We’ve all seen it, the steady green glow of night vision in film and video games. The hero looking like some form of robotic cyclops with his vision bathed in green, a set of NV goggles strapped to his head, and the steady hum of night vision in his ears.
The hum may be fictional, but the nature of night vision devices isn’t. Night goggles open up the world around you once the sun goes down.
Shopping for night vision goggles can be tricky. Night vision isn’t the simplest type of optic on the market, so you need to know not only what to look at, but how it will function for your needs—especially since they can be used for a variety of purposes, from recreational to tactical.
The 7 Top Infrared Goggles of 2021: Outdoor Empire Reviews
These are our top recommendations for infrared night vision goggles of 2021:
- Best cheap #1: Nightstar 1×20
- Best cheap #2: Sightmark Ghost Hunter Kit
- Best for the money: Yukon Tracker 1×2
- Best for hunting #1: ATN NVG7-3
- Best for hunting #2: Sightmark Ghost Hunter 1×24
- Best overall #1: ATN PVS-7P NVG Gen 3s
- Best overall #2: ATN PS15-3A
*Looking for a specific feature? Check out our quick-reference chart below:
For Hunting #1
|Lens Diameter||27 mm||24mm||26mm|
|Resolution||64 lp/mm||36 lp/mm||64 lp/mm|
|Angular Field of View||40°||30°||40 °|
|Weight||1.54 lbs||1.3 lbs||2.2 lbs|
|Dimensions (LxWxH)||4.7" x 4.5" x 2.7"||6.9" x 4.8" x 2.8"||6.3" x 6" x 3"|
|Power Supply||(1) 3V CR123A battery or (1) 1.5V AA battery||3V CR123A||(1) 3-volt CR123A|
|Cost||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
1. Best Cheap NV Goggles #1: Nightstar 1×20
The night-vision goggle game can be expensive to break into. Quality devices can be a thousand dollars or more. The Nighstar 1×20 costs less than half that, and though it’s not perfect, it’s a good introduction to night vision.
The Nightstar 1×20 is a binocular set that comes with head gear, a flip-up mount, and a built-in infrared illuminator.
There are obvious areas where the manufacturer saved money to get night-vision goggles available at this price point. The lens caps are cheap, as is the head gear, though you can upgrade to a better headset or helmet mount later. Also, the goggles weigh more than others of the same size.
The controls are surprisingly easy to use, though. Adjusting the lenses is also easy, though there’s no eye-distance adjustment, so not everybody will be able to comfortably see through both sides.
The IR illuminator is also pretty limited, though it’s still acceptable when used outdoors. Just don’t expect it to illuminate a full room when used indoors!
- Easy to use
- Eye distance cannot be adjusted
- Heavy for the size
- Mediocre head-mount set
The Nightstar 1×20 is a comparatively inexpensive piece of equipment that’s a good choice for people who want a budget night-vision device.
2. Best Cheap NV Goggles #2: Sightmark Ghost Hunter Kit
The optics also has a bright light cut-off system. This prevents the optics from being exposed to damage by sudden bright lights. The battery life ranges from 40 to 80 hours, depending on the usage of IR illuminators.
The Sightmark Ghost Hunter is a 1×24 power unit that is quite compact and lightweight. This is important because it hangs around your head!
- This kit packs 30 lp/mm
- Clear enough for most civilian use
- The Ghost Hunter has an impressive detection range of 87 yards
- Goggles are easy to use
- Automatic shutoff feature protects your eyes from bright and sudden lights
- Perfect for new users
- Comes with a headset-mounting unit. It wraps around your head and holds the goggles at eye level
It is insanely convenient to use this system, regardless of your intent. We think it’s a solid choice for airsoft, paintball, and other war games. Furthermore, it’s great for training purposes and for beginners.
