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{TOP 5} Best Thermal Scope Reviews (2022 Updated)

The world of firearms has evolved to include insanely advanced technology from where it was 100 years ago. Now, we have red dot sights, night vision, and other accessories that make shooting a great experience. Let’s not leave out a big one: the thermal rifle scope.

Best Thermal Scope Reviews

The thermal imaging scope has become increasingly popular over the years and has since moved into the public market. Not a lot of gunowners own one, probably because they aren’t too familiar with them. This advanced night vision technology is sweeping our world, not just in rifle scopes. You can also find the same technology in cameras and medical thermal imagers, if you aren’t sure what thermal imaging looks like.

Now that thermal imaging is being used in the world of guns, tons of possibilities and applications have been opened up for all kinds of shooters. A thermal imaging riflescope will allow the user to see in dark and tough conditions, which was a technological dream not but 50 years ago.

There’s two types of technology that allow us to see in the dark: night vision and thermal imaging. Night vision works by amplifying the light in a room or area to a level that the naked human eye cannot do itself. These kinds of scopes or other devices can level out the interference that might come from other sources like weather conditions or uneven darkness.

For today’s article, we’ll talk about thermal imaging. The thermal imaging concept is not as widely known in society as night vision is, but it is equally if not more effective. A thermal riflescope opens many doors for shooters that may not have been accessible before its creation.

This also means that the market for thermal riflescopes has become huge and may seem overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re looking for. There’s hundreds if not thousands of brands out there that each offer their own version of the thermal scope. There’s many different features, prices, and quality of thermal scopes out there that can suit any gunowner’s needs. Today, we’re going to break down some of the highest rated and best quality products for a range of budgets, features, and needs to make sure we give a good start for everybody.

So, let’s dive into more details and help you find the best thermal scope for your rifle.

What is a Thermal Scope?

A thermal optic is one that takes a traditional rifle scope and combines it with the advanced infrared technology that we have today. A thermal imaging rifle scope will allow you to have a better look at your target during nighttime or other low light situations.

A thermal scope takes infrared light and uses it to make thermograms, or images; this is what gives the thermal scope its other common name of an infrared scope (IR scope). A thermal image is a picture that highlights points of heat in bright colors and keeps the cold ones darker. Therefore, it paints a picture of whatever you are looking at in thermal colors due to the contrasting heat points. Things like animals, humans, and motors will emit more heat than stationary things like plants or buildings.

How Does It Work?

Thermal imaging is a technology that has been long developed and studied, and started from something we all remember from middle school: the electromagnetic spectrum (don’t worry, I hated science too).

The electromagnetic spectrum is a chart that shows how different lights may travel in different wavelengths. The longer waves, like radio waves, have low energy. On the opposite side of the spectrum is gamma waves, which is the highest energy wave on the spectrum. The visible light that we can see is directly in the middle. Right next to that, on the longer side of waves, is where the infrared sits.

https://theory.labster.com/electromagnetic-spectrum/

The infrared light spectrum is actually split into three categories: near-infrared, mid-infrared, and thermal-infrared. The thermal infrared light is the kind that is emitted from heat and harnessed by our thermal scope technology to give us that night vision. The other two categories are just forms of reflected light, which don’t really apply here.

The way that thermal scopes work is that they are outfitted with devices that can detect and concentrate the thermal infrared waves into a thermogram. Essentially, you will be seeing the object, but as it emits infrared light from the heat it contains.

A great example of this is the move Predator. If you’ve seen it, which I’m sure most people have, then you’ll know that the main alien in the movie sees through shades of red, blue, green, and yellow. This is exactly what it’s like to look through a thermal optic.

Thermal Imaging vs. Night Vision

So, what exactly is the difference between thermal imaging and the common night vision? Night vision is definitely more well known in today’s world, so it might be easy to get them mixed up. We all know night vision: from the night vision goggle to night vision binoculars, we’ve probably all had some experience with it. A thermal imager is probably not as familiar. Both of these two scopes will allow you to see in the dark… and that’s about all they have in common.

