Thermal scopes are powerful pieces of gear that will light the world.
Thermal scopes are a high-tech means to locate and close on a predator, prey, or a potential threat.
Thermal scopes allow you to see in conditions where it would be impossible to use the naked eye. Thermal scopes make it easy to confirm a target, and they can be considered a safety device in many different ways.
Let’s look and review few thermal scopes and decide which ones work and work well.
The 9 Best Scopes Scopes of 2021: Outdoor Empire Reviews
Here are some examples of the best thermal imaging scopes in 2021:
- Best cheap thermal scope #1: Torrey Pines Logic T12-M
- Best cheap thermal scope #2: Torrey Pines Logic T20 Thermal Imager
- Best thermal scope for the money #1: SIG Sauer Echo-1 Thermal
- Best thermal scope for the money #2: ATN Thor HD 384
- Best overall thermal scope #1: Armasight Zeus Pro 336 8-32 x 100
- Best overall thermal scope #2: FLIR Thermosight Pro PTS736
- Best hunting thermal scope #1: Trijicon IR Hunter Mk 3
- Best hunting thermal scope #2: ATN Thor 4
- Best thermal clip on scope: Pulsar Core FXQ50
|Category||Best affordable||Best for the money||Best overall|
|Magnification & Objective Diameter||no magnification||1 - 2 x 30mm||8-32 x 100|
|Battery Life||8 hours||8 hours plus||6 hours|
|Weight||50 g (without battery)||14.7 oz||2.9 lbs|
|Resolution||80 x 60 pixels FLIR Leptons||Range 156 - 206 Pixels||640 × 480 pixels|
|Mount||1/4-20 tripod mount||M1913 Picatinny Cross-Slot STANAG Compliant Mount||Reliable quick-release locking weapon mount|
|Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
1. Best Affordable Thermal Scope #1: Torrey Pines Logic T12-M
Thermal optics are expensive pieces of gear, and finding one most people would consider cheap is nearly impossible. However, a little company called Torrey Pines Logic makes two very affordable thermal scopes, and the first we are going to look at is the T12-M.
This is built like a holographic optic with no magnification. It’s a very small optic with a small viewing port. It’s designed for a variety of tasks including hunting, but it’s a bit small for combat applications.
It has a very short range, so that may be an issue for long-range shooting of any kind. In the close brush, however, it makes animals easy to spot, as well as other people.
This little optic isn’t for everyone, but it is one of the few thermal devices out there for under a thousand dollars. It’s mountable to a handgun but robust enough for a standard semi-auto rifle. It has the following features:
- 80×60 pixels resolution
- Four display modes
- 30 Hz frame rate
- 35 meter range
- Built-in mount
- Weighs only 3.8 ounces
- Automatic NUC capability
- Very small
- Limited range
- Poor battery life
This optic is for the beginner thermal user or the hobbyist. It’s excellent for rifles, and it’s even small enough to mount on handguns with scope rails.
It’s an affordable and fun optic that isn’t for tactical or security use. If you want an affordable option that doesn’t break the bank, this is it.
2. Best Affordable Thermal Scope #2: Torrey Pines Logic T20 Thermal Imager
If you want to go a little bigger than the option above but still keep under 1,000 bucks, then the T20 is for you. It also provides a 3.5 to 5 power magnification that the other Torrey Pines optic does not have.
It is, of course, more prominent, but still easy to mount to a rifle with a minimal footprint. The detection range is 75 meters at 3.5 power and 150 meters at 5.5x.
As you can see, it offers a much longer recognition range than the T12 but is still an affordable optic. To mount to a rifle, you’ll need a 30mm ring, which isn’t hard to come by.
The optic only needs one ring, and I’d suggest using a quality one. It’s effortless to use and small and lightweight.
Aside from being affordable, it features some impressive specs and features at a great price:
- 3.5 to 5.5 power magnification.
- 80×60 pixels resolution
- 75 to 150-meter recognition range
- Under five ounces
- Small and lightweight
- Four different viewing modes
- Automatic focus
- Low battery life
The T20 is for new users of thermal devices who want a valid option on and off their rifles. This optic can be used handheld for easy spotting or mounted to a gun for easy shooting.
