Night vision optics have become more accessible to the average shooter. People like you and I now have more access to various night vision technologies than ever before. However, thermal optics can be broken down into various subcategories, and their costs can vary dramatically (although still be very expensive). So, to make things simple, I’m going to be focusing on specific night vision optics technologies and types of optics. With this, I’ll be listing what I think are the best thermal scopes out there.
It’s tough writing these articles because oftentimes, there are tons and tons of different optics on the market, and they are pretty dang good. I could fill this list with optics from a single company and still be listing some awesome optics. So to avoid that, I’ve attempted to provide a variety of different types of thermal scopes for different types of users. Usually, I try to provide a wide variety of price points as well to accommodate shooters at all budgets.
However, that’s kind of tricky here. Thermal scopes are expensive, super freaking expensive. It’s tough to call any of these thermal optics budget-friendly. They are expensive optics. However, I have tried my hardest to find a variety of price and quality points for different shooters.
What’s a Thermal Scope?
Let’s not get too far ahead of what we are talking about. A thermal scope is a device that attaches to a weapon and allows you to aim while viewing the thermal signature of a target. Thermal optics are not like traditional optics. They are essentially cameras that provide a thermal image to you. Heck, even calling it a camera isn’t accurate. It’s actually more or less a sensor.
Thermal scopes don’t just detect heat. That would create a crazy spectrum since everything has a little heat to it. What they really do is detect differences in heat and display them as various colors and contrasts. Thermal scopes can be used during the day and at night to provide a detection device unlike any other.
Why You Want One
Thermal scopes can be used for a variety of purposes. Most civilian use revolves around hunting non-game animals at night. Hunting at night is often forbidden for game animals like deer, but for nuisance animals, like wild hogs, it’s often legal to hunt them anytime. Of course, check your state and local laws first.
At night these optics make it very easy to spot animals. They literally glow against a thermal scope, and with the right thermal scope, you’ll be able to tell their size, shape, and what exactly they are before you pull the trigger. Positive identification is pretty dang important, and if you don’t know exactly what you are shooting at, you are in the wrong.
Besides hunting, thermal optics can be useful for range defense. If you have livestock, chickens, or other animals that often fall prey to nightly predators, then a thermal optic can even the odds. Killing coyotes and similar animals in the middle of the night has never been easier.
At the same time, these thermal optics work well for security purposes. Being able to observe and report on intruders while remaining armed can be valuable. If the threat is outside and trying to come in, a thermal optic can make it easy to see, although white light PID needs to be made before firing a shot.
Thermal scopes are just handy and, honestly, a lot of fun. I prefer a thermal scope over other thermal optics due to their multi-use nature. I often use my own thermal scope to just watch animals in the ‘back 40’ part of my property. Watching rabbits, deer, and similar animals can be interesting even if I’m not hunting them. You haven’t lived till you’ve seen an owl take a rabbit in the evening under thermal vision.
Sometimes things can just be fun, and thermal scopes are a lot of fun. If hunting is not your thing, they make thermal targets that shine under thermal vision for tactical training, and they might be worth checking out.
List of the Top Thermal Scopes
Okay, so now that we understand a bit about the thermal scopes, their types and benefits, let’s go ahead and start looking at my personal list of recommended thermal scopes.
Best Thermal Scopes
Thermal Scope Specifications
Below is a list of our Best Thermal Scopes. So we can compare, we lined up the specs from each of the best thermal scopes below and help you make the best decision possible.
|Burris Thermal Riflescope||2.3X or 3.3X||400x300||23.2 to 25.4 ounces||9.8 inches|
|SIG Echo3||1-6X or 2-12X||320x240||14.3 ounces||4.3 inches|
|Trijicon REAP-IR||1.2X||640x480||24.7 ounces||8.4 inches|
|Thermion XP50||2X||640x480||31.74 ounces||12.4 inches|
|ATN Thor 4 384||4.5X||384x288||35.2 ounces||13.8 inches|
|AGM Python TS50-640||2X||640x512||28.8 ounces||8.9 inches|
|Steiner Close Quarter's Thermal||1X||320x240||13.7 oz||5.2 inches|
Best Thermal Scopes
Thermal Scopes are expensive. That’s why it’s important to know which ones are worth the extra cost. Because of this, here is the list of thermal scopes I recommend and in which order.
