Gear review – surprisingly good budget compact binocs

Many of the trips Joan and I go on in this area tend to have an archeological focus. We follow the old travel paths to see sites and signs of where other people went previously.

As such, we often scramble up places, go through thickets, and generally go where maintained trails no longer exist.

Before we scramble up something or go through the brush, we often use a camera’s zoom lens to see if there’s something in a nook or cranny of the canyon before we commit to going further. Not ideal, but it works OK. Not the best for the camera battery and is not as good as dedicated binoculars.

On a few day hikes, Joan took her high-powered binoculars from a previous role in Glacier, and we used them to scan the cliff walls and confirm our hunches. However, they are large, bulky, and even on day hikes, not the most convenient equipment to schlep.

Some compact binoculars that stow easily in my camera pouch but are just powerful enough to confirm hunches would make an ideal item.  And without melting the credit card, of course.

To my surprise, a local non-profit sold some compact Bushnell 8×21 binoculars that weigh few than five ounces, fit easily into my camera pouch, and only cost $21 on Amazon.  And the group advertised them as “surprisingly good binoculars.”

Just under 5oz with the carrying case. Swap in a Ziploc for more weight savings.

We’ve used them for a few months now, and they fit our needs for helping to scope out a potential site. The 8x magnification makes just enough to confirm hunches, and the 21mm lens diameter gives just enough range to take in an area.  And, yes, these binoculars ended up being surprisingly good.

Now, I don’t want to oversell these binoculars.

Joan, in particular, did not like them at first because her other ones provided superior magnification and a sharper and brighter image. And I got to peek through some Leica binoculars with similar specs, and, not unexpectedly, the image quality proved sharper. However, that pair costs almost $800!  And I don’t think the binoculars provided a $750+ better image, either.

Over the past few months, we both appreciated the simple utility of the $21 pair. The optics make a “good enough” use for us, and the lightness and compactness mean we always have them on us for trips that focus more on hours spent somewhere observing than distance covered. And we certainly do less exploratory scrambling and bushwhacking now versus past trips.

I won’t take these binoculars on all our trips and certainly not distance-focused trips. But for any trip where we’ll focus on seeing archeological sites, the compact Bushnell 8×21 binoculars will have a place in our shared kit.

Disclosure – We paid for these binoculars with our funds.

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Roger P Moore
10 months ago

Interesting find. I’ll have to check them out. My binos are HUGE. They get left home a lot.
They are great for spotting marine life in a boat and seeing what other fishermen are doing on the water.

Kim W.
Kim W.
10 months ago

I did order a pair–unfortunately, they were a little over 8 ounces, and I already have a pair of that weight.