- Resolution – 30lp/mm
- Magnification – 1x
- FOV – 30 Degrees
- Weight – 8.8 ounces
3. Best Goggles for the Money: Yukon Tracker 1×24
The Yukon Tracker 1×24 is a moderately priced, first-generation night-vision goggle system that includes a fully adjustable head mount so you have everything you need for basic night vision without having to spend a lot of money.
The Tracker has fully multicoated lenses and a high-resolution intensifier for good optical quality. The built-in infrared illuminator is sufficient for short-range illumination, up to about 75 yards. You can see further when the night is brighter.
Users report that they can identify whether a deer is a doe or a buck at 250 yards during clear nights.
The whole system is more comfortable than many of night-vision goggles, though it may take some time for the rubber cup to conform to your face. After you’ve adjusted the optics to your eyes, you can use the central focus knob for easy focusing.
The lens caps fold securely to the side. They also have a pinhole so you can use the goggles during the day if you want!
- Can identify deer at 250 yards under a clear night sky
- Easy to adjust
- Includes head mount
- Lackluster field of view
- Short battery life
The Yukon Tracker 1×24 is not the best night-vision goggle on the market, but it’s good enough for casual use and hunting if you don’t want to buy a separate head-mount system.
4. Best NV Goggles For Hunting #1: ATN NVG7-3
ATN’s NVG7-3 is the third-generation version of ATN’s NZG7 series. It produces high-quality images in the dark, helped with the infrared illuminator if necessary. However, the night-vision capabilities are good enough that you’ll rarely need to turn on the IR floodlight.
The lenses have been multicoated for accurate visual quality. The body is lightweight, compact, and rugged, being waterproof and fog resistant. You can use the NVG7-3 as handheld binoculars or attach it to the included head mount for flip-down, hands-free use.
The automatic brightness control keeps the image from getting too bright if you look into the light, and it will automatically cut off the image if you glance at a light bright enough to be dangerous.
A single 3-volt CR123A battery powers the NVG7-3 for up to 60 hours.
What makes the NVG7-3 so adaptable is its ability to mount ATN’s magnifying lenses, which lets you search for those small details that can give away a hiding animal. These will add a lot of weight, though!
- Long battery life
- Third-generation night vision
- Waterproof and fog resistant
The ATN NVG7-3 is a great choice for hunters who want a high-quality and very durable set of night vision goggles that can be used unmagnified or magnified.
5. Best Goggles for Hunting #2: Sightmark Ghost Hunter 1×24
Sightmark’s Ghost Hunter series doesn’t just include the unmagnified version. You can also get the Ghost Hunter 2×24 and 4×50 versions. The latter is best for hunting, though you’ll only want to use it when stationary.
It can be difficult to walk around the woods when looking through a 15-degree field of view at 4x magnification!
However, that magnification is great for when you’re scanning the environment for that tricky coyote you’re hunting.
The Ghost Hunter will work for up to 70 hours with two AAA batteries, though that drops down to 20 hours when you need to turn on the infrared illuminator. You shouldn’t need to turn that on except for when the night sky is overcast, though.
Note that while the two sets of two lenses provide a good field of view for the magnification, you have to adjust each lens separately.
Also, you’ll have to buy the head mount separately from the goggles.
- High native magnification for a set of night vision binocular
- Long battery life
- Adjustment can be fiddly
- Doesn’t come with the head mount
The Sightmark Ghost Hunter 1×24 is a great choice for hunting at nighttime due to its good magnification and long battery life, though you’ll only want to use it when staying still.
6. Best Goggles Overall #1: ATN PVS-7P NVG Gen 3s
When it comes time to rock and roll in the professional realm, PVS-7P night vision goggles are the way to go. These are the kind of goggles the professionals use for self-defense, active duty, and observation. Not to mention the PVS-7P series is built to last.
- Bi-ocular design with reduced weight and a lower profile
- Designed to be mounted to a helmet
- Built-in IR illuminator for low light situations
An IR illuminator is a must have when it comes to professional grade optics, and the PVS-7P is no different. The IR illuminator makes it easy to see close range items too. With practice, a user can get good enough to read a book!
