The Best Budget Night Vision Goggles (Options, Considerations and Trade Offs)


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Last Updated: October 13, 2021

Although civilians can buy military-grade night vision devices, investing $65,000 into the type used by the Navy SEALS is unnecessary.

You can pick up a good pair of budget night vision binoculars for just a few hundred dollars, but finding the best value for money requires some serious research.

Fortunately, we’ve done that research for you.

By checking out hundreds of product specifications and reviews, along with many hours of YouTube tutorials, we’ve come up with a summary of lightweight night vision devices that offer you the best value for money while providing the scope, magnification, and illumination you need to survive the darkest of nights.

Our Top Pick

AGM Global Vision Wolf-7

Powerful and lightweight with adjustable magnification, a wide field of vision, and an infra-red illuminator, the AGM Wolf-7 provides superior imaging while being versatile, dependable, and waterproof.

Most Affordable

Barska Night Vision NVX300

These easy-to-use night vision binoculars are compact yet powerful and provide 7X magnification in total darkness, making them ideal for camping and night navigation.

Our Pick of the Best: The Top Six Night Vision Goggles

#1 AGM Global Vision Wolf-7 Night Vision Goggles

While the AGM Wolf-7 is one of the most expensive night vision devices reviewed here, its superior generation 2 technology makes it a cost-effective option.

Generation 2 devices have a much longer life expectancy than the earlier 1st generation devices and provide better image quality.

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AGM Global Vision Wolf-7 Night Vision Goggles

The infrared illuminator boosts visibility in poor light environments making the image brighter and clearer.

The adjustable magnification makes them more versatile than other night vision devices, and you can swap between a 3X and 5X magnification lens depending on whether you require mid-range or long-range viewing.

Weighing just 15.87 oz, these night vision goggles won’t weigh you down like the hefty AGM FoxBat-5, which weighs over double that.

They can also be attached to a helmet and come with a head mount adaptor that provides great versatility and frees up your hands for other tasks.

Powered by a single AA battery, the AGM Wolf 7 has a surprisingly long operating life, lasting up to 60 hours. They are also waterproof and come with de-misting shields to improve visibility in damp conditions.

This powerful night vision device is versatile and lightweight, but it won’t record your nighttime adventures for you as there is no memory card storage or recording capability.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Head and helmet mountable
  • Adjustable magnification

Cons

  • Comparatively pricey
  • No memory card storage

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#2 Barska Night Vision NVX300 Infrared Illuminator Digital Binoculars

With their powerful infra-red illuminator, these digital binoculars provide sharp images on the darkest of nights. They are compact and easy to use, making them ideal for both camping trips and survival situations.

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Barska Night Vision NVX300

The 7X magnification provides impressive long-distance visibility while limiting their versatility and usefulness in terms of their mid-range capabilities. The in-built short-range infra-red illuminator does compensate for this to some extent, but they can’t compete with the fully adjustable AGM Wolf-7.

The Barska NVX300 is one of the most affordable night vision devices on the market, costing significantly less than AGM Wolf-7. You will, however, have to sacrifice a least one hand to operate them, making them more challenging to use for long periods.

On the other hand, these night vision binoculars have recording capabilities. You can save both images and video onto a standard SD card, keeping a record of your nighttime excursions.

Advanced night vision technology, in the form of an integrated infrared illuminator, enables users to see up to 100 yards on a moonless night, which is more than adequate for most scenarios, even if it’s not quite up to the standard of a military-grade device.

A single AA battery is all you need to power the device, and this can last up to 12 months with careful usage. Slightly lighter than our top pick, the Barska NVX300 weighs just 15.2 oz and is both weather and water-resistant.

Although this device lacks any head mount, it does come with a built-in tripod mount, which means you can use it to track potential prey.

Pros

  • Compact and lightweight
  • Recording capabilities
  • Superior magnification for long-range visibility

Cons

  • Limited versatility and mid-range visibility
  • No head mount

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#3 JStoon Night Vision Goggles Night Vision Binoculars

Combining recording capabilities with impressive long-distance night vision, these affordable binoculars offer excellent value for money.

While not as powerful as the AGM Wolf-7, the JStoon comes with 3X magnification and adjustable infrared settings that provide optical clarity over long distances, even in total darkness.

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Using 6 AA batteries, these night vision goggles are more power-hungry than most and, with the infrared illuminator activated, will give you just six hours of continuous run time.

Turn the illuminator off, and you can increase this to 17 hours, but even then, they can’t compete with the impressive 60-hour runtime of the AGM Wolf-7.

