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Best Thermal Monoculars [2022]: Reviews & Guide

Looking for thermal monoculars to hunt or spot animals in the dark or for home security?

Whether you are military personnel or a hunting enthusiast, you must be familiar with the ache of holding your rifle too long for a magnified view. The feeling is more frustrating, especially when all you want to do is scout and spot for a while. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to suffer these aches anymore if you choose to use a standalone monocular instead of clip-on scope. A thermal imaging monocular keeps things simple and painless by providing you with the best thermal imaging technology, that, too, in a handheld device. 


What's In This Guide? 

This guide reviews some of the best thermal monoculars you should consider. It also includes a buying guide to help you make the right investment. 

If you don’t specifically want a monocular, check out our guide on the best thermal scopes for animal hunting and spotting


4 Best Thermal Monoculars

  1. 1
    Best for High Magnification: Pulsar Axion Key XM30
  2. 2
    Best for Longer Distances - Trijicon Electro Optics IR PATROL Monocular
  3. 3
    Best for Nighttime Hunting: FLIR Scout TK
  4. 4
    Best for Short Ranges: AGM Asp-Micro TM160

Pulsar Axion Key XM30
  • Pulsar Axion Key XM30

  • Resolution:
    320x240

  • Best for High Magnification
  • Detection Range:
    1300 yards

  • Battery:
    4 hours

  • Weight:
    8.8 ounces

best thermal monocular
  • Trijicon Electro Optics IR PATROL Monocular

  • Best for Longer Distances
  • Resolution:
    640 × 480 pixels

  • Detection Range:
    -40 to 55 °C

  • Battery:
    Approx. 2 hours

  • Weight:
    454 gms

FLIR Scout TK Handheld Thermal Imaging Monocular
  • FLIR Scout TK

  • Best for Nighttime Hunting
  • Resolution:
    160x120

  • Detection Range:
    100 yards

  • Battery:
    5 hours

  • Weight:
    6 ounces

AGM Global Vision Asp-Micro TM160
  • AGM Asp-Micro TM160

  • Best for Short Ranges
  • Resolution:
    120x160

  • Detection Range:
    250 yards

  • Battery:
    7 hours

  • Weight:
    9.5 ounces


1. Best for High Magnification: Pulsar Axion Key XM30

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If you want a powerful thermal monocular with great magnification, Pulsar is your best bet. The Pulsar Axion XM30 comes with a magnification range of 2.4x to 9.6x.

It is designed to fit in one hand, and the standard pocket size along with the comfortable grip makes it easy to carry around. 

Pros

  • Easily fits in the pocket or hand for easy portability.
  • Comes with a number of accessories like a carrying case, lens cloth, and charging port.
  • Excellent features like eight color options and picture-in-picture at a relatively low price.
  • Buttons are easy to locate even in the dark and work with gloves too.
  • IPX7 waterproof rating allows you to use it in wet conditions.

Cons

  • Tends to freeze up in sub-degree temperatures.
  • Battery life is only four hours, which might not be enough.

Our Review

The Pulsar XM30 comes with a number of features that make it a great pick. It has a compact design that makes it perfect for spotting and scouting.

Moreover, it comes with a built-in recorder to make a video or take photos when you are out in the wild. Plus, the device allows you to share the footage with friends, family, and colleagues easily. It also comes with 16GB of internal memory, so you can store hours’ worth of videos on it. 

The Axion XM30 is known for having exceptionally high image magnification despite being compact. It is also very lightweight and ergonomic to aid portability.

The housing is made from lightweight magnesium alloy and ensures good ruggedness and high structural rigidity. Further adding to its durability is the IPX7 waterproof rating. 

The feature that stands out the most is the eight-color palette that enhances vision in different conditions. So you can use it for multiple purposes. 

Other impressive features include a 1300-yard detection range and a resolution of 320x420. You also 2x and 4x stepped zoom along with 4x digital zoom

Limitations

The major problem with the Pulse Axion XM30 is the 2.4x magnification. Since this is a handheld monocular, ideally, you would want as little magnification as possible so you can easily locate your target.

However, with the 2.4x magnification, objects after 50 feet just appear as blobs, and the 5x is only good for large game up to 50 yards. However, even then, you cannot easily identify the target if you don’t know their movements well. 

Bottom Line

All in all, the Pulse Axion XM30 is a sturdy and water-resistant handheld thermal monocular. It offers variable magnification along with a high range of detection. Plus, with its eight-color palette and excellent low-light performance, it helps see things clearly, even in the dark. 


