Night vision monoculars are commonly used by hunters, law enforcement, birders, and the military. Whether you’re a law enforcement officer or a civilian who wants the best monocular with night vision, you’ll find the best available in this guide. Tactical night-vision monoculars allow you to see clearly in total darkness. Understandably, there are a ton of uses for this ability.
Before we get started with the reviews of our top picks, let’s quickly go over the types of night vision monoculars.
Types of Night Vision Monoculars
- Thermal – A good thermal imaging device will cost you a pretty penny, but it’s the best available. With thermal imaging, you’re able to clearly view heat signatures in total darkness, and even during the day. Hunters commonly use thermal imaging to detect nocturnal game. Additionally, thermal night vision monoculars are useful for home security and surveillance purposes to protect your property.
- Image Intensifier Technology – This is military-grade night vision that you’ve most likely seen in the movies. For example, when someone puts on night-vision goggles that allow them to see everything in green in pitch-black darkness. This is image intensifier technology. Similar to thermal imaging, these devices cost a chunk of change and are some of the best tactical monoculars available.
- IR illuminator – A monocular with a built-in IR illuminator is the most affordable type of night-vision monocular. In turn, that makes it grainier and less powerful than thermal or image intensifier tech. However, if you only need it for occasional use or birding, it won’t break the bank.
In our top picks below, you’ll find choices from each class to suit your requirements and budget.
Best Night Vision Monocular Reviews
We included all the most important information to consider for each unit in bite-sized packages. As you probably already know, night vision tech can get incredibly complicated, so we did our best to keep it simple. In other words, this is the layman’s guide to choosing the best monocular with night vision.
#1) Pulsar Helion XP38 1.9-15.2×32 Thermal Imaging Monocular
Pulsar previously topped our list of best thermal monoculars for coyote hunting, and we like the XP38 the most as an all-purpose night vision monocular. First, Pulsar is the clear leader in the thermal department. Second, the battery life of the XP38 is extra-long and reliable. Most thermal devices give you about 4 to 5 hours max. The XP38 gives you a solid 8 hours of battery life. Consequently, this is a great tool for hunters, hikers, and anyone who needs that extra juice.
After battery life, the XP38 shines in every other aspect. When you first use it, you’ll be amazed by how well it picks up even the tiniest heat signatures. Plus, it detects heat signatures out to a whopping 1,476 yards. Once you detect your target, the magnification range of 1.9 to 15.2X allows you to zoom in for identification purposes.
Regarding size, the XP38 is fairly light and compact at 8.9″ long and 15.9 oz. Next, you’ll find that the 50Hz refresh rate equals no lag, and the IPX7 waterproof & dustproof rating means this unit performs well in even the harshest weather. Lastly, you have the option to record video with 8GB of internal storage or use the built-in WiFi to stream to Pulsar’s Stream Vision app.
- Extra-long 8-hour battery life w/ standby mode to conserve battery
- 640×480 resolution for excellent clarity
- Detect heat signatures up to 2,000 yards away
- Pulsar 3-year warranty
- Onboard storage w/ the option to integrate with Pulsar’s Stream Vision app
- IPX7 waterproof & dustproof construction
- One of the most accurate and sensitive units on the market
- Lighter and more compact than other Pulsar models
- Eight color palettes to choose from
- Highest upfront cost at the time of this writing
- Nothing else, seriously
#2) ATN PVS14-3 Generation 3 Night Vision Monocular
For the money, ATN’s PVS14-3 is the best Gen 3 night vision monocular. Alternatively, Armasight offers a model on the same level, though, it costs a good chunk more at the time of this writing. For this reason, it’s wise to check out what ATN has to offer first. As we mentioned in the introduction, this type of military-grade night vision monocular uses image intensifier technology. While this tech has been used by the military for decades, it’s still expensive for the general consumer.
Typically, G3 night vision monoculars cost more than G2 models since they’re an advancement. In terms of history, gen 2 started in the 1960s while G3 came about in the 1970s. First, an advantage of choosing a gen 3 unit over a thermal imaging device is its versatility & compactness. Comparatively, the ATN PVS14-3 measures 4.5″ L, which is a lot shorter than a Pulsar monocular. Plus, this unit is lightweight at 11.1 oz. As a result, you have the option to use this as a handheld, head-mounted, or camera-adapted unit.
For these reasons, G3 units are the best monocular for surveillance and tactical purposes. After all, they have been used by the military for decades for reliably clear night vision. That’s why the tech has been around for decades. On the other hand, thermal imaging is better for hunters who want to detect heat signatures rather than for tactical purposes.
Note: Steer clear of any “Gen 4” night vision monoculars because G4 is no longer officially recognized. G3 is the highest quality, and any difference between Gen 3 and “Gen 4” is not substantial enough to justify the higher cost.
