Choosing the right thermal scope could mean the difference between spending a lot of money on an optic that doesn’t fit your needs.
Buying something that fails when you need it most.
But don’t worry, we’ve reviewed the best thermal scopes money can buy, so rest assured, we have the perfect scope for you.
- Best Thermal Scopes
- How We Made the Picks Picks
- Things to Consider Before Buying a Thermal Scope
- Types of Thermal Scopes
- Best Thermal Scope Brands
- How Do Thermal Scopes Work?
- Is It Legal To Hunt With a Thermal Scope?
- How Do You Sight a Thermal Scope?
- More On Thermal Scopes
- Where Can You Buy Thermal Scopes?
- Our Pick: Best Overall Quality – ATN Thor 4 640 2.5-25X
Best Thermal Scopes
1. ATN Thor 4 640 2.5-25X Our Pick: Best At Everything
-4 choices for magnification
-16+ hour battery life
-One shot zero
-60 Hz refresh rate
|-None that I could find…|
Now, this is a thermal sight that is designed for the advanced shooter, as in a professional operator, police, military, or government hunter.
This feature-packed system is complicated in that it has many functions that may boggle an entry-level user. The main ones are: image stabilization, range-finding, and ballistics calculating.
Here’s a quick breakdown of each of these features:
- Image stabilization: Compensates for the unwanted vibrations when aiming, letting you breathe easy when taking aim
- Range-finding: Calculates the distance from your target, giving you (normally) complex trigonometric calcs on the fly, letting you just focus on the target
- Ballistics calculation: Compensates for factors like wind, target’s angle, temperature, and humidity to calculate and shift your point of impact without needing to do it yourself; all you need to do is aim and shoot!
All this to say that this advanced system is perfectly designed and will help the shooter achieve accurate shots every time with shot placement and ranging control taken care of, allowing them to focus more on the target itself.
I recommend the 2.5-25x magnification as it will meet 99.9% of our reader’s needs without going into the insane zones, reaching up to 1,950 yards in detection range and an identification and recognition range of 475 and 800 yards.
So you could sit pretty and save time as your scope does most of the extra legwork in detecting your prey.
With this scope, you also get a 60 Hertz refresh rate (how many times the image refreshes in a second), giving you the ability to track fast-moving targets without lag, making hunting seamless so you’ll never lose sight of your target.
One of the features that stand out with the ATN ThOR 4 is the 16+ hours of continuous battery power it possesses, putting less pressure on the user to bring along extra batteries or feel hurried while using their scope. With such low power consumption, you can take your sweet time in getting the shot just right even at the end of sessions.
When I said feature-packed, I meant it, because it also retains BlueTooth functions, IOS and Android apps, and HD video and still images recording, which allows you to stream directly to your phone and record the best moments in high-quality to share for later.
Imagine all those amazing shots you’ve made over the years that sadly have only been seen by, well… you. No more! In a few clicks, they go right to your phone.
Not bad if you ask me…
There are a few places online where you can find the ATN Thor 4, but as of December 8, 2023 our certified supplier has the best price online. Make sure you use the link below to get the most savings:
2. Pulsar Thermion 2 XP50 Pro 2-16X 50mm: Best Thermal Scope for AR-15
|-640×480 microbolometer sensor|
-Image quality booster
-2,300 yard detection range
-Highly recoil and impact resistant
Oh man, just looking at this beauty gets me all excited.
So, unlike most of the thermal imagers on the market, the new generation of Pulsar thermal weapon sights comes with a sleek and streamlined exterior that resembles a traditional daytime riflescope.
But don’t let its appearance fool you. Behind the quite unremarkable outward appearance of this optronic device, it boasts a 640×480 microbolometer sensor, an insane 2,300 yards detection range, and its state-of-the-art proprietary software that boosts image quality, making it even more effective at distances.
Simply put, with this bad boy, you’ll be getting a crystal clear thermal experience.
This mid to long-range scope has a magnification of 2-16x and an 8x digital zoom ratio, making it an option more than enough for 95% of hunters, the other 5% being the most dedicated and advanced of users in the field.
