Scopes with thermal imaging technology used to be very expensive and so were limited only to those with the budget to burn. They were available only for heavily funded law enforcement agencies and the military. But there’s good news. Thermal optics like the best thermal scope is now on offer at different price points from an expensive to affordable thermal scope.
Now, a broad range of choices are within reach, each pick featuring unique characteristics like multiple reticles, better heat radiation, and larger objective lens, etc. So in recent years, night hunting activities for nocturnal animals like a hog and coyotes have also emerged in popularity.
Due to an increase in demand from hunters and shooters alike, optics companies like ATN, Athlon, Sig Sauer, and AGM Global Vision manufacture more thermal scopes.
To simplify your search and save you some time scouring what the right scope is for you, let me help you with this buying guide, highlighting the most essential features to look for when considering a good thermal imaging device. I’ll also review the top thermal scopes with different price points on the market right now. Let’s get started.
What is a thermal scope?
A thermal scope uses a heat-sensing imaging core, not an infrared light or visible light to display the user’s view. Good thermal scopes can see in total darkness and use heat differences in objects being viewed and measure heat radiation so that they can create a video image of the field or area.
Simply, the best thermal scope is a thermal camera that has a reticle or aiming device. More innovative scopes come with video recording capabilities. They are integrated or built into the device, recording the entire hunt.
IR is invisible to our naked eye; however, it can be felt if the heat being emitted by the image is high. All objects, in one way or another, emit infrared radiation. It’s one of the ways that heat is transferred.
The thermal camera in the device is what detects the temperature. It recognizes and captures different infrared light levels. It produces a thermal image.
In a thermal image – cold things appear dark and hot things appear bright, revealing contrasting or differing heat levels. People, animals, and motorized machines emit more heat. On the other hand, buildings, water, plants, among other objects emit less heat.
A thermal weapon sight or thermal scope pairs infrared technology with the basic functions of a traditional riflescope. It can improve the target’s visibility, allowing hunters to recognize it even in complete darkness and at daytime during low visibility conditions like when there is fog or smoke.
Even an affordable scope creates images, also called thermograms, using infrared light. That’s why a thermal scope is sometimes called an IR scope or infrared scope. It can produce a high image quality.
Things to Consider When Choosing a New Thermal Scope
Before shopping around for the best thermal scope, take some time to consider the most essential factors that matter in deciding which the right one for you is. Let me help you start with the following.
The thermal vision of a scope will be affected during the cold environment. As I remember, it reads thermal signatures. However, night vision devices might not be of great help if the creature is standing behind a bush or a shadowy area. Except if you’re going to use an infrared illuminator, it can be challenging to identify or detect a target hiding in sight especially when shooting at a long distance using an NV.
So, do you want to identify your target, which can be hiding or covered by smoke, fog, or foliage? In this case, you might be better off choosing a thermal rifle scope than night vision devices.
But remember, it might not give you as much information on the type of target you’re seeing in your view instantly because scopes with thermal cores won’t provide as many details about it when compared to a night vision scope.
That’s why the shooting environment is an important factor when choosing between thermal scopes and night vision scopes. Some notes –
A thermal weapon sight can detect creatures even from a long distance. But then, it might confuse you to see other moving objects in your field of view aside from the target. For example, it can render black and white images or even shades in multiple colors. This again causes confusion if you can see a lot of them in the field of target. The bonus is that a thermal digital scope will help you see even in the roughest, coldest weather.
Meanwhile, NV scopes can render you with high resolution images and use ambient light or the infrared illuminator to aid in night vision. So even if there’d be more moving objects in the target area, there is no need to be concerned.
An NV scope can easily detect the game you’re eyeing on, delivering almost the actual image. But just like a thermal imaging sight, there are downsides, too.
Night vision devices can be blind during the rough weather and won’t let you find your target game if it’s hiding in a cover or camouflaged. To see in the dark, a night vision device has an IR illuminator.
Also remember, NV sighting devices, although rendering better images, can be damaged when exposed to a very bright light. This is not the case for thermal scopes. They’re not only good for detection, but they are sturdy for all conditions.
Specific Use (Hunting or Recreation, Tactical or Home Defense)
What application do you intend to use the scope for – law enforcement, home defense or tactical, hunting or recreation? Knowing and understanding intended use can help you decide. Military standard scopes excel in all areas, although the prices are stiff.