- Lightweight & versatile (lighter than Pulsar XP models)
- One of the highest resolutions available to the general consumer at 64 lp/mm
- Variable gain control to optimize for changing light conditions
- Automatic brightness control
- 50-hour battery life per 1 x 1.5V (AA type battery)
- Waterproof construction
- 2-year warranty
- Impressive clarity and overall image quality
- High customer service marks
- Focus on near objects could be clearer
- Single 1x magnification
#3) TRYBE Optics Gen 2 PVS-14 Night Vision Monocular
Now that you’ve checked out our top G3 pick, meet the best Gen 2 night vision monocular for the money. Comparatively, this G2 unit by Trybe Optics currently costs almost 1,000 bucks less than the ATN Gen 3 monocular above. What’s the difference between Gen 2 vs Gen 3? Overall, the most important considerations are that G3 performs better in low-light conditions, offers more range, and has better resolution.
Having said that, G2 night vision monoculars still amaze the average person even decades after being introduced. This isn’t like if you held one of those huge cell phones from the 80s or 90s today. Plus, G2 and G3 night vision have made improvements since they were introduced. Hence, the introduction of Gen 4 that’s now known as “3rd-generation filmless image intensifiers.”
So, let’s quickly look at the features offered by the Gen 2 night vision monocular by Trybe. First, this unit features an impressive 57 – 64 lp/mm resolution that just about matches ATN’s Gen 3. Second, it also features variable gain control for tube brightness adjustments, 50-hour battery life on a single AA battery, and it’s just as versatile for mounting as ATN’s Gen 3 model.
- Trybe offers G2 and G3 units
- Variable gain control
- White phosphor is available in Gen 3 models (Gen 2 is green phosphor only)
- 50-hour battery life to match ATN
- 2-year warranty on the tube and housing
- A handful of quality control issue reports
- The company is relatively new
#4) Sightmark Ghost Hunter 4×50 Generation 1 Night Vision Monocular
For first-time owners, newbs, and folks on a budget, Sigtmark’s Ghost Hunter is the best budget night vision monocular. Comparatively, there’s a big jump down in price from Gen 2 to Gen 1 – much bigger than from G3 to G2. Instead of having to fork out 1,000s, a good G1 unit costs 100s. To give you an idea of what to expect from the Ghost Hunter compared to picks numbers two and three, it sports a 35 lp/mm resolution.
While this is a big difference in quality, it’s important to consider that modern advancements have drastically improved Gen 1 tech from the 1960s. Additionally, considering that you’re getting your foot in the door for a low introductory price, this resolution is more than acceptable. With that in mind, images won’t be as clear or crisp as G2 and G3 units, and you won’t get as much range from the Ghost Hunter.
Beyond comparison between generations, the Ghost Hunter is compact for a Gen 1 unit at 7.28″ long and 14.1 oz. Next, it features a built-in IR illuminator for use in total darkness, auto shut-off when the unit detects bright light, and it comes backed by Sightmark’s lifetime warranty. All in all, this is an excellent affordable night vision monocular for someone with the right expectations.
- Affordable compared to G2 and G3
- Built-in infrared illuminator for use in total darkness
- Small enough for portable use and travel
- Acceptable 35 lp/mm resolution for a Gen 1 unit
- User-friendly controls
- A good night vision bird watching monocular
- You might prefer our next pick
- IPX-3 water & dust resistance rating
- Limited range
#5) Firefield Nightfall II 5×50 Gen 1 Night Vision Monocular
Last up is the best Gen 1 night vision monocular for the money. Ideally, it’s best to stick with the Nightfall series, with the Nightfall II being the latest release. First, the 5×50 size is good for capturing as much light as possible and widening the FOV in a Gen 1 model. Second, you’ll find that the image quality is right on par with the Ghost Hunter or even better in some cases.
Keep in mind, these are budget night vision monoculars, so it is possible to run into quality control issues. For example, we’ve seen Firefield owners say the Ghost Hunter is better and vice versa. In other words, there is a bit of the luck of the draw in play here. The good news is Sightmark and Firefield both offer warranties that they stand behind. In comparison, Firefield offers a 3-year warranty while Sightmark’s is a lifetime.
Regarding resolution, the Nightfall II is just a single notch above the Ghost Hunter at 36 lp/mm. Next, the housing is more protective with an IPX-4 rating rather than IPX-3. Lastly, the non-slip rubber armor is a nice touch, and this unit features an energy-saving IR illuminator for operation without ambient light.
- Upgraded ergonomic easy-grip design on the Nightfall II
- A designated IR button to quickly illuminate subjects in total darkness
- Weighs just under a pound
- Impressive clarity for the money
- Tougher housing than the Ghost Hunter
- More range than the Ghost Hunter
- Shorter warranty than Sightmark, though still three years
- Keeping it focused requires some practice
- Edge distortion
If you landed here on the hunt for the best monocular for surveillance, Gen 3 and Gen 2 tactical night vision monoculars are the way to go. For hunters, it doesn’t get better than thermal imaging. For hobbyists, first-time owners, and people on a tight budget, Gen 1 models get the job done. Overall, when choosing the best night vision monocular, it’s wise to always consider your planned uses first.
Once you know how you plan to use it and your budget, choosing a model is easy. Pulsar, Flir, and Armasight are all top brands in the thermal department, while ATN, Trybe, and AGM are all top names in the PVS-14 category. Once you step foot into the budget Gen 1 realm, Firefield and Sightmark are good choices along with Bushnell. Just don’t make the mistake of expecting a Gen 1 model to perform like a Gen 2 or Gen 3.