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Are you looking for a lightweight and portable handheld thermal imaging device?
Admit it, your arms get tired from wielding the rifle for a magnified view when all you want to do is scout and spot for a while.
A monocular keeps things simple while offering the best of thermal imaging tech that you can get on a handheld device.
But, when they’re so expensive, you shouldn’t be rash into buying the first deal that comes across your web page.
When you know the ins and outs of what to look for in a thermal monocular or thermal binocular and what models are ranking and rating in at the top, you’ll be better prepared to make the most of every hard-earned dollar you plan to spend. And, trust us, these devices are not cheap.
To get the details on the best thermal monocular to date, see our lineup and take heart of our tidbits of advice along the way!
QUICK LIST: Best Thermal Imaging Monocular 2020
- Best Overall: Pulsar Helion XP Thermal Monocular
- Best Value: FLIR LS-X 60Hz
- Best Handheld: Trijicon Electro Optics IR Patrol Thermal Monocular
- Best for Coyote Hunting: Leupold LTO Tracker 2 HD
- Best Smart: ATN OTS-HD 384
- Best Compact: FLIR Scout III-240 Thermal Monocular
- Best Cheap: FLIR Scout TK Pocked-Sized Monocular
- Best Tactical: FLIR Breach PTQ136 Thermal Monocular
Our Top 8 Thermal Monoculars
Just to be clear, we’re not into thermal cameras and camcorders made for professional photography or for permanent home and property surveillance. We’re all about the type of thermals that help us get out on foot to hunt, track down, and watch people and animals for many different purposes. Camcorder features are a bonus, and are of course, a feature we will definitely highlight in the process. So – on with it!
Like night vision scopes and monoculars, thermal imaging monoculars and thermal imaging scopes get better the higher the price tag. Unlike night vision scopes, thermal devices are relatively new. They haven’t been around as long, and that makes them way more expensive in the current market. Be prepared to set a budget, save, and do some serious soul-searching on how badly you think you need the latest features and tech because it will cost you.
Hunters may have different needs than those in law enforcement, security, or the military. Even within the tactical world, the need for thermal quality will vary depending on the type of use and activity the monocular is intended for.
So, instead of trying to predict every possible scenario in which you might need a monocular, we’ll provide a number of models that have different features and price tags that might speak to you.
From long-lasting battery life to high pixel resolution and HD smart features, there’s a monocular that will more than suit your needs. We also keep things reasonably affordable with some economical options to choose from.
It’s all about evaluating what your needs are and how far you’re willing to stretch the budget. Here’s where we think you should put your money first!
|Pulsar Helion XP50 2.5||
|FLIR LS-X 60Hz||
|Trijicon Electro Optics IR Patrol||
|Leupold LTO Tracker 2 HD||
|ATN OTS-HD 384 1.25-5X||
|FLIR Scout III-240||
|FLIR Scout TK Pocked-Sized||
|FLIR Breach PTQ136||
Best Thermal Monocular: Our Top 8 Reviewed
1. Best Overall: Pulsar Helion XP Thermal Monocular Review
The serious night stalker who needs reliable thermal imaging quality for hunting, night observation, rescue operations, and so much more can depend on the Pulsar Helion XP monocular. It’s an impressive handheld for under $5000 with features you’ll be raving about to everyone who will listen.
- High resolution
- Fast 50Hz refresh rate
- Long observation range
- Multiple models available
- Not helmet or rail mount compatible
The Helion XP comes in three objective lens sizes with variable magnification: XP28 with 1.4-11.2x magnification, the XP38 with 1.9-15.2x magnification, and the XP50 with 2.5-20x magnification.
Although the field of view, physical dimensions, and objective lens size are model-specific, all else remains identical between the XP monoculars. This includes a 640×480 pixel resolution, 50 Hz refresh rate, and 8 hours of rechargeable battery supply, and we’re only just getting started on the good stuff.