For home defense and tactical uses, night vision scopes are good options because they render images with vivid details. On the other hand, a thermal scope can help you see through foliage or camouflage to track any threat. It doesn’t also rely on ambient light.
Night vision scopes can be sturdier and more dependable for a hunting activity because they can provide you with more vivid images and more accurate target identification, giving you the most important details of your target. They can also supply a wider view field. On the other hand, if you’re hunting in the wild with dense or thick areas, pick a thermal optics system.
A credible scope manufacturer will equip a scope with a high quality battery, which can operate for a very long time before needing replacement. After a single charge, a good thermal sighting device can run for almost eight hours.
Resolution and sensor are important parameters, which sometimes dictate the price of the equipment. One with 640Ã—480 of a thermal sensor is a good choice.
Then there is scope detection range. A quality scope can help you identify your target easily up to 4,000 yards, while a cheaper scope can have at most 1,000 yards detection range.
For the reticle pattern, it can be useful to have a thermal scope with a crosshair 4-line reticle if you’re night hunting with it.
How about the refresh rate? Remember this. The clearer it is that you’ll detect moving objects in the scene the more that your scope will refresh it. 7.5 to 60 Hz is the standard frame rate range. For dynamic and active hunting, you might want to go for at least 30 Hz.
Next is the type of zoom. Is it a digital zoom or an optical zoom? Going for an optical zoom is pricier because the image delivered is crisper than what a digital zoom, which uses software, can deliver.
The prices of thermal scopes range from $900 and $6,000 and sometimes even higher depending on their features, quality, and technology. If you’ve just started hunting or using a thermal sight, going for a more affordable option is enough and then later on a higher priced one when you’re ready for it.
Best Thermal Scope 2022
1. TheOpticGuru Thor LT Thermal Scope
When choosing infrared scopes for a better sight viewing and imaging, hunters, tactical people, and the military consider the reliability of how the thermal scope works. There is no doubt that the Optics Guru takes their job seriously in offering quality thermal image devices to their customers. One of those is this Thor LT thermal scope.
One of the things I’d like to highlight with it is its affordability. We all know that thermal scopes could be pricey, making them less affordable for the general hunting public. The Optics Guru breaks the barrier in terms of pricing, allowing us to mind our business of hunting with effectiveness rather than worrying about the price and quality of standard rifle scopes that use thermal technology.
ThOR LT also features a long battery life, which is something I appreciate. Being in the woods, remote areas, and in dark conditions, the last thing I want is to use a scope that has a low power. This one is dependable for its long battery life of at least 10 hours, and that’s due to the low power consumption of its internal Li-Ion battery.
In addition, I liked its power, with a minimum of 3x magnification up to 6x, making it suitable to cover short to medium range distances, while still providing a clear sight picture of the object. This is important whether you’re participating in hunt competitions, using a scope for personal defense applications, or working in the military or law enforcement.
The thermal image quality is also remarkable, and that’s because of its advanced heat detection sensors, which power it up to detect and see objects even in a smoky, foggy, or dark environment. Even in places with thick foliage and heavy vegetation, its advanced heat detection technology works so well.
Like standard rifle scopes, these thermal sights have a simplistic and traditional design, with a 30mm tube made of sturdy aluminum alloy material. It is notable how it is recoil resistant even when used with weapons known for high recoil. This improves the durability and extends its lifespan definitely, giving me the most out of my spending.
It is not as heavy as other scopes, being only one kilogram in weight, making me feel more confident and keeping my rifle balanced.
The only issue is fogging during heavy foggy conditions, but this happens to other rifle scopes, too. Overall, ThOR LT is worth-considering. You’ll not be disappointed. It’s sturdy, rugged, and high performing. It’s something that can make a big difference out there in the woods.
- Long battery life
- Lightweight to keep rifle balanced
- Traditional 30mm tube
- Advanced heat detection sensors
- Broad magnification 3-6X
- Fogging issues in heavy foggy conditions
2. Trijicon Reap-IR 35 mm Thermal Rifle Scope
Let me begin by saying that this is a rock star. It’s the best thermal scope for those with deep pockets and looking to get their hands on the most innovative thermal riflescope around because it always delivers high image quality regardless of the weather or lighting condition. It features an edge detection technology, which is only found on expensive and highly innovative military use scopes.
