11 Best Night Vision Scopes: Tier 1 Operators, Hunters, and Competitors

My first interaction with night vision devices was in the Marine Corps, where the optics I carried cost more than my yearly salary. Luckily, things are changing, and you can now purchase quality night vision and thermal optics at one tenth the price of older systems. In this article I’m going to cover the best night vision scopes, goggles, lasers, and thermals at each price point. You’ll see what Tier 1 operators are using as well as various options for all budgets. Keep reading for more.

In doing my research for this article, it became apparent that the night vision industry is split amongst three different types of users. There are hunters (coyote, hog) that primarily hunt at night due to the specific regulations of their game. There are also tactical users who purchase night vision for competition or for a novel shooting experience. Finally, there are professional users, who use them in the military or for law enforcement.

In this article I will cover gear that can be used by each of these groups, but don’t let these labels define you! If you have deep pockets you can purchase the same gear that Navy SEALs and the Army’s Delta Force use then go for it. Here’s a quick overview of the equipment.

11 Best Night Vision Devices, Goggles, and Clip Ons

  • Knight’s Armament AN/PVS 30 Clip On Night Vision Device
  • Ground Panoramic Night Vision Goggles GPNVG
  • AN/PVS 31A Dual Tube Night Vision Goggles
  • EOTech Clip IR Long Range Thermal Clip on Scope
  • EOTech Clip on Night Vision Device
  • Armasight Vulcan Gen 3 Bravo 4.5x Scope
  • Steiner C35 Thermal Clip on Device
  • Armasight CO-MINI Bravo Gen 3 IIT Clip-On Night Vision Scope
  • ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Edition 3-14x50mm Smart HD 30mm
  • TRYBE Optics GEN 3 PVS-14 Night Vision Monocular
  • ATN OPMOD Exclusive ThOR LT 4-8x50mm

To be perfectly honest, unless you have a lot of experience with night vision devices, you probably don’t know which setup is best for you. Moreover, you may not be familiar with the additional equipment you need to actually be able to shoot, or the differences between optical and digital night vision systems.

Not to worry, in this next section, we’ll discuss the basics of these systems. Even if you’re somewhat familiar with these optics, I encourage you to keep reading, as I’ve seen experienced operators make rookie mistakes, like trying to look through windows with thermals. Newsflash, you can’t.

The Basics of Night Vision

There are two different types of night vision products. The first kind of system amplifies small amounts of ambient light through an image intensifier tube. This creates the traditional green/white image you see through most night vision scopes.

The second type of night vision device is a thermal scope. This type of device, sometimes called FLIR or forward looking infrared, measures the temperature differences extremely accurately, amongst heat sources. These differences, are interpreted by software into a viewable image. Most notably, thermals require no ambient light, and can be used in total darkness.

There is no best night vision scope for everyone. Each system has their pluses and minuses. Keep reading to see which system makes sense for you.

Short-Range Use: Night Vision Set Up

The majority of tactical users, excluding snipers and long range hunters, will use a head mounted night vision goggle / monocular, and a laser aiming device for night shooting. This is a very versatile set up, as there are numerous different types of infrared (IR) lasers you can mount. Most of them are picatinny mounted, which makes them versatile for almost any firearm type.

This setup requires a night vision device, and a laser aiming device. It’s the preferred set up for combat operations, including close quarters battle, because it’s very flexible and can be used in a variety of shooting positions.

Strictly speaking you don’t actually need the laser. You can shoot passively, using night vision goggles, as long as you have a red dot sight that has dimmable night vision settings. This can be a little awkward, but it’s definitely doable, especially if you have a taller red dot mount.

The largest draw back to this is that it does not work well for target identification past 50 yards or so. Sure you can identify a man sized target, and engage it, but you may not necessarily be able to tell if that is a specific person, or if they’re armed. In a combat zone this level of clarity works for target identification, but it does not work in most civilized countries. Next let’s talk about the next level night vision setup, for enhanced target ID and longer range engagements.