2. Best for Longer Distances – Trijicon Electro Optics IR PATROL Monocular

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The Trijicon Electro Optics IR PATROL Monocular comes as an entry-level unit of an expensive line of thermal vision monoculars.

It features a 640 × 480 pixels resolution with a 30 Hz refresh rate, DFC Digital Focus, Polarity, and E-Zoom, making it excellent for longer distances. Plus, it has a wide temperature detection range of -45 to 75°C.

The compact and lightweight device is effortless to carry around, and the thumbstick interface makes it extremely easy to use. 

Pros

  • Compact and lightweight
  • Simple and easy to use
  • High resolution
  • 6061 Aircraft-grade aluminum construction
  • Nitrogen purging for waterproof function

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Short battery life

Our Review 

The IR PATROL Monocular is one of the best thermal night vision monoculars and features Trijicon’s impressive thermal imaging technology

It features a sturdy 6061 aircraft-grade aluminum construction, making it unbreakable and extremely rugged. You can use it even in rough conditions without worrying about damage. Plus, the housing is nitrogen-filled for waterproofing. 

Amongst its many stand-out features is the DFC (Digital Focus Control), which allows you to bring the entire image into focus while sharpening it to obtain maximum detail out of your sight picture. 

In addition, the E-Zoom features 1x optical magnification and 8x digital zoom. And MaxPol technology allows you to control your picture and get the best image possible.  

This Trijicon monocular has a thumbstick interface that lets you operate it easily. It is also extremely lightweight at 454 grams, but it is rugged enough to survive harsh circumstances. 

You can use it in various conditions thanks to its 6061 aircraft-grade aluminum construction and nitrogen-filled waterproofing. 

Limitations 

Despite being one of the best thermal imaging monoculars, the IR PATROL has some limitations. Its battery lifespan is shorter than many other comparable units. It lasts for approximately two hours, which is insufficient for an entire night of scouting. 

And even though it is a basic model in this Trijicon series, it is still pretty expensive. 

Bottom Line 

The Trijicon Electro Optics IR PATROL Monocular is a high-quality thermal monocular that boasts tons of useful features. It is sturdy and durable with rugged construction and a lightweight design. 

The thumbstick interface makes it extremely easy to use, while the many customization features let you make the most of your thermal optic picture. 


3. Best for Nighttime Hunting: FLIR Scout TK

best thermal vision

The FLIR Scout TK is an excellent choice, especially if you travel frequently. Given its features, you can also use it for home security. It also has a weather-resistant casing, making it ideal for outdoor use. 

Pros

  • Quite lightweight and easily fits in the pocket.
  • Different color palettes available, making the device suitable to use in various environments.
  • Takes very clear videos and images.
  • Helps see details clearly.

Cons

  • Refresh rate is slow.
  • Poor battery life.

Our Review

The FLIR Scout TK is one of the best choices as it makes thermal imaging highly accessible. It helps see heat signatures in darkness.

It is pocket-sized and is fit for single-hand use. Further adding to the ease of use is the intuitive interface and the simple four-button design. You can easily find all the information on the interface. 

The Scout TK can detect different thermal signatures from as far as 100 yards and produce an accurate image. So whether you want to take pictures in daylight or when it is completely dark out, you will get extraordinary results. 

Moreover, you can choose from nine video pellets. You can choose the right settings depending on the current conditions and environment.

Keeping in mind the different features, it is ideal for home security and personal uses. Lastly, it comes with a bunch of accessories, including a neck lanyard, lens cap, and a USB cable.      

Limitations

While the FLIR Scout TK is a handy device, it comes with its fair share of limitations. The internal battery lasts for roughly 20 minutes of use.

Plus, there’s a ten-second delay when you turn the device on. Also, if you leave the battery on, it dies out fairly quickly.

Similarly, if you use it in short bouts to conserve the battery life, there will be a significant time delay each time, which might cause you to miss a target that’s only visible for a few seconds. 

Bottom Line

The FLIR Scout TK is easy to use and has a very simple interface. Plus, features like durable and waterproof construction make it excellent for outdoor use. It also has a 100-yard detection range, which makes it suitable for multiple purposes. 


4. Best for Short Ranges: AGM Asp-Micro TM160

best handheld thermal imager

The AGM TM160 is one of the best monoculars for short ranges. It comes with features like an LCOS image display and an infrared detector. It produces crystal clear images, tracks targets, and measures distance accurately. It also comes with Wi-Fi connectivity.  