- Burris Thermal Riflescope
- SIG Echo3
- Trijicon REAP-IR
- Thermion XP50
- ATN Thor 4 384
- AGM Python TS50-640
- Steiner Close Quarter’s Thermal Sight
Reviews of the Listed Thermal Scopes
Now we’ve had a brief overview of our top picks, let us take the time to individually review each item. In this section we’ll be revisiting our specs, speaking into the product and looking at the pros and cons.
The Burris BTS Thermal Riflescope is the perfect addition to any nighttime shooting set up, be it tactical or hunting. It features a 4 power zoom and 5 different color pallets to help track your target’s heat signature in a wide range of weather conditions.
Burris Thermal Specs
- Magnification 1X
- Resolution 400×300
- Weight 23.2 to 25.4 oz
- Length 9.8 inches
Burris Thermal Riflescope Review
Yep, Burris makes Thermal Riflescopes, and they are actually pretty dang good. Burris and Steiner are owned by the same people, so it makes sense that they would produce an affordable option for the thermal market. The Burris Thermal Riflescope comes in a 35mm and 50mm variant with a variety of magnification settings. The BTS-35 gives you 2.3X magnification with up to 9.2 digital zoom, and the BTS-50 gives your 3.3X with 13.2X zoom.
The Burris Thermal Riflescope has a 400×300 resolution that isn’t too bad for the price point, and it’s backed by a 50 Hz refresh rate. The combination grants you a clear sight picture for hunting a variety of non-game animals. You’ll be able to easily tell what’s a deer, what’s a coyote, and what’s a hog. The BTS uses a variety of color palettes, including black and white-hot, red hot, and many more for your personal preference.
One of the neater features is the Hot Track feature. This feature clicks onto the hottest object in your reticle’s zone and sticks with it. The device follows the hot spot as it moves from place to place. It’s a feature-filled optic for sure. Burris provides a mounting system for quick attachment to a Picatinny rail. The Burris isn’t super lightweight, but it’s fairly compact. The Burris design is fantastic, and it’s a great starter option for those looking to get into thermal optics. Burris takes care of their customers too, and they offer a great warranty on their gear.
My only issue with this one is that it is pretty heavy compared to other scopes on the market. However, I really don’t think this is much of a problem. For most uses of a rifle with a thermal scope, you’re probably not trekking long distances, and so weight isn’t that big of a deal. However, if you are, then definitely keep this in mind.
Basically, I think this is an excellent thermal scope due to its capabilities, and the price. As you can see, it’s pretty affordable and at that price, they really have a lot of great features and quality that you’d come to expect for something that is $5000-$6000. So, I give this my #1 recommendation because of what it can do for such a great price. It’s not the best out there, but it is affordable.
Burris Thermal Riflescope Pros and Cons
- Hot Track Feature
- Affordable Price Point
- Awesome Resolution and Refresh Rate
- Somewhat Heavy
Burris Thermal Scope Deals
2. SIG Echo3
- Magnification 1-6X or 2-12X
- Resolution 320×240
- Weight 14.3 oz
- Length 4.3 inches
SIG Echo3 Review
SIG has this little tagline where they refer to themselves as “A Total Systems Provider,” and boy, oh boy, do they aim to prove it. The SIG Echo3 provides one of the more interesting designs for a thermal optic. It almost appears to be a close-range reflexive optic. With the 1-6X variant, it basically is. There is also a 2-12X variant if you prefer a little magnification. The Echo3’s design really seems to be best suited with the smaller 1-6X design, especially with its 320×240 resolution and 30Hz refresh rate.
The 2-12X variant does use a larger 40mm objective lens, and the 1-6X uses a 23mm objective lens – however, I’m not a fan of the magnification quality.
