’s a quick rundown:
BaK 4 prisms and multi coated optics give great clear images (read: excellent glass!)
10x Magnification (great zoom), 42mm lens lets in lots of light for low light situations
100% waterproof & fog proof (great for humid mornings)
Extremely durable and the best grip out there so they won’t slip out of your clumsy hands.
Great price point at just under a hundred dollars.
Important Features in the Best Travel Binoculars
Here are the most important things to keep in mind when comparing safari binoculars:
Size & Weight: You’ll need lightweight binoculars for your carry on and easy packing.
Magnification: How big do you want to the images to be magnified. Basically, how much do you want it to zoom in. Binoculars all include a number (ex: 10x42), the first number is the magnification. 10x means it will zoom in 10 times what you’d see with the naked eye.
Lens Size: How big should the lens be? This is the second number following the x, so in 10x42, the lens size is 42mm. I recommend getting a lens size of 32mm or 42mm to have good for low light and lightweight binoculars. But for a full information, read the FAQ coming up.
Eye Relief: This is the distance you need to keep your eyes from the eyepiece. More eye relief means less eye strain. 12mm is good for travel binocs but 16mm is ideal if you wear glasses.
Fog Proof: Humid African mornings can fog up the lenses, making it hard to spot game.
Lens Coating: This makes for more durable binoculars, ideal for the rough and tumble world of travel. Multi-coated lenses will be pricier but mean longer lasting and more clarity.
Waterproof: Do you need fully water proof (IPX8), splash proof, or no protection at all (IPX0)? For the best binoculars for safari, I don’t think you need fully water proof but I’d aim for at least splash proof, just in case
FAQ: HOW TO CHOOSE WHICH BINOCULARS TO BUY
Choosing good quality binoculars for travel was more confusing than I anticipated. I immediately ran up a list of questions I needed to seek the answers to. I did the research so you don’t have to, here’s what I learned.
What do the Numbers Mean?
10x50, 10x42, 7x42, 8x32… What do they mean and surely bigger is better, right? Not necessarily. The first number is the magnification. A 10x50 binocular will make whatever you’re looking at appear 10 times larger.
The second number refers to the size of the lens in millimeters. A larger lens means more light will be allowed in, which is helpful in low light conditions.
What Magnification is best for Travel Binoculars?
Bigger isn’t always better. You don’t want to opt for the biggest magnification for a couple of reasons. First, magnifications of 12 or higher have hand shake when you’re trying to focus.
High magnification also means narrowing the field of view. We often used our binoculars to scan the bush in search of lions and needed a slightly wider angle for that. I recommend choosing magnification of 8x or 10x.
What lens size do I need for the Best Safari Binoculars?
Higher lens sizes make for the best low light binoculars. The best hours for game drives are sunrise and sunset, so it’s important to have binoculars that let a lot of light in. Any smaller than 32 millimeters and you’ll have a hard time spotting game at dusk.
You can absolutely go bigger than 42mm, the only downside will be added weight due to heavier glass. I recommend getting a lens size of 32mm or 42mm to have good for low light and lightweight binoculars.
What’s a Prism?
Prisms serve to magnify the image rather than stacking a bunch lenses one on top of the other (losing quality and clarity with each lens). One prism (versus multiple glass lenses) allows for the best lightweight binoculars for safari travelers.
Roof Prism vs. Porro Prism?
In a roof prism binocular, the lens is lined up directly with the eyepiece, resulting in a more lightweight, streamlined product. In a more traditional porro prism, the lens is offset from the eyepiece.
It all has to do with how the light is reflected and I don’t fully understand it, just like I don’t fully understand what happens inside a camera.
What’s important to know about prisms broken into easily readable bullet format:
A roof prism binocular will be much more streamlined and make the best portable binocular for travel.
But, they require much more work and precision to manufacture, making roof prisms more costly.
For tight budgets, you can get a high quality for less money by opting for a porro prism.
Bottom Line: Both are great and it depends on what is important to you (size versus budget).
The 6 Best Travel & Safari Binoculars 2019
Now that you know what you’re looking for in a travel binocular, let’s get down to business. Here are the best travel binoculars for safari or birdwatching and more.
1. Celestron 71347 Outland x | 10x25 | Best compact Binoculars for Travel
The Celestron Outland X 10x25 are the perfect compact travel binoculars. They are light weight at only 1 pound and could easily be slipped into your jacket pocket.
The lens diameter isn’t the most open at 25 mm. While it might not be the most open lens size, the high quality Bak-4 prism and multi-coated optics compensate for that, allowing in maximum light.
These pocket binoculars are waterproof and fog proof. The Outland X line has a protective rubber armor that makes it sturdy enough to withstand whatever you throw at it.