Mid – Long Range Night Vision Set Up

This type of night vision set up is what you’ll find most military personnel, snipers, and hunters using. There are a few dedicated night vision sights that you’ll see a little later on, but the vast majority of these night vision scopes are clip ons. This means that they are either thermals or image intensifier tubes mounted in front of your normal day time optic.

These optics have no magnification themselves, however, they allow you to increase the effective range of your regular long range optic at night. They tend to be higher quality and higher resolution which allows for better target ID at long range. Check out this video comparing some very high end long range clip on scopes.

Now that we have the basics down, let’s cover the 11 Best Night Vision Scopes. The first group will be the highest end, most expensive optics. After that we’ll discuss the mid grade items. The last group will be the entry level optics.

I will give a brief overview of the optics and include some pertinent info. If you want all the technical specs, like hours of battery life, or various colors it comes in, then I highly recommend following the included links. Without further ado.

Professional Grade Night Vision Optics

These are the optics that Tier 1 military units, and large SWAT teams will utilize. Consequently, they are the best technology available, and that comes with a price range between $10,000 and $40,000. Some long range competitors will use these optics, as well as some professional hunters. If you have a lot riding on the outcome of a shot, then these are the night vision devices for you.

Knight’s Armament AN/PVS 30 Clip On Night Vision Device

The Knights Armament AN/PVS 30 is a top of the line night vision device, with very high resolution. As you saw in the video above, this sight allows for hits out to a thousand yards on a full size IPSC silhouette. Now this is just shooting at a target shape, and there is certainly no chance of taking a hostage taker out at that distance, but it does represent the best available clip on device.

This video shows the resolution for the PVS 30. Of note there is a white phosphorus version available, which does provide even higher resolution, but I couldn’t find any video’s of that. Part of what makes this optic so expensive is its durability and the quality of the glass.

The PVS-30 can be mounted in front of any magnified optic on your rifle. It can take the recoil of any round you care to shoot. Of note this unit cannot be used in complete darkness, without and additional infrared illuminator.

The bad news is that the optic costs roughly $14,400 at the time of this writing. While this is expensive, it’s nothing compared to the next optic.

Ground Panoramic Night Vision Goggles GPNVG-18

The GPNVG-18s are the best night vision goggles for users who need peripheral vision for tactical operations. Currently the US militaries tier 1 units field them, as well as a few national level counter terror teams. Check out this video covering the details of the goggles.

These goggles are extremely cool and you will get mega larping points if you can pony up the $42,000 dollars that a set will run you. They’re also fairly heavy, and can tire your neck out after extended use. If you’re making entry into a structure against hostile forces, then this is your go to goggle.

Below, you can see the width advantage of these panoramic goggles. They sport a 97 degree field of view, compared to the roughly 40 degree field of view you normally get with standard dual tube goggles. Even though these goggles are white phosphorus they still work like traditional green tubes, they just display in different colors. These are not thermal goggles.

Image Courtesy of The Firearms Blog

These goggles are clearly focused on short range applications. You won’t be able to identify targets well past 100 yards. Next, let’s talk about a dual tube goggle that is a little more wallet friendly. Before we do that, don’t forget to join the email list to get more awesome articles sent directly to you.

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AN/PVS 31A Dual Tube Night Vision Goggles

The PVS-31A are some of the best bang for your buck night vision optics in the top tier segment. Like the previous goggles, they feature white phosphor tubes, and can provide incredible resolution for close range engagements. They also happen to be much lighter, and can be worn for longer periods of time, without excess neck fatigue.

These style of optics are what the vast majority of Special Forces units, and SWAT teams utilize for night operations. They are extremely clear, with the latest generation white phosphor tubes, and they’re much cheaper than the pano’s.

These optics sell between the $10,000 – $13,000 range depending on the manufacturer and the specific tubes they installed in the housing. It feels wrong to say, but these are your value option at this price point. You will also need a IR laser, or a compatible red dot sight if you want to shoot with these at night.