SIG offers you a wide variety of color palettes, including one of the best Predator impressions I’ve ever seen. Additionally, you can film videos and take pictures as well. This makes it fun to observe animals in the wild or even film your hunts. Like most SIG optics, the Echo3 uses the MOTAC motion-controlled battery monitoring to help save a little battery life. When left alone, the optic shuts down and, when picked up, powers right back on.
The SIG Echo3 utilizes two CR123 batteries that last six hours under normal use. What makes the Echo3 a real contender is the big open screen. You don’t get stuck looking through a scope. Instead, you look through the optic, keep your situational awareness high, and make the optic a little easier to use on the fly. SIG also has a great warranty and excellent customer service.
So, this takes my second place in the rankings because while it is a novel design, and is very light, I just don’t think it is as quality as the Burris. Plus they both come in at the same price. I would maybe move this up to first if the price was lower.
SIG Echo3 Pros and Cons
- Open Design
- Minimalist Design
- MOTAC Tech
- Not Great for Magnified Use
SIG Echo3 Deals
Trijicon REAP-IR Specs
- Magnification 1.2X
- Resolution 640×480
- Weight 24.7 oz
- Length 8.4 inches
Trijicon REAP-IR Review
I like Trijicon, and I like them a lot. I love the ACOG, the RMR, and even the Accupoint. Until recently, I didn’t even know they made a thermal sight, but after a little time with the weapon in my hands, I’m a believer. The REAR-IR is also a very cool name, and I can’t hate it. The REAR-IR is a mini thermal optic equipped with an efficient 12-micron sensor. Even though the lens might be small, the resolution is 640×480.
That’s pretty dang clear. Since the REAP-IR is built around being small, I picked the smallest, the 24mm objective lens variant with its 1.2X magnification with a digital magnification of 8X, giving you a total of 9.6x magnification setting at the high end. On top of that, Trijicon equipped the REAP-IR with an adjustable refresh rate. It can swap between 30Hz to 60Hz. The lower setting tends to help preserve battery power.
Predictably Trijicon equipped this thing with a variety of useful reticles, including MRAD and MOA models on top of BDCs for .223 Remington, 308 Winchester, and 300 Blackout. The REAP-IR uses a quick detach mount that’s awfully nice. The controls are a thumbstick design, and honestly, it’s tough to explain without getting your hands on one. Once you try it, you won’t want to go back to a wheel.
My only issue is the super short battery life. It won’t last near as long as the Sig discussed above. And while the cost makes this the most expensive one on my list, it truly deserves the title of best premium thermal scope on the market.
Trijicon REAP-IR Pros and Cons
- Adjustable Refresh Rate
- Awesome Resolution
- Efficient Size and Weight
- Short Battery Life
Trijicon REAP-IR Deals
Thermion XP50 Specs
- Magnification 2X
- Resolution 640×480
- Weight 31.74 oz
- Length 12.4 inches
Thermion XP50 Review
Do you want something a little more scope-like from your thermal scope? If so, the Pulsar Thermion XP50 delivers a very traditional scope design with thermal capabilities. The Thermion XP50 utilizes a nice wide 50mm objective lens that is far from compact. Get your high mounts out! The Thermion XP50 does deliver an awesome and crystal clear sight picture with the 640×480 sensor and 17-micron sensor.
All these high-quality materials give the XP50 a detection range of 1800 meters. That’s absurdly far and awesome capabilities for hunters and shooters. The digital zoom might affect resolution, but the high resolution does a great job of helping maintain a decently clear sight picture. The Thermion XP50 also has a picture-in-picture display that allows a small magnified image to sit above the reticle. This allows you to really dial in that sight picture and be picky about your shot placement.
Pulsar made the Themrion XP50 to last. It’s IPX7 rated and ready to take the recoil you can toss at it. It’s tough, well made, thermal scope with brilliant clarity. Inside, you can store five zeroing profiles so the optic can be zeroed for different rifles or just for different loads. Obviously, it’s not a budget-friendly thermal, but very rarely are thermals budget-friendly. The Thermion XP50 might be the best thermal optic for hunting out there.
