Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bushwhacking with Compact Binoculars

Imagine walking down a trail or bushwhacking through some dense underbrush. A flash of movement appears out of the corner of your eye that just might be a three-toed woodpecker (or any other bird, mammal, insect, plant or mineral of interest).

The backpack is carefully is removed, opened, and fished through in an attempt to find a full-sized pair of binoculars. After finally locating the binoculars, the case is opened and the binoculars are ready to be focused on this rare bird species (or mammal, insect, plant or mineral). Unfortunately, it is long gone and you are out of luck.

If you are a backcountry enthusiast who is interested in birding or any other type of animal life you are probably all too familiar with the above scenario. Although full-sized binoculars are the ideal tool for observing wildlife at a distance (and sometimes up close) they can be unwieldy and heavy when exploring the backcountry and carrying all your equipment on your back.

The solution is replacing full-sized binoculars with a more miniature variety referred to as a compact binocular. Compact binoculars are smaller in size and lighter weight than their full-sized counterparts making them ideal for backcountry explorers. In fact, they are small enough to be placed in a pocket or on the hip belt of most backpacks.

The most significant difference between full-sized and compact binoculars is the size of the objective lens. The objective lens is the lens at the end of the binoculars farthest from the eyes. The objective lens controls the amount of light the binocular can receive and the resulting brightness of the image. The objective lens is the second number in the pair of numbers typically used to describe binoculars (e.g. 8×42) and refers to the diameter in millimeters.

For a video about all the technical terms of binoculars click here.

Compact binoculars typically have objective lens less than 25 mm. The smaller objective lens makes compacts a little harder to use than their full-sized cousins. They require more precise alignment with your pupils, are harder to keep steady due to their lighter weight, more difficult to focus, and have less resolution especially at greater distances. In addition, those with larger hands may find these small binoculars more difficult to hold on to without some of their fingers getting in the way of the lens.

For years I carried a full-sized pair of binoculars. I would often carry them around my neck while on the trail, even though this often resulted in a strained and sore neck. When I began bushwhacking as my primary outdoor recreational activity it was no longer possible to have large clunky binoculars dangling from my neck. Instead I would put them in one of the outside pockets of my backpack. Unfortunately, I was cursed more times than not with the opening scenario of this article.

So when I started lightening my load for bushwhacking purposes (and in an attempt to preserve my middle-aged back) the full-size binoculars were replaced with compact binoculars. To minimize some of the disadvantages of compact binoculars I purchased a top-of-the-line pair of Leica Ultravid 8×20 and have not missed my bulky and heavy full-sized ones since. They fit right on my hip belt even when bushwhacking through heavy blow down and can be removed at a moments notice. For my full review of this binocular for bushwhacking purposes click here.

For bushwhacking and backpacking purposes carrying a full-sized pair of binoculars can be a weighty endeavor. But for birding backcountry explorers who feel naked without carrying some type of optics a pair of compact binoculars can be an acceptable alternative. Although it is impossible to replace the quality and total utility of a full-sized pair, the compacts are easier access, smaller in size and lighter in weight.

Carrying a pair of compact binoculars in your pocket or on you hip belt will undoubtedly prevent you from missing that rare bird (mammal, insect, plant or mineral of interest) that crosses your path while exploring the backcountry.

Photos: Leica Ultravid 8×20 BR binocular by Leica Camera AG.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.

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Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.

One Response

  1. catharus says: