Let me say this outright: even the best pocket binoculars cannot compete with full-sized models in terms of optical quality.
A pocket-sized binocular is inevitably a compromise.
But it’s a fantastic gadget to have nonetheless. It’s always with you, unlike your mighty 10x42 pair – when taking a walk, traveling, going out for an exercise. Take them to a sports game or on a fishing trip. Put them in your pocket and do birding or wildlife watching on the go.
Foldable binoculars are also perfect for kids because they can accommodate very small interpupillary distance – they distance between the eyes (kids have their eyes set closer together than adults).
So if you want a pair of binos that fit into your pocket, but gives you the best possible viewing experience for the size, you need to look for certain features won’t let you down when it comes to actually viewing things with them.
Pay attention to the hinge!
Portability is achieved by folding – and small portable pocket-sized binoculars come with several types of hinges.
Center hinge – this is the same setup that most full-sized binoculars have. The hinge is placed in the center of the bridge, with the focus knob usually between the eyepieces. This is most common with 30mm – 32mm binos. The downside is that they don’t fold nearly as compactly as double hinge designs.
Dual hinge – the bridge has two hinges placed symmetrically near the barrels. This allows for a very compact folded size, but is used with smaller 25mm – 28mm lenses. This is the most pocketable configuration of the three.
Asymmetric (offset) hinge – there’s one hinge, but it’s placed closer to one of the barrels. The focus knob is placed ergonomically and conveniently for single hand use (you can reach the focus knob easily with the fingers of the hand that is further away) and the folded size is also smaller than with the center-hinge design.
What should you look for when choosing compact binos?
- adequate size: do measure your pockets or wherever you want to carry your binoculars – will they fit?
- a magnification of 8 or 10 (not more!) and objective lens diameter 28 or less.
- a wide field of view for comfortable viewing.
- adjustable focus and diopter settings. Interpupillary distance will already be easy to adjust if your binoculars fold.
- an eye-relief of 15mm and more for people with glasses.
- waterproof and fog proof construction. Make sure it’s explicitly mentioned.
Nikon is a big brand in precision optics. This waterproof and fogproof binocular comes with an armor of black rubber which provides a sturdy grip, making it durable and great for outdoor use.
With hinges next both barrels, it takes up very little space when collapsed. It’s compact and light and can be tucked in the jacket pocket without feeling any sort of discomfort.
The focus knob is centrally positioned which makes it an excellent birding binocular while watching the frequently moving birds, while hiking and also while hunting small game. The high index BAK4 roof prism offers sharp and high-resolution images.
The eye relief is 18mm, it’s okay for people who wear glasses (16mm or more is recommended).
But keep in mind:
As with any 25mm bino, you can’t expect it to function great when light is low or during night time.
On the upside, for a 10x magnification, the field of view is surprisingly wide at 342 ft at 1000 yards.
These don’t have a tripod attachment, but then again, you don’t buy compacts to stick them on a tripod. The storage case is useful during travel but not suitable during frequent use because the bino must be folded, so just put it in the pocket or wear it on a belt. Also, the individual cover caps cause a tad inconvenience and are likely to be lost.
The compact Nikon Trailblazer is good to buy if:
- You want something budget-friendly, within $100
- You don’t need fantastic optics
- You just want a practical device for birding on the move, hunting, hiking, backpacking
This one is special – the Papilio II provides extreme close focus – the minimum distance you need to the object you’re viewing. You can observe objects (insect, flowers) from just 50 cm, as if it’s a microscope or something.
But that’s not all it does well.
It’s great for normal distance viewing as well. This lightweight pocket binocular is not only easy to carry around but its multi-coated optics and a high index BAK4 prism generate images that are sharp and bright, thus enhancing the visual experience.
With a rubber coated body, these provide a steady grip, although the rubber does catch dirt.
An eye-relief of 15mm may cause a little trouble for people wearing glasses.
These mini binoculars come with an comfortable focus control and it’s easy to make interpupillary distance and diopter adjustments. There is a tripod attachment which comes handy when observing flowers, butterflies, bugs and bees.