Now again, like the Burris, this is a very heavy scope. So, don’t get it if weight is an issue. However, if it isn’t, and you’re looking for a traditional scope design with excellent image-in-image quality, then I recommend you pick this one up.
Thermion XP50 Pros and Cons
- Awesome Clarity
- Picture In Picture Is Amazing
- Traditional Scope Design
- It’s a hefty optic
Thermion XP50 Deals
ATN Thor 4 384 is designed to withstand the pressures of High Caliber weapons. Turn on RAV and let the ThOR record directly to your SD card. 1st ever digital scope with over 16hrs of continuous battery power. The ThOR 4 is built out of Hardened Aluminum Alloy with Impact Resistant Electronics.
ATN Thor 4 384 Specs
- Magnification 4.5X
- Resolution 384×288
- Weight 35.2 oz
- Length 13.8 inches
ATN Thor 4 384 Review
The ATN Thor 4 384 4.5-18X is what introduced me to civilian thermal optics. This scope is a good balance of affordability, clarity, and magnification. The starting 4.5X magnification delivers just enough for my needs when brush hunting, and you can dial up to 18X, but you admittedly lose a fair bit of resolution at the higher levels of magnification. It’s a big, and it’s a heavy optic, but it’s chock full of features.
The ATN Thor 4 384 has a 384×288 resolution with a 60hz refresh rate. Not bad. There are higher resolutions, but the refresh rate is outstanding for reducing lag and improving the image quality. With it, I can watch rabbits at 50 yards away in great detail as they jump back and forth. The design implements nice controls and a ton of different features. They are doing a Beta test on a feature that lets you track other hunters.
We have everything. You can take pictures and video, use recoil-activated video, switch through various color patterns and designs. I prefer white-hot, but you can do anything from white-hot to true blue Predator vision. There are tons of different reticles as well. You have android and iOS compatibility through an app and a ton more. There are so many features and functions that it’s hard to use them all. The battery is rechargeable and lasts up to 18 hours. However, this is setting-dependent.
So, why isn’t this listed higher on my list of best thermal scopes? Well for starters, its pretty heavy for its capability. Second, it comes in more expensive than the Burris and that is a great piece of thermal scope. It still is a viable option, but I think you’re better off with the Burris or Sig.
ATN Thor 4 384 Pros and Cons
- Awesome Price Point
- Tons of Features
- Great Refresh Rate
- Heavy and Long
ATN Thor 4 384 Deals
AGM Python TS50-640 Specs
- Magnification 2X
- Resolution 640×512
- Weight 28.8 oz
- Length 8.9 inches
AGM Python TS50-640 Review
Let’s get big and bad with a high resolution and an awesome built-in 2X magnification with a relatively small size and decent weight. The AGM Python TS50-640 grants you a 640×512 resolution for a very clear image and a big 50mm lens system. The resolution is fantastic, and the pictures are crazy clear—the 30 Hz refresh rate grants to a refresh rate capable of tracking animals.
The AGM Python TS50-640 does offer a digital zoom up to 8X, and the higher resolution and large lens do a great job of dealing with magnification. The Python gives you a ton of imaging palettes. We get the typical white/black hot as well as rainbow, Globow, ice rain, rain, and quite a few more. This kind of optic works extremely well for hunting and honestly wouldn’t be a bad choice for security use. In fact, its clarity allows you to very easily establish PID on a threat, be it a bad guy or a coyote.
The AGM Python TS50-640 hits hard with an extremely high-quality thermal scope. All this high quality does end with four-hour battery life from two CR123A batteries, oh but you can also hook up an external power source if you so choose. A QD mount comes built into the optic, and top controls make it easy to control the optic and change your settings. It’s a rugged optic designed for heavy-duty use.