2. Wingspan Optics Spectator | 8X32 | Best Overall Travel Binoculars
The Wingspan Optics Spectator 8x32 are small powerful binoculars for safari or birdwatching. They weigh less than a pound at 15.2 ounces. The 8x magnification is ideal for long distance viewing but still maintaining enough wide angle to avoid hand shake.
These safari binoculars are waterproof and fog proof, ideal for humid mornings on the African savanna or for whale watching on choppy water.
They offer 14.8 mm of eye relief to avoid eye strain and the non-slip grip is ideal for grabbing them in a hurry for a surprise game sighting. These are very affordable binoculars and offer excellent value for money.
3. Celestron 71347 Outland X | 10x42 | My Binoculars for Travel
These Celestron Outland X 10x42 are from the same line as the compact binoculars listed at number 1 on this list. They offer all the same features as the 10x25 pocket binoculars: multicoated optics, waterproof, fog proof, roof prism and more. I’m only mentioning this particular pair separately because these are the binoculars I bought for my husband.
We love these safari binoculars and have taken them to South Africa twice and once to Patagonia. They are on the heavier side at 2 pounds which is to be expected with a binocular of this lens size at this affordable price. For the best lightweight binoculars of this strength see the next pair of Busnells on this list.
The weight hasn’t bothered us at all. The only minor issue is there is a bit of hand shake for us when we’re standing so we look for places to rest our elbows for extra stability.
We haven’t had issues in the car on safari game drives. To avoid any hand shake you can opt for the Outland X 8x42 . Overall, we' love this Celestron pair, they’re some of the best budget binoculars.
4. Bushnell H2O Waterproof | 10x42 | Most Durable Binoculars for Safari
Bushnell is known for their high quality binoculars and these Bushnell H2O Waterproof Binoculars are a shining example of this. As we move down this list the features improve and with it, the price also begins to go up.
These are the top binoculars for the price. The 10x magnification is as high as I would go for safari and ideal for bird watching. The 42 mm lens diameter makes these excellent for low light conditions.
These are durable binoculars. They are 100% waterproof and the soft textured grip will keep them in your hands even if wet. They feature a Bak-4 prism assuring crisp viewing. The larger lens does make them slightly heavier (but still very lightweight) at 1.56 pounds.
5. ProStaff 3S Binoculars | 8x42 | Best Lowlight Binoculars
Cameras and binoculars have one major thing in common, their lenses. So it’s easy to see why big name camera makers also produce some of the most powerful binoculars. These Nikon Prostaff 3S Binoculars are excellent safari binoculars.
The 8x42 are ideal because the 8x magnification is steady and the 42 mm lens lets in plenty of light. However, if you’d prefer 10x they do have a 10x42 option as well.
The roof prism makes these binoculars fairly compact despite the large lens. The multicoated optics offer crisp viewing without reflections or glare.
These are compact and lightweight (only 1.25 pounds) but they can’t fit in your pocket. But our binoculars are this size and we travel comfortably with them, even wearing them around our neck on a bush walk in South Africa.
6. Bry&BVL Binoculars | 8x22 | Best Safari Binoculars for Kids
If you’re taking the little ones on safari with you, get them the best mini binoculars so they can get in on the action with you. These Bry & BVL Binoculars are the best travel binoculars for kids. The 8x22 magnifaction is strong enough that they still get to see their favorite animals up close.
These kids binoculars are ergonomically designed to fit into smaller hands and the rubber eyepieces protect their eyes. They’re also obviously the cheapest binoculars on this list, for less than a couple movie tickets your child can be part of the safari and work on their observational skills.
What About Travel Monoculars
To be honest, I hadn’t even considered a monocular for safari until readers reached out to me asking about them as an option. And after looking into it, my opinion is that binoculars are best.
Naturally, they have a much wider field of view with two lenses versus the one. You’ll be able to see so much more with the binoculars on this list than with a monocular.
However, as one reader pointed out in the comments, monoculars are lighter weight and by nature more compact. If you’ll be trekking or hiking out to camp deep in the backcountry, you may want to consider monoculars. It might be ideal for situations where you’ll be prioritizing space and weight over wildlife sightings.
If you're looking for the best monocular, this Bushnell monocular is top of the line. If the price tag on that one made you gasp, this highly-rated monocular is much more budget friendly for the hobby birdwatcher.
Best Binoculars for Wildlife: A summary
There you have it. I hope this post has been helpful in choosing which binoculars to buy. Our binoculars really made the difference on our multiple South African safaris.
Being able to see so much detail on the animals was exciting, as was spotting animals in the distance we would have otherwise missed. If you still have any questions at all, ask away in the comments! I’d love to help you get the best binoculars for your trip.
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