Night vision goggles might seem like the stuff of serious combat and cinema, but since the technology’s arrival during the WWII era (and its mass proliferation during the Vietnam War) the United States military has unleashed night vision’s power upon the civilian consumer market. Today, hobbyists and professionals from hunters to wildlife watchers to those interested in home security can harness the power of night-vision devices (NVDs) to experience the world in utter darkness.
These are highly specialized products, buying the best night vision goggles can prove as intimidating as choosing a roof rack with no prior knowledge.
You might have heard the term “night vision goggles” colloquially used to describe all tools that help one see in the absence of the sun’s bright light. However, further inspection proves that NVDs come in all shapes and sizes, from night vision binoculars to night vision monoculars, from compact and inexpensive models to military grade gear with extra capabilities like magnification. Because these are highly specialized products, buying the best night vision goggles can prove as intimidating as choosing a roof rack with no prior knowledge. Fortunately, we’re here to help as best we can.
How to Choose Your Gear
Here’s a curve ball for you! Normally when purchasing any type of gear, determining the particular purpose you intend to specifically use it for ranks amongst the first considerations to make in your decision. However, online NVD retailer Night Vision 4 Less notes that when it comes to buying the best night vision goggles, this approach imposes unnecessary limits. That’s because your gear will open up an entire world of possibilities. Even the night sky unveils its secrets with the right equipment—night vision technology can elucidate up to 10x more stars than the naked eye can see. This is one instance where you don’t want to pare down your options too hard.
“Generation” provides the clearest and most publicized delineation between products in this category. The military actually calls these shots—the earliest NVD tech from that WWII era kicks off Generation 1 (and everything before it is called, with tongue in cheek, Gen 0.) The higher the generation, the more sophisticated and expansive (and expensive) its technology. “There is actually a huge difference in performance and longevity between the different generations,” writes Night Vision 4 Less. “Although having some night vision is always better than having none at all, the difference from Gen 1 to Gen 3 can be like comparing a candle to a spotlight and a life expectancy of 5 times longer with the Generation 3.”
While purpose won’t play a big part in your choice, determining which device suits your style from under the NVD umbrella takes its place. Night vision goggles enable two-eyed, hands-free viewing, but forego magnification. Meanwhile, night vision binoculars also offer two eyepieces, but include magnification and skip the mounting. Lastly, a night vision monocular usually has no magnification, but yields versatility on account of its compact size. The choice between these options comes down to personal preference borne of circumstance.
For some reason, it feels a little misleading that magnification isn’t baked into the NVD formula by birthright. This fact illustrates the importance of considering additional accessories while searching for the best night vision goggles. Some devices can accommodate additional magnifying lenses to account for this fact. Many come with features like an ir illuminator, which uses infrared to increase and expand nighttime visibility. If you’re considering for a hands-free device that doesn’t come with its own hardware, then determine how you’ll mount your new NVD as well.
I saved this for last because I hate to burst your bubble, but this highly specialized equipment won’t come cheap. Nor would you want it to! These devices originally hail from military and police use—high-stakes situations where gear just has to come through. While budget options have proliferated the market to suit those on the hobby side of things, a truly incredible NVD will set you back even more than some new cars. We’ve left those out here (for the most part) but be honest about your budget in relation to the seriousness of your needs.
Best Multipurpose: D-740 Night Vision Multipurpose Viewer
Clocking a price tag of $4,995.00 at regular price, this multipurpose night vision viewer actually ranks about par for the course in the grand scheme of NVDs. With its versatile monocular design and standard asking fee, this is a great place to start your search for the best night vision goggles. “The D-740 night vision Multipurpose Viewer is the absolute best medium range night vision Multipurpose Viewer made today,” reads the product description. “The performance of the D-740 in low light conditions is excellent and in medium moonlight you don’t even need to use IR illumination.” What’s more, its wide field of view and clear imaging offers eye relief for long nights spent scoping. Recoil-proof construction keeps the D-740 strong alongside your weapon, or just a little extra resilient in case of bumps and bangs. A solid investment all around.