The biggest difference is the functionality of each type of scope. A thermal imaging scope will allow you to see figures based of the heat that they emit. A night vision scope requires the tiniest bit of light to be able to work. If there’s no light at all, the night vision won’t be able to help you see in the dark. A night vision monocular will just amplify the little light that remains to make it visible to the human eye. Night vision can’t work in complete darkness (no light) and can’t work in the daytime either (too much light).

When it comes to night vision, there’s something called and IR illuminator. This device is basically an infrared light source to help the night vision function in places of total darkness. They emit infrared light that can be picked up by the night vision scope.

A thermal riflescope will allow you to detect your target regardless of weather, fog, or other conditions. Night vision will give you better clarity and detail of your target, but can become obscured by these conditions just like a traditional rifle scope.

Another difference is the price range. While you can buy a lower end night vision scope or night vision monocular for an affordable chunk, the infrared scope prices tend to run extremely expensive. If you’re looking to get thermal optics or a thermal monocular, be prepared for the hefty price tag that comes along with it.

Our suggestion is to have one of each of these tools, if you are in the debate. They may seem similar, but both provide very different functions. Night vision will amplify the poor light conditions to provide you a better scope image quality at night, while thermal optics provide you with a heat signature or a heat trace of a target. Both of these tools are great to have if you can afford the price. If not, take a step back and decide which or if any of these tools are something that you need. Pick whichever is right for you.

Let’s sort some of the differences into a visual to help you choose which type of scope might be best for you.

FeatureNight VisionThermal Imaging
FunctionalityRequires light; amplifies lightNo light; detects heat
PriceCheaperExpensive
WeightLighterHeavier
Image qualityClear; not affected by coldNot as clear; affected by cold

Why Should You Buy a Thermal Scope?

There’s tons of applications for using a thermal riflescope. If you’re looking into buying one, it’s important that you understand what a thermal imaging scope can and can’t be used for.

Night Hunting

The first, and probably most obvious, application of a thermal vision riflescope is night hunting. While night vision is still a great choice, it has some limitations that the thermal imaging technology just doesn’t. A night vision riflescope requires light to work, can’t detect targets, and can be obstructed by fog or other weather conditions.

A thermal sight is best used for hunting when it’s dark. Essentially, the thermal weapon sight can be used as a target spotting scope; it can easily pick out targets by their heat signature depending on the detection range of the scope. Not only that, but the heat signature is easily visible through rain, fog, snow, or other weather conditions, making it an attractive option for those who like to hunt those sneaky nighttime critters.

Surveillance & Detection

Oftentimes, thermal optics are used by police or military personnel on their weapons for surveillance and protection. A thermal imaging riflescope will allow the person who is conducting surveillance or searching for an enemy to easily locate their heat signature in tough conditions. This makes it easy to find someone who may be hiding from the police or just keep an eye on your personal property’s trail cam animals.

This also applies to search and rescue. Often, search and rescue teams will use thermal imagers to find a lost person or to try and trace where they may have gone. This technology has saved thousands of lives in this field.

This category doesn’t just apply to the professionals either. You can use thermal imaging on your firearm to keep your family safe at home if you need to in an emergency. You can easy find heat signatures of intruders that mean harm and other dangerous animals. You can also use the thermal optic to find a lost person, if you are in a situation where you cannot call for help, and can also help you find other targets that you might need to.

Things to Consider

When you’re looking to purchase a thermal scope, there’s plenty of features that may be offered by different brands or products. It’s important to know the features that are available and to narrow them down to the features that you want or need for your firearm.

This is especially important for this type of scope. As you probably know by know, these bad boys don’t come cheap. At all. So, you better know exactly what you want and exactly what you’re willing to spend on it. If not, you can end up wasting tons of money on something that you’ll regret.

There’s so much to consider like where you’ll be shooting, what you’ll be shooting, battery life, etc. Not a lot of people are going to drop this much money on something that they won’t use all the time, so really think hard about this one. Do you actually NEED a thermal scope and why? If you’re hesitating, then you might want to sleep on it some more. Most likely, if you aren’t solely a night hunter or anything like that, then you’ll want to save your thousands of dollars and put it towards something better spent.