For a handheld that may need to be out all night, you should demand a high level of durability from it. It’s IPX7 rated to be water, dust, and fogproof. Its AMOLED display can also stand up to the high demands of night hunting with its frost-resistant screen. The compact, 1-pound (approx.) monocular has a wide operating temperature of -13°F – 122°F.
How far can the XP detect large-size heat signatures? Distance ranges are impressive and are model-specific: 1094, 1476, and 1969 yards. That’s over a mile of stealth hunting and stalking in the dead of night with the XP50. You also have up to 8 color-palette displays to choose from.
As a new model to the market, it includes the latest software of 8gb internal storage for the onboard video recorder, built-in WiFi, stadiametric rangefinder, and an integrated accelerometer. At this point, it’s fair to ask what can’t the XP do? It turns out, it does everything. It didn’t take out the top spot on our list by being average!
2. Best Thermal Monocular for the Money: FLIR LS-X 60 Hz Review
It’s one of the best thermals FLIR has released to the market. It’s expensive, but it’s specifically designed for law enforcement with the quality and dependability that they must have to get the job done quickly and safely.
- 60 Hz refresh rate
- Laser pointer
- Selectable polarity
- Battery life
This is a true handheld thermal imaging unit that has professional quality at its core. Law enforcement, security, search and rescue, and all tactical related professionals will easily recognize the affordability of such a tool and its value.
It’s extremely portable and easy to use as a handheld monocular with its 12 oz weight and 6.7 x 2.3 x 2.4” size. It has 2x and 4x zoom and a detection range of 623 yards (570 m). Its overall design is kept as minimalistic as possible for fast execution while out in the field. It powers up in less than 1.5 seconds, a 640 x 480 LCD display, and it can provide over 5 hours of operation depending on use.
The battery life isn’t the greatest, but it’s within standard expectations for a thermal. The built-in battery can be charged up with the included USB power adapter/charger and cable that can likely connect into your compatible ports on the dashboard of your patrol car.
The LS-X has three polarity modes that are especially useful for law enforcement: White Hot, Black Hot, and InstAlert. InstAlert is a mode that shows higher temperatures like human bodies in red. The screen brightness can be adjusted, and there is also an integrated marking laser pointer on the monocular that allows the user to safely pinpoint suspects to other officers closing in.
This monocular is easy to use, fast to deploy, provides silent operation, and is extremely portable and convenient. The reliability and dependability of this professional-grade monocular makes it the best buy for the money.
3. Best Handheld Thermal Monocular: Trijicon Electro Optics IR Patrol Thermal Monocular Review
Trijicon is a well-respected leader in the optics field, and when it comes to thermal vision, they’re still leading the market at the top. To help you own the night comes the IR Patrol series, and in particular, the LE100 handheld scope.
- 640×480 resolution
- MaxPol tech
- DFC digital focus
- Extreme operating temp
- Approx. 2-hour battery life
It’s the entry-level monocular of the series but that also means it’s the most affordable model out of the very expensive line. But, what’s basic to Trijicon may mean it’s still out of your league. Since when is crisp and sharp 640×480 resolution entry-level? This just proves that Trijicon optics operate at a higher standard than what most of us will ever afford.
Its “basic” features include a 30Hz refresh rate, E-Zoom, Polarity, and DFC Digital Focus. With E-Zoom, you have 1x optical magnification and 8x digital zoom. MaxPol technology allows you to control your picture to get the best image possible. To identify your targets, make use of the polarity control that allows you three modes in white hot and three modes in black hot.
What’s DFC? It’s the Digital Focus Control that not only allows you to bring your entire image into focus, but it also sharpens the image to get maximum detail out of your sight picture.
The Trijicon LE100 is easy to use with its thumbstick interface for quick and instant operation when on covert patrol around the perimeter. It’s made to be a multipurpose unit for all your night-time needs. It’s compact and lightweight at only 1 pound, and since it’s a Trijicon, it’s incredibly rugged. Operating temperatures are extreme taking you from -40°F to 131°F to endure the harshest conditions you wish to brave.
