Backcountry Optics

Introduction (by Terry Kramer 03/01/2013)

When it comes to any new product design, the first step is to identify the target market and undertake a problem assessment. This was the case with the V2-SnipePod/Tripod conversion.

The target market is a class of hunter that I like to call the "backcountry hunter". These hunters typically hunt hard, put on many foot miles, and are not deterred by mountain elevation challenges. They may even hunt for days with only the comfort of a bivy tent and freeze dried food. These hunters are always looking for reductions in both weight and bulk in their hunting system. Optics such as spotting scopes and binos are necessary tools.

The problem is optics can be bulky and heavy. This is especially true with the 80mm (and larger) spotting scopes where weight is typically greater than 3.5 pounds. Compounding the problem is that the large tripods required to support these monster spotters, typically weigh several pounds by themselves.

Fortunately in the past few years several optics manufactures have started to address this problem by introducing new compact spotters. Just as important, these new compact spotters are getting the same high-end components as their flag ship 80mm spotters. ED/HD glass that use to be reserved for the large format spotters can now be found in the 50mm spotters. Even interchangeable eye pieces - the same eyepieces used on the monster 80mm scopes - are not uncommon on these new scopes. From an optical quality and image representation perspective, there is little if any compromise with a good quality 50mm, except the physics of light gathering, where bigger objectives will always have the advantage.

The argument for the compact spotter is strong. The compact spotter you have with you deep in the backcountry always out performs the 80mm left in the pickup truck!

With the introduction of the V2-Tripod Conversion, I have been getting questioned more and more on my preferences for a compact spotter. Optics have always held a special interest to me - so over the past couple of years, I have made it a priority to investigate and compare the compact spotting scopes.

The continental European optics companies (except Minox) have not jumped on the 50mm compact spotters bandwagon at this time. Recently, another European manufacture was brought to my attention by some customers in Norway. Opticron is a U.K. company, located in Luton England (30miles north of London). Researching the U.K. birdwatching magazines and blogosphere, it became apparent that Opticron had a couple of 50mm class spotters that would be appealing to a backcountry hunter.

The Nikon ED50 has been a recent market trend setter with its ultra lightweight, compactness, image quality for the backcountry spotters. It has become the yard stick to which others are compared.

North America optics companies have been more proactive in the compact spotter market. In 2013 Vortex has introduced the Razor 50mm with looks like a sure winner. Burris has a couple of options including the XTS-2575 Cassegrain-style mirror scope, that while not a classic compact, has a low enough weight to warrant consideration. Leupold has a 50mm, 60mm and even a 40mm offering. Brunton, who has a storied history of products aimed at backpackers and backcountry hunter has a 50mm "ECHO" spotter that looks intriguing.

After visiting the major players during my show season, I have narrowed down my favorites to the four following spotters. I only considered products that have both 45 angled eyepieces as well as straight version. I have a bias for 45 angle models as I find them far more flexible in the field, especially with a mount that allows rotation of the scope from side to side.

The Bottom Line

Each of the four spotters will put a smile on your face the next time you pack in the backcountry. Combined with the V2-SnipePod & Tripod conversion, you have system that weights typically under 2 pounds and occupies little of your precious pack space. Go lighter, go farther.