When it comes to hunting at night, sometimes you just need a little help.
The right firearm, the right clothing items and the right support team can make a big difference to the success of any hunt. Once night falls, however, the right night vision is what truly matters.
The advancement in night vision technology over the last few years has also seen a significant rise in the price of these items. Thankfully, there are affordable night vision scopes out there that will save you thousands while still ensuring your sight in the dark.
Today we’ll look at a round up of 10 of the most affordable night vision googles available on the market. With a comprehensive breakdown of each as well as a list of pros and cons, you’ll easily find the perfect set of goggles for your next trip.
Before we get into it, let’s break down the world of night vision goggles; so you know exactly what to expect from your device.
In short, night vision goggles are electronic devices that are most commonly used by military personnel and hunters to increase their visibility by night. These googles usually work both in low light situations and complete darkness.
The concept of night vision was originally developed to be used during warfare. In early years, soldiers made use of this technology to obtain visuals under the cover of darkness that their opponents wouldn’t have.
The ability to see in the dark is obviously a positive in almost any situation, particularly ones where the safety of the user is in question. In both warfare and hunting scenarios, having night vision when looking at a target could determine the success or failure of the mission.
Night vision was technology first developed by the United States military during the 1940s. The soldiers were in need of a “leg-up” when it came to night combat and the technology served as the perfect advantage for them.
The first of these night vision systems worked by emitting something known as infrared light. Human beings are unable to see this kind of light with the naked eye, so the opponents in the war were unable to detect the new devices.
Over time, other role players in the war developed technology that could identify when infrared light was being sent their way. And so the once anonymous position of the US military was no more.
For this reason, new technology needed to be developed around the 60s. The new night vision technology became known as “starlight” because of its high powered ability to illuminate surroundings using even just the glow of a single star light-years away.
The first starlight systems were officially the Generation 1 of night vision technology. As both warfare and technology developed, however, there was a constant need for these systems to be advancing & changing. Eventually the world saw Generation 2 come to life.
These night vision scopes were smaller, lighter and had the highest quality resolution available yet. These remained the most prominent night vision scopes throughout the 70s and 80s - bear in mind that the devices were still solely being used by military at this point.
Late in the 80s local hunters tapped into the value of these systems and wanted in. They realized what a difference night vision could make to their hunting excursions and sought to purchase.
Generation 3 night vision was released shortly thereafter as a solution to publicly available night vision goggles (and scopes) for hunting use. The reason for Gen 3 devices being made available to the public was largely due to massive budget cuts to the military technological development departments after the Persian Gulf War in the 90s.
Since the military was no longer funding this technology, the public would take over. Night vision became one of the most sought after hunting devices across America almost overnight.
Night vision goggles fall under two main types: ‘Active’ and ‘passive’ night vision systems. These systems can also then be divided up into:
This depends on their exterior frameworks, Most night vision goggles with have binocular type framework.
Active night vision systems make use of infrared to deliver imagery. The infrared light is projected through a space and the night vision goggles will relay the imagery back through either a single (monocular), double (bi-ocular/binocular) lenses.
Passive night vision systems work differently. They seek any available light in the surrounding vicinity and produce visuals based on that light bouncing off the desired objects. These devices can illuminate objects between 20,000 and 50,000 times brighter than the human eye can manage.
In the same way as the active systems, passive systems relay the visuals back through the single or double lenses.
An IR illuminator is a feature that isn’t always found on all night vision devices. It basically refers to the infrared emission system. Active night vision systems always have this installed while passive ones don’t.
Some passive night vision devices will advertise the inclusion of a built in IR illuminator. This means the user will be able to alternate between active and passive viewing if he or she desires.
An IR illuminator is a great addition to have in any event. It means that optimal viewing can take place no matter what is going on in your immediate surroundings.
Finding affordable night vision goggles with an additional IR illuminator built in is great value for money! Essentially, your device will use both “starlight” visuals and infrared rays to provide the strongest possible view of your desired environment.
Unfortunately, the addition of these devices to a passive night vision scope tends to make the device more costly.
FOV stands for Field of View. It refers to the extent of the vicinity a piece of apparatus is able to include in its viewing range.
When it comes to night vision goggles, each one’s specs will state its individual FOV ability: Some broader than others, some less than others. It all depends on the make of the device and the quality of the lenses & materials used.
A night vision goggles ability to view further and wider is largely proportionate to the cost of the device. More affordable night vision goggles will usually have a lower FOV than the high end ones.
Night vision goggles send a series of visuals back to the human eye allowing you to see in the dark. The clarity and quality of the relayed images will be largely dependent on the resolution capabilities of the goggles.
