Photo: Suzie Dundas

Tested: Travel Binoculars Are a Surprisingly Fun Addition to a National Park Trip

Wildlife Technology + Gear
by Suzie Dundas Jun 21, 2024

Despite spending a lot of time about wildlife, and covering safari-type adventures for a wife range of publications, I’ve never had much interest in using binoculars. They always seemed like one more extra thing to carry or dangle around my neck, and I figured since I had a high-end camera and a telephoto lens, I didn’t really need them.


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But I recently tested a pair of not-too-expensive travel binoculars from Nocs Provisions, a 1% for the Planet company that supports lots of eco-friendly production and sustainability initiatives. After using them for a few days on a late spring trip to Yellowstone National Park in which it both snowed and got sweltering hot, I’ve changed my mind on them, and decided maybe they actually are worth the space in my suitcase on outdoor-focused trips. Especially if you’re looking for wildlife in a sleep-deprived state at 4:30 AM, like I was.

I haven’t used a ton of different binoculars — but unless you’re an expert birder, you probably haven’t either, and may be on the fence about whether you even need a pair.

After testing, my summary is that the Nocs Standard Issue Field Binoculars are great for casual wildlife and bird watchers who want to get a better look at their surroundings while traveling and playing outside, but who don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars to do it. Thanks to technology that makes it easy to quickly focus, large ocular lenses that make it easy to maintain your field of vision even if your hands move a bit, and a small design that fits in your pocket, I think they’re an ideal pair of travel binoculars (and a great gift for anyone planning a national parks or safari vacation).

What we liked: Easy to adjust, super lightweight, crisp and wide field of vision, fun colors, waterproof, drop proof, lifetime warranty

What we didn’t like: Neck strap feels insecure, distance limited to about 350 feet

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Buy Now: $95

Ease of use

travel binoculars - nocs field issue

Large ocular lenses make it easy to find and maintain your focus, even with unsteady hands or windy conditions. Photo: Suzie Dundas

In the past, I’ve had trouble adjusting binoculars to fit my eyes. Sometimes, it’s very difficult to push the two eye cups close enough — and when I do get them close enough, I see two circles overlapping with each other like some weird Venn diagram with nothing but blobs in the middle. However, the Nocs Standard Issue are very easy to adjust, both physically on the eyepieces, and with the adjustment wheel for optimizing the focus.

This is apparently due to the “diopter adjustability” knob on one of the eyepieces. Essentially, the knob allows you to adjust the binocs in case each of your eyes focuses at a slightly different distance. I say “apparently,” as I have pretty even vision between eyes, and didn’t have to use it. But I had my bifocals-wearing mom and sister who has worn glasses since she was about 10 years old both test them, and they agreed that the adjustment process was quite simple to get right. So if your reason for not using binoculars has been the annoyance of adjusting them, or the difficulty of trying to see crisply through them, Nocs could be a good fit.

The large ocular lenses (the ones you look through) also allow you to maintain vision on your subject, even if the binoculars move in front of your eyeballs a bit. I have another pair of binocs with smaller lenses, and if I move them even the slightest bit in front of my eyes, whatever I was looking at turns back into a greyish, blurry blob.

Clarity and color


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I’ve seen mixed reviews on the clarity, but I found what I was seeing through the lens to be crisp, vivid, and saturated. This made it easier to find with the binoculars the same features and points of interest I’d seen with the naked eye, making it quicker to check out if what I saw in the distance was a baby bison, or just a rock. I got a bit of a glare when looking in the direction of vivid sunlight, but no more than I got with my dad’s much more expensive (and heavier) binoculars.

As with all binoculars, there’s a little bit of fuzziness around the very outside edges of the field of view. But I didn’t find it very noticeable, and at under $100, was surprised with the quality of clarity and contrast, even at long distances and in bright conditions.


nocs travel binoculars one hand

They’re small and light enough to hold and adjust with one hand. Photo: Suzie Dundas

The Nocs Standard Issue binoculars are 8x by 25mm, abbreviated as 8×25. That means they magnify things eight times bigger than they’d seem to the naked eye. They have a wide field of vision, so by doing some binocular math, that means you can expect to see objects in focus up to about 350 feet away. In Yellowstone, I found my vision limited by trees and natural features more than distance. So 8×25 is probably decent enough for most people using them in wooded or hilly conditions. But it won’t be enough to see features a half-a-mile away (like wolves).