Pros

  • Works great both in the day and at night.
  • Easy to use.
  • Works well within 50 yards. 
  • Great quality for the price.

Cons

  • Slightly heavy.
  • Zooming is limited.

Our Review

We love that the Asp-Micro TM160 allows you to see in complete darkness. In fact, all the details are very clear, so you won’t have any issues. 

Some of its prominent features include a 720x540 resolution LCOS display, 3D DNR, adaptive AGC, 160x120 high sensitivity interface, and a built-in Lithium battery. All of these features make it an ideal device for hunting, criminal seizing, hiking, travel, drug enforcement, patrolling, anti-smuggling, etc.  

The AGM Asp-Micro TM160 also comes with image zooming and inbuilt memory storage and marks hotspots even in high temperatures. It also comes with a three-year warranty for the buyer’s peace of mind.  

Limitations

While the AGM Asp-Micro TM160 works perfectly to scan and spot animals in the forest from short ranges within 50 yards, you will need something better if you want to hunt in the open field. 

Bottom Line

To sum up, the AGM Asp-Micro TM160 is quite durable and has a simple operation. It comes with features like Wi-Fi connectivity, distance measurement, and target tracking. It also marks hotspots in extreme temperatures and is suitable for multiple purposes. 


How to Select the Right Thermal Monocular 

best handheld thermal imager

With the plethora of thermal monoculars available on the market, it can be quite tough to choose the right one if you don’t know what to look for. Some things you must consider are:

Thermal Sensor & Resolution 

Thermal monoculars usually come with FLIR (Forward-looking Infrared) sensors. They are available in different degrees of performance, like 160x120, 320x240, and 640x480. 

A thermal monocular detects heat signatures with the help of the sensor and maps the signature in varying degrees based on how much heat the object emits. For this reason, the sensor resolution must be of good quality.

Most high-resolution thermal scopes have a 480x640-pixel detector. So, if you want good images, this is the minimum standard you should look at.  

Display Resolution

Resolution refers to the clarity of images that the eye sees. A high resolution means clearer images with more details. On the other hand, lower resolution means blurry and less clear images.

A thermal monocular must have a decent display resolution to translate the heat signature into an image that’s easy to visualize. A device with 480x640 or 240x320 pixel resolution works well for thermal imagery. 

One thing to note is high-resolution monoculars cost a lot more, so you need to be mindful of your budget, too. 

Refresh Rate (Hz)

Opt for a gadget with a high refresh rate. This will ensure that the device refreshes images faster, and you get better details of the scene or object under observation. Higher refresh rates also promise smoother images. 

Common refresh rates in monoculars are 9, 30, 50, and 60Hz - the greater the number, the faster the refresh rate. Generally, a refresh rate over 30Hz is good enough for a thermal monocular. Slow refresh rates can lead to blurry images in the case of fast-moving objects.  

Smart Rangefinder

A rangefinder can help you find the distance between you and the target. This will facilitate accurate estimation and will completely eliminate guesswork.  

Operating Temperature

You never know what the weather might bring in when you are out on the field. To make sure your activity stays fool-proof, invest in a monocular that has a wider operating temperature range.

Generally, you can find devices that work well from -20C to 50C since these are the temperatures you’ll be working with the most. If you’re going to be hunting in extreme conditions, you can opt for monoculars with lower or higher ranges.   

Battery Life

As is the case with most gadgets, long battery life is essential. Since thermal monoculars come with numerous integrated features, they run out of battery quickly.

For example, features like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity drain the battery really quickly. So, if you plan on using such features, opt for a battery with at least ten hours of backup time. 

Even if your monocular is the most feature-rich, it will be of no use if it doesn’t have the right power source. Monoculars usually come with either lithium-ion or rechargeable batteries, and you can choose either, depending on your needs.

Also, remember that monoculars that run for longer without needing a replacement or recharge cost more. However, you can mitigate this by opting for a model with rechargeable batteries. You can also carry back-up batteries in case of emergencies.  

Color Palette

Color contrast is essential for viewing through a thermal monocular since it helps distinguish between a heat-emitting object (animals or humans) and a non-heat emitting object (stones or walls). A good color palette also helps distinguish between different degrees of heat emission. 