Image intensifier tubes are what amplify the available light within the device itself. These tubes measure their resolution in something called line pairs per millimeter (lp/mm). The lenses work a bit differently and measure their resolution in cycles per milliradian.
A night vision googles tubes resolution remain largely unchangeable. You can only really achieve better resolution by purchasing a new device. The system resolution, however, can be increased or decreased by making changes to the device’s lenses.
Lenses on night vision googles will magnify, filter or adjust the imagery coming through the filters. Essentially, the resolution of your night vision googles determines the quality of the imagery that reaches your eye. For this reason, higher resolution is always preferable although more expensive.
Another factor that comes into play with the devices’ visuals is detection range. This also varies from device to device, and as with most tech gadgets you get what you pay for.
A night vision device’s ability to detect objects will play a large role in the functionality of your scope. Some scopes have limited detection ranges while others can provide visuals on objects or spaces over extremely long ranges.
The detection range that you need from your goggles will depend largely on the nature of your hunting. If your targets are usually further away then a higher detection range is obviously needed. If you hunt across shorter more compact areas, then a lower detection range would suffice.
Finally, your night vision scope’s detection range refers directly to its ability to detect objects within a certain distance. A higher detection range is always preferable; imagine your target animal falling just outside of the viewing capability of your device and you not being able to see it at all!
Mounting options are important to consider when looking for night vision goggles to invest in. This isn’t an ability that is always standard with night vision scopes, particularly more affordable ones.
Mounting refers to the device’s ability to be attached to a firearm or weapon of any kind. Some hunters prefer the hands free experience of hunting and don’t want to have to physically hold their night vision googles up to their eyes.
Many night vision goggles come with multiple options for mounting such as directly over your helmet so you can raise or lower them quickly. Other's you can mount directly to the side of your helmet which is typically more a more sturdy mounting option.
Make sure that the night vision goggles you are buying have the mounting option you prefer. Even if you’re the kind of hunter who has time to physically hold up your goggles before every shot, it’s nice to know that your device has hands-free ability should the need ever arise.
the weight of night vision googles vary from brand to brand. Ideally you want your goggles to be as lightweight as possible; particularly if you’ll be mounting them directly to your helmet.
When in the field, you want to be carrying as little weight as possible making it easier to traverse long distances. Having less weight will also increase your accuracy which is key.
Some higher end night vision googles are waterproof making them more rugged and better suited if you will be hunting in wet or damp areas often. Before purchasing, check to make sure that your googles have your desired waterproofing rating.
The weather while in the field can be unpredictable, as can the terrain; you don’t want a device that will fail if it gets wet. Higher weather/waterproofing ratings typically increase the cost of night vision goggles.
Some of the more modern developments in night vision technology have seen an increase in the popularity of video recording ability. Though not standard, some night vision googles possess the ability to record the images and video that are being captured.
Some goggles simply record and store the footage directly into the device in the memory card inside. Other, more high-end, units have the ability to live stream the visuals through to devices such as tablets and smartphones.
This means that individuals who aren’t even near the hunt can tune in and see what the hunter is seeing. All recorded footage can also be played back at a later stage for hunt review or going over personal memories.
From the list below you’re sure to find a device that’s a sensible addition to your gear. Use the guidelines above to help you pick.
Sightmark is a reputable brand in the night vision scope industry and it’s generally known for the production of unbelievably affordable products. This Ghost Hunter unit is an example of this, coming in as one of the most affordable night vision goggle sets on the market.
Aesthetically the Ghost Hunter design is simple: All black from the actual unit through to the headgear.
Taking a closer look at the headgear we find that the Ghost Hunter is solely a handheld or headgear mounted night vision scope.
We love that this affordable scope has a built in IR illuminator so that you can extend your viewing range if it is a particularly dark night. This flexibility is really impressive. Without having the IR in use the device will last up to 72 hours on full charge; with the IR in use it will only last around 20 hours.
The device also has an auto shut off feature that will disable all functions should the unit be suddenly exposed to bright light. This is great because it protects the lenses and tubes within the scope from damage.
The most notable features of the Ghost Hunter are the following:
It’s important to note that this Ghost Hunter scope is only weatherproof and not entirely waterproof. If your hunt is of a significantly wet nature then this probably isn’t the scope for you.
Weatherproofing aside, the device casing and body are extremely durable. The shock proofing works wonders and everything stays in tact even after taking a hit, such as being dropped on the ground.
In some ways this Ghost Hunter SM unit by Sightmark can be seen as the big bother to the unit mentioned previously. The new and improved design of the original Ghost Hunter goggles featuring a bi-ocular design instead of the monocular is a dynamic option.