As a small optic it’s not designed for tactical use, and that needs to be remembered when purchased.
3. Best Thermal Scope for the Money #1: SIG Sauer Echo-1 Thermal
SIG Sauer may be well known for their P series handguns, but they’ve branched densely into the entire firearms world. This includes optics like the Echo-1.
The Echo-1 is a thermal optic that works almost like a holographic reflex sight. Instead of a simple tube, you have a full-screen to view through. Mounted on a rifle like an AR-15, you have an excellent option for rapid transitions and placing rounds on target very quickly.
This makes it an excellent modern sporting rifle optic for close-range shooting. The Echo-1 is surprisingly affordable and made to last. SIG offers five reticles built into the system, and you can import reticles as well.
The Echo-1 has a 2x zoom, or can be used at 1x. The optic is rugged and ready, gives you an impressive 8-hour runtime, and packs a ton of features, including:
- IPX6 waterproofing
- 30 HZ frame rate
- Built-in Picatinny mount
- Top mount peep sight
- Multiple reticle options
- A target range of 300 yards
- Magnification up to 2x
- Easy to use and to mount
- Not great for long range shooting
The SIG Echo-1 can be used for close-quarters pest removal, hunting, and even tactical use. The open design makes it perfect for close-quarters shooting, and it’s easy to transition from target to target and to acquire targets quickly.
This is an all-around excellent optic and is perfect for tactical use.
4. Best Thermal Scope for the Money #2: ATN Thor HD 384
ATN makes an extensive variety of different night vision optics, from standard night vision to thermals and binoculars. The ATN Thor HD 384 is built to be very modern and jammed full of features.
The Thor is a “smart” thermal with built-in WiFi, GPS, rangefinder, and is compatible with your iOS and Android.
The thermal scope can even shoot 1080p high-definition video. The scope has a digital magnification of 1.25 to 5 power, which is nice for zooming in and seeing what you are aiming it.
The Thor is remarkably affordable for all its features. The optic can be found in various magnification ratings, but the 1.25 to 5 power is the most affordable option out there. The features include:
- GPS, rangefinder, and video recording capability
- 1.25 to 5 power magnification
- Built-in ballistic calculator
- 384×288 sensor for excellent clarity
- Packed full of features with an affordable price tag
- Built-in rangefinder makes it perfect for hunting
- Relatively lightweight
- Easy to mount
- When using apps, it may slow the internal thermal camera’s function
The ATN Thor 384 is a relatively lightweight design that is perfect for hunters on a budget. The Thor 384 is ideal for shooting at a decent distance—relative to night shooting of course.
The Thor is still fun for the hobbyist out there looking to shoot at night without spending a ton of money. The Thor isn’t just an optic with a cool name, it’s a fantastic piece of gear that comes at a great price.
Compare prices at: Sportsman’s Guide
5. Best Overall Thermal Scope #1: Armasight Zeus Pro 336 8-32 x 100
If you want to go big (and I mean huge) with your Thermal Scope, then the Armasight Zeus Pro has you covered. The Zeus Pro 336 comes in a wide variety of different magnification ratings and sizes, but the Zeus Pro 336 in its 8-32 x 100 is one of the most powerful thermal optics on the market.
The high level of magnification allows you to reach out and touch a target with minimal effort.
The Armasight Zeus Pro 336 has a massive 100mm objective lens that allows for a wide and clear field of view. The optic comes with a wide variety of color palettes as well as white hot, black hot, sepia, and even custom.
The Zeus Pro 336 is a professional grade optic and is priced as such. It’s packed full of features that make it perfect for a wide variety of roles. Some of these features include:
- Digital compass
- Bluetooth compatibility with IOS and Androids
- High-end TAU pitch thermal sensor
- 800×600 OLED display
- Wide variety of color palett
- User selectable reticles
- Long eye-relief lens
- Can record video
- Relatively heavy at 2.9 pounds
The Armasight Zeus Pro 336 is a professional grade optic and can be used in a wide variety of roles successfully. This includes tactical use and long-range marksmanship.