The PVS-7P has a resolution of 64 lp/mm. On a clear night, this gives you the ability to easily spot and identify facial features at an impressive range. The automatic brightness control shuts the unit off if it’s suddenly exposed to bright light. Overall, the PVS-7P is an outstanding unit and provides you with a 40-degree field of view and 40 hours of run time.
- Resolution – 64 LP/MM
- Magnification – 1x
- FOV – 40 degrees
- Weight – 1.1 pounds
7. Best Goggles Overall #2: ATN PS15-3A
If you prefer a binocular design, then the PS15-3A are the goggles for you. The ATN PS15s are a Gen 3 system. That means you get professional grade performance! The high-performance intensifier tubes give you a wider field of view that’s natural. Overall, the PS15s are compact and lightweight, but not as compact as the above-mentioned design.
- Provides a very clear image
- Built-in illuminator is designed for close quarters use in the dark
- Well suited for both professionals and beginners
- Rock solid 64 lp/mm resolution
- 40-degree field of view
- Impressive 60-hour battery life
These ATNs are easy to mount to a helmet or hands-free system of any kind. They weigh 1.54 pounds, so while they are not the lightest system out there, they aren’t heavy enough to make you rub your neck every few minutes. Keep in mind the PS15s are water-resistant, not waterproof. We think these goggles are amazing optics and will handle any role you toss them into.
- Resolution – 64 lp/mm
- Magnification – 1x
- FOV – 40 degree
- Weight – 24 ounces
ATN PS15-3A is also available on:
How Night Vision Goggles Work
Night vision goggles work by taking invisible light you can’t see with the naked eye and amplifying it into visible light. This amplification of light makes it possible to see in situations that are too dark for the naked eye to see.
Goggles use two imaging tubes that allow you to see a wide field of view that beats out a monocular. However, night vision goggles do require that invisible and ambient light to be present to function correctly. The more moon and starlight you have, the brighter your sight picture will be.
To learn more about night vision check out: How Does Traditional & Digital Night Vision Work!
Where Night Vision Goggles Shine
Night vision goggles are great if you need a portable system for maneuvering and seeing the world around you.
Compared to other night vision optics, night vision goggles give you the ability to easily move in a variety of ways.
- crawling, as well as navigating obstacles and doing tasks like opening doors, climbing ladders, and utilizing weapons.
Night vision goggles are commonly employed when the user needs both hands to complete a task. In tactical roles, they are comfortable to use for long-term observation and for tasks like patrolling, clearing buildings, and even treating wounded personnel.
Their hands-free design makes them incredibly convenient.
Night Vision Goggle Price Ranges and Quality
Night vision goggles can be had at a variety of levels that range from hobbyist to professional grade.
On the cheap side, you can get a pair of goggles for a few hundred bucks, but they will not be anywhere near professional grade goggles. On the professional grade side, you can spend upwards of ten thousand dollars for a quality pair of night vision.
The higher the generation, the more the goggles will cost. The differences in image quality, durability, and overall performance make the amount you’ll spend immensely different.
A cheap pair may give you the ability to see another person at 100 yards, but a high-quality pair will allow you to see their gender, their clothing, and what they are doing or looking at.
Know What You Need To Get the Right Gear
Generations and Use Cases Explained!