The Pulsar Thermion 2 is currently on-sale through one of our suppliers until December 9, 2023. The link below takes your directly to the product page where you can buy it at this all time low price:
3. ATN Thor LT 320 5-10x50mm: The Budget Pick
-10+ hours of battery life
-Good image quality
If you’re looking for the best budget sight that’ll still bring an advanced thermal system to the table, the ATN Thor LT is the best on the market right now.
Now, although it’s priced a bit lower than some of the others presented here, what this affordable scope does is brings the straightforward quality you’ll need without the frills to focus on what really matters.
Simply put, it’s a high-performance scope with low power requirements. The unit will use a battery every 10 hours of service, and as it’s designed as a lightweight unit at 2.2 pounds, this small feature becomes a big help on long nights of hunting and hiking in the woods.
This mid to short-range scope’s estimated effective range is 300 to 400 yards when correctly adjusted for viewing, so may not be the scope for long-range but will be perfect for hog hunting or for performing damage control on one’s property.
Bottom line, the primary advantage of this scope is it is exactly what it needs to be: a thermal sighting system for night shooting. No other tacked-on features to get in the way.
4. Pulsar Core RXQ30V 1.6-6.4X 22mm: Top for 200 Yards
-50Hz Refresh rate
|-Short 1.6-6x zoom|
-Less battery life
So, not everyone needs the bells and whistles of the high-end scopes on the market. Sometimes, you just need an effective and reliable thermal device to hunt or get rid of hogs on your property.
Well, the Pulsar Core RXQ30V is exactly that. With a detection range of 985 yards and an identification range of around 200 yards, this scope is best used for short-range hunting.
The 1.6-6X magnification isn’t as high compared to the others on this list, but hunters I know who own this Pulsar Core model have said that this durable piece of gear (rated IPX7, highly weatherproof) will more than do the job in spotting targets even in complete darkness. Plus, with the picture-in-picture digital zoom, you’ll have a clear zoomed-in visual of your target without losing sight of your wider vision so your awareness of other targets and your surroundings won’t be removed.
That said, it isn’t as feature-rich as the others, but what it does have is affordability AND quality in one, and if you take that into account, it sure makes for the best 200-yard thermal scope out there.
5. Trijicon Reap-IR Mini Thermal 35mm Type 3: Top High-End “Expensive” Pick
|-Top of the line|
-Exceptionally crisp images
-Massive effective range
-Short battery life
Moving into the real big guys that require finding oil on your property before buying, we have the professional grade (military) Mini Thermal riflescope. These scopes are so top of the line that they are almost never stacked on the dealer shelves.
The system is state-of-the-art, the production quality of this high-end thermal scope is outstanding, and their primary use in the field is to see varmint, game, or bad guys when required after dark.
The scope is a 35mm compact system with a 640×480 thermal sensor and 12-micron pixel pitch (distance between each pixel), providing exceptionally crisp images for its display and allowing you to easily spot your prey without blurry graphics even with targets at far distances so you can get to identifying efficiently and shooting.
Completely capable of use day and night, this scope will see through smoke, dust, and complete darkness and is probably the most durable and weatherproof weapon sight on this list. So, even in the roughest terrain and the worst that weather can bring, this tactical scope will be a-okay and ready for use.
With a battery life of 4 hrs on 2 CR 123 batteries, it doesn’t sound like much, but it does retain the function to be charged by an external USB power source so you can more easily recharge your scope if ever it runs out during a night outing.
This option might be overkill for a good percentage of hunters and users, but it’s perfect if you’re a serious hunter or professional security looking for a scope capable of handling its own even in military-type settings.
6. Armasight Contractor 320 6-24X: Best for Hunting
-Great image quality
-Long range zoom
If you’re looking for a thermal hunting scope that can provide powerful long-range capabilities, detailed and sharp thermographic images, and retains features that higher-rack scopes contain, the Armasight Contractor is one not to miss.
A lightweight option to others on the market, this optic brings many elements that hunters love in a thermal device. With a 12-micron thermal core and 6-24x magnification, this sight will give a brilliantly clear and detailed display, especially because this scope’s thermal core is proficiently capable of sensing heat signatures of that distance.
