Field Tested: Binoculars for Boaters

For boaters who love the birds, don't leave home without your binoculars

Testing out the batch of binos, while searching for birds between miles on the desolate reaches of the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande. Photo: Kesselheim

Whenever I forget the binocs on a boating trip, I end up regretting it. There is always a bird to identify, a distant black dot on the hillside to check out, a beach to scout from the water, a hidden river outlet along the lakeshore. It's like having a super power to tap into, vision on steroids.

The trick is, deciding which binocs offer the best blend of magnification, field of vision, optics, weight and cost.

First, the binocular 101 course:

What do all the numbers mean?

Every binocular comes with a set of numbers – 10 x 50, 8 x 42, 6 x 30. The first number is the power of magnification. So, 6 or 8 or 10 times what you see with the naked eye. The ocular lens (the one close to your eye) controls magnification. The second number quantifies the diameter of the objective lens (furthest from your eye) in millimeters. That lens controls the light gathering capability of the binoculars. The bigger the number, the more light comes in.

Some trade offs you are weighing:

—bigger lenses make for a more powerful, but heavier binocular;
—the higher the power of magnification, the more limited the field of vision;
—the bigger the objective (light-gathering) lens, the harder it is to hold steady.

In the end, like most gear decisions, it comes down to compromise, and a clear-eyed sense of your needs. If weight and size are critical, think small binocs, but understand that you will likely be giving up some magnification and illumination in the process. If you are a birder, you'll opt for greater magnification and live with a smaller field of view. If you operate in low-light conditions, you'll want a larger objective lens to make the most of dusky situations.

No one means to drop the binoculars in the drink, but since we are on the water, waterproof properties should definitely be part of the discussion.

Finally, price will matter too, and the fact is, you can spend what you might on a used car for a nice pair of binocs. In general, you get what you pay for – more money means better lenses and overall quality. So, how much does super-power vision matter to you, and what will you be looking at?

Now, let's highlight a range of products that offer a smorgasbord of options.

Click below to read about each set of binoculars:

Eagle Optics Ranger ED 8×42

BA light, mid-sized binocular that is water and fog proof.


Bushnell H2O 10×25

Extremely compact and fits in a jacket pocket.


Maven B3 8×30

Exceptional performance for a larger budget.


West Marine Shoreline 10×50

The best for dusk and darker conditions.


Nikon Monarch 7 8×30

Powerful, yet compact..


Bushnell Legend 10×3

High quality mid sized binoculars.