You can get binoculars that allow you to see much further, like a 10×25, but if you have shaky hands (like me), it gets hard to see objects clearly from that far away. And having less internal magnification allows them to be smaller, so they’re easy to fit in a jacket pocket. They weigh just under 12 ounces (significantly less than a pound) and are small enough to hold and adjust the magnification using one hand. That’s incredibly useful if you’re holding a camera, dog leash, phone, or anything else at the same time.

I saw smaller travel binoculars at the national park gift shop, but when I compared the picture through them, it was clear they were more of a novelty pair made for kids than a serious wildlife-watching tool.

Buy Now: $95


nocs travel binoculars from a car

Photo: Suzie Dundas

While in Yellowstone National Park, we encountered plenty of traffic delays — due to bison, not people. Traffic slows to a near stop when herds of bison are crossing the road, with cars slowing to five miles per hour or less to safely pass them. That gave me a lot of time to stare out the window, and thanks to the ease of focusing, the Nocs Standard Issue binocs were easy to use even in a moving vehicle. In fact, I was able to use them from the backseat to look forward on the road, through the windshield of other moving cars, to see what was causing the traffic delays (spoiler: more bison).

It may seem like a small detail, but having a steady, easily focusable field of vision while you’re moving is key for anyone who needs travel binoculars for activities like safaris, driving tours of national parks, paddle or boat trips, whale watching, or any other occasion where you won’t be perfectly still in a calm environment.

Having travel binoculars handy was just more fun


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I love playing outside, and it doesn’t take much for me to have a good time out in nature. But having the Nocs Standard Issue travel binoculars handy made it even more fun, since I could pull them out and do a quick wildlife check in about five seconds. It became kind of like a game to see if I could find animals on remote hillsides or identify the bird that was making the specific call we’d been hearing all day while I was waiting around on a trail.

I also realized that as a photographer, not having binoculars is just plain dumb. The binoculars can see much further than my camera lens, and can allow me to scan for wildlife, grab my camera, and set up my shot before an animal gets into the perfect position. Relying on my camera lens to see in the distance wasn’t just waisting battery on my camera, but giving me less time to prep and ready for shots. If you’re a wildlife photographer, or hoping to be, having a pair of travel binoculars in your camera bag is a great idea.

You can also buy smartphone mounts for binoculars. The Nocs brand one is sold out, but there are comparable alternatives on Amazon for around $30.

Buy Now: $95

The downsides

travel binoculars - wrist strap

The wrist strap was more useful than the thin included neck strap — but it’s sold separately. Photo: Suzie Dundas

The Nocs Standard Issue binoculars aren’t perfect, and if you’re a serious birder who wants top-notch clarity, you’ll probably want to buy a more expensive pair of travel binoculars. But those can get quite pricey — easily upward of $300 or $400. I think the $95-ish price point on the Nocs Standard Issue is the sweet spot for people who want a pair for occasional fun use, or a safari trip, or here-and-there birdwatching, rather than people who use binoculars on a daily basis.

If you need to see way in the distance, you may be better served by a scope. They increase your visual range, but are often heavier and more cumbersome, and many require a tripod.

My main gripe was with the included neck strap, which was both difficult to connect to the binoculars, and came unthreaded a few times from the buckle on the strap. It wasn’t a big deal to thread it back through, but it’d be a bummer if it came loose and your binoculars fell over the side of a kayak. I also picked up the quick release Woven Wrist Strap ($21) and found it more useful than the included neck strap. It minimized how much I had hanging around my neck (since I was already carrying a camera) and has a quick-release buckle so you can hang the binoculars from a backpack or shoulder strap but grab them in a hurry if needed.

If you’re going to replace the neck strap it comes with, you can find plenty of good options on Amazon. They’re universal, so don’t feel like you have to buy the Nocs ones if you don’t like the styles or designs.

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