In fact, Armasight’s thermal cores are designed to be capable thermal sensors for flying aircraft at night. So, this scope will be more than able to make use of the magnification and satisfy a hunter’s long-range needs.
The one downside is that it can be bulky to some, but given the features and capabilities packed into this relatively compact device, it’s perfect as a thermal scope for hunting.
7. Trijicon Electro Optics Snipe-Ir 35mm Compact: Best Clip-on
-Can be used as monocular
-No-shot zero function
-Short battery life
If you’re looking for the flexibility of a monocular with the power of a scope, the Trijicon Electro Optics Sniper-IR thermal clip-on is the one for you
This compact sight is designed to fit upfront of an optical day sight or a stand-alone monocular to be used as a thermal imaging night sight. Size matters here, and this is a specialized sight for both day and night work when required (changeable in terms of quick mounting).
No surprise for a tactical scope of this level, it has a no-shot zero function and is optimized for 4X32 ACOG. Simply put, a combat style sight first and foremost.
Optimized for use with a 4x day optic device, it is also without a doubt one of the highest-quality thermal sights on the market with industry-leading image quality to back it up. Retaining a 640×480 sensor and 12-micron pixel pitch with a 60-hertz refresh rate, you can be sure it is the best of the best available today.
Simply by the fact that I have shot Trijicon ACOG and scope sights for over 20 years to date, with some being civilian and some military-based applications, I can assure you there is none better in production today.
If you are a pro and demand the best to save yours or someone else’s life, this is the way to set up your night shooting weapon.
8. Trijicon Electro Optics IR Hunter MK3 60mm Thermal: Best with Rangefinder
-Impact and recoil resistant
-Large 60mm lens
-Enhanced target recognition (ETR)
-Digital focus control (DFC)
-Windage and elevation position readouts
The primary setup of the IR Hunter MK3 is a straightforward night sight and shoot-perfected American-built after-dark gunning system.
Now, this scope is feature-rich with functions tailored to enhance detection quality and your viewing experience. With an incredible 60mm objective lens, a 640×480 thermal sensor, and an 8x digital e-zoom for quality images at amazing distances, it also includes enhanced target recognition (ETR) and digital focus control (DFC).
So, let me explain these features real quick:
- ETR takes into consideration the possibility of a target washing out against the sky or horizon, so focuses its processing power onto your target to create a detailed sight. So none of the frustration from inaccurate and blurry thermal readings due to the time of day; you’ll have precise images to pinpoint your prey at any time.
- DFC enhances the image even further and not only focuses your image to your optimum setting, but it also can sharpen your overall image for extreme clarity.
Adding to the wonderful high image quality capabilities, the unit also makes use of a stadiametric rangefinder, so the scope can determine the approximate distance of an object if its size is known with accuracy. So when you’re out hog hunting and sighting down your prey, your chances of gaining a perfect shot will be that much higher.
The bottom line? It’s the perfect cutting-edge thermal imaging system for the professional hunter.
9. ATN Thor LT 320 3-6X: Best for Crossbows
-Long battery life
-Lower image quality
-No recording or extra bells and whistles
This second scope in the series of ATN scopes is an advanced model but at a more workable price, considering the number of features involved in the sight’s design.
But what got this scope onto the list is its unique lightweight design that weighs only 1.4 pounds, a huge benefit for response time when moving from rest to an active shooting position. So not only can you go on long outings without worrying about the burden, you’ll be prepared faster to take down your prize and have a surer chance of bringing it home.
The Thor LT is designed to run on minimum power levels, which means better battery life in the field, 10+ hours to be exact. This is an issue I have found with my older ATN series system, where battery power drained fast.
Frankly, it’s a perfect option for entry-level users and crossbow hunters alike, with its easy-to-navigate system that takes away the learning curve so you can get right onto the field faster with your new thermal scope.
Of course, because of the lightweight design and being at a cheaper price point, it will be missing out on some of the bells and whistles like Bluetooth and video recording, and performance may be affected at distances over 400 yards, but what it benefits from is its usability on weapons like crossbows and air rifles, where weight as opposed to distance is a critical factor.