This Trijicon is incomparable with other thermal scopes. I’d like to mention its superb reticle and glass clarity, offering the best sight picture of all. The images are clear, crisp, and vivid. In addition, it has the 12-micron thermal core sensor that makes it highly effective in delivering quality images all the time, and this is what I exactly need.
Plus, the images in the thermal rifle scope feature a 60-hz frame rate camera, or in the power saving mode 30-hz, keeping the images running smoothly. This allows me to see the target in real time, no delays. More so, the night vision optics coming with it supplies me with clearer target identification than I would otherwise receive from other standard rifle scopes.
Hog hunting or hunting any game for that matter is made easier with this high end thermal scope, too, because I can maintain my reticle position with it. Thanks to the different reticle saving options that allows me to mount it on each of my weapons conveniently and still keep my reticle position.
The digital scope also displays a convenient and easy to read screen that adds to its convenience of use. Another worth mentioning feature of this thermal imaging device is its ability to detect and identify my target even with heavy vegetation at low lighting conditions.
Choosing the right contrast I need is also easy with the different six MaxPol settings that the thermal scope is designed with. It also features edge detection, which reduces any chances of night blindness or inability to see clearly in the dark. In this case, 90% of my screen goes black and the target’s edges are in white, improving target identification in real time and in the maximum effective range.
About durability, the thermal scope stands out in the thermal market. This lasts longer than other scopes so that it can be used even under heavy pressure and shocks from a heavy recoiling firearm. The Reap-IR mini is worth the investment.
The only downside is the manual calibration, though. However, there is no other thermal imaging device that beats the performance of the REAP-IR mini for its edge detection, clear image, and superior build.
- Superior image detection
- Resistant from shock and impacts
- Durable and quality lenses
- Works in low lighting and harsh weather conditions
- Reticle saving options
- Manual calibration
3. AGM Global Vision Thermal Scope Rattler TC35
The AGM Rattler TC35-384 is for predator hunters eyeing a topnotch thermal device that works in foggy and smoky conditions as well as complete darkness. It features a superb night vision technology that really changes the game of thermal imagers.
AGM Global Vision rifle scopes have long been known for their reliability and performance, and it doesn’t disappoint with this scope relying on thermal energy to deliver an impressive image quality.
The TC35-384 is versatile enough that it can be used as day optics and then at night be used as a thermal device in a cinch. You don’t need to be an engineer nor special tools to do it. Not to forget, it also has an onboard Wi-Fi module for video or image recording and video streaming capabilities via its dedicated app.
Aside from a long battery life and digital magnification that we should be looking for in a thermal device, we should primarily consider image quality even during tough weather conditions, such as snow, rain, and fog. Image clarity shouldn’t be a concern with the best thermal scope like this one.
It works to deliver a vivid, precise image even when operating in the woods or darkness. It’s good that it has this 384×288 thermal detector that does its job well. Adding to this is its 748×561 OLED monitor that gives me superior image results even in camouflage. I liked that this makes the digital scope suitable for hunting, patrolling, surveillance, and other applications.
Let me also share that the AGM Global Vision scope is easy to use. I can quickly attach it in front of my rifle scope. It can definitely improve night hunting for its medium range powered magnification up to 8X. It can be a bit heavy, but it does its job well.
- Suitable for applications like patrolling or hunting
- 384×288 thermal detector
- Reputable brand
- High quality lenses
- Medium range magnifications up to 8X
4. Sig Sauer SOEC32001 Echo3 Thermal Reflex Sight
As you search for a high quality thermal scope, you must consider not only buying an affordable thermal scope because that won’t do much if it gives you blurry images during harsh conditions. It’s the last thing you want when out there and needing a dependable thermal optics system.
The thermal imaging is remarkable with the Sig Sauer SOEC32001 Echo3 Thermal Reflex Sight, offering a clear and vivid view of the image. It uses the brand’s box technology and has the ability to record videos and images in eight color palettes.
It is designed with a Dovetail Mounting system that allows me to remove and replace the optics mounted on the rifle easily. This feature adds to the ease of use of this sighting system. After all, the last thing we want is a hard to use sighting device.
The design is also solid and compact, making it convenient and simple to use. It also has box enabled functionalities for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. I also liked the easy and quick to adjust lens, allowing me to set it up based on how I need it to work. The lens also has optional throw lever attachment.
