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Best Binoculars (2023): Nikon, Celestron, Swarovski, Zeiss

Best Binoculars (2023): Nikon, Celestron, Swarovski, Zeiss

Binoculars mean the difference between seeing a little gray bird and identifying a titmouse, cheering a home run and seeing the epic catch, or realizing that the 10-point buck is actually a doe standing in front of dead branches.

Whether you’re scouting terrain, watching birds in your backyard, or getting season tickets at Fenway, binoculars bring the world closer, making it sharp and clear far beyond what your eye is capable of seeing. Finding the right pair of binoculars means first figuring out what you’re going to use them for. If you’d just like to watch some birds at the feeder in your backyard and perhaps overcome the limitations of the cheap seats at the ballpark, there’s no need to spend a fortune. On the other hand, if you plan to go birding in diverse locations, or are planning a big hunt in unfamiliar territory, it’s often worth the extra money to get something a little more powerful.

Be sure to check out our other guides, including The Best Gear to Make Your Backyard More Fun, The Best Hiking Gear, and How a Birdfeeder Can Bring You Joy.

Updated February 2023: We’ve noted Nikon’s new Prostaff models, added links to Leica’s Noctivid binoculars, and updated models, pricing, and availability throughout. 

Table of Contents

  1. Best Overall
  2. Best High Powered
  3. Best Compact
  4. Best for Kids
  5. Best for Special Use Cases
  6. What Do the Model Numbers Mean?
  7. Why the High Price Tags?

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What Do the Model Numbers Mean?

Binoculars are usually listed with two number specifications; for example, the Nikon Monarch M5 are 8×42. 

The number 8 refers to the magnification power. Objects seen through these binoculars will be eight times bigger than when you look with your naked eye. Newcomers should stick with 6x or 8x. They have enough power that you’ll see things clearly, but they don’t magnify so much that you’ll struggle to find what you want to see or have trouble following fast-moving objects (though all binoculars take some practice). 

The 42 refers to the size of the front lens in millimeters. The larger the lens size, the more light reaches your eye. That means the image will be bigger, brighter, and clearer. A pair of 8×42 binoculars are often significantly brighter and have a better viewing experience than a pair of 8×32 binoculars, even though both provide the same magnification. But the larger you get, the more glass they will use—so they’ll weigh more. The weight difference between a pair of 8×32 and 10×42 binoculars is significant if you’re wearing them all day. We suggest sticking with the 26-50 range. Our top pick is roughly in the middle, at 8×42, generally considered the sweet spot for most people.

Best Overall

Nikon’s Monarch 5 binoculars were my first “real” binoculars. Years later, their upgraded M5 is my top pick for most people just getting started. These offer great bang for your buck, and the 8×42 magnification is the most versatile. It isn’t just me, either. These are some of the most common binoculars I see when I’m out birding.

The Monarch M5s strike an excellent balance between optical power, quality, and price. The glass in these provides nice, bright views with very little chromatic aberration (the distortions or fringing that you sometimes see around objects in bright sunlight).

Yeti Yonder Review: The Water Bottle I’ve Been Waiting For

Yeti Yonder Review: The Water Bottle I’ve Been Waiting For

Bar none, there is no company that’s easier to make fun of than Texas-based Yeti. My house is full of hilariously overengineered, overpriced products. The problem starts when these products become the most useful items I own. 

Just this morning, I used the Camino Carryall to drag my climbing gear to the gym. I had to take my daughter’s roller skating gear out of it, and before that 15 tiny soccer balls that I took to the park to play with kindergarteners. It’s five years old and looks as good as new. And the Yeti Lowlands? I carry that heavy-duty blanket to every festival and camping trip. I don’t have to stake the corners. It pads over every small rock and blade of prickly grass, and it has its own sling carrying case!

I even forced my husband to make a pilgrimage to the Yeti flagship store in Austin, Texas. On one level, I find it repulsive to make such an ostentatious production out of spending so much money on the company’s signature cooler. A cooler! It’s just something to put your Coke and bait in! Yet everything was so exquisite, so heavy, in just the right colors. As I wandered the aisles picking things up and putting them down again, I felt a deep, primal yearning for a Ford F150 and a fly-fishing vest.

Rinse and repeat when I first opened the box for the Yeti Yonder water bottle, which looked more like a sarcophagus hand-carved for the boy king Tutankhamen than a shipping container. The first thing I saw was the gigantic, full-color visage of climbing and skiing luminary Jimmy Chin, with his signature reckless grin, looming over two water bottles that were the color of sea glass before a storm. I picked one up and have simply never put it down. You guessed it. The 25-ounce Yonder is now my emotional support water bottle. I can and will have no other.