10. AGM Rattler TS25-384 1.5x25mm: Top Pick for Beginners
|-Able to be used as monocular|
-Long battery life
-Wifi and Bluetooth
-Recording and screenshot abilities
-Lower image quality
I’ll be honest with you: there will be a learning curve if you’re just starting out with thermal optics. But if you want to significantly shorten that curve, the AGM Global Vision Rattler is the one to go for.
Not only is it a budget-friendly option – great for hunters wanting to test out a thermal scope before committing to a more expensive option – it also can operate as both a riflescope and a handheld monocular so that you get to experience both functions out of this versatile scope.
Attach it to your rifle and instantly give it thermal imaging capabilities, or utilize a monocular to easily detect prey before switching to your favored scope already on your rifle.
This compact short to mid-range scope has a 384×288 thermal sensor with a 1.5x magnification and 25mm objective lens, which is lower than some on this list and won’t have as far of a range, but looking at all its features and the low price point it provides for a thermal scope, it is more than enough for an entry-level user getting into the thermal game.
11. Flir Thermosight PTS233: The One to Avoid
|-Cheap price point |
-Not a lot of features, easy to learn
|-Low 320×256 resolution|
-Very low magnification
-Tendency to freeze
-Common manufacturing issues
Now, you’d think that such a big brand like FLIR would most definitely contain products that all live up to expectations. But… no.
Here’s one you should avoid: the FLIR Thermosight PTS233.
The Thermosight PTS233 is developed to be an entry-level scope, with two other models at a higher capability and higher price point. What makes this model one to avoid is that it just doesn’t work well enough, with problems being revealed before and after use for a day or two.
With a 320×256 resolution, an optical magnification of 1.5x, and a 19mm objective lens, it is meant for close-range use. But I’ve found it does not handle magnification well; the image is not clear enough for use past 150 yards, and some users have even said it can freeze up and require a restart, which can happen at the most inopportune time.
It can be said that you get what you pay for, and it does come at a decent price for a thermal scope with decent functions for short-range shooting, but this one may be best just to avoid and go without the hassle.
How We Made the Picks Picks
What this list aims to do is bring you a thermal scope that will best equip you on your nocturnal hunts rather than be a piece of equipment that just ticks a box. That’s why all my picks have a pixel pitch of at least 17 microns, 300 pixels on the horizontal axis, which will bring you crisp images, and a 30 Hertz refresh rate or higher, giving you clear sights with fast movements.
That leaves only quality on the table and it was only a matter of narrowing down picks based on different needs, unique features, and usability.
The selection in this list purposely contains a variety of detection abilities at various distances so people interested in these thermal scopes with different budgets and different needs can benefit from the choices of the best in each distance category. From 200-300 yards of effective range for close-range uses and up to 1,000 yards and more for those thrilling hunts squeezing shots at long range.
Now, most thermal scopes are generally not cheap and it’s why I advise taking the ‘buy once cry once’ mentality. But this list also takes into account all budgets, and even the cheapest one on here will serve the right user well for their required level of quality.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Thermal Scope
If you intend to use your scope in the field for long periods at a time, this should be one of the main considerations because let’s face it, no matter how good your scope is, if you can’t turn it on, it becomes dead weight you’ll need to lug around for the rest of the time.
In most cases, you are going to get exactly what you are paying for with these systems. The only exceptions to that are the scopes I have listed in this article.
Low-budget and low-grade equipment will fail in the field or at best just provide a minimum of workable performance.
So, your budget is important and should be factored into your purchasing options, but be cautious of cheap thermal scopes and those that are unproven.
Here’s the thing: price is often directly proportional to the durability of a sight. This is why scopes like the Trijicon Reap IR are seen as the most reliable: the cost is high, but the buyer can be reassured that it’ll be a sturdy and durable piece of gear in their arsenal.
Bottom line, the more expensive the more durable.
What a ballistic calculator system does is improve accuracy by taking into account a series of environmental factors – like range and wind – and target information to automatically correct trajectory for long-range targets.