Some of you are getting ready to leave some angry comments, due to the crazy prices of these optics. I understand that, but do your kids really need to go to college? In the next section we’ll discuss some mid grade optics.

Mid Grade Night Vision Devices

These are the best night vision scopes for the vast majority of users. They cost less, but still deliver excellent performance for the cost. Most of them will be clip on sights, and a few of them will be dedicated night vision scopes.

EOTech Clip IR Long Range Thermal Clip on Scope

The EOTech Clip IR Long Range scope is one of the best thermal scopes for users who need a rugged, high quality optic for long range shooting. It provides very high resolution and can be used to engage targets hundreds of yards away. Because it’s a thermal, it has the added benefit of not requiring ambient illumination or something like an infrared light.

This type of optic would work very well for high end hog or coyote hunting. It will work less well for applications where continuous fire will be expected. I learned this the hard way when I mounted a thermal on top of a medium machine gun, and immediately found out that the heat of the barrel whited out the optic after a few hundred rounds.

There’s nothing quite like shooting a machine gun blind at night! In hind sight, it would be much better to have mounted a standard NVG on top of the machine gun. Thermals work best when you don’t expect to generate a lot of heat from your own gun, like hunting, or lower round count shooting.

This optic retails for around $9500 at the time of this writing. Next we’ll talk about the NVG variant of this clip on device.

EOTech Clip on Night Vision Device

The EOTech on Night Vision device is very similar to it’s thermal cousin. It has roughly the same form factor, but does not feature thermal imagery. This is a green or white phosphor image intensifier tube. It’s provides a clear image and allows for target engagements at several hundred yards without difficulty. This particular unit goes for around $9400 at the time of this writing.

EOTech clip on night vision device

This optic is meant to be mounted on a long range rifle, in front of your standard day time scope. This allows for flexibility on your platform as you can take it off and on. If you have a rifle that you want to use only at night, then the next optic is probably your best bet.

Armasight Vulcan Gen 3 Bravo 4.5x Scope

The Armasight Vulcan Gen 3 Bravo is a dedicated night scope. This optical systems comes in several varieties and magnification levels. The version we’re talking about is the 4.5 x magnification option. I find that this is a good mid range choice for medium to short range shooting. If you want longer range capability then go with the 6 or 8 x variants.

This optic has its own illuminated reticle and is shock, and water resistant. It features quick detach mounting, but it’s best to leave it on a specific gun all the time, to ensure that your zero doesn’t drift. Check out the video above for all the details on these units. Next we’ll talk about a great entry level thermal clip on device that has gained a lot of popularity recently.

Steiner C35 Thermal Clip on Device

The Steiner C35 might just be the best compromise between value and features, for a thermal imaging device. As of this writing it’s available for $3500 dollars, which is amazing, given Steiner’s reputation for quality. Don’t believe me, check out how many of their optics made it on this list of budget binoculars.

This is a very thorough review of the Steiner C35. This guy is able to reach out and engage targets at 855 yards with this thermal optic. It’s easy to mount, and it retains zero when removed from the rifle. I think this might be the best optic for those that need a quality piece of kit, but don’t want to get a second mortgage. Next let’s take a look at something designed for smaller rifles.

Armasight CO-MINI Bravo Gen 3 IIT Clip-On Night Vision Scope

The Armasight CO-Mini Bravo is probably the most versatile optic in this list. It is designed to mount in front of most optics on an AR15 style rifle. It can also be used on nearly other rifle, and would pair well with any optic a designated marksmen might use.

It’s so versatile that it can be mounted to binoculars, cameras, and just about anything else. It features a picatinny rail mount up top for an external illuminator, should you need it. Most importantly, it’s smaller and lighter than most of the other clip on night vision devices, making it better suited for smaller short barreled rifles.

As of this writing this optic retails for around $4600, which is pretty expensive, but it can save you from having to buy several devices for different uses, because it’s so flexible. Next we’ll move on to the entry level optics.

