How To Choose Binoculars For Scenery & Mountain Viewing (Best UK Guide)
Whether you’re an avid mountain climber, hill walker or just like walking in the mountains, a decent pair of binoculars will help make your time in the mountains more enjoyable. We walked to the top of Mount Snowdon a while back, and nothing beats that feeling of having walked over 3560 feet (1,085m) to reach the summit. The crispness of the air, the sense of achievement, and the rewarding views from the top can’t be explained by mere words.
To make that feeling even more great than it actually was, we sat above the touristy traps on the side of the summit and watched the world below through our binoculars. The sun was out, the air had that cold mountain crispness and the clouds below looked like we could walk on them. Of course, before we reached the base and our car, it had rained quite heavily but that’s mountains for you, very unpredictable.
The way the colours change from the green grass and trees to the grey slate scars, purple alpine flowers, deep dark pools, it’s one of the most picturesque days of our Welsh trip. Which wouldn’t have been half as enjoyable if it wasn’t for the exquisite views seen through our binoculars. Whichever particular mountain you’re planning on ascending, don’t forget a decent pair of binoculars.
Which Binoculars Are Best For Mountain Viewing & Scenery?
If, like us, you’re planning to spend the day walking to the summit and back down the same day, you’ll need a lightweight, compact pair of binoculars. They will have to fit in your daypack with all of the other essential equipment necessary for your well being and safety. Including food and drink, waterproof outer clothing, sunscreen, a torch, a whistle, first aid kit, mobile phone, and extra water.
A compact pair of 8×25 binoculars will weigh just over ½ lb (0.295kg) and have dimensions of around 10x14cm (4×5.5 inches). When you consider a litre of water weighs approximately 4 times as much as these compact binoculars it really puts it into perspective. Plus with so many pleasant places to rest along the trails to admire the views, you’ll be extremely grateful you took that miniscule weight with you.
Binoculars come in three sizes which are all based on the diameter of the objective lens. They are as follows;
Compact binoculars are the smallest and lightest weighing in at around ¼ kg (½ lb) and have an objective lens diameter of less than 30mm.
- Mid Size
Mid size binoculars are mid range sized and weigh around ½ kg (1lb) and have an objective lens diameter of between 30 to 40mm.
- Full Size
Full size binoculars weigh the most of all three sizes and weigh approximately 0.638kg (1 ½ lb) and have an objective lens diameter of greater than 40mm.
All weights are approximate and based on the Hawke roof prism binocular range, other brands and weights are available. We chose roof prism binoculars as these are generally smaller, and more lightweight than Porro Prism binoculars (see below).
There are two main types of binoculars and they both have good and bad points. We’ll give you the highlights for both types and then explain why we chose roof prisms for our mountain walk.
Porro Prism Binoculars
|Pros Of Porro Prism Binoculars||Cons Of Porro Prism Binoculars|
|Cheaper To Buy||Difficult To Fully Waterproof|
|Superior Depth Perception||Larger|
|Improved Image Quality||Heavier|
|Wider Field Of View||Bulkier|
|Clearer Images||Easy To Damage (Prism Misalignment)|
Roof Prism Binoculars
|Pros of Roof Prism Binoculars||Cons Of Roof Prism Binoculars|
|Compact||Made From More Expensive Components|
|Lightweight||Higher Production Costs Passed On To Customers|
|Superior Magnification||Narrower Field Of View|
|Full Waterproofing Capability||Images Not Quite As Clear|
Why Do We Recommend Roof Prism Binoculars For Mountain Viewing & Scenery?
There are a number of reasons for choosing roof prism binoculars for hiking on mountain passes and foot paths. They include;
The same size (magnification and objective lens diameter) Porro prism binoculars will often weigh 50% more than roof prism binoculars.
Roof prism binoculars are far smaller, more compact and therefore easier to fit into a rucksack/backpack.
Due to the way the prisms are arranged, roof prism binoculars are able to be fully waterproofed which is very handy if you get caught in a downpour half way up (or down) a mountain.
- Robust, Rugged Design
With Porro prism binoculars, the way the prisms are aligned, they are easily dislodged if knocked even gently. Roof prisms don’t have that problem as they are designed using a different prism system.
Magnification & Objective Lens Diameter
You’ll find the level of magnification and the size of the objective lens diameter actually stamped onto the body of the binoculars. They’ll look something like 8×25, 10×50, 8×42 or 7×35. The first numbers up to and including the X indicate the level of magnification and the numbers after the x indicate the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters. So in our 8×25 binoculars we have 8 times magnification (which means everything seen through the lens will be 8 times larger than with the naked eye) and an objective lens diameter of 25mm.