Essentially, a ballistic calculator covers:
- Target’s angle
- Bullet ballistics
- Recoil activated video
Having this function in a scope will help immensely when targeting, as this will aid the shooter in gaining the corrected data regarding the correct sighting adjustment at long-range targets without needing to do it in your head.
What you’ll want to look for are systems that are efficient in their power usage. This can mean looking at scopes with fewer add-ons like Bluetooth, WiFi, recording, and streaming options.
Ultimately, a long-lasting scope starts with a good battery, so be sure to compare battery life between scopes that will be capable of lasting for the duration of your excursion.
Simply put, reticles are those fine lines within scopes you use as a visual aid to increase your accuracy when aiming at targets. There are a variety of different reticles that thermal scopes offer depending on what you plan on using the scope for.
Weight affects performance when it comes to rifles, that’s an obvious fact, which leads to why this is an important consideration when purchasing a scope. Standard thermal rifle scopes are generally lighter than a clip-on scope, and although both have their place, it becomes a trade-off here for the latter.
So, evaluate what scenarios you’ll most often be using it for and whether you’d trade a lighter weight for more features/quality or otherwise.
Types of Thermal Scopes
The simplest way to divide thermal optic types is whether it’ll be mounted on a weapon or not. There are many benefits to each style of thermal sight, and according to what situation you’ll be using it in, you’ll see which one will best suit your needs.
Handheld Thermal Scopes
Now, handheld monocular scopes are the simplest way to obtain a view of the thermal world. It also utilizes the same heat-based technology but does not include a mounting system or reticle.
Not designed for a rifle scope, this is often used as the device to track down game animals in the brush, and hunters often like to use this handheld device while a night scope is attached to their rifle for the best of both worlds.
But one of the biggest advantages of using a monocular scope is that it can be utilized without pointing a weapon at someone. This becomes crucial for situations like tracking down missing persons or identifying suspects who have fled a crime scene.
Standard Thermal Scopes
A standard thermal scope is essentially one built to be mounted on a weapon, and this can offer a massive tactical advantage in many scenarios. If you’re sure you want a thermal optic specifically for this use, having a standard scope is the best option as these designs are tailored to add to your weapon, accounting for weight and display.
What’s more, with a digital display, you’ll be able to change your reticle and color scheme on the spot.
Clip-on Thermal Sights
This is often the cheaper option than the standard thermal scopes and can be the better option, depending on the purpose of your thermal sights.
With a clip on, you’re simply “clipping” the thermal to the traditional scope, saving time, money, and many times a headache.
Best Thermal Scope Brands
There are a few strong thermal scope brands offering a range of quality thermal imagers widely used by military and law enforcement personnel.
Make sure to check out our full article on the top companies, we explain which ones are worth it and which ones need to be avoided.
How Do Thermal Scopes Work?
How thermal scopes work is essentially by the thermal imaging technology utilizing infrared radiation to produce high-contrast images of what is seen through the scope, which is how even in environments with low visibility or no visible light, the user can still identify targets with accuracy.
Humans and animals give off heat, and that’s what becomes the signature pattern for the scopes crosshair system after dark. (1)
Is It Legal To Hunt With a Thermal Scope?
Simply, yes, thermal scopes are legal to hunt with, however, the state of California partially prohibits its use. California law states that devices such as night vision or thermal optics, intended or adapted for use on a firearm, are illegal within the state. However, the prohibition does not apply to monoculars or binoculars with these functions.
How Do You Sight a Thermal Scope?
Indeed, as an advanced piece of equipment, thermal scopes are complicated and are a far cry from the standard daytime rifle scopes. Although very different, how to sight in a thermal scope is a somewhat similar approach to the sighting process.
For this reason, we suggest you check out our full article on the topic.
More On Thermal Scopes
This article is just scratching the surface on the world of thermal scopes. There are many types of scopes designed for specific uses and rifles. For more reading check out the following:
Cheap Thermal Scopes
If you liked this article and you’re looking for more, we definitely suggest you check out our article on the best cheap thermal scope on the market. If you’re looking for top-end thermal tech without spending what you would for a small car, this is the article for you.