FLIR thermal monoculars usually feature the white-hot palette that shows warm objects in varying degrees of white on a dark background. The result is quite realistic and helps discern details precisely. 

The black hot palette inverts the image such that it displays warm objects in varying shades of black on a white background. This palette comes in handy for night-time use.

Meanwhile, in cases of low contrast, the ideal option is the Rainbow HC palette. It uses a range of spectrum to show thermal images with different colors.  

Another frequently used color palette is sepia or yellow. This uses a black/yellow combination to provide a contrast and is particularly useful if you’re going to be using a monocular for a long time. It shows the heat signature in different shades of yellow on a black background.

The arctic palette is another good choice and makes warmer objects stand out without needing a lot of object detail.

With the help of a clear outline, it distinguishes warmer objects from cooler ones. It uses different shades of blue to indicate coolness and an orangish shade for the heat signature.

You can opt for a thermal monocular that offers either a single or dual color palette. You can also choose a monocular that comes with up to seven color palettes.

Generally, the more color palettes the device has, the better it is. This is because it promises good visibility and allows scanning in different environments.    

Zoom/Magnification

Zooming is an excellent feature for when you want to identify your target’s exact position. It is particularly necessary when dealing with different targets simultaneously. Regardless of the field you are working in, a thermal monocular must have a zoom feature. Variable magnification from 1x to 4x works well.

Some thermal monoculars also have Smooth Zoom, which offers sensitive, easy-to-use ultra-slow zooming. It is great for identifying targets from a close distance. 

Intended Use 

It’s important to consider the use you have in mind before you invest in a thermal monocular. Do you want it for nighttime hunting or security and surveillance purposes?

The use will determine the features you should focus on. For example, if you just want a monocular for home security, you don’t need a large detection distance. However, for hunting, you need a decent detection distance to detect the target accurately. 

So, the ideal resolution, weight, detection range, and magnification will ultimately depend on the use. 

Ease of operation

Of course, a thermal monocular should be easy to use. In most cases, you will be using the monocular in sensitive situations like home security, surveillance, and hunting, so you want a device that works easily and offers quick navigation. 

For this, check out various models to determine which one is the most intuitive for you. Ideally, the monocular should have convenient and easy-to-manipulate controls, and it should allow you to adjust the relevant settings quickly. 

Weight 

When hunting outdoors for hours, a heavy monocular can become a burden. So for extensive use, a lightweight model seems better.

However, lightweight models often lack the advanced features that heavy monoculars offer. So you might have to find a balance between weight and performance to find the ideal option.

Apart from being lightweight, thermal monoculars should also promise good mobility. A model that you can easily store and carry around is ideal for home security, surveillance, and hunting.

In most cases, you might have to quickly switch from the regular view to the thermal view to locate potential threats or targets. If you have a monocular with good mobility, you will be able to make the switch quickly and easily.   

Extra features 

Other things to look out for include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and live-streaming. In most cases, you might want to store the image of a thermal monocular to analyze later. For this, look for a model that has support for mobile devices.

Some also have an app that lets you stream the video from the monocular directly to your mobile. This is highly useful when you want to share the data with other people. 

Another neat feature that you can benefit from is a built-in compass, which provides angle observations, making it easier for users out in the wild. The readings on the compass can help them determine their location.   


Types of Thermal Monoculars
 

best thermal imaging monocular

Thermal monoculars are of two types:

1. Handheld monoculars 

This is the most common kind of thermal monocular that people use today and is popular among hunters as well as wildlife observers.

Such monoculars are quite compact and lightweight, which makes them highly portable. They are also very durable and cost-effective. 

However, holding a handheld monocular throughout the day while performing other duties becomes very difficult as it gets tiring to hold the model for a long time. You can place it in your pocket and hang it around your neck; however, that won’t be convenient if you start running - you need to focus on these.  

2. Helmet-mounted monoculars 

An alternative to holding the monocular all day long is to mount it on the head with either a helmet or a hat. With your hands now free, you can easily take part in other activities, like holding your weapon and climbing.

As a result, you will get more stable and better thermal images, and you won’t have to store your scope since it is already safely mounted on your head. 

However, such models are quite expensive, especially when compared to handheld units. Plus, you will have to buy high-quality headwear, too, which further adds to the cost. 


How thermal Imaging is used in COVID-19 Detection

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In thermal imaging, non-contact camera models use sensors to detect hot zones, which basically refers to the infrared energy that an individual emits.

