The Single Most Important Way to Make Your Binoculars Last

Nov 4, 2023 | The Sandpiper

Binoculars are a big investment for many birders. Yet we toss them haphazardly in a bag, wear them while scrambling through brush, and drop them in mud. Then there are bigger catastrophes, says Rich Moncrief, who has worked for Zeiss’s nature unit for 21 years. He’s seen them crushed under cars and chewed by hyenas. But breakage is probable even with careful use. “It’s mechanical,” he says. “You will wear it out.”

To prolong the life of your bins, pay attention to moving parts. Eyecups break most often; they deteriorate from twisting or degrade from accumulated sweat, bug spray, and sunscreen. The focus knob, hinge, and diopter adjustments can get jammed with sand, grit, or salt. These eventually interfere with the glass lenses and prisms inside and impair your view.

Avoid these problems by running your optics under warm water when you return from the field, especially if you’ve been in salt spray or sand. “What’s the first thing you do when you get off the beach? You rinse off,” says Mike Lilygren, cofounder of Maven, a Wyoming-based manufacturer. “Do the same thing with your optic.” Most binoculars are waterproof and can be submerged. (Confirm waterproofing details for your model.) As you clean, move the hinges, knob, and eyecups. Then let them air-dry. This is the single most important practice to make your binoculars last.

Be careful with the lenses. A piece of grit can scratch the antireflective or protective coating and do permanent damage. Wiping with a shirt can also leave a scratch; always dab with a microfiber cloth. “We really can’t recoat the lenses,” Moncrief says. In the field, blow on a dirty lens, and ideally use a lens brush, an alcohol-based spray, and a microfiber cloth in that order. At home, wash with a drop of dish soap if needed. Finally, store them where they get air circulation, especially if you live in a humid area. Don’t leave them in direct sun. 

Without upkeep, repair is inevitable: A focuser might stick, or your view may cloud, potentially causing headaches. “If it doesn’t seem quite right,” Moncrief says, “you don’t want to let it go.” Warranties come in two flavors. A limited warranty covers defects, including internal repairs at the maker’s discretion. An unlimited one covers all damage except that done deliberately. Either kind can extend a few years or for the product’s lifetime. Consider the fine print when shopping for a new pair.

To use a warranty, contact your manufacturer to describe your issue. Many will mail you replacement eyecups. More serious issues will require you send in your binoculars. It can be painful to be parted from your optic, but when it comes back spruced up, it’s worth it.

Handle your binoculars with confidence on your next adventure.

In the Bramble When moving through rough terrain, keep your binoculars close to your body. A chest harness will help prevent most bouncing and banging, or you can sling your shoulder strap around one arm so it’s running diagonally across your chest. If your clambering is particularly harsh, use your hand as a shield to take the hits.

In the Car Don’t leave your binoculars on the dash, especially on a sunny day. The windshield acts as a lens, focusing light and causing bins to overheat. This can expel the fog-proofing gas inside your gear and rapidly degrade it. Also keep your optics in their case while driving so that they don’t rattle around.

In the Rain Whatever precipitation you encounter, you’re safe. Water won’t hurt your binoculars, but it can get in the way of your view if it pools in your lenses. Place your ocular covers over the eyecups as a rain guard. If you need to clean droplets off the lenses, dab (don’t wipe) with a microfiber cloth.

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