You also might be surprised which scopes for this article made and didn’t make the list.
Thermal Scopes For Coyote Hunting
For those of you interested in taking down some sound dogs, make sure to check out our article on the best thermal scope for coyote hunting. We go over the special considerations when hunting yotes.
Thermal Scopes For AR15 Rifles
Though many of the scopes mentioned on this article will work for ARs, the best thermal scope for AR 15s are ones which were specifically designed for the shape, size and recoil produced while firing AR15 rifles. If you looking to mount the scope on an AR, this article is must read.
Clip-on Thermal Rifle Scopes
For those of you who already have a scope they want to take out or very rarely need a thermal scope, check out our article on the best clip on thermal scope options. Simply attach it to your existing optic and you’re ready to go!
Thermal Scopes for 200 Yards
If you’re looking for thermal scopes that preform well at a distance, make sure to check out our article on the best thermal scope for 200 yards. We cover the optic for every type of hunter at any range.
Where Can You Buy Thermal Scopes?
There are a number of places online that sell thermal scopes, some of more reputable quality than others. Make sure to check out our full article on what is the best place to buy thermal optics to ensure you’re using a certified supplier.
What thermal scope does the U.S. military use?
The thermal scope the U.S. military uses most often is the PAS-13 thermal weapon sight, utilized to increase target acquisition range and surveillance, and see through obscurants. (2)
What is the best thermal scope to get?
The best thermal scope to get is the ATN ThOR 4 640 2.5-25x. In general, this depends on your purpose for a thermal optic, your preferences, requirements, and budget, which all factor in when deciding the thermal scope for you.
Can civilians have thermal scopes?
Yes, civilians can have thermal scopes to use for hunting or for various other purposes like animal observation with a thermal monocular, or even to keep an eye on your dog at night.
What is IR on a scope?
IR on a scope stands for infrared, which is essentially the core function that allows a scope’s thermal optic to show thermographic information by converting heat radiation into a visual display.
Do thermal sights exist?
Thermal sights do exist and are utilized in many sectors these days. From industrial use to military, security, animal research observation, hunting weapon sights, and regular outdoor use.
How much is a good thermal scope?
Well, a good thermal scope can go from the single-digit thousands to the double digits. Really, the sky’s the limit for thermal scope prices, but good scopes for civilian use can range from 3000 to 7000 dollars.
Are thermal scopes illegal?
Thermal scopes are illegal in many places in the world but they are legal in the U.S., other than California, which partially prohibits the use of thermal scopes meant for or adapted for use on a firearm. Thermal monoculars and binoculars, on the other hand, are allowed in CA.
What is image stabilization for thermal scopes?
Image Stabilization for thermal scopes is a technology that automatically compensates or “auto corrects” for unintended movements while firing. (3)
What is the best thermal scope for air rifle?
The best thermal scope for air rifles are ones that are light in nature, and the ATN ThOR LT, recommended in this list, is one of the best options for air rifles.
Our Pick: Best Overall Quality – ATN Thor 4 640 2.5-25X
- Nikon USA, Understanding Focal Length, retrieved from https://www.nikonusa.com/en/learn-and-explore/a/tips-and-techniques/understanding-focal-length.html
- Military.com, PAS-13 Thermal Weapon Sight, retrieved from https://www.military.com/equipment/pas-13-thermal-weapon-sight#:~:text=The%20AN%2FPAS%2D13%20Thermal,penetrate%20obscurants%2C%20day%20or%20night.
- Canon Europe, Image Stabilisation Lenses, retrieved from https://www.canon-europe.com/pro/infobank/image-stabilisation-lenses/
I have been writing firearms and outdoor material for over 50 years to date. I have hunted across the world, including Russia, and a great deal of time professional hunting in Australia. I currently live in the American West and hunt all across the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Big Horn Mountains. I have specialized much of my work as a load developer in shotguns and rifles. I have run a small company that builds suppressor barrels of my design and load tests for writing purposes and consulting. My commercial names include Ballistics Research & Development / Metro Gun Systems TM.
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