The Zeus is also a fantastic choice for hunting, threat interdiction, and hitting hot targets at long ranges. This is a no-nonsense optic used for serious tasks.
6. Best Overall Thermal Scope #2: FLIR Thermosight Pro PTS736
While Flir doesn’t name their optics with the most creative names, they do make outstanding Thermal devices. The majority of companies that produce thermal optics use Flir components.
The Flir Thermosight Pro PTS736 is a powerful optic that uses Flir’s Boson core. This gives you a brilliant and clean thermal picture with an uncompressed video signal for the clearest image possible.
The Thermosight Pro has a variety of different magnification levels, but one of the best is the 6-24 power. This gives you crisp, clean, and clear picture for medium- and long-range shooting.
The Thermosight Pro PTS736 comes ready to mount to a rifle with a built-in QD mount to attach to standard Picatinny and Weaver rails. This optic is designed for a clear and consistent picture and packs a number of features that make it valuable to any user. These include:
- Shot-activated recording
- Internal memory that can hold 2.5 hours of video and 1,000 pictures
- Multitude of reticles
- Compatible with laser range finders
- Easy to use
- Awesome clarity
- Multiple color palettes
- Quite expensive
The Thermosight Pro by Flir is a powerful and robust optic that can be used for both tactical and hunting applications. The device gives a clear and solid picture that makes identifying targets easy and accurate.
This optic is a bit expensive for the casual hobbyist, but for law enforcement, security, or hunting applications, it is well made and designed for a variety of roles.
7. Best Hunting Thermal Scope #1: The Trijicon IR Hunter Mk 3
The Trijicon IR Hunter Mk 3 is a thoroughly modern thermal sight that is absolutely perfect for hunting. This powerful thermal optic is designed to give hunters a wide field of view, which was a welcome upgrade from the Mk 2 series.
The optic has a 60hz refresh rate that gives you as close to real time as possible. There is no slow down or framerate drop when you are tracking moving targets.
The Trijicon IR Hunter Mk 3 scope is designed to be used for hunting and to resemble a standard day scope. It even uses turrets over a menu and button presses.
This makes it a natural fit on most hunting rifles, and it also makes the transition from day scope to a thermal optic as smooth as possible. Plus, since it is a thermal optic, it can be used in both day and night environments. The scope has numerous features, and here are just a few:
- Five different reticles
- 2.5-20 power magnification
- Stadiametric rangefinder
- Can be converted to a clip-on optic
- Multi-purpose design for maximum versatility
- Powerful magnification range
- The “Enhanced Target Recognition” mode allows gain settings to be applied across the entire spectrum
- Reticles scale to magnification like an FFP scope
- Quite expensive
The Trijicon IR Hunter Mk 3 is a purpose optic designed for hunters. It’s easy to mount to a wide variety of rifles. It’s lightweight, easy to handle, and a natural way to transition from a traditional day scope.
8. Best Hunting Thermal Scope #2: The ATN Thor 4
The ATN Thor 4 is a lot different than the other Thor we talked about above. The Thor 4 is a more robust and reliable model that is well suited for hunting.
This is an ultra-high-end optic that excels when it comes to hunting. The ATN Thor 4 comes in a wide variety of magnification levels, from 1 to 10 to 4 to 40.
It’s perfect for a wide variety of hunting environments from brush hunting to going over fields. The ATN Thor 4 is one of the lowest profile thermal optics on the market. It utilizes 30mm scope rings, but they do need to be high rings.
The ATN Thor 4 is quite lightweight by design and perfect for mounting to traditional bolt action rifles. The ATN Thor 4 is a rock-solid little optic designed for taking down game at night, or even during the day. It has so many features, but a few of my favorites include:
- Ballistic calculator
- Dual stream video recording
- Recoil-activated video recording
- Multiple color palettes
- Multiple reticles
- 16-hour battery life
- Can dual stream to tablets and phones
- Compatible with ATN Rangefinder
- Compatible with ATN Remote
- 267-yard target range
The Thor 4 is the perfect option for hunters looking to keep a low profile and own the night. The Thor 4 is a well-made optic that is thoroughly modern and packed full of high-tech features. The Thor 4 thermal scope is perfect for hog, predator, and pest hunting.