AGM Python TS50-640 Pros and Cons
- Super Clear Sight Picture
- Good Refresh Rate
- Compact Design
- Low battery life
AGM Python TS50-640 Deals
Steiner Close Quarter’s Specs
- Magnification 1X
- Resolution 320×240
- Weight 13.7 oz
- Length 5.2 inches
Steiner Close Quarter’s Review
I first handled the Steiner Close Quarter’s Thermal Sight at SHOT Show a few years ago, and it’s what got me into the world of thermal sights. Oddly enough, this thermal is unlike any other to ever exist. The Close Quarter’s Thermal Sight is actually a red dot weapon sight with a thermal overlay that provides a standard clear image with a see-through thermal image overlay. Hot stuff glows green with a normal sight picture.
The optic has two modes. The first is the outline mode I described above. When the sun goes down, you can use full thermal to find the picture. Heck, you can just turn the thermal mode off and use it as a red dot if you so choose. Steiner includes multiple reticles, easy-to-use controls, and a heads-up display. It’s also super tough and waterproof for total submersion for up to two hours. This is a duty grade optic for police, military, and of course, the everyday Joe.
It’s all kinds of cool. The CQTS is a 1X red dot sight but can work with flip-up magnifiers. Still, for close-range use, the CQTS is an absolute game-changer. No longer do we need a massive optic to use thermal vision. The Steiner changes the game and shrinks optics to a crazy low level. It’s very easy to use, rugged, reliable and would be an awesome tool for home defense and short-range hunting. Pop in a magnifier, and you get true magnification without resolution reduction.
Steiner Close Quarter’s Pros and Cons
- Super Small and Lightweight
- Perfect for Close Range Use
- Multiple Modes for day and night-time use.
- It Cost 10K
Steiner Close Quarter’s Deals
All About Thermals – Buyers Guide
When it comes to buying a thermal scope, there are a lot of things you should know. Things like microbolometers, existing features, fresh rates, microns and more. If you don’t know about these, then no problem. I’ve created this buyers guide to help take you to the next level and better understand some of the most important aspects to picking a thermal scope so that you are better prepare.
I won’t be covering the science of thermals or how they work, so, if you would like to learn more about that, you can check this out.
To get started, lets first look at the different types of thermal optics on the market.
Types of Thermal Optics
There are various thermal optics out there on the market: Scopes, Clip-on devices, and monoculars.
Thermal scopes are made to be mounted onto your weapon and act as an aiming device. Like any other scope, you have to zero the optic, and an internal reticle allows you to aim with the scope.
Thermal clip-on devices mount in front of your optic. These allow you to use your scope with a thermal attachment to give you thermal capabilities. They can be handy on weapons you use all the time. However, they require more room and have their own intricacies worth noting.
Monoculars are handheld or mounted on helmets and similar devices. They are used purely for observation purposes and can be a ton of fun, and are often much smaller and easier to tote around. They are not designed to work with weapons and cannot be zeroed, and do feature reticles.
Specifications and Features You Should Know About
NOw that we understand the different types, let’s look at the different features and specifications you should pay attention to when shopping for a thermal imaging scope.
Resolution and Microbolometer
Inside your thermal scope sits a microbolometer that detects temperature patterns and establishes the resolution of your thermal scope. Resolution is measured in pixels, and the higher the number of pixels, the high resolution you’ll have. Resolution determines how clear and detailed the picture is. A higher resolution delivers a clearer picture and helps maintain clarity as magnification increases.
A high level of resolution for thermal optics sits around 640×480. That’s a very clear resolution that delivers an excellent sight picture. However, resolutions around half that or more often provide a pretty solid picture. For example, a 384×288 resolution is by no means bad, especially if you keep the magnification on the low side and work within average hunting ranges.
The higher the pixels, the larger the field of view. This means you can see more of the world and see it clearer. This makes it easier to track animals and find animals. Field of view can be super important at night.
Thermals are kind of like cameras and screens. They have a refresh rate that helps determine how the living sight picture works. Refresh rates for thermal scopes come in at 9Hz, 30Hz, 50Hz, and 60Hz. When you look through a thermal scope, you are staring at a screen, and the refresh rate is the time it takes to refresh that image. The higher the Hz, the better the refresh rate.
