5 Best Thermal Scopes – Reviews and Buying Guide
Initially, the thermal scopes were a preserve of law enforcement and military but as technology advanced, the costs of producing them reduced greatly and they became available in models for civilian use for different applications from hunting to self-defense.
Now some of the best thermal scopes in the market are for hunting and other non-military applications and will offer more advanced features and performance than the military models from years back.
Thermal scopes are basically sighting devices that will combine a thermographic camera with an aiming reticle to allow you to see the target clearly in the dark of the night.
With thermal scopes, hunting does not have to stop when the sun goes down, but if you want to improve your night hunting experience you need to have the best model.
Because these scopes can be quite pricey, you cannot afford to take chances with your choice. Check out our top 5 thermal scope reviews and a buying guide below to help you make the right choice.
- 5 Best Thermal Scopes – Reviews
- How to Buy the Best Thermal Scopes
5 Best Thermal Scopes – Reviews
1. Pulsar Trail XQ Thermal Riflescope
2. Pulsar Core RXQ30V Thermal Scope
3. Armasight 336 Thermal Imaging Rifle Scope
4. ATN Thor-HD Smart Thermal Scope
5. ATN Thor-HD Thermal Rifles Scope
1. Pulsar Trail XQ50 – Best Thermal Scope Under $500
Editor's Rating: (5 / 5)
- Objective Diameter: 42 millimeters
- Magnification: 2.7-10.8x
- Resolution: 384x288
While the Pulsar trail XQ might be the priciest model on our list, it is still one of the best thermal scopes under $500 thanks to its feature-rich design and top-notch performance.
One of its key features and perhaps what many shooters will like most is the simple smart device connection as this scope can link seamlessly to both Android and iOS device and it also comes with a remote control for easy operation.
With a heat signature detection range of 1,800 meters, it is also one of the best thermal scopes for hog hunting and also for other fast animals as it will ensure you can engage the game from far without detection.
Its 8-hour battery life should be long enough for most hunters, and this scope will also include a built-in video and sound recorder, one-shot zeroing, 13 variable reticle options and a high-resolution AMOLED display.
This thermal scope is the priciest among our reviews and also one of the bulkiest, but given its features and top-notch performance, this should be expected.
2. Pulsar Core RXQ30V – Best Compact Thermal Scope
Editor's Rating: (5 / 5)
- Objective Diameter: 22 millimeters
- Magnification: 1.6-6.4x
- Resolution: 384x288
For any hunter looking for a compact and lightweight entry-level thermal scope that will provide a much easy time, this model by Pulsar is perfect.
This amazing scope offers one-shot zeroing with a freeze function and with a green sapphire display that is easier on your eye and will allow you to scan for longer without eye fatigue.
Also, the scope has a high image refresh rate of 50 Hz which should be good enough for most hunters and a high enough 384x288 image resolution.
The scope also has a handy defective pixel repair technology, and it has been designed to be adaptable to an external power supply which is quite convenient as you do not always have to rely on the batteries.
It has three operation modes which are rock, forest and identification for increased versatility, ability to memorize your zeroing parameters and a quick detach mount for easy on and off.
Although this scope has a relatively shorter 900-meter heat detection range, it should still be more than enough, and this is more so given that it can detect human-size heat signature from that range.
3. Armasight 336 – Best Thermal Scope for Hunting
Editor's Rating: (4.5 / 5)
- Objective Diameter: 50 millimeters
- Magnification: 3-12x
- Resolution: 336x256
Hunting at night comes with various challenges, but with this Armasight thermal scope, spotting your target and aiming should not be part of the many issues.
What makes it one of the best thermal scopes for hunting is that it is quite compact and lightweight to ensure it does not add a lot of mass to your hunting rifle and that it has a super fast 60 Hz refresh rate for excellent image quality.
Also, the scope is designed to work on both Picatinny and Weaver rails. Using it is also made easy by the intuitive drop-down use interface and digital E-zoom.
The 6 onboard digitally controlled reticle patterns and 4 reticle colors help to enhance the versatility of this scope and many hunters will love the amazing image filtering algorithms.
With this thermals scope, you can also be sure of complete water and fog resistance, and it comes with wireless remote control and machined from aircraft-aluminum alloy for maximum durability.
Although this scope seems to eat up the battery faster than some hunters would like, this is an easy problem to fix by buying an external power back or a rechargeable battery.
4. ATN Thor-HD 384 – Best Thermal Scope for the Money
Editor's Rating: (4.3 / 5)
- Objective Diameter: 19 millimeters
- Magnification: 1.25-5x
- Resolution: 384x288
While it is still not the cheapest out there, the ATN Thor-HD is still one of the best thermal scopes for the money. At that price tag, you will hardly get anything with better features or performance.
What makes it such an amazing thermal scope is that it has a lot to offer which includes a built-in smart rangefinder that will make your life a lot easier as you will not need to carry additional equipment for ranging.
Also, the scope has a smooth zoom function that will allow for the magnification of the target without losing the field of view. And with the built-in ballistic calculator, you can easily calculate the bullet’s trajectory so that you always hit the target.