It’s a true handheld device, so it’s only 5.95″ x 2″ x 2.95″ in size and can’t be mounted to a helmet or rail-mounted to a rifle. For those mounting features, you’re going to have to pay more and get the next model up. However, with Trijicon quality on your side, it ain’t bad at all for “entry-level,” right?
4. Best Thermal Monocular for Coyote Hunting: Leupold LTO Tracker 2 HD Review
Now, here’s a brand that many a hunter is familiar with and is more than loyal to. Sometimes, sticking with a brand you trust for your day hunting can also be the brand you want come dusk. Why switch out brands if you don’t have to?
Leupold knows optics, and apparently, they know thermal too. Their monocular inventory might not be as extensive or as advanced as ATN or Trijicon, but what Leupold does, Leupold does well. The LTO Tracker 2 with HD is the affordable option for many hunters on a budget.
- 750-yard detection range
- Lightweight/7 oz
- Made in USA
- Not mountable to helmet or rifle
You don’t always need the fancy features of a $5000 monocular when you can have what you need for under $2000. With 750 yards of positive thermal imaging identification, you’ll be well within range to stalk and take down hogs in pitch black or coyotes trespassing in the late hours.
It has 390×390 display resolution with 320×240 thermal sensors, 25Hz frame rate, and 6 color palettes. What can we say? It’s simple, but effective and right within your budget range.
As a true thermal imaging device, you can use it during daylight hours. To improve image quality while the sun is out, the Tracker 2 HD has Leupold’s new Beacon mode so you can quickly track your game when it sprang off after the shot and it went down on a background that has a similar heat signature like sunlit hillsides.
While it’s still a simple thermal imaging monocular at its core, at least it can say it’s made in the USA and is completely waterproof. It’s lightweight, thanks to its aluminum housing, so it only weighs 7 ounces.
For close range hunting, the LTO more than gets the job done. Why pay for more features when this is realistically what will fill your practical needs? Thanks Leupold for keeping it simple and affordable!
5. Best Smart Thermal Monocular: ATN OTS-HD 384 Review
These days, everything is “smart” from your cellphone to your TV and now to your thermal monocular. Why not, right? If the tech’s there, why not take advantage of it for the watch, stalk, and the hunt – of deer that is.
Trust ATN to bring out a smart HD monocular, and the model we’re featuring is the OTS-HD 384 1.25-5X. Yes, there’s multiple models in the OTS 384 line, but this is the entry-level one with the friendliest price tag of them all. However, if you thought entry-level means skin and bones, you’d be underestimating your buy and the smart HD monocular’s value.
- Multiple features
- 8 hr battery life
- Long detection range
- Low zoom magnification
- Must learn all the controls/features
It has a 384×288 sensor, 1.25-5x zoom magnification, and a 19 mm objective lens size. It’s a little on the heavier side for a 7″ x 3″ x 3″ (approx.) device weighing in at 1.5 pounds. But, we’re sure you’ll be willing to carry the extra load after you’ve seen just some of its smart features.
It goes without saying you have an HD display, WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS capabilities. You also have 3D gyroscope, 3D accelerometer, and 3D magnetometer. An E-Barometer and E-Compass are extra perks you can rely on.
With 8 hours of battery life, what can’t you accomplish in one night? You have a detection range of up to 683 yards, a recognition range of 306 yards, and an identification range of 186 yards. Detecting your prey while staying in stealth mode is easily achievable when you have ATN tech in your pocket.
The only thing we’d advise is making sure you’re up to figuring out how to use all the features. With buttons, menus, and multiple features, it can get time consuming to be fiddling around in the dark when you just want to take the shot.
But, if you have the patience to learn the controls before getting out in the field, you’ll be well-set to take full advantage of your ATN monocular and all its potential. The dark might hold some surprises that only the smart OTS-HD can detect.