These night vision binoculars are compact and easy to use, ideal for camping trips and survival situations.

Not only does the JStoon come with a 32GB storage card, but it also comes with a large screen and playback function. While that may not be very useful in a survival situation, it’s a real bonus when viewing nocturnal wildlife.

The JStoon provides clear images at distances of up to 934 feet and comes with a tripod for extended viewing sessions.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Recording and playback capabilities
  • Weather-resistant

Cons

  • Requires 6 x AA batteries
  • Limited runtime

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#4 NightStar 1x20mm Head Mounted Night Vision Binoculars

These night vision binoculars feature a power infrared illuminator that provides clear images even in total darkness. Hold them in your hand or use the excellent head mount gear for a hands-free experience.

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 JStoon Night Vision Goggles

With the included flip-up feature, you can quickly move the binocular out of the way and slip them back into position as required.

With its extra-wide field of vision, this night vision device delivers brightness and clarity both close-up and far into the distance, even though they lack the adjustable magnification of some of the more expensive models.

At 15.5 oz, this is one of the most lightweight options. It’s also affordable and compact enough to slip into your bug-out bag. Another bonus is that it operates on a CR123A lithium battery, one of the best batteries for disaster preparedness.

On the downside, the NightStar isn’t waterproof, has limited 1X magnification, and lacks any recording capabilities.

Pros

  • Excellent hands-free capabilities
  • Extra-wide field of view
  • Lightweight and compact

Cons

  • Limited 1X magnification
  • Not waterproof

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#5 Night Owl Optics Explorer

With its 5X magnification, the Night Owl is one of the more powerful options available. It also includes a built-in infrared illuminator that provides accurate target recognition in complete darkness.

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Night Owl Optics Explorer

Its central focusing wheel makes it easy to adjust both lenses for improved visibility over mid-range and long distances. It’s reliable and compact enough to fit comfortably in the hand, although it lacks any hands-free capability.

This generation 1 night vision binocular won’t last as long as a generation 2 model, but its impact-resistant lens protection makes it both durable and reliable.

Unlike the lightweight Barska, you’ll know when you’ve added this hefty 38.8 oz device to your bug-out bag. Add the batteries, and you’ll be carrying nearly 40 oz of extra equipment simply so you can see at night.

With its 15° field of view, the Night Owl will give you a 53ft win field of vision at 200ft, making it suitable for hunting and other nighttime activities requiring long-distance vision.

Despite its higher than the average price tag, these night vision goggles aren’t waterproof and lack recording capabilities. While the reliability and impressive ergonomic design make up for this to some extent, they don’t necessarily justify the price.

Pros

  • Powerful magnification
  • Ergonomic design
  • Reliable and durable

Cons

  • Not weather-resistant
  • No hands-free capability

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#6 AGM Global Vision FoxBat-5 Night Vision Bi-Oculars

Suitable for both mid-range and long-range activities, the AMG FoxBat is designed for extended viewing sessions.

Its image intensifier tube provides bright, clear imagery in total darkness, while its feature-rich design makes it simple to adjust to varying light conditions.

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NightStar 1x20mm Head Mounted Night Vision Binoculars

One of the heavier budget night vision devices, the AGM FoxBat weighs in at over 46 oz while providing a comparatively limited field of view. On the other hand, it’s waterproof and fog-proof, making it more suitable for survival situations.

These night-vision goggles also come with a detachable long-range infrared illuminator. They are powered by a single CR123A lithium battery, which gives them an impressive life expectancy.

Although not head-mountable, the AGM FoxBat-5 comes with a tripod, carrying case, and straps for carrying around the neck and in the hand, making them versatile enough for most nighttime excursions.

Pros

  • Versatile and adjustable
  • Detachable infrared illuminator
  • Resistant to rain and fog

Cons

  • Limited field of view
  • Heavy

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What To Look For When Buying Night Vision Goggles

How Generation Technology Dictates The Price Of Night Vision Devices

Your budget will inevitably dictate the power and longevity of the night vision device you opt for.

Generation 1

The cheapest models use generation 1 technology developed nearly 60 years ago and are, as a result, somewhat outdated.

Generation 1 night vision goggles require moonlight to function and tend to be heavier and bulkier than the more modern generation 2 and 3 devices.

Predicting the availability of moonlight is challenging; saving money on a generation 1 model could leave you very much in the dark, which would mean a complete waste of the $100 to $200 you invested in the product.

Generation 2

If you budget a little more for a basic generation 2 model, you’ll be guaranteed some level of visibility even if it’s pitch dark outside.