- Better for casual observation and learning to use night vision
- General surveillance of an area is possible, but recognition is difficult
- Great choice for airsofters and paintballers
- The low resolution makes it difficult and unsafe to drive or shoot with it
- Max range of roughly 75 yards
- Drains batteries quickly
- Least expensive
- Light amplification up to 900 times
- Smaller field of view
- Lowest generation optics that can be used for hunting, shooting, and driving safely
- Generation 2 and 2+ optics have a massive increase in resolution
- Needs less ambient light to function than Gen 1 devices
- Gen 2 optics allow you to step your game up when it comes to the use of night vision (They are not something I’d trust my life on during a tactical situation, but they are capable of easy movement and easy shooting)
- Amplifies light up to 30,000 times
- Automatically controls distortion
- IR illuminator not always needed
- Longer battery life
- Can recognize objects out to 200 yards
- These devices are the first level where you start to get tactical
- Provides enough power and high enough resolution to see and recognize almost anyone and anything at a respectable range
- This is what the military currently uses in combat
- Used by tactical patrols to clear rooms
- Also used for observation, surveillance, hunting, shooting, driving, and more
- Longest battery life
- Recognize objects out to 300 yards
- Equipped with a microchannel plate for gain control
- With a Gen 3 set of goggles, you can do basically anything
- Provides the clearest picture currently possible with NV technology
- Like Gen 3, it is suited for tactical units; it can do everything a Gen 3 device can, only clearer
- The downside is the extreme cost that goes with its performance
- Can be used even in daylight conditions
- Sharp images with the best recognition and detection range
- The Most Expensive of Optics
- Gen 4 goggles are the best of the best when it comes to night vision technology
Weight is a major issue to consider when buying night vision goggles since they are designed to be mounted on a helmet or a head-worn system. If they are too heavy, they can cause discomfort and strain to your neck.
You really want to stay under two pounds if possible. Most goggles, especially professional grade, can remain under 2 pounds. Models currently used by Special Forces will exceed this weight, but they also have a total of four lenses. Make sure you do your neck exercises if you plan to carry anything heavier.
The size of a unit becomes a major issue if you attempt to use a firearm while utilizing the goggles. Too large and it makes it near impossible to gain a cheek weld on your rifle. It may be hard to avoid this, so a high-rise optic mount may be necessary.
You need to determine what mounting system is compatible with your night vision goggles and how exactly you are planning to wear them.
Rhino helmet mounts are the most common and are what most military forces use. It is directly attached to a helmet via a screw or a tensioned strap.
A HALO or head mount does not require a helmet. It is composed of bands and webbing that situate the goggles over your eyes. These mounts are lighter, cooler, and cheaper than a helmet mounted system, but less comfortable overall. These systems may also hold the goggles closer to your head, which may be uncomfortable.
Autogated devices are handy when wearing goggles since they are commonly used while moving, shooting, and even driving. The appearance of sudden bright lights can be dangerous and can easily damage a non-gated device.
An autogated device will not be damaged by bright light and will often shut off completely when exposed to bright lights. This can be a lifesaver when it comes to long-term use or use in urban environments. They can save your potentially several thousand dollar optics from being flash fried.
Autogating adds to the cost of the optic for sure, but when it comes to higher end optics, it’s a feature I wouldn’t go without.
An integral illuminator for night vision is important and desirable, especially with monoculars or binoculars. It reduces the weight and complexity of an attached unit. It also makes it possible to see and move when there is little to no ambient light.
An integral illuminator can also make it easy to search in close quarters environments. With a proper illuminator and a good set of goggles, they can be tuned to the point where you can even read text on paper.
Integral illuminators can also be used for signaling other night vision users through quick and sudden bursts of light. This can be used to signal your position, or even communicate in Morse code. Some IR illuminator models can also be detached and carried in the hand like a flashlight.
These are often larger and more powerful than integral illuminators
Night Vision Goggles Range
The effective range of your night vision goggles is going to be determined by the quality of the optics. A hobbyist pair will never keep up with the optics used by military forces.
Other factors affecting range include:
- the size of the object
- how much ambient light is available
- if there is fog, etc.
Night vision has two effective ways to measure distance: detection range and recognition range.
A Gen 3 device on a good clear night will allow you to see a person with ease at 200 yards, but all you’ll be able to tell is that it’s a bipedal human.
At 75 yards you’ll be able to see if they are a man or a woman, what’s in their hands, and if they are a potential threat.