9. Best Thermal Clip On: Pulsar Core FXQ50
A thermal clip-on is a tool that attaches to the front of a scope and utilizes your normal day scope to aim and shoot. A thermal clip-on is an easy design that allows you to use the scope you know and love while being bestowed with thermal vision capabilities.
The Pulsar Core FXQ50 is a clip-on optic designed to easily add on to most rifle scopes. The Pulsar Core is lightweight, compact, and even waterproof.
The FXQ50 is a quick and easy add-on for most day scopes that allows you to aim and shoot with ease in the middle of the night. The Pulsar is well suited for a variety of roles, and its design makes it very easy to use in a ton of different situations.
The Pulsar is more affordable than most individual optics, and it’s convenient because you can use the zero of your day scope. The Pulsar FXQ50 is designed to make life a little simpler in your quest for thermal potency. The pulsar has some awesome features, including:
- Detection range of 1950 yards
- 384×288 resolution
- Noiseless shutter calibration
- External power supply
- Affordable with an extremely clear picture
- Easy to use
- Functional and well designed
- Not all scopes are compatible
The Pulsar FXQ50 is designed for anyone who wants the power of a thermal optic with the zero and features of their day scope. As a clip-on design it can be used for a variety of serious roles including hunting and tactical use.
How Thermals Work
Everything in the world emits heat, or at least has a temperature. That heat emits a light wave you can’t see. However, through the power of science, we can take that light and make it visible and extremely useful.
At the heart of every thermal scope is a thermal camera that through an extremely complicated process turns heat into a visible spectrum.
Thermographic cameras have non-glass lenses, and for every pixel, a thermal camera has one of these small heat-capturing devices. The combination of lenses and heat detecting devices creates a thermogram, which is essentially a picture made of the light that heat creates.
The thermogram is turned into electronic impulses and is sent into a signal processing unit. This signal processing unit translates the electronic impulses into a picture.
This picture is then displayed on the user’s screen. These devices are so evolved and well-made that they do this in 1/30th of a second.
Thermal optics are extremely complicated but have shrunk to the point where they are actually useful for the average citizen. Thermal scopes, in particular, have grown in popularity for hunting and of course tactical use.
Thermal vs. Night Vision Scopes
Are thermal scopes better than night vision scopes? That’s a hard question to answer. They have different purposes but are used mostly at night.
They each have their place, and one is not necessarily better than the other regarding the concept. Individual units will vary in quality.
Both have strengths, and both have weaknesses. Night vision devices offer more overall detail, at least when the ambient light is right.
With proper moon and starlight, you can see very vivid details with high-end night vision. You can see facial features, read text, and see the fine details of the world around you.
Thermal optics can’t see the fine details like night vision, but you can’t hide from thermals. If you are in front of them, they can likely see you.
You can’t hide in the dark or maintain your stealth through standing still. Thermal optics will find you, as long as you don’t have a wall between you and them.
Thermal optics can be used during the day safely and effectively. Additionally, thermal optics do not require ambient light to function. Just turn them on and go.
If you are hunting, thermal optics are better suited on guns. If you are walking around and trying to navigate, a night vision optic is better. Both have their place.
How to Choose
How do you choose one optic over the other? Good question, but unfortunately I can’t answer it for you. You’ll have to answer it, but I can give you the guidelines to finding your answer. The first thing you need to consider is your budget
Thermal optics are quite expensive. Even affordable optics can cost a thousand dollars, and very few fall under a grand in price.
A few smaller units fall below that price range, and when they do, they are often bare bones optics with little to no magnification.
This doesn’t make them bad optics, however—it just means that they are limited in their use. For instance, they are perfect for home defense and short range shooting.