This model can also connect to the SIG BDX app and can be used with a SIG KILO rangefinder that is compatible with the BDX. It also works great once it’s set up correctly especially if you’re using a caliber with different ballistic drops and still you want to reach out further. Zeroing the scope’s reticle was also easy; just have to move it to the point of impact.
However, it has no night vision, so it can be hard to see at night. But then, the Sig Sauer scope is powerful enough to last at least six hours of run time even with heavy use. It is dependable for hunting in the wild where it can be unpredictable when your target will come in sight. A long life battery is integral to use our scope continuously especially during times we need it the most.
- Easy to zero in the reticle
- Can connect to the BDX app
- Vivid and clear view of the image
- Dovetail mounting system
- Recording images and videos in eight color palettes
- Not the most affordable around
5. Pulsar Trail XP38 1.2-9.6×32 Thermal Optics
This Pulsar Trail Thermal Riflescope can be easier to use than ordinary night vision scopes on the market. One of the things I liked about this thermal optic system is its high precision thermal energy technology. This particular model has an XP index, referring to the innovative 640×480 thermal sensor.
It works at a 50-hz frame rate and 17 um pixel pitch and its thermal sensor can deliver accurate and high quality thermal images that serious hunters, personal defense enthusiasts, and law enforcement officers need.
In addition, I’ve noticed that the XP38 thermal optic can offer a better target acquisition for its broad range of magnification that allows me to extend my distances while keeping a clear view of the target. Its base magnification of 1.6X is perfect for close range animal hunting, while its 9.6x setting allows for shooting long-distance targets quite easily.
I’d also like to mention about the best thermal imaging device’s long battery life. Even when used for hours, the thermal rifle scope performs well for its 8-hr battery pack, eliminating my need to carry along extra batteries in my pack.
Thermal imaging scopes in this line also offer picture-in-picture mode, allowing for repeatable and precision accuracy through placing a small but magnified window at its top display, while still giving me an overall view field. This makes follow up shots possible.
Thermal rifle scopes don’t only detect heat signatures accurately, but also offer user ease for its one-shot zeroing feature. This saves me a lot of money and time when sighting it in. Plus, Trail XP38 thermal scopes are also useful temperatures up to 122 degree F, while also featuring an easy to use interface with accessible buttons.
One of the best thermal scopes, Trail can also connect to the Stream app, letting me capture, save, and send videos with the scope’s built-in recording functionality and a huge 8GB memory. It also features an excellent 50Hz refresh rate for smooth imaging as well as 13 digital reticle choices.
It is a bit expensive, though. Overall, this Pulsar scope is feature rich and highly innovative. It is a must-have in a hunter’s bag that you might want to consider for yourself.
- Can connect to the Stream app and record video and images
- Long battery life
- Broad magnification range
- Detects heat signatures accurately
- Works well in all weather conditions
- Not the most budget-friendly thermal scope
6. Pulsar Digisight Ultra N455 Digital Night Vision Riflescope
If you’re looking for the best thermal optic without breaking your bank, check out this digital zooming scope that offers all the features, such as excellent thermal capabilities and recognition range, essential for improved success in hunting, surveillance, patrolling, and personal defense.
It has got you covered for its innovation while being within your budget’s reach. For example, the right thermal scope should be able to help us detect and spot our target out to at least 500 yards while also having the opportunity to record the entire hunting experience using a dependable thermal optics.
The night vision scope doesn’t only detect heat effectively, but it also offers clear glass and a good reticle. I got ten different reticle options with this one, and that makes it stand out.
Different colors to choose from is useful because I can select depending on what will work for the situation. This feature also makes the scope versatile. Reticle size doesn’t change because it is in the second focal plane, but this model features ballistic reticle options that work like a first focal plane.
In addition, this Digisight with digital zoom features has a picture in picture mode, which enables a smaller frame of an image inside a bigger one. It’s best for viewing the enlarged target image inside of the smaller frame, while getting the entire view of the larger frame.
The thermal imaging device with a superb thermal technology and vast detection range is also sturdy to deal with harsh conditions. I found out that it can withstand temperatures as low as -25 degrees Celsius. And when out in the cold, I can depend on its frost-resistant display, allowing me to maintain visibility despite the unforgiving weather.
The elevation and windage is quite easy to adjust with its easy access knobs. Zeroing is also easy, and it holds to it well. Accurate digital zoom zeroing is another notable characteristic of this thermal imaging device.