Night Vision Goggles Gain
When it comes to night vision optics, gain is the ability for the optic—in this case, goggles—to compensate for different levels of light at night. Essentially it’s the brightness of an area or object when amplified by the goggles. Gain is the amplification of the video signal created by the goggles.
A high gain is needed in the darkest areas, and you can find out your goggle’s gain when the light output is divided by light input. It will likely be in the tens of thousands with a high-quality pair of Gen 2 or Gen 3 devices.
In situations where the ambient light is constantly changing, some form of gain control is quite desirable. In these situations, a manual gain is a must have. These environments are often urban and the light around you is constantly changing.
With a manual gain, you can adjust the device as needed and not have to rely on an automatic gain system. Automatic gain is well suited for use in nonurban areas where the gain only shifts slightly.
Night vision goggles combine two of the most fragile pieces of gear in the world: electronics and glass.
When you combine the two, you will find issues with fragility and oftentimes the weather resistance is rather poor.
Lower end units may be sealed as much as possible to resist some water and dust, but only higher-end models are truly strong and powerful enough to resist all forms of weather.
One major issue I saw overseas was that sandstorms would kill night vision, not just due to them destroying visibility but the sand would coat and strike the lenses, causing scratches and defeating your ability to see over time.
Additionally, even my issued goggles were merely water resistant, and I destroyed them once when we got poured on.
Night vision goggles are tough, but when purchasing it’s critical that you examine the area you will be using them in and ensure they are well protected against the elements.
As I stated above, glass plus electornics equals something potentially fragile. Hobby level models of night vision goggles are far from perfect and a short fall or sudden impact may destroy them entirely.
The higher-end models that use aluminum bodies are often much stronger and rated for a short fall. Plastic bodies are plastic bodies, and they are an example of you get what you pay for.
The same goes for lenses. Glass lenses are cleared and less likely to collapse and slide out of place. Higher-end materials create stronger optics.
The battery your optic uses can be an important trait. You want a common and easy to find battery with high-quality options available.
Something that takes a double A is much easier to deal with than something that takes an 1860 battery. High-quality batteries that are less likely to leak are a must have for tools as expensive as night vision goggles.
Feature to Avoid
Goggles are designed to be worn while shooting, walking, and driving. For these tasks, you really want a zero to 1 magnification.
If magnification is present, you may have difficulty moving safely.
Can you use NV goggles with a scope?
Night vision goggles can be used with optics, but they are picky about the optics. The optics must have a long or infinite eye relief and don’t work well with magnified optics. They work best with red dot optics. However, these optics need to have night vision settings and compatibility. This may also require you to mount the optic a little more forward than normal. Additionally, it can be tricky to get an eye relief with a low mount so you may need to mount the optic higher than normal to accommodate the night vision goggles.
Another option is buying a separate night vision scope for your night-time shooting.
Do NV goggles work with glasses?
Glasses are a must have for some folks and luckily most night vision goggles can be used with glasses. They have enough eye relief that makes combining both goggles and glasses easy to do. Very few pairs of night vision goggles will be kept so close the eyes that glasses can’t be worn.
What NV goggles do the military use?
By and large, the military no longer uses night vision goggles. They have moved to monoculars and favor their lighter weight, smaller profile, and greater peripheral vision potential. The US Marines currently use the PVS 14, as does most of the Army, but the Army is now fielding the AN/PSQ-20 monocular as well.
You may see some old night vision goggles kicking around non-combat units and reserve units, but goggles are on their way out of military use. Some special ops units will use a four-tube unit known as the Ground Panoramic Night Vision Goggle. These were the goggles used by Seal Team Six to get Bin Laden.
Have Fun with NV Goggles!
When we start thinking of “night vision,” we usually picture night vision goggles. The tactical aspects make these a highly desirable system for night time movement.
Using goggles can also be a lot of fun, especially when playing MilSim airsoft. You can easily live out your Tom Clancy fantasies with a set of night vision goggle.