Too much magnification is not always a good thing, because any magnification above 10x will highlight the natural shake we all have in our arms when holding any object for extended periods of time. Usually it’s unnoticeable but under high magnification it becomes very apparent and causes the image you’re looking at to appear shaky (it’s not, it’s your arms). Also as the magnification increases, the field of view narrows.
Field Of View (FoV)
The FoV indicates all that can be seen through the binocular lenses from left to right while staring straight ahead. It could also be considered the width you can see from side to side and will appear in the specs as something like 105m per 1,000m which means that you’ll be able to see 105 metres width from a distance of 1,000 metres. Anywhere between 105m to 140m per 1,000m is considered a good FoV for binoculars, and it’s a huge area from the side of a mountain!
As you’ll probably be hill walking in daylight, the exit pupil won’t be of too much significance but we’re including it here for your information. The exit pupil is the diameter of the beam of light that enters the binoculars through the objective lens and is responsible for illuminating the object being viewed through the binoculars. For daylight usage anywhere between 2.5 to 5mm is a good exit pupil, it’s only of any real relevance at times of extremely low light (like dawn and dusk).
Eye relief is all about the distance between your eye and the binoculars eyepiece. There is a sweet spot where the full image can be seen with no black circles or parts of the image missing, that spot is called eye relief. Any binoculars will usually be OK for regular eyes, but if you need to wear glasses, you’ll probably need long eye relief.
Long Eye Relief
This is a greater distance between your eye and the eyepiece to accommodate your glasses and still find that sweet viewing spot. Regular eye relief is between 11 to 16mm and long eye relief is between 16 to 24mm.
Waterproof & Fog Proof Binoculars
There are a number of reasons why we recommend binoculars should be waterproof, most of them are raindrops. It’s so easy to get caught out, when a warm sunny morning turns into a stormy wet afternoon. Even more likely in hilly or mountainous terrain. There is an industry code set up to make it easy to identify how waterproof an object is.
Unfortunately that code is difficult to understand but any binoculars with an IPX6 code will withstand any rain at any angle that’s likely to affect the binoculars in the mountains.
Moving from one temperature extreme to another causes the moisture in the air to react, making the lenses of binoculars fog up. To combat this, the manufacturers remove the air from the lens tubes and replace it with an inert gas such as nitrogen. As this gas contains no moisture, it can’t react and so the binoculars don’t fog up. Of course the outer lens can get misty, but this is easily fixed with a soft, dry lens cloth (as supplied with the binoculars).
Once the gas is sealed into the lens tubes, nothing can enter either, which means no dust, mould spores or other airborne microbial debris.
The most important feature of any pair of binoculars is the glass used to make the lenses and prisms. It should always be precision optical glass, but even that comes in various grades. These grades affect the light transmission which affects the image quality, the top glass used for prism making in the best quality binoculars is BAK4 glass. This has the least imperfections and therefore has the best light transmission.
The most common glass used for binocular prisms is BK7, which is still precision optical glass but has slightly more imperfections than BAK4. Then there’s the actual binocular lenses, the best quality lens glass is Extra-low Dispersion glass. E D glass gives full colour retention with no colour fringing or haloing and a clear, crisp image.
It’s not just the glass that improves light transmission, it’s also the coatings that are painted onto the lenses. There are many grades of lens coatings too. Some just coat one side of the lens, some just use one coat of paint. The top quality in our opinion are FMC lens coatings. Fully Multi-Coated lenses (FMC) means every piece of glass, inside and out has been coated in multiple layers to improve brightness, contrast and light transmission as well as reducing glare too.
A decent pair of binoculars will cost you around the £100.00 to £300.00 mark, so it’s a good idea to have your investment protected. The better binocular brands cover their binoculars in a protective layer of rubber or polycarbonate coating. This makes them less likely to get damaged if they’re accidentally dropped or knocked on a rock, fence post etc. Plus the coating makes them easier to grip too so you’re less likely to drop them in the first place.
Before buying your binoculars check out any warranty given, as some are better than others. Many of the top brands give a lifetime guarantee which means as long as you own them, they will repair or replace them if any problems develop.
Frequently Asked Questions
As size and weight are the usual main considerations when it comes to backpacking binoculars we recommend compact or mid size binoculars best for fitting into backpacks.
A compact pair of binoculars weigh around ¼ kg (½ lb).