Again, also like the above mentioned Sightmark unit, this device can be held by hand or strapped into the included headgear. There are no firearm mounting options available.
Bi-ocular night vision scopes that brand themselves as handsfree thanks to headgear can be tricky. It’s very hard to get the two scopes properly in place to align with one’s eyes without using hands to some degree - bear this in mind before you spend money on equipment you’ll find difficult to use.
That aside; this is a largely impressive unit by Sightmark.
The most notable features include:
The imagery that this device produces is of much higher quality than many other Sightmark scopes. They have not cut corners when it comes to resolution so the device is able to produce quality imagery to relay back to the viewer.
Despite being made out of plastic, the body is extremely durable and it too can take a hit. The plastic actually contributes to the device being so lightweight and easy to transport around. This also helps with headgear as wearing weighted objects from one's skull isn’t usually preferable.
When any bright light hits this bi-ocular the auto shut off feature kicks in. This not only saves on battery life but also protects the inside of the scope from any damage due to intense light.
A new set of batteries will keep this device in use for up to 72 hours. This number will be significantly less if the built in IR illuminator is activated.
Note that the Sightmark units are reserved for sale in California only.
Another leading name in the night vision industry, Pulsar have come in to impress with their solution of affordable night vision technology.
The Challenger is a versatile and dynamic little unit. First and foremost, the IR illuminator is built into this device from the get go.
Secondly, the Challenger possesses multiple abilities for mounting. It works as a handheld unit or it can be attached to the included head gear. What’s more, the Challenger can also be mounted to a firearm using a series of detachable rails allowing to use it as you would a normal night vision scope although with less range..
There’s also a built in tripod socket which is a fourth way of making use of this unit. Simply attach it to a tripod, set it in place and perch yourself behind it while you wait to take your aim.
We love that the Challenger is hermetically sealed meaning it will work in full function regardless of weather. Come rain, shine, heavy fog or even thick smoke - your visuals will never be compromised. Impressive feature for such an affordable device.
Some features to note about the Challenger are:
All in all the Challenger is a great night vision google for anyone who values simplicity. Even the button layout of the device was designed with minimalism in mind. There’s simply an on/off button and an IR illuminator switch.
If you value quick and easy use of your hunting gear then the Challenger is something worth looking into. Pulsar has not compromised on quality just to achieve affordability - which we appreciate!
At full charge you’re looking at a consistent 80 or so hours in the field; less with the IR illuminator enabled.
These bulky bi-ocular night goggles are the perfect affordable solution to anyone who enjoys the experience of both eyes being within the field of view, instead of just one.
Naturally, these night vision googles cannot be mounted onto a firearm. You’re going to solely rely on either holding it up when in use or attaching it to the headgear that comes included with your purchase.
Either way, this is an immersive device that allows you to focus both eyes on the same image. There’ll be little outside influence on your vision when making use of the Yukon.
The device is water and fog resistant. It also comes with a limited lifetime warranty which is an impressive move by this up and coming brand.
Some of the more notable features of the Yukon include:
The unit does feature a built in IR illuminator that can be activated and deactivated as needed. It does however play a big part in rapidly draining the battery life so be careful with this feature - use it sparingly!
If you look closely, you’ll see that the bi-ocular lenses at the front of the unit have the ability to flip upward. This allows the user to attach a series of alternative lenses to the device and switch between them by a simple flip of the goggles.
Despite its size, the Yukon comes in with an impressive weight of just 0.6kg. It will be an easy unit to carry around the field and also to mount on top of one’s head.
The resolution stands at 36 lines per mm, which is great for a device of this affordability.
Another night vision scope that we won’t be attaching directly to our firearm, the Edge G by Pulsar is one of their most impressive bi-ocular devices yet.
The price tag on this unit may be a bit heavier than some of the other, more affordable, devices of similar nature; but it’s still well under the $1000 mark that seems to define affordability in this market.
What we love most about the Pulsar Edge is the inclusion of a 5-lens eyepiece that works to eliminate as much distortion as possible. As a result, the resolution of the relayed images on this unit are highly impressive.
There’s a built in IR illuminator present in this unit as well; however, as always, it significantly reduces the battery life of the scope when in use. With this Pulsar battery power isn’t something that can be used frivolously; the device holds 50 hours of battery life at full capacity not using the illuminator.
Some features to note about the Pulsar Edge are:
The body of the goggles is completely sealed and therefore allows for use in the rain or dust without visuals being compromised.
Upon encountering harsh or bright light, the feeds to the tube will be cut off so that damage can’t occur within the device. The inner workings of night vision tubes are sensitive and require very low light to stay effective.