Shooting Conditions

cold weather shooting
https://mdttac.ca/blog/tips-for-cold-weather-shooting/

The first thing to consider is where or what environment you’ll be shooting in. This is especially important because certain conditions might affect the way your scope works or offers a proper heat signature. If you’re typically used to shooting in the colder seasons, then be aware that the image quality of the infrared sight can be affected by colder temperatures.

On the flipside, thermal optics are best used for any kind of obscuring weather conditions. If you’re constantly be frustrated by that deer disappearing into the fog, then a thermal imager might be able to help you out. A thermal imaging rifle scope can have a great detection range through fog, dust, rain, and even snow. This way, you’ll be able to pick up your target no matter what with a great display resolution of their heat signature.

Just be aware that a thermal heat image won’t provide the same amount of detail that a night vision riflescope will. If that is your main concern, then a thermal imager might not be right for you.

Type of Use

For this purpose, we’ll divide the uses of a thermal scope into two categories: recreational and tactical. It’s important to consider what you’ll be using the riflescope for. If you’re just purchasing it for home defense or other tactical applications, then there’s probably some options that will be better suited for you. If you’re an avid hunter and want a thermal imager to help you out, then there’s riflescopes that are made just for that. Both of these are common uses for an average gunowner to purchase a thermal imaging optic.

Hunting or Recreational

If you’re someone who typically hunts in areas of dense weather or foliage, then a thermal imaging riflescope can be a game changer for you. This scope will allow you to detect any target at a certain detection range. And I mean any target; no deer is safe from your newfound accessory. You can also see through game camouflage, which is something that most animals will try and pull a fast on you with.

Just keep in mind that the heat signature you see won’t tell you accurately what the target is. So just be careful. You don’t want to end up shooting a coyote and ending up with the neighbor’s dog.

Defense or Tactical

home defense in thermal view

While you might not be able to make out the face of your intruder, the thermal imager will certain see right through their hiding disguise and reveal the target. It can’t see through walls but it will allow you to detect the intruder if he’s attempting to hide in the shadows somewhere.

A thermal imager will also help you find your way in the dark. Unlike night vision, thermal doesn’t rely on light to work. You can effectively use the thermal optic as a navigator, especially if you’re engaging or observing multiple targets at once. The thermal riflescope will be extremely valuable in that situation.

Price

This is what might make it or break it for a lot of people. The price of a thermal imager is pretty outrageous for an average person. You’re spending thousands of dollars for a tiny piece of metal that you screw on the top of your rifle. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

If you’re in a situation where you think you might ever need a thermal imager or would feel safer having one on hand, then you definitely want to consider your options. A thermal imaging riflescope has so many applications; the technology has even saved peoples’ lives. If you’re still hesitant because of the price, that’s okay too. There’s plenty of other options for you.

Thermal monocular

https://nightvisionuniverse.com/products/n-vision-optics-nox-18-multi-purpose-thermal-monocular-weapon-sight-640×480-60hz-12-um-18mm-lens-nox18

If the price tag of a thermal scope is just too scary, there’s another cheaper substitute that you can go for. There’s something called a thermal monocular. A thermal imaging monocular is a handheld device that can be used in place of the thermal scope itself. The monocular functions just the same as the thermal scope would and has a detection range of up to 300 yards for heat signatures. This option is also significantly less expensive than the riflescopes.

If you’re an avid night hunter, then the thermal monocular is a great addition to your arsenal. You can take the monocular with you whenever you go out to do some night hunting and it can be used with your night vision riflescope to help you out. This way, you can still detect and see your target, but without shoveling over the huge money.

Battery

The battery life of a scope is particularly important. Thermal imaging in itself is a complex piece of equipment which means that it needs a power source. It’s important to read up on the scope before you buy it to make sure the battery life will last you however long you need it to. I mean, what use is your scope if it’s dead? You’ll want to make sure the scope won’t die on you and that it can hold a good charge. Some other things to consider are:

  • The battery life of one charge.
  • How long you can use it in one session.
  • How long it takes to charge.
  • How often you have to replace the batteries.
  • How expensive the replacement batteries are.

The battery life is an especially heavy category that you need to consider when choosing the best thermal scope for you. We can’t have it dying on you when you finally have your shot lined up.