Other things that make this one of the best thermals scopes out there include the high-resolution video recording and photo taking capability. Also, a smart tactical remote control and a 20,000 mAh battery pack that delivers up to 22 hours of runtime are available as accessories.
The 5x maximum magnification will not be very useful for long-range shots, and this is more so given that the image seems a bit blurry at this magnification. However, this thermal scope is designed for short and medium ranges at which it will provide top notch service.
5. ATN Thor-HD 640 – Best High-resolution Thermal Scope
Editor's Rating: (4 / 5)
- Objective Diameter: 19 millimeters
- Magnification: 5-50x
- Resolution: 640x480
Whether you are on the search for the best thermal scope for coyote hunting or something to help you land a hog, the high resolution of this ATN scope will be very useful.
It has 640x480 sensor resolution that will combine with the smart HD optics technology to deliver top-notch image quality so that you never miss anything. And with the recoil activated video and high-resolution videos and photo recording, you can easily record your hunts.
This thermal scope still has more to offer besides the amazing image quality as it also has a built-in ballistic calculator that helps to ensure more accurate shots and rangefinder to make your life easier when hunting.
The smooth zoom control ensures you still maintain a perfect field of view even as you adjust the magnification.
At the higher magnification settings or when shooting from long distances, the image seems to blur a little, but the good news is that it will still be clear enough for easy aiming and accurate shooting.
How to Buy the Best Thermal Scopes
A thermal scope is most likely the most advanced accessory you will ever buy for your hunting rifle. But if you are not careful with your choice, you can end up wasting hundreds or thousands of dollars on something inferior.
However, choosing a good thermal scope is also not a very complicated process as you only need to watch out for the following things.
The first step when choosing a thermal scope is always to identify what you will be using it for. Unlike in the past when it was only for military and law enforcement, this scope is now used for a variety of applications such as hunting and self-defense.
Knowing what you will be using the scope for makes it easy to identify the features and capabilities that you want and also how much to spend.
If you will be using your thermal scope for home defense or shooting pesky animals in your backyard, a cheaper model with less magnification can be enough.
However, if you will be using the rifle for hunting deep in the forest or in the mountains, you will need something more powerful and with a better detection range.
2. Objective Diameter
While the objective diameter might not be as important for a thermal scope as it is for regular day rifle scopes, in some cases it is still an important consideration.
If your thermal scope has been designed for both day and night use, you will need something with a larger objective lens diameter such as 50 mm to ensure you get a good sight picture.
With thermal scopes, an objective diameter that is as small as 20 mm or even less can still be good enough, but going for a larger one is better as you will get a wider field of view.
3. Magnification and Zoom Range
Like with any other scope type, you will in many instances need to magnify the image for a better sight picture, and so the magnification also matters.
The actual magnification that you need will depend on what you intend to use the thermal scope for and from what distances. However, most of these scopes will not have anything more than 15x magnification.
These scopes will also come with either optical or digital zoom. Optical zoom makes it possible to magnify the image without affecting the image resolution, but with digital zoom, you can lose some of the resolution and image quality will dip.
A scope with both optical and digital zooms is often the best as it will give you the best of both worlds as you can zoom extensively while preserving image quality.
With thermal scopes, the sensor resolution is far more important than the magnification as it defines the clarity of the image you see through the scope.
A bad resolution will mean that you are likely to end up with pixilated images which might not be very useful when taking aim.
While you will not get anywhere close to the megapixel range with a thermal scope resolution, you do not even need it, but you should go for something with a resolution of at least 640x480 for good shot placement.
5. Battery Life
Thermal scopes rely greatly on batteries, and so before you buy any model you need to make sure that it has good battery life.
Because most people will use thermal scopes in very remote areas, you cannot afford to run out of charge when you are in the middle of nowhere where you cannot get a replacement.
While the battery life will vary from one model to the other, something with at least a 5-hour battery life should be good enough.
Also, check the type of batteries that the scope uses and make sure that they are easy to get in case you need to buy replacements.
6. Refresh Rate
Refresh rate can be simply defined as the number of times or the frequency at which the image is changed per second, and it plays a crucial role in ensuring the image that the thermal scope delivers is high-quality.
It is calibrated in Hertz and most of the best thermal scopes for rifles currently on the market will have 30Hz, 50Hz or 60Hz.
And it should go without saying that the higher the refresh rate a thermal scope will have the better it will perform as there will not be any blurriness issues, and the image transition will also be seamless.
Given their more advanced features and capability, the thermal scopes do not come cheap because even budget models can cost as much as $500. And if you prefer a high-end model, you can part with as much as $10,000 or even more.
But, to make sure that you get the best service from your thermal scope, you should first come up with a budget and once have the figure or price in mind, you should then look for a model with all the features you want but within that budget.
Thermal scopes are a more sophisticated rifle scope type, and as more and more hunters continue to embrace them, more models are always coming into the market.
To make sure that you choose the best thermal scope from the many options and that you do not waste cash on something substandard, it is important to understand vital things like resolution, magnification, refresh rate and of course how you intend to use the scope.
Narrowing down your options should also be now easy as our top 7 thermal scope reviews above will give you a perfect starting point.