I'm an optics geek, and have made about ten telescopes, as well as used too many binoculars to count. So here are a few thoughts:
Power is over rated. It's really hard to hold anything over about 8x still without propping yourself against a rock or tree. 10x is enough to give some people motion sickness.
Aperture is heavy. If you're hoping to get great big lenses to study the nighttime sky, your shoulders and hips will resent it. 50mm is going to be heavy, even 35mm rewuires a traditional structure that weighs more. My 125mm sky glasses weigh over five pounds.
Optical quality won't matter until you need it. Cheap Binoculars seem fine in a store. The best test is to take that outside at night and look at a bright star. If it resolves to a tiny dot when everything is focused, you're good to go. If it shows flare, won't focus completely, or resolves to a large dot, you'll have to decide if you need better quality.
When I take binoculars backpacking I use a pair of Pentax 6x25 or so...quite small and relatively light. They cost about $100 or so on sale.
But I usually don't carry binoculars any more on the trail, since I don't need the extra ounces, and rarely use the things o. The trail.
We've used a pair of Bushnell 8x21 for many years. Good optics, comfortable and are about 3"x 5" folded in their case. Light gathering at 21 is not optimal, but they are good at spotting wildlife, maybe not so much distant galaxies. I've used them for condors and desert big horns, mostly. They are very inexpensive, a great buy.
Yes. I've considered the monocular route, also. In fact, at one point I was leaning toward that approach.
I'm trying to determine if there is some kind of solution that would be light enough for backpacking but also suitable to bring along car-camping/base camping. That is partly what's behind the binocular concept.
I appreciate the mention of specific Brands/models. That helps me look at what's really available that people have used.
Edited by Keith (10/22/1610:10 PM)
Human Resources Memo: Floggings will continue until morale improves.
Optics geek here, too. Built several telescopes and have binocs all the way from 9x25's to 10x70 Fujinons that I've hiked to mountain tops with. Like telescopes, the best binoculars are the ones that get used the most. #1 with me are some 9x25 Nikon Travelites! Light, excellent edge to edge sharpness. Mine are just about worn out from travel so I replaced them with...#2 Nikon Travelite 8-24x25 Zooms. Zoom binocs aren't typically recommended UNLESS you understand all the compromises that come with them, but again, I've taken them all over the world, and love the ability to zoom with such a tiny package. I keep coming back to them. Travelites aren't waterproof but I've never had an issue with water...I'm very protective of my optics. If weight isn't an issue, #3 Nikon Monarch 10x36's have served me well and allow for some astro viewing at night. Great with glasses, pristine images, great birders. Finally #4, Orion 8x42's have been delightful. Heavy, I wouldn't hike with them, but for those of us who wear glasses, I've found them to be on par with my Nikons and Fujinons at a fraction of the price.
I tend to favor porro prism binocs. Lately, roof prism binocs are almost on par with the light transmission of poro's, and my favorite birders are roof prism offerings. All my astro binocs are porro prism. You might read up a bit on the two systems.
I also have a couple monoculars....a 10x40 and a 7x25. I use them in the car mostly, have traveled with them but keep coming back to small travel binocs. Two eyes vs. one kinda thing.
Ok. Good to know about the Travelites—I might get them to throw in the car— but I see I need to be more specific. In my book the Travelites aren't. . . Two pounds?!?!? I'm looking for something in the 8 oz range.
Human Resources Memo: Floggings will continue until morale improves.
Two pounds?? My 9x25s are 10oz. and the zooms are 11 including straps. What are you looking at? If you don't mind giving up aperture, you could shave an ounce or two, or...plastic optics. Pentax, Olympia, Nikon, Orion all have small travel binocs in both porro and roof prism designs.
Loc: Washington State, King County
Apart from the weight (and perhaps bulk) issue, another advantage of a monocular is that --- for me at least --- it's a lot easier to carry it in a way that it's really convenient to access on the trail.
To be clear, I rarely carry one, but the times that I have, just having it very readily available makes all the difference. For me, that's typically attaching the case to a pack strap; it's light enough to do that, but even "pocket" sized binoculars are big, heavy, bulky enough that I wouldn't like to carry them that way. And they would take a lot (most or all) of the space in a waist belt pouch, which competes with other stuff I like to carry there.