I can also make five different zero profiles, which saves my time absolutely. Every profile can also hold up to 10 different distances. Nevertheless, I can easily adjust this scope to whatever I need. It is something that can be hard to come by with other standard scopes.
The eye relief is generous enough that I don’t need to worry about it and its eyepiece offers a wide angle, offering me an excellent view of the area without any hassle. In addition, this sighting device also features a long range IR illuminator, allowing me to observe a hog or any target with ease.
There are also three different infrared power levels that let me select one for an effective identification range as well as the right illumination level of the animal or object that I am observing.
However, there are quite a number of buttons that some users might find distracting. Overall, this scope is a high performance and quality sighting device that won’t fail you.
- Effective identification range
- Frost-resistant display
- Broad magnification settings to choose from
- Generous eye relief
- Allows five different zero profiles
- Too many buttons might be distracting for some users
Why are thermal scopes so expensive?
If you’d read thermal scope reviews, you’ve probably learned that most thermal scopes are expensive, and yes, many of the thermal scopes out there are. But really, why is a high end thermal scope costly? Why do they cost more than what the general consumer can afford?
The best thermal rifle scope uses thermal technology, also called infrared thermography. This makes the thermal sight work by collecting the heat that an object emits. Using these heat signatures, the scope will turn them into a visible image for the naked eyes.
So as you see, these thermal imaging devices are expensive because of their high-end technology. They can work flawlessly when it comes to detecting radiant heat sources even when operating them in the dark. The reason is that they can detect heat signatures or operate based on the temperature differences and not based on the intensity of visible light.
A high end thermal scope is also costly because of its high end materials that make it precise. Top engineering is also used in the manufacturing of such a scope. Components, such as its cables, display screen, battery packs, thermal sensors, and lenses are crafted to perfection.
They are made durable so that they can deal with impacts and shocks as well as varying outdoor conditions, including harsh weather like snow, rain, and fog. Innovative thermal scopes can also work well despite the shooting environment’s thick foliage because of their effective thermal sensors.
Thermal lenses also are specialized lenses because IR or infrared doesn’t pass through traditional lenses. An expensive thermal night vision scope is made with topnotch sapphire or germanium lenses. These lenses are more expensive than the ordinary lens of a budget thermal scope.
The materials are also more effective in gathering IR light, while remaining durable to deal with all situations that cheap scopes cannot deal with. These high tech scopes with a superior thermal sensor also work better than traditional rifle scopes that can require ambient light or artificial visible light for them to work. Thus, if the shooting environment is very dark, a very affordable thermal scope will not function as intended.
What is the best thermal scope for new predator hunters?
I suggest the Pulsar Digisight Ultra N455 Digital Night Vision Riflescope for new predator hunters because it is affordable enough for newbie hunters who are still starting out with the new pursuit of hunting. It combines all the necessary features that one can typically find in a high end scope with a superb thermal sensor.
But why is it the best thermal scope for beginners? Just as I’ve said, it has all the features you’ll need to get started. For one, it is affordable and its features are also amazing. They include five zero profiles for saving your time and effort in zeroing it in.
In addition, it has a broad range of magnification that lets you select the right one that suits your needs. This model also comes with 10 different reticle options, which allow me to use just what I need for every situation. More so, this scope for thermal imaging has a nighttime detection going out to up to 600 yards.
So without even saying, you’ll get what you’ll pay for such affordable optical devices. It is loaded with the features you’ll ever need but at a fraction of the cost of what the competition offers.
And if you’d like hunting, you can rely on its capacity to deliver clear and crisp images no matter the time of the day. With it you’ll be able to see all the important details of your prey even when it’s dark. Try this Pulsar Digisight and you’ll love the results.
Can you use a thermal scope during the day?
Yes, you can use a thermal scope during the day because it doesn’t require any visible light like some night vision optics to produce a clear and vivid image. These thermal scopes work with a thermal sensor, which is why it is versatile enough to use with or without ambient light.
The best thermal scope is designed and built for the tough hunter who is serious about getting results from their hunting activity. That’s why it pays off to do your homework and compare your choices of what thermal scopes are out there. One shouldn’t only suit your budget but also provides all your needs. We do hope that these reviews and buying guide above on the things to consider like shooting environment, pricing, and battery life, and so on, have given you the most important insights to help with the selection process.