Most thermals, regardless of price, are quality optics. The business of making optics and thermals is technologically rigorous and the products are hard to import, so no one gets into the business just to make crappy optics.
At the under a grand price you can still get a well-made, and useful optic when it is applied to the right situations.
At the higher price range you are going to start packing features into the design. This includes magnification, different color modes, reticles, and more. This makes the scope more versatile and easier to accurately use.
So establish your baseline budget realistically.
Next, what are you using it for? If you just want to have fun with thermals, that’s understandable. Who doesn’t want to pretend to be the predator on occasion?
However, when establishing your budget you’ll have to look at how much these optics cost and what you plan to do with them. This will affect their use and cost.
If you want to hunt, you’ll likely want an optic with a good target range, as well as a high resolution. Additionally, powerful magnification may be a requirement.
This allows you to zoom in on your target and confirm exactly what it is. Is it a big dog? Or that 200 pound sow that will make delicious bacon? Hard to tell without the proper magnification.
At the same time, all that magnification doesn’t matter if the resolution is too low. Without a great resolution, all magnification does is turn a blob into a slightly bigger blob.
Resolution is incredibly important, because it is imperative that you always have 100% positive identification on what you are shooting. If you don’t, you are violating one of the most important rules of gun safety.
If you want to go tactical, you may want a broader display to get a wider field of view. Optics with a wide field of view and a high refresh rate makes it easy to track a moving target.
There are thermal optics with little or no magnification and large display screens. These work more like red dots than traditional scopes and are much better for close-range shooting.
These are especially handy for indoors use and allow a shooter to clear rooms and fight in CQB in the dark.
As we mentioned above, resolution is how crisp and clear the picture is. Thermal optics are not like normal scopes. When looking through the scope, you aren’t technically seeing the actual image, but rather a display showing it.
Kind of like watching a security camera. It’s all real time, but not in the same way a day scope works.
The image being shown will have a different resolution based on the quality of the optic. The better the resolution, the easier it will be to see long range, recognize detail of your target, and be able to track movement.
Resolution is directly tied to the amount of pixels per unit of area. More pixels mean better temperature detection and accuracy.
The refresh rate is expressed in Hz. The average is 30 Hz, and high quality is 60 Hz. These refresh rates represent how fast the optic turns heat into an image.
This is why you may experience a slight delay when rapidly moving the optic with a lower refresh rate. The higher the rating, the greater the clarity of the optic will be.
All of this needs to be considered, as does the typical weight, mounting capability, and length. These are the factors that exist outside the integral technology of the optic.
It’s still a very important consideration you’ll have to make. You need to make sure it will fit your rifle, or you’ll be making an expensive mistake.
The need for magnification will depend on your chosen hobby or use. When it comes to thermal optics and magnification, there are generally a few rules to follow.
First off, the higher the magnification, the higher resolution your optic will need for a clearer picture.
A 30Hz resolution and a 10-power optic are going to give you a pixelated image that will make finer details hard to see. Also, the more magnification, the larger the optic is. This accounts for both weight and length.
A longer magnification will make it easier to do the most important thing in shooting a living creature, and that’s aim with precision.
When hunting, you need to be able to put a creature down fast and humanely—and to do that, you need to hit a vital organ. These organs are not large, so you need to be precise when taking your shot.
Magnification allows you to zoom in past the rest of the world and focus on that fist-sized kill zone.
The same goes for tactical use. Your concern here is your own life. You want to put an attacker down as quickly and possible, and that means targeting a vital organ to do so. Thermal optics with good magnification allow you to do that.
Of course, the more magnification the optic has, the harder it will be to use the gun up close. The majority of thermal optics will have a fixed magnification.
Variable magnification is not uncommon, but this magnification is digital magnification. Unlike traditional magnification, all it does is simply make the picture appear closer. This limits the effective magnification and causes pixelation issues.
I prefer a 3- to 4-power fixed picture, but I certainly see merit in optics that go up to 16x for shooting small targets. Balance your needs, your target, and your effective range to isolate the appropriate amount of magnification for you.