Field of Dreams

When I’m at home, I mostly drink from a Stanley tumbler. But when I’m out of the house, my previous favorite water bottle was a 26-ounce Yeti Rambler with a chug cap. 

I have weirdly specific water bottle requirements. I used to have a Nalgene, but it wasn’t insulated, and hot Nalgene water tastes just like taking a long lick off the bottom of a sticky McDonald’s ball pit. I’m also a talky, distracted drinker who has a tendency to pour water straight down the front of my shirt at the gym. (“Put to mouth, then drink,” I repeat to myself, to no avail.) The chug cap is a good compromise between being able to swig water quickly and not drenching myself with a single careless movement.

The Rambler is also dishwasher-safe! While my children use straw-cap bottles for their ease and convenience, I loathe cleaning them. I need specialized brushes to scrub the mold out of all the tiny valves and tubes, and then air-dry them every night. I will undertake this task for my kids, but not for myself. The Rambler is also insulated, and I can fill the whole thing with ice and refill it several times during the day and the ice won’t melt.

Yes, the Rambler is a perfect water bottle, except for one factor—its weight. Even empty, it weighs about 1.4 pounds. That’s fine if you’re in a car, on a boat, or pulling it in a wagon, but carrying that much weight on your back for an extended period is grueling.

Back Saver

Yeti Yonder water bottle with two cap attachments

Photograph: Yeti

That’s where the Yonder comes in. When I flew to CES and had to face the prospect of carrying a backpack from 7 am to midnight almost every day, taking my Rambler was a grim prospect. No, there was only one refillable water bottle I considered; a lightweight bottle whose cap I could wash and dry easily in and next to a hotel sink.

13 Best Fitness Trackers (2022): Watches, Bands, and Rings

13 Best Fitness Trackers (2022): Watches, Bands, and Rings

This year, Garmin released two high-end adventure watches: the Epix ($1,000) and this year’s update to the Fenix series, the Fenix 7S Sapphire Solar (8/10, WIRED Recommends). The Epix has a 47-mm case and a large, brilliant AMOLED screen; the Fenix has a memory-in-pixel (MIP) display. However, the Epix’s case is huge, and the display eats up a lot of battery. I’d go with the Fenix instead.

This year’s iteration has vastly improved battery life with solar charging—I got two weeks off one charge, with intermittent sunlight during a cloudy Oregon winter. Multiple GPS systems meant that it pinpointed my location with incredible speed and accuracy, even in the rain and under tree cover. It can record every biometric for every sport under the sun. And honestly, maps on the MIP still look detailed and pretty great. The downside? It is still fairly spendy, and earlier iterations do go on sale pretty often. 

★ Alternative: I am currently testing the Coros Apex 2 Pro ($500), and if having a super bright, super crisp display or a super easy-to-use app is not at the top of your list of priorities, this is a slightly more affordable alternative. It connects to all five satellite systems and includes the dual-frequency GNSS support that the Apple Watch Ultra has, for more precise (and fast!) location tracking. With regular use, the battery lasted over a month. 

The tracking is as accurate as the Apple Watch Ultra’s, but Coros’ training plans and metrics in their proprietary training system, EvoLab, are as detailed and helpful as Garmin’s. The plans are also clearly aimed at more experienced runners, although there are a few for beginners. I also like the big grooved buttons, the fact that the screen locks, and the startlingly wide variety of watch faces.

Save Your Gear From the Elements With These Waterproof Bags

Save Your Gear From the Elements With These Waterproof Bags

Autumn is my favorite time in the South. There’s a day, usually in late October, when the humidity finally breaks, the air stirs, and you can feel it in your bones: Summer is over. If you’re in the Midwest, that might be a shame because snow is coming, while those of you in California might think, “What are seasons?” But for those of us down here near the Gulf of Mexico, cool, dry air is a thing of beauty. 

The endless hum of the air conditioner cuts off and you can hear the insects again. The windows are thrown open and you can lie on the couch, book in hand, and remember why it is you live here in the first place. This, my friends, is a good life. The only problem is that the wonderful afternoon breeze can blow away when you’re busy making dinner. By midnight, your open window is an invitation to the thunderstorm soaking the couch and the bag full of camera gear and batteries you left on it. That is precisely what happened to me earlier this year.

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High Tide

Couches dry. So do bags. But the camera and batteries would have been ruined (including one, ahem, that wasn’t mine), except that I had decided a couple months earlier to keep my batteries and cameras in dry bags inside my actual carrying bag. 