Generation 2 goggles provide brighter images and work in complete darkness. They are also more reliable and equipped with better optics, making handing over thousands of dollars less painful.

Generation 3

Top-of-the-range civilian night vision goggles use generation 3 technology. Developed in the late Eighties, these tend to be more compact and lightweight. They also provide even brighter and clearer images. Most models will, however, set you back at least $2,000 (often much more!), but it’s a worthwhile investment if you want a product that will last a lifetime.

Features You Shouldn’t Compromise On When Buying Night Vision Goggles

Binocular or Monocular?

Night vision goggles come in all sorts of shapes of sizes. Whether you opt for a binocular or monocular design, it will have little impact on the field of view or imaging quality. It’s simply a matter of personal preference.

Infrared Illuminator

An infrared illuminator is a must-have feature of any night vision device. As you need to have some level of visibility even in total darkness, there’s very little point in buying night vision goggles that don’t include an infrared illuminator.

Field of View

For surviving in a dark and dangerous environment, you want as wide a field of view as possible. This feature expands your peripheral vision, enabling you to spot potential threats and predators at a greater distance.

Magnification

For survival purposes, long-distance visibility is crucial but, if you’re trying to build an emergency survival shelter in the dark, you need some level of short-range visibility as well. With the best night vision goggles, you can adjust the magnification according to the task at hand.

Battery Life

Despite my dedicated research, I failed to find any budget night vision goggles with built-in rechargeable batteries.

That’s not to say, however, that you can’t use rechargeable batteries to power them. Even then, the last thing you want is for your night vision to suddenly fail on you so, opting for goggles with the longest runtime and lifespan is the best option.

Weight

Most of the night vision goggles reviewed here weigh around 15.5 oz, enabling you to cut weight from your bug-out bag.

As the recommended weight of a hiker’s backpack is around a quarter of your body weight, you ideally want your bug-out bag to be lighter than that so that you can make a quick getaway should you need to. Therefore, adding a 40 oz pair of night vision goggles to your equipment will be counterproductive at best and potentially dangerous at worst.

Waterproofing

None of us can predict what the weather will be like when the SHTF so, compromising on weather resistance isn’t an option. You should rather err on the side of caution and invest in the most waterproof night vision device your budget can handle.

Memory Cards

If you want to film and record your nighttime excursions, you need a pair of night-vision goggles that can record and store both images and videos. As this may add to both the weight and cost, however, it may be a feature you decide to compromise on if you’re planning on using the equipment in a survival scenario.

FAQ’s

How far can night vision binoculars see?

The best night vision goggles can see up to 1300 ft in complete darkness. Connect them up to a power bank, and you can increase this by another 300ft.

Can civilians own night vision goggles?

In the United States, it’s legal for citizens to both own and use night vision and thermal optic equipment, although it is against the law to allow any non-US citizen to operate them. It’s also illegal to take such devices out of the country for any reason.

What night vision do Navy Seals use?

The Navy Seals and other military units use four-tube night vision goggles or Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Binocular. As you can imagine, these are a little more powerful than the budget night vision goggles reviewed here as well. They should be given that they carry a price tag of between $40,000 to $65,000. Want to know what you get for that much money? Check out this demonstration.

Do night vision goggles work in total darkness?

Although Generation 1 night vision goggles require some element of moonlight to operate, more advanced technology in the form of an infrared illuminator means later generation models work effectively in complete darkness.

Do night vision goggles take batteries?

Every pair of night vision goggles I found requires batteries. These range from a single AA battery (Barska NVX300) up to six times that (JStoon Night Vision Goggles). Most budget night vision goggles, however, use CR123A lithium batteries.

There are even one or two products that require no batteries at all. The Newcon Optik SGT-150P StarGate Night Vision Scope, for instance, uses a patented lever-activated power supply instead of batteries.

How long do night vision batteries last?

The lifespan of night vision batteries varies but the more modern the technology, the longer the runtime. In other words, you’ll get a lot more out of your batteries if you’re using a generation 3 device than you would with the older generation 1 technology.

Do night vision goggles need to be charged?

Some night vision goggles do need charging, but the products reviewed here all use independent batteries. That gives you the freedom to opt for either rechargeable or single-use batteries.

Conclusion

Surviving the daylight hours is a lot easier than making it through the night with either limited or no visibility. Night vision goggles give you the ability to spot potential predators and become a more effective predator yourself, making them a useful, if not essential, addition to your bug-out bag.

We recommend the AGM Wolf 7’s for 2nd gen quality and future-proofing. If you haven’t got the budget to stretch that far, then the Barska NVX300’s are a solid budget choice.

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