How to Find the Best Binoculars for Wildlife Viewing in Alaska

Binoculars on brown wooden table with books and flowers in background.

Alaska is a prime destination for wildlife viewing. But if you don’t have suitable binoculars, that Alaska brown bear and her cubs might look like … a few blurred dots. That mountain goat? Nothing but a spec. That humpback whale? A floating log. Find the best binoculars for wildlife viewing so you don’t miss a single magical moment.

Everyone in your group should have their own pair, especially on an Alaska cruise. That way, you won’t have to fumble with the settings as you pass them around.

Binoculars can cost anywhere from $100 to well over $1,000. Look for deals, and whether you buy new or used, it’s important to try them on before you buy.

The Best Binoculars for a Cruise

Binoculars have two important numbers, listed this way: 10×42. The first number is magnification power and the second is the objective lens diameter. Consider the following when exploring options:

Look for magnification of 8x to 10x. It might be tempting to buy a pair with high magnification, but anything higher than 10x will be hard to hold steady, especially on a moving platform such as a ship or whale-watching boat.

A large objective lens diameter
The bigger the objective lens, the more light comes in and the brighter the view. In terms of wildlife viewing, look for a diameter of at least 42mm so that even on a dim day, you can spot animals in Alaska.

Prism systems
There are roof prism and Porro prism configurations. Binoculars with roof prisms have a sleek, streamlined shape and less bulk. That said, ones with Porro prism systems cost less and the view is brighter.

Bigger isn’t always better. Aim for a compact pair that you can hold around your neck for a few hours. Try a few on in the store.

Binocular Basics

Familiarize yourself with your new binoculars. Practice spotting birds and squirrels in the backyard. That way, you’ll have no problem using them on a cruise. A few tips:

  • Move both barrels up and down until the view is in one single circle.
  • Twist the eye cups until there’s the correct gap between the lenses and your eyes. If you wear glasses, keep the eye cups down as your glasses provide the gap.
  • To adjust the view, turn the center wheel all the way in one direction. Focus the binoculars on something you want to look at. Then turn the wheel back until it’s in focus.
  • Use the right wheel (diopter) to make up vision differences between each eye. To adjust, close your right eye and use the right wheel to get the image sharp in your left eye. Then repeat the process with your left eye closed. If you wear glasses, no need to worry about the diopter.
  • Don’t clean your lenses with water. Use a solution and a lens-cleaning cloth.

Wildlife Viewing Tips

  • Get closer with a wildlife tour. Let experts safely guide you to animal hangouts. Find top-rated wildlife tours in our shore excursions.
  • Scan the horizon for a slight change of movement. If you notice a rustling in the forest or a plume of water shooting up from the sea, zero in and wait for a majestic creature to appear.

To learn more, check out our article on the best places for wildlife sightings in Alaska.

Article by Amanda Halm


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