Best Night Vision Scopes: Entry Level

Just because these optics are cheaper, doesn’t mean they aren’t very capable pieces of equipment. These affordable night vision scopes are generally marketed towards hunters, and have several features like video recording, that make capturing your hunt extremely easy.

ATN X-Sight 4K Pro Edition 3-14x50mm Smart HD 30mm

The ATN X-Sight is a great value optic which is available for $699. It’s a digital riflescope which means you are basically looking through a video camera with a reticle systems imposed on it. This comes with it’s pluses and minuses. Check out this video for all the details.

This optic uses a large aperture digital sensor to collect an image in low light. It then use software to make it more visible for us. It features both a day mode and night mode, and can be set to record after every shot taken.

You’ll find that you will almost always need to use an external infrared illuminator unless you’re in a fairly illuminated environment. Watch the video above and you’ll see exactly what kind of image quality you can expect with this optic. I think you’ll find that this works quite well for hunters, and those looking for low light shooting fun. Next we’ll talk about a good entry level night vision monocular.

TRYBE Optics GEN 3 PVS-14 Night Vision Monocular

The Trybe PVS 14 is a great entry level night vision device. It comes in a regular green phosphor tube or a white phosphor tube. The green tube is about $2500, and the white phosphor tube is about $3500. I can tell you after using a single tube PVS 14 for years in the Marine Corps, you can be quite effective with these devices.

Surprisingly enough the single tube device still has a 40 degree field of view. If you recall, the dual tube expensive goggles have the same field of view. Granted, that’s a little more info since both eyes have that field of view compared to only one, but it’s not that big of an improvement.

If you want to use an infrared laser, and helmet mounted setup, this is your best bet. Next let’s talk about a great entry level thermal, the ATN Thor.

ATN OPMOD Exclusive ThOR LT 4-8x50mm

The ATN OPMOD ThOR LT is a great entry level thermal device. It’s another digital device, and comes in at a great price point. As of this writing it goes for right around $1100. You can see that the thermal imagery is sufficient for hunting, but it’s not as good as the more expensive optics listed above.

This optic would work well for sporting use and has several features that make it attractive for non tactical use. Because it’s a thermal, you don’t need additional illuminators. It will work day or night, and has enough resolution to allow you to engage targets at medium to short ranges.

Next we’re going to talk about the accessories you’ll need if you want to use some of these optics. If you have one of the standalone devices, you’ll only need a scope mount, however, if you are running goggles, you’ll need all the fixins.

Night Vision Accessories

Most of these devices require a few other ancillary pieces of night vision equipment to function as intended. At a minimum, the standalone night vision scopes will generally require scope rings. If you’re planning on running night vision goggles, then you will need a method of mounting those over your eyes. Not to worry, I’ll include some great accessories for various set ups.

Night Vision Helmets Mounts

I strongly recommend the Team Wendy Bump helmet. This non-ballistic helmet will allow you to use the same mounting accessories as the ballistic versions. They also have a very comfortable harness system. You’ll need a mount that interfaces with the helmet. I recommend the Wilcox G24 for dual tube systems. You can also use the Wilcox G11 for a PVS14.

If you plan on using goggles, you will definitely need to run an infrared laser. Depending on your budget, you’ll have several options. The most expensive IR laser I recommend is the BE Meyers MAWL. The next most expensive, and more commonly used, is the Steiner DBAL. Lastly, the most economical units is the Steiner OTAL.

The MAWL, and the DBAL have both visible and infrared laser options in the same unit. Moreover, they feature an IR illuminator that is a great target identification tool. The OTAL is an infrared laser only, and is the cheapest option.

Final Thoughts

This article has been long, but don’t let the details over complicate your choice. If you like your rifle how it is and have a great day time optic, look at using one of the clip on systems. If you want to make a dedicated night hunting gun, then you can use one of the stand alone units.

If you want great detail, and all weather capability, then a thermal is probably your best bet. If you just need to see at night, then a regular night vision device is sufficient. The most important thing is to become familiar with your chosen set up and practice with it. Now get out there and get training!

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