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A good pair of binoculars will open your eyes to a world you didn’t know existed. With sharp and clear optics that let in a lot of light, suddenly the smudge a 1,000 yards away turns into a bedded down buck. Without binoculars, you walk on by. With binoculars, you’ve got a cool new challenge on your hands.
Enter the Alpen Shasta Ridge series of binoculars. These waterproof and fogproof binoculars use fully multicoated BAK4 optics to deliver bright and sharp images at a price so reasonable, the Shasta Ridge models may be the best overall value in a binocular most hunters could hope for.
After a few hunting seasons using my rifle scope to spot animals, in addition to playing with a lousy set of cheap binoculars, I finally realized I was missing out on an effective way to hunt. So I started doing the research and I learned the basics of binoculars — and why a small investment is worthwhile for most hunters.
How to Choose Binoculars
Using any binocular is better than relying on your rifle scope, which isn’t the safest or most hunter-friendly way to check out an area. That said, cheap binoculars are problematic for three reasons: 1) they don’t let in much light, 2) they don’t use good glass, resulting in fuzzy images, and 3) they tend to fail when you need them most. If you’re investing in time and serious effort to hunt, don’t put yourself in a position for gear failure. I’ve been there. You put too much work into a season for gear not to do its job. This is what you need to know. . . .
For hunting on the go, you need a binocular that magnifies the image by 8x or 10x. If you have shaky hands, choose 8x. Next, you need to choose the diameter of the front objective lens as measured in millimeters. For example, 8×25 means you’ll get an image that is magnified 8 times and the light will pass through a 25 millimeter lens. This means you’ll be looking at a smaller binocular in a small form factor, which is good for packing around (or even backpacking). Unfortunately, 8×25 won’t perform very well in low-light conditions — early morning and dusk — which is when most hunters need to use binoculars.
The question is why?
The answer has to do with what’s called Exit Pupil, and the exit pupil is the diameter of the light that will leave a binocular and enter your eye. The human pupil can contract and expand from about 2 mm to 8 mm. To calculate the “exit pupil” you divide the diameter of the front objective lens by the magnification power. So 25 divided by 8 is 3.125. This means that during the day, when your pupil is contracted at say, 2.5 mm, plenty of light will be able to enter your eye and you’ll see a bright image. At dusk, though, when your pupil has opened to 5 mm, your eye is essentially ready to accept more light than the binocular is going to deliver. The end result is that smaller exit pupil diameters deliver less light, which starts to make a difference at dawn and dusk, leading to images that appear darker.
A 10×42 binocular has an exit pupil calculation of 4.2 mm, which results in a much brighter image than 8×25. Similarly, if you tend to hunt in dark, overcast conditions, this calculation becomes important. Getting an 8×42 binocular sacrifices 2x magnification but delivers an exit pupil calculation of 5.25. This means that in early morning or fog or twilight, an 8×42 binocular will deliver more light to your pupil than a 10×42 binocular.
The downside of a 42 millimeter objective lens is the overall size of the binocular — they will be larger than an 8×25 binocular.
Still, lens sizes aren’t the only thing that affect light transmission, which is why a high quality 8×25 binocular, for example, can compete for image brightness against lower quality binoculars with larger objective lenses.
Understanding Binocular Coatings
While glass lets light pass through it, it also reflects some light, too. In a binocular, there might be 10 different glass surfaces, all of which will reflect light, which reduces the amount of light that will reach your eye — as well as cause glare. To combat this, manufacturers use good glass. BAK4 is excellent glass. BAK7 is of lesser quality than BAK4, but it’s usually fine for larger optics like spotting scopes. (Remember, this review isn’t for optical snobs, it’s for average hunters like me who know they need a decent, budget-friendly binocular.)