Like a camera, for me it's either really easy to access or I shouldn't bother taking it, because it's rare that I'll take off my pack and dig around in order to look at a bird on a tree somewhere (or take a picture).
I guess it really depends on what it is that you're looking at, and how important it is to get the best possible resolution that you can. For me it's looking at wildlife (or sometimes "possible" wildlife at a distance) or scanning terrain features at long distances. A time or two I've been able to read a sign off a little ways where I wasn't willing to walk off trail far to see what it said, but mostly --- wildlife and terrain.
I was about to start a thread when I found this one. I just got back from the Grand Canyon (trip report coming) and really enjoyed my REI 10-30x25 monocular that I bought on impulse several years ago. It weighs 4.5 ounces. I always bring it out once or twice on trips and consider it a luxury well worth the weight. This trip was unusual for me because the landscape is so open and the distant features so varied and interesting. We spent several hours during the hot part of the day sitting in the shade staring at the details of the surrounding cliffs and the birds. I know nothing about birds but love to watch them fly from below and especially from above. I used the monocular a lot this trip but it got tiring after a few minutes even with switching eyes. I really wished that I had brought some light binoculars instead.
I agree that power levels above 10 are almost useless without a brace but I often arrange myself with a some sort of brace when I get in gazing mode, either a convenient rock or even a pair of sticks tied together. Stabilizing one axis is often enough make the higher power levels usable. At the end of this trip I was on the rim trying to find the Clear Creek Trail I'd just hiked and was able to get pretty good detail by bracing the monocular against the guardrail at Mather Point. I really enjoy the zoom because I can acquire and focus with the power set at 10x and hold an image pretty well freestanding, then if I want to zoom in I find a brace and just twist the zoom ring with the image in view. It's much more difficult to find anything from scratch at the higher higher power levels.
I have no idea how good or bad the REI optics quality is but it seems pretty good to me at 10x. Quality definitely degrades at the higher powers but is sufficient to catch details that are missed at the base power level.
I'm going back to Grand Canyon next month on a trip that will involve lower mileage and a more mid-day down time so am seriously thinking about picking up some binoculars. I will be looking at the suggestions above and would welcome any more thoughts.
I used that same monocular on my backpack trips, and always enjoyed having it around. My niece (and backpacking buddy) eventually decided my pack was too heavy, and unselfishly offered to carry it for me. Haven't seen it since, but she says she really likes it, too.
I have two small pairs of binoculars that we bought for an Alaska cruise. One is an REI brand set of 10x25 waterproof from their "XR and W6 series," according to the instructions (couldn't find a model number on the binoculars themselves.) Weight is about 14 ounces without the nylon case, 17 ounces with.
The other is a Tasco 10x25 set (no model or series noted, but it does have "fully coated optics" for whatever that's worth.) I think I picked them up at Walmart on my way to inventory repeater units on cell towers (the client wisely declined to let me climb the tower. Some nonsense about liability insurance premiums being high enough without me driving them up. ) That set weighs 8 ounces without the nylon case, 10 ounces with.
Both worked very well; I preferred the REI set, but didn't really have any issues with the Tasco. We spent a lot of time sitting on deck looking at the coastlines and mountains. I braced them by putting my elbows on a rail or chair arms, and didn't have any noticeable problem with unsteadiness.
I'm really not an optics expert - "they worked OK" is about the depth of my knowledge.
I have an REI 10x -30x monocular. The optics are not stellar and the field of view is very small, but if I brace it on my knee or pole, it is usable. It works well enough for my purposes, which include scanning mountains across a valley to try spotting distant wildlife or the trail ahead. It actually works pretty well for distant viewing. It has a push/pull rough focus and then a twist fine focus, which does take some getting used to.
I agree that 10x is on the edge of usable, but the form factor makes it easy enough to take along. Anything more than 10x will require me to find a clever way of mounting them to a tripod. They don't have a screw mount, so maybe I'll try the trick where you stand on a stiff string or wire...
Also, since I've dropped a couple of pairs of binoculars and caused them to misalign, I'll stick to monoculars for the time being. It is low-cost enough that if I drop this and break it, I won't cry.
I have some nicer small binoculars, but I use those at home