The signal is then converted to visible images made from heat and is shared with a monitoring center in real-time for processing and analysis. The recorder and screener then see the person’s hot zones with temperature calculations. 

When used with FLIR cameras, thermal imaging can help detect more than just heat. The two can also detect EBT (Elevated Body Temperature) and identify small differences in the heat with a deviation of up to 2C.

This can then be displayed as shades of gray as well as other colors. So, you can pull aside a scanned person that shows a high body temperature and further screen him/her for an infection or virus. 


Applications of Thermal Monoculars 

Thermal monoculars come with several features that make them ideal for multiple uses. These include:

Hunting 

When it comes to hunting, thermal monoculars offer a clear, unobstructed view of the target from far away distances. Most advanced models feature a rangefinder as well as enhanced magnification that allows you to hunt safely while staying away from attacking animals.

People widely use thermal monoculars for hunting animals like coyotes and deer. 

Military

Thermal monoculars made for military purposes have a strong and rugged construction. They are impact-resistant, dustproof, and weatherproof so that they can face tough and more tactical situations without incurring damage. 

Law enforcement

Thermal monoculars designed for law enforcement help security officials and cops in special situations, like locating criminals hiding in buildings. Similarly, they can help deter infrared radiation or thermal energy at construction sites.

Such monoculars are portable and lightweight, and you can operate them with one hand. Given their low weight, they are easy to carry for hours.  


Limitations of Thermal Monoculars

Despite being quite feature-rich and handy, thermal monoculars come with their fair share of limitations. The most prominent limitation is:

They are expensive 

Thermal imaging is quite expensive, so you can expect thermal monoculars to cost a lot. You can find models under $500, but you will have to compromise on some features.

A high-quality thermal camera with a detection range of up to 1000 feet can cost roughly $1000, so you can expect a monocular with similar properties to cost around $800-$900, depending on the optics and extra features. 


Frequently Asked Questions

Difference between Thermal and Night Vision Monocular

The differences between thermal and night vision monoculars are many. 

Where a night vision monocular needs some ambient light to function, a thermal monocular detects the heat signature of different objects and uses it to project their thermal image. Night vision technology works by absorbing visible light and amplifying it to make your surroundings visible.

The thermal image or thermogram generated by a thermal monocular is color-coded with different colors representing different temperature intensities. Meanwhile, the image generated by a night vision monocular has a greenish tinge. 

Plus, thermal imagers can work in complete darkness, but night vision imagers need at least some amount of visible light to generate images and cannot function. 

Is it possible to see snakes with thermal imaging?

No, it is not possible to see snakes with traditional thermal imaging. They are cold-blooded animals that don’t produce their own body heat.

Instead, they rely on external heat sources to regulate their internal body temperature. So, a thermal camera cannot detect heat radiation from their bodies. 

However, modern technology has introduced some advanced thermal camera models that use nano infrared wavelengths and can detect pythons amidst brown dust and green grass. 

Does a thermal monocular help you see through walls?

Contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, thermal monoculars cannot help you see through walls. If you point one at a wall, the best it can show you is the temperature difference if something inside the wall is hotter than the wall itself. 

In fact, even if you point one towards a window or glass, it will act as a mirror and reflect your infrared radiation back. It won’t let you see through the glass even though you can easily see through it with your naked eye. 

How far can you see with a thermal imager?

There is no simple answer to this question, but the higher the heat output, the farther the thermal imager can detect the object.

Most thermal imagers can easily detect humans from as far as 100 feet, but they might not detect a small object with a low heat output even if it is a few inches away. 

Can you use thermal imaging in daylight?

Thermal imaging is a unique technology that detects the heat produced by different objects to create their thermal image or thermogram. It uses a special lens that focuses on the infrared radiation emitted by the objects using a special detector. 

Since such cameras can work irrespective of light conditions, you can use thermal imaging in daylight, and it will work just as well as it does in complete darkness. 

In fact, daylight results tend to be better because the thermal cameras can capture a clearer visible-light image that is later superimposed on the thermogram so you can tell what you are looking at.


Final Verdict: What Is the Best Thermal Monocular? 

If you plan on hunting from longer distances, go for Leupold LTO Tracker 2.

Meanwhile, for short-range hunting, your best option is the AGM Asp-Micro TM160.

Lastly, if you’re going to be hunting at night, check out the FLIR Scout TK.

About the Author Rob Carson

I work in commercial construction, in Dallas, TX.

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