While popular among hunters, this unit by Pulsar is also widely known as the “neighborhood watch goggles” as many security and private patrol companies make use of them for evening surveillance.
This proof of popularity does well to prove the reliability and endurance of the product. While you may be forking out a bit more than necessary, you’re getting a lot out of the device and you’re investing in a brand that has been a market leader for quite some time.
We usually love everything that Pulsar releases and the Edge unit is no different.
This Tactical Series unit by Night Owl has taken the bi-ocular night vision industry by storm and for good reason.
Most units on the market of similar size and shape tend to be naturally bulky in nature. Night Owl realized this and sought to make a bi-ocular pair of goggles that could retain a sleek, compact design while still functioning across both eyes.
The result is this Tactical Series G1 that has seen tremendous success when you look at sales and reviews.
The head mount that is included in the purchase is also significantly more comfortable than others on the market. It applies less strain to the tension points of the skull. The result is the ability to wear the device for longer periods of time without discomfort.
The most notable features of the Night Owl are:
Without making use of the built in IR illuminator the device will function for an impressive 80 consecutive hours at full charge. Should the infrared system be engaged, then the life span comes down to around 40 hours.
Despite being such a compact unit, the Night Owl manages an extra wide field of view as well as the ability to close up focus.
The intensifier tubes are Generation 1, and have the ability to pick up and amplify low light although not nearly as good at the Gen2 and above tubes. The ability for amplification in this scope is very impressive given its affordable price tag.
We like that Night Owl went with aluminum for the body and lenses. This makes the device extremely durable while out in the field and less likely to malfunction after a few bumps.
The scope also features a state of the art, built in light sensor that can alert the intensifier tubes when harsh light is on the way. Harsh light can burn or damage the inside of the tube, so features like this are valuable in preserving the longevity of your purchase.
Finally we come to the more expensive of the affordable night vision goggles. First up is this very functional device by ATN.
As far as affordable goggles go it doesn’t get much better than this. The ATN markets itself as “lightweight, rugged and a top notch performer” when it comes to handsfree night vision. In theory, this is a very good way to summarize the device.
The only downside that one picks up on early on is that there’s only option for hand held or headgear mounting - this monocular can’t attach to your firearm. Though this would have been a welcome addition in ability, it’s not the end of the world.
The ATN is feature packed and all elements seem to work together to deliver imagery as high in quality as possible.
The most notable features of the ATN are the following:
The ATN is entirely waterproof and won’t leave you stranded in the event of a down pour. It’s also able to withstand many of the other harsher elements namely wind, fog, smoke & dust.
The battery life sits at 50 hours on full charge. It’s estimated that you’ll get a total of 5000 hours out of these goggles without any kind of unit failure or breakage.
The intensifier tubes are generation 2. There’s an auto shutoff function to protect them in the event of unexpected bright light. The infrared illuminator is also built in and features a much wider angle than many other standard night vision goggles on the market.
The automatic brightness control is another thing not found as a standard. It’s very helpful to have particular if you tend to go on hunts that span across multiple days. When the light is ever you can adjust accordingly.
If there’s one brand that makes us sit up and take notice, it’s Armasight by FLIR.
It has been a strong competitor in the world of night vision technology since the beginning. It has earned a well deserved positive reputation among military personnel & hunters alike.
This Gen 2 bi-ocular is another example of the incredible workmanship. It’s actually a monocular with a bi-focal lens system attached to it. This allows full viewing with just one singular lens.
It has all the elements we’ve come to appreciate in affordable night vision: Auto brightness adjusting, IR illuminator built in, rugged, waterproof exterior.
Overall this is a great, compact night vision scope that really includes all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a unit with this kind of price tag. Admittedly, on the affordability scale this one is a bit higher end.
Some features to note about the Armasight are:
The scope is helmet mountable for handsfree usage. It’s not, however, able to mount to your firearm and will have to be worn on your head or handheld when in use.
The hue used for image display is green. This is one of the more gentle options on the color spectrum and reduces the risk of RSI occurring in the retinas over long periods of usage. It’s also the color most suited to individuals who are prone to migraines or chronic headaches as it’s less strenuous on the brain.
Your investment in the Armasight is backed by a two year warranty period. In the event of anything going wrong you’ll be able to return the product for full inspection, repair or replacement.
At full charge, the device will deliver 60 hours of performance in the field. This makes the Armasight ideal for hunts that will take a few days.
Our next device from ATN, though affordable in theory, does weigh down your pocket significantly more.
Let’s begin by elaborating as to why the hefty price tag is attached to these night vision goggles. The PVS7-3 is the standard issue model of night vision for all US military troops and personnel.