To reduce the light reflection, the glass is coated with thin chemical films. If a binocular has “coated” optics, it means that at least one lens has an anti-reflective coating. Fully coated means that all the glass surfaces have been coated at least once. Multicoated means that one or more glass surfaces have been coated multiple times. Fully multicoated means that all glass surfaces have been coated multiple times (you want this). Phase shift coatings are for straight-barreled “roof prism” binoculars, and they help correct shifts in light waves, which, if everything is manufactured perfectly, helps increase image quality.
One last term you’ll see is Field of View (FOV). FOV is how many feet wide you can see at 1,000 yards. A small FOV means you’re looking at a small section of the forest. Big means you’re looking at more information. Generally, FOV shrinks as magnification increases.
Why the Alpen Shasta Ridge Binocular Is an Excellent Buy
Now that we’re on the same optical page, the BAK4 lenses in the Shasta Ridge are a great start. The optics are fully multicoated, and they even include a phase coating. Nice.
Alpen Optics, it turns out, is a small family-owned business in California that places a premium on optics — the company works hard to deliver the best possible optical experience at an affordable price. How might this shake out? Instead of investing in a really cool and complicated rubber texture, Alpen will focus on improving the glass to exceed the quality found in a similarly priced binocular. So that seems like Alpen’s core niche, and it’s earned the company accolades over the years for producing “best buy” binoculars.
Combined with Alpen’s no-fault lifetime warranty — if you break your Alpen optics for any reason, in any way — Alpen will repair or replace them, no questions asked. If you drop them off a cliff, all you have to do is retrieve them and send them in. Run them over with your pickup? Send the shards to Alpen.
That warranty gives a guy like me serious piece of mind in my investment.
Waterproof and Fogproof
The Shasta Ridge binoculars are also waterproof and fogproof, which is something I consider critical. Don’t fear the rain.
Other features include twist-up eye cups (long eye relief) for using with eyeglasses, in addition to a solid neck strap that clips on and off. The exterior is a rugged rubber armor, and it comes with soft rubber rain guard lens covers and a green padded carrying case.
For a guy like me, using the Alpen Shasta Ridge 10×42 binocular is an absolute joy. I was astounded at the clarity of image and my ability to scan hillsides and deep down into canyons. Using the Shasta Ridge binocular immediately changed the way I hunted. I moved more slowly, looked more fully, and spotted deer I would have missed otherwise.
In addition, I realized that by changing the focus, I could look “past” brush and trees and focus on open areas beyond the obscuring brush and branches. With my naked eye, I could only recognize a screen of foliage . . . unable to pick out the meadow behind it all. With the Shasta Ridge binocular, I could focus in on the meadow, ignoring the blurry foliage in front of it. Amazing.
The downside? If you want a high-performing binocular in the 8x or 10x magnification with a 42 mm objective lens, it’s going to seem heavy. The Shasta Ridge in this size weighs 26 ounces — about a pound and a half. As I was gearing up to go on my first hunt, I attached the padded case to the hip belt on my hunting pack (review: SJK Rail Hauler) and had some reservations. I want less weight, not more. But then guess what happened? Within five minutes of using the Shasta Ridge binocular, I realized that I’ll take the weight. It’s worth it. I thought I was going to appreciate the glass but error toward a much lighter monocular. For backpacking, go light, definitely. Hunting? Bigger is better — and worth it. I didn’t expect that.
If you’re not sold on packing 26 ounces — but you do want a decent smaller binocular with a lifetime warranty — consider Alpen’s 8×25 Shasta Ridge model. Of course, if you can swing the budget, the higher quality Apex XP 8×32 Binocular will provide an appealing blend of exit pupil, coatings, lighter weight, and size.
Fit and Finish
All-in-all, the fit and finish of the Alpen Shasta Ridge 10×42 binocular is great, exceeding my expectations of quality for the price. If you buy direct from Alpen, the web price is about $185, but the pricing tends to be even more favorable at Amazon, especially for the green version. The Shasta Ridge line also comes in camo as well as pink.
Combined with the lifetime guarantee, the Alpen Shasta Ridge 10×42 binocular is a fantastic investment for a first set of optics — and they have the potential to be your go-to binocular for years on end.