I spend a lot of time near water, so this isn’t as overkill as it might sound. But the real key to this decision was my discovery of Matador’s very sleek, slim, lightweight dry bags. A traditional rubber-type dry bag is bulky and difficult to get in and out of another bag. I have traditional bags, but I really only use them when I’m on the water paddling. 

The genius of Matador’s new bags is in their lightweight construction. The 8-liter bag weighs a mere 2.3 ounces and is made from waterproof 70D ripstop nylon, which isn’t bulky. Even with such lightweight materials, they achieve an IPX7 rating (meaning they’re submersible at a depth of 1 meter for 30 minutes).

Something for Everyone

There are two sizes available, a 2-liter and an 8-liter. I use the 2-liter to store all my batteries, and the 8-liter to hold my Sony A7 along with two lenses and a pair of binoculars. This setup means I just grab two bags on my way out the door and I know I have everything I need, whether I’m putting them in a backpack, shoulder bag or camping bin. The Matador dry bags also have a flat bottom, which means you can set them down and they won’t automatically crumple over (whether they stay upright ultimately depends on what’s inside, but mine do).

The bags are not seam-sealed, which gave me pause at first, but Matador claims the welded construction it uses is more dependable and durable than seam-sealing. I’ve only had them for about three months so I can’t comment too much on long-term durability, but so far they’re fine and I’ve seen no evidence of any seam-peeling or delamination along the seams. They have a very sturdy feel to them, and they also come with a 1-year warranty. The bags are eligible for repairs even after that.

Perhaps the best feature is the little clear vertical window running down the side of the bag, which allows you to see the contents of the bag without opening it. With only two (of different sizes), I know what’s in them, but after the rain incident I ordered another one and it’ll be nice to see at a glance which has batteries and which has clothes—all of them, dry. 

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Lectric XP Lite Review: Slimmer, Lighter, Annoying

Lectric XP Lite Review: Slimmer, Lighter, Annoying

Once it is folded up, it’s not comfortable to carry; the wheels don’t stay closed together (unlike the Montague M-E1) and the grab handle is tiny, so my knuckles bang against the metal frame. Yowch. It’s great that I can fold this ebike up and store it in my living room, but I just wish it was easier to manage. 

You can remove the battery from the Lectric XP Lite when it’s in its folded state, which is a nice perk if you don’t want to carry the bike inside. While you can charge the XP Lite without removing the battery, the charging port frustratingly sits on the inside of the frame when it’s folded, and it’s a tight fit to squeeze the charger into the port. You have to spread the ebike open a little to make some room, which seems like a silly design flaw. 

The company still has a physical key you need to insert into the underside of the bike to turn the battery on, though you start the ebike with the power button on the handlebar. I don’t mind having a key—it makes me feel like I’m about to rev up a motorbike, like Captain America—it’s just so not cool hunting for the spot to insert the key, hunched down and looking up at the underside of the frame like some sort of street goblin.  

Fat Tires

The riding experience isn’t complicated at all because the Lite is a single-speed ebike. You don’t have to worry about the derailleur locking up or having to switch gears, just choose the level of pedal assistance you want (one through five) and ride. There’s also a throttle in case you want to make things even easier. 

There’s no suspension here, but I didn’t mind. The fat tires, which aren’t as fat as on the Lectric XP, are still thick enough to absorb those bumps and dents in the road, so I never felt uncomfortable, even on some truly awful roads here in Brooklyn. Just make sure to get some fenders if you plan on riding in wet conditions. (You shouldn’t ride it in the rain, but the components are IP65 water-resistant, so it can handle some splashes.)  

Lectric uses a 300-W rear hub motor, and the same flaw I’ve seen on nearly all rear hub motors still exists: The motor keeps running for a few seconds even after you stop pedaling. It’s easy to get the hang of, but you just need to be aware of it so you can hit the brakes at the right time. Speaking of, I’ve had no trouble coming to a full stop on this thing. The brakes are pretty reliable. 

That might be because it doesn’t go very fast. I cruised at 16 to 20 miles per hour on the original Lectric, but I usually went about 13 mph on the XP Lite at level three pedal assistance. You can probably get to 16 or 17 miles per hour at its fastest speed setting, but that will drain the battery really fast. At level three, which was zero effort on the original Lectric, the Lite will make you feel a tingling in your quads as you pedal and your heart rate will go up, especially uphill. It’s just not as powerful, so don’t expect a sweaty-less ride. Unless you just set it to level four or five, but then you’ll be quite conscious of the battery.