A low refresh rate creates a lag in the image. The lag may be nothing more than fractions of a second, but that can translate to quite a bit when hunting an animal. Anything about 30Hz is perfectly usable for a scope. Refresh rate and resolution can be a trade-off at times. It’s easy to find 60 Hz optics if you don’t mind 320×240 resolution. I’d choose a higher resolution with a 30 Hz refresh rate for a thermal scope.
Lens size can be another trade-off. Lenses for thermal optics are made from germanium, which is super expensive. The bigger the lens, the more germanium, the higher the cost, and you also deal with larger, heavier optics. The larger lens size does give you a higher detection distance and picks up thermal signatures easier.
A micron number with a thermal scope identifies the efficiency of the scope. Thermal scopes with a low micron number are more efficient. Like everything else so far, this is also a trade-off. A low micron scope might be more efficient, but that doesn’t mean it is ultimately better for your end goals.
When it comes to magnification, you have to focus on these microns. A lower microns level allows you to have more magnification with a smaller lens size. That’s not to say that a lower micron level is ultimately better. It’s just smaller with a decent resolution. Smaller does matter when it comes to a rifle scope. Do you want a boat anchor attached to your rifle? Probably not, but maybe.
If you are shooting coyotes and hogs at night from a tripod set up, then you won’t mind the weight. You might go with a 17 micron optic with a larger lens to have a clearer picture overall at the cost of a larger, heavier, and ultimately more expensive optic.
Scope Detection Range
Detection range is the ability for an optic to see heat. Detection range is often the maximum range you can see a thermal signature. That thermal signature might be nothing more than a blob, though. Detection range is important, but it’s not the end all be all of thermal scope ranges. You also need to factor in recognition range and identification range.
Detection range might show you a blob moving around. It’s picking up the heat, but the blob is not exactly a clear image. Your detection range of, say, 600 yards allows identifying a heat source. The recognition range allows you to determine what you are looking at. That blob becomes a four-legged animal, and that range might be 300 yards.
Identification range is when you can determine what animal it is specifically. A four-legged animal now becomes a hog, and that identification range is 150 or 100 yards. These ranges are tricky, and thermal scope companies can be a lot like radio communication companies.
Thermal scopes do not come with the same type of magnification you get from a traditional rifle optic. Magnification is digital, and you are essentially zooming the image in. If you take out your cell phone and zoom the camera to the max, what happens? You lose resolution, and the same thing happens with thermal optics.
The lowest level of magnification offered with your optic is what the resolution is based on. So if you purchase a 4-18X optic, the 4X is the real magnification, and anything beyond that is the digital magnification and reduces resolution. Keep that in mind. That extra magnification might not mean much when the resolution is too low for it to matter.
Remember, these aren’t scopes in the way we think. A normal rifle scope is fairly simple, and even budget brands like Nikon can produce recoil-proof scopes for magnum-powered rifle rounds. Thermal scopes are almost more computer than scope. All those electronics can be beaten to hell and broken with too much recoil.
You need to research the durability of your optic and how it works with the weapon you want to equip it to. Extra durability costs extra money. Basic thermal optics typically work fine on calibers 308 and below. Moving into the 338 Lapua Magnum territory might prove difficult, though. Do a little research before you break your expensive thermal optic on your 300 Winchester Magnum.
Thermal scopes chew through batteries, and it’s just the nature of the optics. They consume a lot of power. While they have gotten better, it’s still wise to make sure the battery life will work for your situation. Battery life seems to last anywhere from three hours to twenty-four hours. Sometimes they are rechargeable. Other times, they use disposable batteries for on-the-fly changes.
It’s wise to understand the battery situation before it dies in the midst of a hunt! Some thermals can use external battery sources, which can mix disposable and external battery sources. It can be super handy at the cost of weight.
Heat It Up
Thermal scopes might be the most fun I’ve had with a gun in years. It tickles me to be able to see and potentially shoot at night with extreme accuracy. Owning the night is quite satisfying. Admittedly, it’s an expensive endeavor, and thermal and night vision, in general, is a buy once cry once deal. Hopefully, you’ve learned a thing or two and found the right thermal scope for you.
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