Magnification

Magnification is an option that might come with a lot of thermal scopes. Most of these scopes will have specific magnifications that can be used efficiently with the scope and won’t reduce the display resolution or slow the scope’s refresh rate down. If magnification is important to you, just make sure you look into it before you buy it. You’ll want to understand its limits where it applies to the scope that you end up choosing.

Other Features

Thermal imaging alone is already a crazy piece of tech, so what else could possible come with it? Come on now, this is the 21st century. EVERYTHING has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth these days. Some scopes can even come with GPS too. While all these features are pretty cool, they also add to the already hefty price tag of the thermal scopes. So, just ask yourself. Do I really need to stream my thermal scope to my smartphone? If your answer is no, then you probably won’t miss all this extra fancy stuff.

Sensor Resolution

The sensor resolution of a thermal imaging riflescope is something entirely different from the display resolution. The sensor resolution will affect the clarity of the scope’s picture. You might have a scope that has a great display resolution, but a sensor resolution that is much lower. Therefore, the end product won’t be as clear as if it were just the scope itself.

Detection Range

This will depend on how far you think you’ll be shooting from. If you’re typically a long distance hunter, then something that has a better detection range will be ideal. For home defense, you might not need something so far. It all depends on your personal preferences.

Refresh Rate

This one is also specific to the thermal scopes. The refresh rate is how fast the scope’s software will reload the heat detection image that you see. If the refresh rate is faster, then you’ll be able to see your targets quickly and detect their movements closer to real time. Slower means that your scope will essentially lag, which might cause some problems when you’re trying to follow a moving target.

Best Thermal Scope On The Market

Now, what you’ve all been waiting for. I’ve gone through the market and picked out some great products to fit a wide range of shooters, needs, preferences, and budgets. So, let’s dive into the top 5 thermal scopes to get you a quick start on your search.

1. Trijicon Teo Reap-IR Mini Therma

The Trijicon Teo is known for its insane clarity of the glass and the thermal imaging as well. The thermal picture is bright and clear, which will allow you to see even the smallest of targets, like rodents, when you’re using it.

The sensor is what gives the Teo the high display resolution. The refresh rate of this super high-end sensor is 60Hz, which is typically what you’d run in a well-made video game. This will not only let you see your targets easily, but also accurately track their movements.

The downside to this advanced screen is that it can be blinding at times. The screen tends to be pretty bright.

A lot of gunowners use thermal scopes and night vision hand in hand to get the best target picture at night. However, the insane clarity and high tech frame rate of the Teo is enough to use it completely on its own without the need for night vision.

The reticle itself is customizable too. You can choose from 5 different reticle styles, provided to suit your needs and shooting style. There’s also an option to save the reticle location on the scope, so you can switch the optic from one firearm to another and still have the same zero.

There’s also 6 different contrast settings that will allow you to adjust based on the shooting circumstances. You can adjust the contrast to give you the perfect picture no matter the environment.

This scope also introduces an entirely new feature called edge detection. What this does is effectively reduce the night blindness that might result from too much white in the picture. With edge detection, only the outline around the detected target will be white, while the rest of the picture will go black. This way, you won’t be blinded when you look through the scope.

Another downside to this is the manual calibration of the imaging. This means after about a minute, you’ll have to close the lens cap and recalibrate it yourself, which can be something to get used to.

The eye relief on this optic is pretty short, but there’s a rubber spacer to make sure you stay comfortable. The rim of the scope won’t dig into your eye and won’t bruise it or hurt you. It also allows you to zone in on your target more clearly when you see nothing but the scope.

This scope is also extremely durable and can last years without needed repairs. This scope can withstand tons of physical damage and weather conditions, making it perfect to take it with you wherever you need it.

It’s also pretty small and lightweight for a thermal sight. This is ideal for night hunting and other times when you’ll need to stay concealed.

Because they are so small, the batteries only last about 4 hours of constant use before needing a change. At least the batteries are easy and simple to change, even in the dark. You won’t have to struggle too much to try and change them in a pinch if the scope goes dead.

Advantages

  • Has a high display resolution.
  • Has a high refresh rate.
  • Has 5 reticle options.
  • Has 6 contrast options.
  • Has the edge detection feature.
  • Is durable.
  • Is lightweight.