For this reason, the fact that it’s even available for public purchase is astounding and largely the reason for the additional cost. Even so, the device is feature and performance packed as you would expect from something that helps soldiers see in the dark during warfare.
You can imagine the unfavorable conditions that these goggles are able to withstand. Your hunting trips are somewhat a piece of cake when it comes to durability expectations and environmental constraints.
The most notable features of the ATN are the following:
As mentioned, there’s really no condition in which this scope can’t function. It has an operating temperature range of -60°cto 120° and is completely weatherproof to all elements.
The unit is lightweight and easy to carry around. ATN has provided a range of carry options such as:
The IR illuminator that is built in can operate in either a continuous flow or in a momentary flash method. This is controlled by a switch that shifts the technologies function which makes it quick and easy to get you desired results. In the field you don’t have time to waste.
ATN provides a two year limited warranty on your purchase. This gives welcome peace of mind when investing in something like this - particularly if your hunting trips are of a more harsh nature.
Exports for this product are limited to the United States only.
One more by ATN and a device to make even the aobve mentioned unit look affordable.
The PS15-4 goggle system by ATN is the industry recommended unit for law enforcement and private defense teams. Quality and performance in the night vision world doesn’t get much better than this.
By simply taking one look thought these goggles under full darkness you’ll see why this one landed on our list. The only scenario we can equate the experience is to imagine being completely blind and then suddenly having full, precise & detailed sight simply by using a pair of goggles.
Features to note about the ATN are:
The only point of weakness identifiable in this device is that it has one of the shortest battery lives we’ve seen in this roundup. Coming in at just 40 hours of consecutive usage at full charge makes it a strong competitor for last place in terms of longevity.
That being said, when you look at the quality of the imagery that is being delivered through such a compact device it really isn’t surprising that it burns through the battery the way it does.
At half moon light you’ll be able to see houses and objects up to 500 yards away. During regular, cloudy or overcast lighting objects and houses up to 100 yards away will remain in perfect view.
This is a really powerful set of goggles that uses state of the art intensifier tubes to project imagery as close to reality as possible. It’s quite remarkable what high tech features can be placed in small devices.
The IR illuminator is built in as a standard and works like a flashlight. Due to the heightened amplifying ability of the scope as is, it’s unlikely you’ll ever need to make use of the additional infrared light - though it’s nice to know that it’s there regardless.
Like the ATN unit we mentioned prior to this, this model also makes use of the green hue tones within the image projector. For the same reasons, this is less strenuous to the human eye and brain & is less likely to induce headaches over long periods of use.
They do indeed work in darkness but not total darkness, which is rare. As mentioned earlier on in this piece, night vision googles make use of infrared or “starlight” technology to amplify light around a vicinity in order to produce visuals.
For night vision goggles to produce images in total darkness you will need to make use of an IR illuminator unlike with a thermal imaging device. Night vision goggles have to have at least some light for the tubes to amplify.
For the most part it’s perfectly legal for any individual to invest in a pair of night vision goggles depending on where you’re located in the USA. This is of course provided that the intent for use is of legal nature, and not intended for harm to other human beings.
Some states in the US require special permits before night vision scopes can be purchased. You’ll have to read up and see if your geographical location falls in one of these zones.
Like any electronic device, the life span depends largely on how well the device is looked after during its time of use. Modern night vision goggles have tubes with at least a 5,000 hour rating or higher.
Night vision goggles could last years, or they could see their demise in just a few days if they are severely neglected while out in the hunting field. Take care of your goggles! A warranty period proves its durability, but this is dependent on how you treat it. A long warranty period is a sign of longevity in most cases.
Night vision makes use of light (both real and synthetic) in order to produce imagery. Thermal imaging is a bit different and instead makes use of heat waves in order to detect objects. Thermal imaging devices use sensors to pick up on the temperature of objects and translate them into images that are relayed to the user.
For example, an animal gives off a specific amount of body heat. Thermal imaging technology can pick this up and visually transcribe the entire body & form of the animal in question.
Price is always dependent on ability and quality. In the night vision scope industry the sky is really the limit for both.
Realistically, you should never really need to pay more than $1000 for your goggles, unless you want the newest and highest quality goggles. This would be a suitable median price without compromising quality and performance.
The technology behind the night vision world is endlessly complex and comes with a historic background that is fun to learn about. Knowing that these devices are still so prominent in hunting today is fascinating. But their capabilities clearly show why.
The right pair of goggles really can take your night hunting experience from average to exceptional; both in success and enjoyment!
Get yours and join the fun.