Best Binoculars: Night Owl Pro Nexgen Night Vision Binocular (5X)
As we’ve learned, night vision binoculars differentiate themselves from the pack not with their two-eyed viewing, but with their built-in magnification. If you’re looking for a great pair of night vision binoculars, might as well go big or go home. Highly respected manufacturer Night Owl has outdone themselves, offering one of the most powerful magnification capabilities available on the market, at 5x regular size. It even features a built-in ir illuminator, kind of surprising given the fact that this well-loved set utilizes early Gen 1 technology. Balancing price and functionality with aplomb, these elegant night vision binoculars will change the way you understand the world after dark. Just note it’s not weatherproof!
Best Monocular: ATN PVS14-3 Generation 3 Night Vision Monocular
Looking explicitly to enjoy the best iteration of the night vision monocular’s versatility? In that case, you can conclude your search here, with this reliable piece of power. One reviewer noted that “This was actually the exact model I used during my Marine Corps career. It served me well in over 11 different countries and during hundreds of training ops.” This PVS14 uses some of the most modern technology on the market to provide a crisp, clear picture at manageable size and specs. Even with a built-in ir floodlight, this gear still lasts 50 hours on its battery and boasts an astoundingly lightweight figure, perfect for any adventure thrown your way.
Best Goggles: ATN NVG7-3W Gen 3 White Phosphor Night Vision Goggle Kit
Best to stick with a highly regarded manufacturer like ATN when searching for the best textbook night vision goggles. This white phosphor night vision goggle kit renders images in a softer color palette than the stereotypical green wash that’s permeated the collective consciousness through movies and video games. Gen 3 technology means users enjoy a top quality experience, replete with high resolution image intensifier, auto-brightness, bright source shut-off, and built-in ir. This hardcore bit of machinery can carry the whole industry with its incredible faculties and no-nonsense construction.
Best Budget: X-Vision Hands Free Night Vision Deluxe Binoculars
At just $300, these hands-free digital night vision binoculars from X-Vision offer an affordable option to those interested in exploring night vision devices without sacrificing too much quality to their experience. The company itself has managed to maintain an excellent reputation while providing unbeatable prices. With 3x magnification, 200 yards’ detection range, and 8 hours of battery life, this gear suits a wide range of activities. “Great product,” writes one reviewer from South Carolina. “The price was dirt cheap so I figured I would grab a pair for wildlife watching at the national parks. For the price, you get more than you pay for. They are a little big and bulky, but they are still light. The headband is pretty good. Great product for someone not looking to spend a fortune.”
Most Powerful: AN/PVS-31D (F5032) Squad Night Vision Binocular
On the absolute other end of the spectrum, please turn your attention to this tactical work of art just recently released to the public by Elbit Systems America. The Washington Post recently reported on these utterly stacked night vision goggles in an article outlining the military’s latest night vision technology. Its white phosphor viewing system steps away from those tired green shades, adding irridescent outlines for a much clearer image of everything on view in the nighttime. With industry-leading, close-focus technology, a built in ir illuminator, and adjustable gain control, these unparalleled night vision goggles are worth every penny, if you have the excessive change to spare.
Most Compact: Firefield Nightfall Night Vision Monocular
One never really knows when adventure might strike. That’s why we’ve included this hyper-compact monocular from Firefield, ready-made for pocket storage so you can see what’s going on when night falls a little too fast. Not only does this little guy pack an efficient punch with dimensions of 9 x 5 x 3 inches and a meager weight under one single pound, it’s also far and away the most affordable offering on this list. Ideal for everyday activities like hunting, climbing, airsoft, and a tactical EDC, the Nightfall Night Vision Monocular proves that NVDs aren’t just for the big guns—they’re accessible technology waiting to be harnessed by those in the know.