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Gear talk: a plea for the monocular

Three Points of the Compass with monocular on the Norfolk Coast Path

Three Points of the Compass only occasionally carries a little monocular on multi-day hikes, but one of these little gadgets almost always accompanies me on a day hike. I tuck it into my packs hip pocket, there to be (fairly) quickly pulled out should I see something of interest. I actually seldom use it, but just occasionally it has really proven its worth.

Any backpacker aspiring to a lighter weight pack is never going to include a pair of binoculars or monocular in their gear list prior to setting off. Fine. Many will be cutting their toothbrush handles off, deciding to go ‘cold-soak’ rather than enjoy a hot meal or brew, or swapping out three inches of comfy inflatable mat for half an inch of foam, while adding in a kilogram or more of camera gear and drones and batteries and… well, it matters not. Every hiker can take and exclude what they like provided they stay safe on trail and, most importantly, enjoy their hike.

One thing I was pleased to have with me was my little monocular. Europe’s only sedentary population of Egyptian Vulture lives on Menorca and I enjoyed fantastic views of them in the north. Other raptors included Booted Eagle, Kestrel, Red Kite and Eleonora’s Falcon. Hoopoo flew along the trail as I approached, Ravens kronked. Shrikes and Pied Flycatchers flitted in the sparse pines. Dartford Warbler perched obligingly in the scrub. Around the abandoned salt evaporation ponds at Salines de Mongofra, complete with wading Egrets, the call of Bee Eaters surrounded me as parties swooped around. Individual birds looking as though they had been dipped in multiple paint pots

Three Points of the Compass:- Journal notes: Hiking in Menorca: the GR223, Camí de Cavalls

If we don’t enjoy our hike, what is the point of being out there? Three Points of the Compass derives great pleasure from observing wildlife and nature. As a young lad, I escaped to the countryside at every opportunity to climb trees, sketch leaves, fish the streams, nail up bird boxes, ineptly photograph wildlife, plaster cast animal tracks and dissect owl pellets. That fascination with the natural world never left me and I moved through keeping vivariums to birdwatching to studying my degree in Natural Sciences. It is unsurprising that a monocular frequently sneaks it’s way in to my pack on trail. A monocular is around half the weight of an equivalent binocular, albeit with reduced effectiveness and ease of use. But can the pleasure a monocular occasionally provide outweigh the extra few grams? I believe it can, and has.

While hiking the South West Coast Path, I lay on the Sea Thrift, pulled the monocular from my pack and watched the gulls wheeling above a Basking Shark, then swung round to the cliffs to seek out the calling Chough… on the Saxon Shore Way I paused to watch Seals vying with Mergansers for the fish on a falling tide, blinking the tears from my eyes from the biting winter wind… on the shingle spits of East Kent I leant back low on the Samphire so as to not disturb a Rough Legged Buzzard as it repeatedly dived, attempting to snatch a snake from the ground just fifty metres away… resting in the shade during a sweltering summers day I slowly panned my optic across the horizon, spotting an unexpected Crane heavily flapping across the Somerset Levels… on the West Coast of Scotland I paused labouring across the peat to focus on two Golden Eagles staring down at me with haughty distain… on Offa’s Dyke I leant my elbows on a rickety wooden bridge to steady myself and could see the flick of a white eyelid on a bobbing Dipper in the stream below me… on my first day on the Cape Wrath Trail, following a lonely road around the loch’s edge, I stood motionless on the kerb for a half hour, watching an Otter lying on its back, breaking shellfish on its belly with a pebble… I sat on the bank of a chalk stream in Sussex and propped my elbow on my knee all the better to focus on basking Beautiful Demoiselle, taking to the wing like emerald snowflakes… It isn’t that often that I extract my monocular from my hip belt pocket, but on occasion, it has been magical

Buyer beware!

There are a lot of monoculars on the market. Just a few may be quite reasonable optics however many are really poor, especially the cheaper options. Many monoculars on offer are large and very heavy. I only consider small and lightweight monoculars for taking on a hike, partly because of their potentially infrequent use but mainly because it becomes tiresome to hold one for any length of time. This limits the number of monoculars manufactured that can be seriously considered by the lightweight backpacker. A decent monocular will always be cheaper than the equivalent binocular as there are less components and there is no need to ensure that one optic works in harmony to another. It really isn’t difficult to find small cheap monoculars on Ebay and AliExpress etc but almost all are simply dire products. Stay well clear of these, they will disappoint, full stop. Sadly, a good monocular is going to cost. This is truly a case of you get what you pay for. That said, if you are going to purchase a monocular, do your research and ensure you can try before you buy, or at least return it having tried it out at home. It could be a costly mistake if you find you simply do not get on with it or are disappointed by performance.

Trail journal from 2018. Day 150 on trail, I spot a White Tailed Sea Eagle with my Opticron monocular
Trail journal from 2018. Day 150 on trail, I spot a White Tailed Sea Eagle with my monocular. I seem to be a little blasé with this journal entry but I was absolutely thrilled with the sighting as I had missed seeing the species earlier in my walk

Putting all this to one side, a pair of half way decent binoculars are always going to provide a more enjoyable viewing experience than a monocular. It is simply that extra weight and bulk that carrying a binocular entails, we are back to that compromise. Some people simply do not get on with using monoculars. It takes practice (there is no need to close one eye for instance) and keeping them steady can be difficult on occasion. Fine, you have saved yourself the expense and weight, but I still suggest you at least try a monocular if you are interested in bird watching. And if not a monocular, then lightweight binoculars may be the way to go (the subject for another blog?), but that will entail even greater expense and weight penalty. It is your choice.

This was simply a plea for you to consider the merits of carrying a monocular on trail. Perhaps as little as the weight of two Snickers maybe, but considerably more expensive. Three Points of the Compass has produced three other blogs on the subject of monoculars on trail:

An early winter day walk on the coast. Nope, not a monocular on this occasion, a small pair of binoculars were easier to hold and use for the more frequent use I had anticipated.

I stood looking forlornly at acres of freshly ploughed field, wondering if my trail shoes would remain attached to my feet if I attempted to cross the large cleaved slices of glutinous earth. Where did my path exit on the far side? I pulled my little pocket ‘scope’ from my pack and scanned the far distance. Aahh! I can avoid this….

Three Points of the Compasshiking the Icknield Way, autumn 2017

14 replies »

  1. I had a wonderful Opticron 8×42 monocular. Excellent for checking out stiles and finger posts. Then one day I came home from a walk without it. Very easy to lose.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great article Jules. I’m going to take Elliot wild camping in Dartmoor soon, and want a really lightweight option for sighting and birdwatching, so have brought a monocular top trial. Will let you know how it goes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I forgot to say this however what you need is someone with access to a 3D printer because they should be able to make a Quadlock fitting bracket that holds your current Monocular to your Phone camera. It would be something like the camera mount you already own.
      No idea how much it would cost though. You might have to investigate the dark corners of the Cosplay verse for the people making lightsabre parts.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. If you want tiny but expensive, try this at 23 grams:
    Zeiss have several other variants of that, and lots of less expensive but lower quality small monoculars can be found on the same site. I might get this one (45 grams), which is more in my price range and has nice close focusing:


    • Thanks for your comment Paul, and for drawing our attention to two further monocular options. To my mind however, the low magnification of both of these rules them out as being much use. My apologies for my delay in replying, I have only today returned from a multi-day backpacking trip in Scotland where I was pleased to have put my favoured monocular to good use!


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