Drawbacks

  • The screen brightness can be blinding.
  • Requires manual recalibration.
  • The batteries last for only 4 hours of constant use.
  • It’s expensive.

2. Pulsar Trail XP38

The Pulsar Trail is a great option that balances price and quality features.

The glass clarity and the imaging clarity are great for the price. You’ll be able to see all those little critters that you’ve got your eye on without any sacrifice for the details. Just because it’s cheaper, doesn’t mean there’s a quality sacrifice.

The reticle itself is set in the second focal plane, which means you can zoom in and the reticle picture will stay the same size. This will allow you to retain your accuracy while still being able to use the magnification feature.

Not only that, but there at 13 different reticles that you can choose from. You’ll be able to use whichever one suits your personal preference and your shooting style.

There’s also a feature that allows you to display a separate zoomed image while having the original field of view remain around it. This way, you’ll be able to zoom in on a smaller target and still be aware of the surrounding area.

The detection range of this scope is 2,000 yards, which means you’ll be able to make all those long distance shots you’ve always wanted to.

This thermal sight is also extremely durable. It is waterproof, shockproof, and fogproof. It can also withstand recoil from powerful weapons and other physical damage that might be sustained by a mounted rifle scope.

The sighting adjustments are relatively simple to use, but are not as precise as some other scopes out there.

The scope has a feature to hold up to 3 zeroes at a time, which is a great feature if you want some convenience. However, it’s been reported by other users that sometimes the zeroes don’t hold like they’re supposed to. The zero is known to drop sometimes or won’t save. It can be difficult to use this feature properly and save your zeroes.

Advantages

  • Has a high display resolution.
  • The reticle will stay the same with magnification.
  • Has 13 reticle options.
  • Has a far detection range.
  • Is durable.
  • It’s affordable.

Drawbacks

  • The sighting adjustments are not as precise.
  • The zero save feature is buggy.

3. Pulsar Digisight Ultra

The Pulsar Digisight presents at nearly half the price of a typicaly thermal sight but also can stand up to some of their features.

The reticle and the glass are very clear and crisp. You’ll be able to see anything you need to. For the price, the clearness of the imaging is impressive and won’t disappoint.

Not only that, but there’s 10 different reticle options and different colors that you can choose from. This means that you get tons of customization options. All of these options remain in the second focal plane so the reticle won’t move with magnification. This sight also offers some other ballistic reticle settings as well, which are like first focal plane reticles.

This scope also has the zoom picture feature. This way, you can zoom in on your target and still retain that field of view on your scope that is around the target. You’ll remain aware of all surroundings and will retain the wide field of view that is originally in the imaging picture.

You won’t have to worry about eye relief, either. Your eye will sit nicely against the scope so there will be no issues with the eye relief distance.

The Digisight is also proven durable. It is waterproof and resistant to low temperature climates and environments. That way you’ll never have to worry about your imaging accuracy being affected by the cold weather. A lot of thermal sights are susceptible to the effects of cold weather, but the Digisight is not one of them.

This scope is very easy to adjust and holds a great zero. You won’t have to worry about buggy software that drops a zero or trying to redo it again. There’s also the option to create zero profiles, each of which can hold up to 10 distances of zeroing. This saves you tons of time, effort, and creates an insanely versatile scope for any situation.

The Digisight also provides 2 IR illuminators that allow you to shoot perfectly at night. This gives you plenty of range and illumination options that will guide you through any night hunt. Most other thermal scopes will force you to buy an IR illuminator separately in order to use it in some conditions.

Advantages

  • Has a high display resolution.
  • Has 10 reticle options and 6 color options.
  • It’s durable.
  • It holds a zero.
  • It’s affordable.

Drawbacks

  • The detection range is only 500 yards.
  • The night detection range is only 300 yards.

4. ATN Thor 4

This option is a little on the pricier side, but gives you great clarity and distance for the price.

The imaging is extremely crisp on this scope. You’ll be able to see your target clearly from up to 1000 yards away.

The reticle is duplex and it has a ballistic rangefinder that will help you zero in your target easily and accurately.