A noted disadvantage of this pair is that it is not waterproof. It’s not great for hunting trips or backpacking treks where you expect to get rained on or otherwise get exposure to water.
Note that this Pentax is actually a reverse Porro prism design, unlike most foldable models which have roof prisms.
The Papilio II is very inexpensive, has great ergonomics, fits into a pocket, has raving positive customer reviews on Amazon, so definitely worth having a look at.
Get the Papilio II if:
- You want a bino for under $200
- You need excellent close focus for watching things up close
- You’re not planning to take it on rainy journeys
This is a light binocular, one of the smaller ones and also the lightest among the lot, weighing less than 10oz.
It’s cheap too.
It comes in its own case and the body is rubber coated which provides a steady grip.
The multi-coated optics ensure sharp images. The field of view is so-so, but it does have a magnification of 10x and the optics are good.
As with all dual hinge designs, if you fold it, you’ll have to re-adjust the interpupillary distance later. However the setting tends to move too easily, especially when focusing.
With a low eye relief of 10.6mm, these mini binoculars are not suitable for people who wear glasses. They would have to take their glasses off.
These binoculars do fold into a very small package and will slip into a pocket of a jacket or even a shirt. Keep in mind they’re neither waterproof nor fogproof.
These are nice affordable binos for outdoor activities like camping, hiking, birdwatching etc where there’s enough light, preferably during daytime.
Buy the Aculon A30 10x25 if:
- You want a really cheap binocular, but from a reliable brand
- You’re going to use it only casually
- You want a particularly small light binocular that will easily fit into your pocket
This is a top-of-the-line small binocular – easy to carry because it collpases into a small convenient shape, with superb ergonomic qualities, and of course, almost unmatched optics.
The price is right up there too. If you’re a serious birder or hunter, and are equally serious about your glass, this is the one to go for.
This mini folding binocular comes in a size that would fit in a cargo pocket or the side pocket of a backpack and the interpupillary distance can be adjusted to suit both adults and kids alike.
The field of view is wide and the images are sharp and bright thereby making them ideal for hiking, birding and even stadium viewing. With 17mm eye relief, they are suitable for people who wear glasses.
These come in a customized bag of their own and being lightweight, they are easy to be carried around. Also, they are waterproof and can shock-resistant which makes them perfect for trips and excursions.
Let’s just say it’s worth all the money that you would spend on it.
The Swarovski CL Pocket 8x25 is a good choice if:
- You want the cream of the crop when it comes to optics
- You’re willing to pay extra for superb optical qualities
- You’re a serious birder or hunter and expect to use binoculars a lot
Compact sized, folding pocket binoculars that come in their own case and are waterproof and fogproof. The rubber armored body offers a steady grip but does not change the fact that these are lightweight.
The multicoated optics and BAK4 prisms ensure bright and sharp images. The eye cups are adjustable, but they’re not a good choice for people who want to wear glasses while viewing because the eye relief is low (12 mm).
It does offer a good field of view and are suitable for activities such as birding, hiking, hunting, game stadiums or just going out on a walk.
The price is very reasonable. The fact that these binos are inexpensive makes up for the few shortcomings.
The Bushnell H2O Compact is a good choice if:
- You’re looking for a decent well-rounded device
- You have only a small budget (way under $100)
So keep in mind – the idea of pocket binos is that they’re tiny, you can slip them into even a very small pocket. A mini binocular is compact and really convenient for carrying around.
So portability is key. Reach into your pocket and do some birding etc.
Given that all such binocs are of a small compact size, optical quality for the size and build quality is what will determine the price. Things like fully multi-coated lenses (FMC), BAK-4 roof prisms, sturdy hinge desing, rubber armor, waterproof build, nitrogen purging, ED glass, ergonomic positioning of things like the diopter setting, the focus knob, the hinges and even the strap lugs, and overall build standard are all features of the best pocket binoculars and will all add to their price.
Decide how important image clarity, color reproduction, edge-to-edge sharpness and things like that matter to you, and decide what your price range is and you’ll be able to choose the best mini-sized bino for yourself.