6. Best Compact Thermal Monocular: FLIR Scout III-240 Thermal Monocular Review
Most people would say to save up your cash until you can afford a serious thermal imaging unit that puts you above the $3000 price range. But, when you’re strapped for cash and you need something now, you don’t have to settle for garbage. The FLIR Scout III is the compromise to getting something now for a decent price.
- 30Hz refresh rate
- 383-yard detection range
- No zoom/photo or recording
The Scout III-240 model is nothing flashy, but it certainly sets the standard for what a cheap monocular should offer. To start with, it has a 640×480 LCD display with a 240×180 thermal detector system and a 30Hz refresh rate. What does this get you?
It gets you 383 yards of detection range efficient enough for hunting, observation, trail seeking, and most nighttime activities to make this a multi-purpose thermal imaging tool. You can adjust the display brightness to suit your eyes and light conditions, and you can also control image polarity with 3 selectable modes that includes White Hot, Black Hot, and InstAlert.
You don’t have to worry about portability as it’s extremely convenient to handle and stow away as needed. It doesn’t even weigh a pound, and it measures in at 6.7″ x 2.3″ x 2.4″ for ultimate compactness.
However, if you’re after variable magnification or the ability to take photos or record video, you’re out of luck. You’ll have to go with an upgraded model which inevitably pushes up the cost. But, if you need thermal imaging for the heat of the moment, the Scout III can have your back.
7. Best Cheap Thermal Monocular: FLIR Scout TK Pocked-Sized Monocular Review
How do you take a thermal imaging device for under $1000 seriously? Easy. The answer is: FLIR. The Scout TK is a pocked-sized thermal imaging monocular that delivers big with a small price tag. For a ridiculous price, you’re getting far from ridiculous quality.
The Scout has 160×120 thermal sensors and is just above par for what was considered standard resolution for a thermal device not too long ago. Equipped with a built-in LCD screen, the display has 640×480 resolution, has 8 color palettes, and it also has FLIR’s Proprietary Digital Detail Enhancement image processing system.
- Rechargeable battery
- 8 palette options
- Short detection range
It’s a small device made to be convenient no matter the circumstances. It’s completely waterproof, is 6″ x 2″ x 2″ in size, and it weighs a mere 6 ounces. Even better, you get more than 5 hours of usage with its rechargeable Li-Ion battery which is plenty enough to take a photo or recording of adult-sized object at 100 yards away. Beware, you don’t want to leave a charged battery in the chamber. Only install battery when ready to use the device.
The Scout doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. It’s a close-range thermal device made for pocket convenience when scouting your property or spotting for incoming pests. You might also want to use it for camping and fun with the kids as it’s a low-end device.
For the meager price of the FLIR unit, you’ll also get a couple accessories in the buy: neck lanyard, lens cap, and a USB cable. Although it’s a cheap monocular, it has its benefits for close-range work and tracking downed deer if you’re out in the hunt. Even when spending as little as possible, you might find the Scout TK is better than you expected.
8. Best Tactical Thermal Monocular: FLIR Breach PTQ136 Thermal Monocular Review
Do you work in law enforcement? Do you need a monocular that covers tactical basics? The Breach PTQ136 by FLIR was made for you. To be completely honest, it’s on the more expensive end of the spectrum for its basic features, but it does have a few surprises that might be priceless to you.
- 60Hz refresh rate
- Video recording
- 1-4x zoom
The Breach is the ultimate, covert thermal monocular that only weighs 7.4 ounces. Adding it to your gear or your uniform, whether it be camo or tactical, is a non-issue. It even features a mini-rail for mounting that many monoculars are incapable of doing.
Because of its ability to be mounted to a helmet or to other head mounts, it allows for hands-free operation that can be invaluable in the field. With a 320×256 sensor, a Quad-VGA (1280 × 960) FLCOS display, and a 60Hz refresh rate, nothing will get past you. You can catch it all on video too which is priceless for a cop who needs that body cam proof to support the case.