The sensor resolution is also extremely high quality and won’t leave you questioning if you’re actually looking at your target or not. Your target will light up like a lamp in the dark and won’t leave you hanging on whether or not you got something.

The eye relief is a decent range that is common for most rifles. This is a pretty comfortable distance that can be used for long periods of time without fatigue or discomfort.

The scope is also durable and can stand up to both physical damage and weather conditions. The electronics inside were made with durability in mind, so you won’t have to worry about them getting damaged with repetitive use.

The scope itself weighs less than two pounds which won’t kill your shoulders when you’re trying to use it. For the weight, the battery also lasts up to 18 hours, which won’t leave you without a sight in the dark.

The zero adjustments are super easy to use and accurate; you’ll get a one shot zero in no time. It will also effectively hold a zero. Not only that, but the scope has a feature to record all of your best shots. Epic vids to share with your buddies. You can also save zero settings for different guns, which makes the scope easily very versatile.

It has a magnification option which can be great for zooming in on some tough targets. However, the imaging is known to become a little pixelated when you zoom in, which can present some difficulty.

The memory card that comes with it is also a little small for the purposes, so you’ll might want to buy a bigger one.

Advantages

  • The imaging and display resolution is extremely clear.
  • Has a detection distance of up to 1000 yards.
  • The sensor resolution is high.
  • It’s durable.
  • It has a longer battery life of 18 hours.
  • It’s accurate and will hold a zero.

Drawbacks

  • It’s expensive.
  • The magnification can make the image pixelated.
  • The provided memory card is small.

5. AGM Rattler

This thermal scope is one of the cheapest ones that exist on the market today, but that doesn’t mean it lacks any quality or great features.

The imaging is smooth and gives you a wide field of view. While it might not live up to the super high-end level of thermal scopes, the imaging quality you get for the price is amazing. The only drawback to this is the way the scope focuses. The Rattler will focus on the target and blur the background around it, which might decrease your situational awareness.

This thermal riflescope also is equipped with the window zoom feature, which means you can zoom in on one section of the target and still leave the rest normal, giving you a great field of view and allowing you to see those extra details on your target at the same time.

While there’s no laser range finding option, there are hashes on the reticle that you can learn to do it manually. This way, you can estimate how far your target is, how big it is, and what your bullet drop rate is going to look like. It will take some practice to be able to do this in the field, though.

The scope has two power modes: normal and standby. Normal, unfortunately, will take 10 seconds to power on the scope. If you place it in standby though, you’ll be able to flick it on and off instantly. It’s pretty much like a sleep mode, which will help you conserve battery power.

With only 3-4 hours of constant battery life, you’ll want to save all you can get.

This scope also has the option to save up to 5 zeroing profiles. Not only that, but these profiles can be for different guns too, which will make the scope extremely versatile.

It has plenty of brightness settings, both for daytime and night vision.

It also has 5 different reticle designs and 4 different colors to choose from. This way, you can customize the scope to your exact preferences, making the shooting experience the best it can be.

Advantages

  • It’s cheaper.
  • You get a good image for the price.
  • It has 2 different power modes.
  • You can save 5 zeroes.
  • It has different brightness settings.
  • It has 5 reticle designs and 4 colors.

Drawbacks

  • The scope leaves out background details to focus on the target.
  • The range finding option is manual and requires skill to use.
  • It only has 3-4 hours of battery life.
  • It takes 10 seconds to power on in normal mode.

Other Recommendations

And there we have it, a great list of some of the best thermal scopes. Now, whichever one you choose is entirely up to you. If you’re not feeling any of them, that’s okay too. Just think of this list as a start for your search for the best scope. The best scope is a lot of subjective opinion and will be more based on your needs and personal preferences than anything else. Just make sure you’ve got your priorities, preferences, budget, and shooting environment laid out before you try and search for the perfect thermal scope.

If none of the ones we talked about today are your style, let’s list some other brands and products real quick:

  • ATN X
  • ATN Thor HD
  • ATN Thor LT
  • Burris Thermal Riflescope
  • FLIR Zeus

All of these other products are from great reputable brands. All of these brands offer tons of other products and accessories for you to choose from, so make sure you check them out for any of your firearm needs.

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