Thermal technology is still relatively new, so it hasn’t shrunk as much as say your average camera. Thermal technology is still relatively large, especially when you start introducing more magnification, larger objective lenses, and higher battery capacity.
A heavy optic isn’t an issue if you plan to rest your rifle on a bipod or tripod and wait for your prey to come to you. However, if you plan to be moving a lot, a heavy optic makes for a heavy rifle.
From experience, I can tell you a heavy gun is a real pain to tote and shoot. It’s harder to hold to hold up for long periods of time, and this can affect accuracy.
Your tactics from hunting to actual tactical use will play a large role in how large your optic can be. A three-pound optic doesn’t sound bad until you try to hold it and your eight-pound rifle up and take a precise shot.
Rifles like the AR 15 and AR 10 have nice, long scope rails, and a lot of scope manufacturers have grown accustomed to them. This can be great if you have an AR but bad if you have something like a traditional bolt action rifle.
These rifles often have short scope mounts, and some longer optics may not fit on them easily.
Paying attention to the mounting surface length is an important factor to consider.
How does the rifle mount to your gun? Another side-effect of the AR industry is the rapid expansion of the use of picatinny rails. This has led to the vast majority of thermal scopes using a picatinny mount system.
If your rifle isn’t equipped with a picatinny mount, you made need to find a different optic, or a different means to mount the optic to your gun.
This may require you to swap your rail, purchase an adapter, or other means. Nothing is more frustrating than spending a ton of money on an optic that simply won’t mount.
ATN makes tons of different night vision and thermal devices, including binoculars, spotting scopes, and scopes in general. The ATN brand is synonymous with quality as well as modern technology.
ATN infuses their optics with a variety of different features that include everything from rangefinders to compasses. ATN likes to push boundaries, and they do it very well.
Their optics vary greatly and can be used in a variety of roles, including hunting and tactical use. Specifically hunting is often their main focus.
The ATN brand even has some very affordable optics, at least as far thermal optics go. They are a great brand to go with if you are new to thermal optics, or are shopping on a budget.
ATN’s selection is often one of their strongest selling points. They offer a ton of different optics for different situations in a variety of configurations. For example, the Thor 4 series is eight different optics with different features. ATN allows you to be as picky as you want to be.
Trijicon is a company that is notably connected to the tactical world. Their famed ACOG optic is one of the best optics ever created for combat purposes.
Trijicon optics of all kinds are issued inside the military. Their entry in the thermal scope world has been well received, and their thermal optics are as well made as their day optics.
Trijicon only produces four thermal optics, each with a dedicated purpose. This includes options in both the tactical and hunting realm.
These are serious optics that are designed to be utilized in life-and-death scenarios—or at least they can be depended on in life and death scenarios. Trijicon’s optics are well designed and are expensive. Very, very expensive.
These optics will deliver extreme performance and its performance that represents its cost. Trijicon thermal optics are perfect for hardcore users and those who want an optic that never quits.
Trijicon’s reputation with the tactical market and daylight optics has translated over to the thermal realm very well.
Flir is an old-school thermal optics company. They are dedicated (or at least seem to be dedicated) to pushing thermal technology forward. Flir is a company known for making high-resolution optics that deliver crisp and clear images.
They are also shrinking the technology and making it smaller, lighter, and easier to handle. Flir makes all things thermal, from the scopes we discussed here, to industrial grade thermal units designed for safety.
Flir optics are always the highest of quality and can be used in tactical scenarios, and they often are. Flir optics have powerful designs that can be used to spot humans, animals, and other creatures hiding in the night.
Flir optics are perfect for detecting and even eliminating threats. Flir optics are brilliant pieces of gear, and their prices reflect that. Their optics are high end, and you get what you pay for.
These expensive optics are well made and designed for serious use. They aren’t toys. They are great for hunting and will make it easy to thin out a hog herd across your property.
See in the Dark
Thermal scopes are awesome pieces of gear and can change the way you see through the night. These scopes are high-tech hunters that can give you the world if you want it. They are expensive and high tech, but well worth their price.
After you have picked out your favorite thermal scope, learn how to zero it.