However, the Breach is made for close-range work. It has 1-4x variable magnification and 7 palette options to best identify your suspect or game day or night. You’ll want to look into getting an external battery pack if you plan to be out for any decent amount of time since 90 minutes is pushing it.
While this isn’t the ideal hunting monocular, it’s a great close-range monocular for tactical and security work. It has better than average specs that will support your multi-purpose nighttime needs. Catch the breach before it happens with a Breach monocular for a set of eyes.
What to Look For in a Thermal Monocular
There’s a lot going on in a thermal device, and we don’t expect you to know every step of the manufacturing process or every component that’s needed to get you a heat signature in the light of day or pitch black.
Instead, we’ll clue you in on main features you must know about when searching for your monocular buy. This list will help you determine what a fundamental feature is and what a luxury feature is. You can go without built-in WiFi if it means you can put your money into a high resolution and fast refresh rate monocular.
But, what’s high resolution for a thermal? Does it matter what the temperature is when you want to spot the polar bear in the tundra? Check out our tips on what to look for to make the wisest investment for your next hunt or deployment.
Thermal Sensor Resolution:
Even though thermal technology is somewhat new, it’s come a long way very quickly. What used to be the standard is now far below what’s accepted to get positive identification beyond 100 yards. 640×480 pixel resolution is quite exceptional for a thermal sensor. However, the higher the resolution, the more it will cost. You must evaluate if your needs justify the extra image quality.
This is different and usually higher than the thermal sensor rating. It indicates the resolution the display is able to achieve, but it may not be functioning at this rate if the thermal sensors are not as good.
Refresh Rate (Hz):
This is how quickly an image is refreshed or cycled to present a more natural image, especially when there’s moving objects or when you’re on a moving platform. The higher the refresh rate, the better. Typically, you will see 30Hz or 60Hz. Most of the time, users don’t see the time lag between a 30Hz and 60Hz device, but if you’re on a moving platform like a vehicle, 30Hz may be too slow.
This is a price factor since price is indicative of quality here. The better quality the monocular, the further the detection range. Detection range allows for positive heat signature acquisition from distances up to 4,000 yards on some of the best thermal devices available. However, being able to identify an animal from a person, a pig from a coyote, etc is another factor to consider.
Most of the time, your monocular will be fine to use most of the time in most conditions. However, it’s still important to note what the operating temperature range is since many electronic devices can only function per battery limitations. If you need to stay out in sweltering heat or on the coldest nights, you want to make sure your monocular won’t fizzle out.
8 hours is pretty significant for a user who wants to make the most of their time. Be on the lookout since a monocular with an hour battery life may not cut it. Also consider if rechargeable batteries or external battery packs may be worth investing in.
Most monoculars should offer a color palette mode with selectable options. Various monochromatic color schemes can make it easier to detect your target or differences between the background and other objects.
Thermals will typically offer two types of zoom magnification: optical and digital, and both will directly affect resolution. Optical magnification will have less effect on resolution than digital. Digital zoom can reduce image quality at high magnification unless the monocular has special software to help minimize the effects and sharpen the image.
These are not cheap devices. Be brand-specific or buy a very good warranty to protect your investment. If customer service is important to you, be sure to look into this before choosing a brand or monocular.
Thermal Imaging: More Than Night Vision
It’s natural to lump night vision and thermal imaging into the same category. We tend to think that they’re just night devices to help see when it’s pitch black outside. While this is true of a thermal imaging monocular, it’s not limited to just nighttime use.
Because it’s an active device, you can use this during the day. Use it to spot faraway targets or downed deer you lost track of. If you need to refresh yourself on the differences between thermal and night vision, take a quick read of how they differ right here then decide for yourself – which is the best thermal monocular to take home with you today?